My Dad, My Teacher, My Friend

My father and mother met in Primary School. He apparently came home and
told my Granny that he’d found his wife. She had red hair and was beautiful,
and Granny would have grandchildren with red hair, like she’d always
wanted.
They were star-crossed lovers, and called Romeo and Juliet by everyone at
school. He was rich and Jewish, she was ordinary farming folk, and Irish
Catholic. Every afternoon he’d ride out to visit her at the farm, and pay his
future brothers-in-law to wipe out his bicycle tracks with a leafy branch.
At the ages of 17 and 16, their plan to be together forever produced a
planned pregnancy. They were finally allowed to marry just weeks before
their daughter was born. She died almost immediately.
Theirs was a happy marriage and produced 3 live children; myself, my sister
and brother. I was born 2 years after Charmaine, and we share the first part
of our names. We emigrated to South Africa when I was about 7. Terrible
tragedy struck in February 1969. My 27 year old mother was brutally
murdered at the front door of our home, by an unknown intruder. My father
came home to find her lying in the entrance hall, while we were asleep in
our beds.
My father was accused and arrested for her murder, and refused bail while
awaiting trial, as a “flight risk”. My Granny had taken us home with her to
Zambia. Meanwhile, the truth was witheld from us. We were told our mother
had suddenly become ill, and been rushed to hospital. Shortly later, that she
had died. We were told our father was selling our home and belongings and
would be with us soon.
Dad kept a diary in prison. Strictly forbidden, and very carefully hidden for
all those months. In it he recorded daily prison life; stories of other awaiting
trial prisoners, visits and visitors, letters and news, lawyers and advocates
advice. He wrote of his intense grief at not simply losing his soul-mate, love of
his life and mother of his children; but of the anger and fear and horror of
being accused of killing her. He wrote of their love and reminisced. 43 years
later I am still trying to shape it into the book he wanted to write as a
testament to their love. It is still so painful.
After 9 long, tortuous months of fear, confusion, grief and cruel separation,
he came home. The Verdict was that she’d opened the door, thinking it was
him. Instead, her jaw was broken by a punch, and she was stabbed 14 times;
so viciously, that the wide-bladed knife snapped in two. It was a huge relief,
but still so sad, so awful.
Dad was a complete madcap, in many ways a child at heart, always
laughing, always playing and teasing. He loved children, especially his own.
He never tired of playing board games or cards, making up stories or, our
favourite, reading to us. When Mom died, he was reading Lassie to us. Every
night we would all climb into an arm chair in the lounge. A tangle of arms,
bodies, heads, legs. All dreadfully uncomfortable, but enthusiastically leaning
over, turning a bit, whatever was needed so all could see the pictures, and
Dad could see the text. Mom would curl up on the floor and lean against his
legs and ours, her head on a lap or knee, arms entangled with ours. And he
would read until someone started nodding off.
We tried it again when he came home. But everything was wrong. Our chair
was gone, we’d all grown, our book with the pictures was gone. Mom was
gone. It hurt too much and we just hugged and cried for a long time.
Dad remarried, and I did not get on with my step-mom, Val. I was angry that
she’d usurped my mothers’ place. I was angry that my father had betrayed
my mother’s memory by marrying again. I was a typical teenager, rebellious
and angry, and made everyone’s life difficult. The only bright spot was the
birth of my half-brother. I adored him.
Soon after that, we were sent to boarding school in South Africa. I hated
every second of it. We went to my uncle for mid-term break. My step-mother
was visiting too. I ran away from home. My uncle was in the police force,
and one of the neighbours, a cop in his unit, saw me sneak out. I was under
observation before I left the house! I flew home alone. Dad and I sat down
and had many heart to heart, no-holds barred talks that week. I opened up
completely to him, and he treated me like an adult. I needed to know what
had happened to my mom, the truth had never really come out. I’d heard
bits and pieces over the years. He gave me the transcript of the trial, with
descriptions of her injuries removed, as well as the photographs. He also gave
me his diary. From then on, my Dad and I were very close. It was a very
good thing in the end. I was 15 years old.
The whole family, Granny too, emigrated back to South Africa when I was
almost 16. Dad was almost immediately transferred to Botswana. I did not
want to go with the family. He and my step-mom were having problems, and
I didn’t want to be there. We discussed it at length, and with family living in
Johannesburg, and he agreed to let me stay.
He came through once a month, and we’d spend the weekend together.
People watching over breakfast, having great fun at their expense! We’d
always go to a bookstore, browsing around deliciously. Dad always had 3 – 4
books on the go at once, I’m the same! We’d read bits out to one another and
leave with new reads for the month. We’d visit friends and family. We’d see
movies, eat out, talk and laugh and be delighted to be together.
The marriage eventually broke up. 4 years later Dad moved back to South
Africa, about 2 hours from Johannesburg. My sister went home to finish
school. He married again, to a woman with two children.
3 months later he died suddenly. He was 39 and 1 month. It was 33 years ago
today. I love you and miss you so much Dad. X@

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24 thoughts on “My Dad, My Teacher, My Friend

  1. mary i says:

    Hello from Alabama. I am but a follower of yours. This post touched me deeply. I felt It. You are blessed. Do have pictures of your Dad? I will read your/his book. I am glad that there are people like you in this “crazy” world out there…Thank You.

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  2. Hi Lisa, bless you for your great encouragement and kind words. Yes, love is so wonderful, so worthwhile being celebrated and cherished. I have long felt that some distance is needed in the telling of their story, just so unsure how to go about it. Need to put serious thought into that, and truly work on it.
    Thank you my friend x

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  3. A gripping life says:

    I re-read what I wrote and I think my words didn’t reflect what I was truly feeling. This happens to me a lot. I guess I see so much strength in you and such a deeply refined character that it occurred to me, after reading your life’s tragedy, that it was like a crucible for you, as it would be for anyone. You’ve some how managed in your life, with that incomprehensible pain to become this beautiful person of light and joy. I just wanted to say that your life story is so moving and I feel humbled to know someone with your strength. : )
    Maybe this was what I was talking about – when I feel deeply about something my words fail me. Wish you could see my heart instead!

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    • I don’t know what to say. Except thank you so much. I have been so blessed and lucky to have had magnificent people in my life, to lift and comfort, and guide through the various phases and stages of it.
      I have magnificent friends that keep me sane and grounded, amidst lots of laughter and fun.
      I have a great, beautiful, loving, madcap, fabulously humoured family. They are my rock, my mainstay and never take me very seriously. They have been my life-savers in a very real and meaningful way. They stretch me and cosset me exactly enough, and exactly at the right time.
      🙂
      and Lisa, yours is a beautiful, eloquent, humble and lovely heart x

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  4. Oh, Charlene. I think this book is difficult to write because the feelings are so potent and hard to sift through without emotion. Even after all these years, how could you not feel deeply about your two loving parents. Maybe you need another person with some distance to help? I think it will be a beautiful and profound book when you’re done.
    I’m thinking that focusing on the love that was shared, even for that short time, must feel good. This life is short and if we find love then we should consider ourselves very blessed. Thank heaven for our sweet and special memories that keep us going.
    No wonder your heart is so full of love and joy. What a rich life you’ve lived!
    Big Hugs!
    Lisa

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  5. What an incredible life you have had. How horribly sad that your lost your mother in such a terrible way, and your father for a time. At least you were close for a while. My lovely Dad died 4 years ago. I feel very lucky to have had him until I was 56….old enough to really appreciate how wonderful he was. I miss him every day.

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    • Hello dear Debra, I think we are always Daddy’s little girl, no matter how old we are, or how long he may be gone. I’m sorry for your loss too, and I am so glad you were fortunate enough to have him for so long, and to have a great relationship with him. Our relationship was, and still is, very precious to me 🙂

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  6. WOW, what a painful childhood, but with such joy too. I can imagine how difficult this would be to write. Keep at it. I sense that it will be a warm and wonderful book filled with great sorrow and great joy.

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    • Dear George, I have tried many times over the years. My father gave me the diary before he died, and asked me to type it into a manuscript draft as he wanted to write it into a book. All the letters he kept as reference and reminders have been lost. It is an immense task, and I just don’t seem to be able to master the getting down to it. Maybe I need to get my other book finished first, and then concentrate on this one. 🙂

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  7. A sad day that one never forgets .. the loss of a father, something that seems uncalled for… you really need to get that book written it sounds as though it could be a very interesting read… hugs to you…

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  8. valborchardt says:

    aaaahhh charl, thank you for this…..
    Had you known then what you now know,
    perhaps things would have been different.
    Wish we could turn the clock back….
    Luv u so much my sweetheart xxx

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    • Firstly, let me introduce Val. She is the hated step-mother of my teen years! After their divorce we lost contact for many years. I was a mother of two boys when we finally made contact again, and the intervening years simply dissolved. So did all the jealousies, hurts and imaginings of those earlier years. Being a mother myself, gave me a new perspective.
      Today, I call her Ma, and I count her as one of my closest friends, my Chosen Family. We don’t live close to one another, but speak in one way or another daily.
      I am blessed to have her part of my life and family again, and we have both gained so much through our renewed relationship.
      I love you too Ma x@ 🙂

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  9. Oh dear Charlene, this is so touching life story, my heart felt as you, I love my father and I miss him too. My life story is so touching too… I prayed for them tonight dear Charlene, Thank you for sharing with us, I wished to be there today with you. Love, nia

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  10. I am at a loss for words…so tragic…I am so sorry for your terrible loss of your Mother and then really of your Father..I hope you can write that book as I think it is a story that needs telling…hugs..Michelle

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    • My dear Michelle, they were special, as indeed are everyone elses wonderful parents. But I think their story is one worth telling; I just want to do it justice, and am afraid I can’t. But maybe I need to just get it down and let it speak for itself.

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