Guest post by Peter du Preez
I have a perfect wife and perfect children. Don’t you? If you think I live in a state of happy illusion, you should try it sometime. I don’t know if it is an illusion or not – I don’t care. This is my reality.
In my stupid years, before I got married, I was always seriously concerned with my image. I worried about how the world saw me and dressed accordingly. I brushed my hair just so and wore the most expensive clothes I could afford… Okay, they weren’t very expensive because I couldn’t afford much. I’ve always had good manners, but that had less to do with my need to be seen in a specific light than it did with my need to show respect for others. My world changed on the day I got married – I saw it differently afterward.
I remember waking up in my parents’ home in Hazyview and knowing that not far from me, in her parent’s home there was a beautiful woman that would soon be my wife. I suspected that she was as nervous and excited about the day and its implications as what I was. I thought about her and had a profound moment – I realised that she was perfect. I realised somewhere deep down that she probably made mistakes and that she was human, with all that implies, but I could for the life of me not think of a single flaw. I’ve held onto that image for 21 years now. Yesterday she was wearing her beanie and sitting in the sun in our kitchen drinking tea. She is now, if anything, more perfect than what she was then.
I struggled to be a “baby” daddy. I’m good with little ones and I can change nappies and play with little kids but I don’t have the patience to be with a baby all day long. For one thing, I don’t like sticky and babies tend to get sticky and they get the car seat sticky and get sticky handprints on the windows. I’ve always been a keen observer of free-range kids but when the kids were little we lived in the mountains on a game reserve next to a dam… Imagine that if you want. They needed to be watched. I’m not proud of it but I don’t think I made a great father at that stage. I was running three businesses from home to add to it all.
In Afrikaans you can really insult people properly and even give orders that can easily be equated as insults – One of the orders that were shouted on the parade ground on occasion (for those of you old enough to remember what a parade ground was) went like this: “Skud jou kop laat jou ore jou kan wakker klap!” Literally translated it means that you need to shake your head violently so your ears can slap you awake. As a father, I needed a serious wake-up call. I needed to shake my head… This shake-up happened when we had an aggressive take-over of our businesses. We had pumped all our savings and efforts into these businesses and we were literally left with less than nothing. This was a good thing for me as a dad because I was forced to take stock – to do some bookkeeping. I put all the terrible things that were happening on the liabilities side and had a look at all the great things in my life and wrote them up as assets. I had a wife that, despite the flaws that became so apparent in me in those years, still loved me, and two absolutely beautiful little children who needed me to be their father on the one side of the line. The liabilities (like losing earthly possessions) somehow seemed very small in comparison.
I chose at some stage over the next few months to see my children for the perfect people they are – I don’t recall when it happened but it did. They still make mistakes as we all do and they bleed when they are hurt and they say and do things that they shouldn’t, but they have been wonderfully made and lovingly shaped even before they were born and that shaping continued as they grew. I just needed a head-shake to realize it. They become more perfect, if that is at all possible, as time goes by.
As parents we want our kids to act in a specific way and dress in a specific way and cut their hair in a specific way so that they don’t embarrass us. It’s daft. We need to teach them to behave appropriately and dress appropriately, but the focus has to be respect for those around them, not to improve their image… or ours.
I used to worry about how people saw me and had to constantly dress and perform to live up to that image. I suspect that in reading this many of you want to be seen for the perfect people you are. There is very little joy in that. The joy comes in seeing the people around you as being perfect, easily forgiving and often overlooking the mistakes they make and just being grateful for being in the proximity of the beauty and perfection that they are.