Things my Father Taught Me

I wasn’t close to my father, in fact I spent half my life being angry with him and the other half frustrated by him. I called him a dinosaur, a conservative and inflexible, but there are things John Markey taught me that lodged in my psyche and that I still repeat as metaphors for my children:

  • ‘Even if you can’t play cricket, you can still look like a cricketer.’ 

A gifted sportsman, who played cricket (naturally), rugby, hockey (into his forties) and bowls (which we thought was embarrassing), my father was always immaculately turned out and gave his all in the games he played. I have used this line of his many times over the years to errant school children who trudged onto sport fields with shirts untucked and socks around their ankles. Disciplined grooming shows a disciplined athlete. And a disciplined player wins.

But it’s not just about sport. Dressing for the part (whether it be corporate mogul, football supporter or front office staff), significantly makes you feel the part and hence become it. My husband recently decided to ‘suit up’ at school and was intrigued to see how much more seriously his students and colleagues took him.

While it is not that externals matter more than substance, confidence definitely results from being ‘dressed for success. Dad’s words speak to the reality that often a disciplined approach to an activity and an attitude of striving for perfection is as important as innate skill.

  • ‘It’s not you I worry about; it’s the other idiots on the road.’ 

These choice words were uttered while he was polishing my admittedly poor driving skills before my licence test. Now, I am of the opinion that one should not teach young people to drive if one has given birth them, but his words made much sense when I rode shotgun (with my breath held) alongside learner-driver offspring. Being prepared for other drivers’ unexpected mistakes (selfish, my-meeting is more-important-than-your-life urban rally driving) used to be called ‘driving defensively’ as one constantly navigates the roads,on the alert for the unpredictable behaviour of one’s fellow motorists.

In life too you need to be prepared for the ‘idiots’ who derail your plans, break your heart or necessitate change in other ways. Sometimes life itself is just downright unfair. My sister was diagnosed with Cancer when she was unemployed – ‘Take that!’ Life said to her. That’s when the gutsy are separated from the gutless. My sister survived – sans breast, but intestines intact!

I have certainly learnt to be flexible about my career, having hopped around the world like a demented Duracell bunny as a result of my ex-husband’s job, notching up 14 teaching posts as we flitted from town to town.  Keeping children safe from the world and themselves takes skillful parents at the wheel of the family car. I have known betrayal, both personal and professional over the years and find myself even at 50, exploring new ventures and exciting adventures, despite some creative swerving.

So far I have dodged the idiots.

  • ‘No, we lost the match, but I played brilliantly.’ 

When we first heard this I remember my teenaged self chuckling at this braggart of a bowler who still had the brash confidence to be pleased with his performance, despite his team’s losing the tournament. But when you think about it, it was a positive outlook which simply acknowledged the truth of the disappointing outcome without sinking into despair and self-flagellation. Note that he did not berate the poor performance of his teammates, denigrate the umpire or blame the weather conditions (quite likely foul if it was winter in Cape Town).

As a school principal I made it our school’s mantra to ‘win with humility and lose with dignity.’ Failure should not crush us. We can even admit error without losing a sense of our self-worth, and owning our own achievements, amidst our mistakes, is important so we walk away from life’s minor let downs with our self-esteem intact. ‘I lost, but I am not a failure,’ helps us succeed in big things. It allows us to keep trying and that’s when we succeed.

It allows us to say, ‘The government has embarrassed us, but I love my country,’ or

‘The business is still in the red, but my clients like the product I am offering;’ or

‘The marriage failed, but I’m okay.’

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. May those bowling greens in the sky not have too much grass. I am going to take off my slippers before I fetch the children; I promise.

DadJohn Markey (1933-1997)

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