Tag Archives: father

A Father, A Daughter, And Cricket

22 Mar

April 2005

It is a mild Saturday morning and I am home alone with my son. I am enormously tired: I put this down to the fact that I am newly pregnant and my body is devoting all of its energy to the growing of a new human being.

My 18-month old son is curled up on the couch with me, and we are watching TV. He has no interest in the kid’s programs, so I am flicking through the channels in search of something good.

Unexpectedly, I come across coverage of a One Day International cricket match between South Africa and England. This is a surprise because Canada is not big on cricket, despite the fact that many of its immigrants come from cricket-playing nations.

Delighted, I settle in to watch. I start describing the rules of cricket to my son and he listens intently, as if he knows exactly what I am talking about. Or perhaps he just realizes that he’s a captive audience.

The South African fielder throws the ball towards the stumps and the batsman is run out. Instantly, I am taken back to a summers’ day long ago, when my father took me to my first-ever cricket match.

February, 1992

I was 22 years old, and having gone away to university for a few years, I was now back living with my parents. I walked into the living room one day to find Dad yelling at the TV, calling someone a “damned idiot”. I looked at the screen: cricket. A sport that had never managed to grab my interest, mostly because I had never paid any attention to it. I always thought it seemed unnecessarily complicated.

On this particular day, for whatever reason, I didn’t simply tune out. I stared at the screen and asked Dad, “How does this game work, anyway?”

And Dad, thrilled to have a pupil, explained the game to me as it unfolded. By the end of that day, I was hooked. The intricacies and strategizing of the game suited my personality perfectly. The numbers geek in me loved the mathematical formulas and equations that came part-and-parcel with the commentary.

And so, when Dad offered to take me to a match the following weekend – a one-day provincial match – I eagerly accepted.

To say that the day was exciting would be a big understatement. By lunchtime on the day of the match, I completely understood why Dad got so passionate about this sport.

It was a riveting match – one of those where you cannot tell until the very last ball is bowled who will be victorious.

It’s the most basic cricket equation. Six runs to win with one over to go, and one wicket in hand. Simply translated: a run had to be scored off of each of the six remaining balls in the match, and a single mistake would mean defeat for the batting team.

It came right down to the wire. One run needed to win. One ball left to be bowled. One very shaky-looking batsman standing at the wicket. It could go either way.

Dad and I, who had spent a wonderful day together, just the two of us, held our breath and watched.

The bowler measured out his run-up, paused, and started loping back towards the batsman. He exploded in a flurry of arms and legs, and the ball flew through the air. The batsman swung and missed, and the ball went sailing past him and hit the wicket so hard that the middle stump broke.

And so the team that Dad and I had  been rooting for lost by the narrowest of margins. It was an incredibly exciting day, and now that Dad is no longer with us, it is a father-daughter memory that I will treasure forever.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Allyson challenged me with “Take the opening line from the book you’re reading. Use that somewhere in the middle of your piece.” and I challenged Jester Queen with “Tell us about an event that forces you to abandon a belief that’s been with you all your life.”

The book I am reading is a wonderfully humourous mix of fact and fiction called “What I Love About Cricket”, written by Sandy Balfour. It opens with the following sentence: “It’s the most basic cricket equation.”

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Three Generations Of Runners

2 Nov

James preparing for his first run

One of the best races I ever ran was my first-ever 10K event starting at Mel Lastman Square, on the northern fringes of Toronto. This was back in 2001, before my long hiatus from the running scene. The run was called the Ismaeli Run For Charity, and although it was a small event with only 300 or so runners, it was festive and well-organized. This particular race stands out in my memory not because of the run itself (I actually remember it being a very hard run: race day coincided with the start of an intense heatwave in Toronto), but because my dad was there. It is the only time my dad got to send me off at a start line and cheer me on as I crossed the finish.

Dad played a pivotal role in my running. Having been a top-class marathoner in his youth, he became my mentor when I first took up running, way back in 1996.  He gave me advice on everything from race-day strategy to the importance of having the right socks. He showed me how to tackle hills and demonstrated how incorrectly laced shoes can make your feet hurt. He advised me not to rely too much on technology in my training, pointing that in his youth, the only tool a runner really had was his own body. He told countless stories of the races he had run and the people he had encountered on the way.

He was immensely proud when I started running. Passing on his stories and his wisdom to me meant a lot to him, and the day he stood waiting for me at the finish line was absolutely momentous.

Now, I get to pass on the legacy as a third generation is added to the line of runners. My son James, who is all of five years old, has been taking an interest in my running for the last year or so. He wishes me well as I set out for my long runs, and stretches with me when I get back. He fussily makes sure I have enough water to drink, and for some time, he has been talking about going running with me “one day”.

Recently, when I registered for the upcoming 10K event at the Whitby Waterfront Races, James asked if he could be in the race too. Deciding that he was ready, I registered him for the 1K kiddies event. And this weekend, his dream of going running with me came true as I took him out for his first real run.

I did not have any real expectation for the run. I just wanted to see how James would do over a full kilometre, and more importantly, I wanted to get a sense of whether he would really enjoy it. I made it clear to him that he could stop anytime he wanted, and that he didn’t have to do it in the first place unless he was sure. This earned me an eye-roll so intense that I thought his eyes would fall out of his head, and he said impatiently, “Mom-meeeee! Can we please go now?”

I needn’t have worried. Although he briefly slowed to a walk three or four times, he ran the kilometre I had measured out with no trouble. I marvelled at his natural form as his body just fell into the posture and rhythm that articles in running magazines are always saying we should adopt.

I also needn’t have worried about whether he would enjoy it. He loved it. He wants to go again, and as the day of his first race approaches, he is getting more and more excited.

I realize that anything could happen: the kid is only five and he could lose interest tomorrow. But by all appearances, he is really interested in running being a part of his life, and what I do as a parent could either cement that or dissipate it. I feel that I am witnessing the emergence of a new runner: a runner who I get the privilege of nurturing and mentoring, just as my dad did for me.

I feel that in guiding my son, I am a part of something big, something special, and something that I consider to be a great honour.

I only wish my dad could see this. Who knows? Maybe he can.

Welcome, James to the world of running. I hope you choose to stay here, and if you do, I hope we get to run many miles together.

(Photo credit to the author)

Ashes And Roses

6 Feb

It is with a bittersweet feeling that I pay tribute to both of my parents on the anniversary of their marriage. The sweet part of the equation stems from the fact that my parents had a fantastic marriage. They had a deep, profound love for one another and apart from the occasional spat, they treated each other with the utmost respect. I could not have asked for better role models to show me just what a loving, solid marriage should look like.

The bitterness, of course, is because Dad is no longer with us. Today, Mom is in Cape Town without her beloved husband by her side, gazing longingly into the sea in which she placed his ashes six years ago today, on what would have been their 40th wedding anniversary.

As I reflect on this day, I cannot help but contemplate my own relationship with Gerard, now almost a decade old, and our own upcoming wedding. For all intents and purposes, we are already married. We have been living together for a long time, we have created new human beings, and our union is legally recognized as a spousal relationship. But still, getting married will, I believe, add a new kind of depth to our relationship. We see it as the chance of a new beginning, a new and wonderful chapter in our lives.

People ask why we waited for long to get married; why, indeed, we are bothering to get married at all. The answer, quite simply, is that we have arrived at a point in our life together where we feel that we can get married. You see, Gerard and I have been through a lot. We have survived a great deal: the loss of both of our fathers, my post-partum depression following the birth of James, George’s autism diagnosis, near-bankruptcy, to name but a few. Our relationship has been placed under unbelievable strain; it has reached the breaking point.

But when it reached the breaking point, it didn’t break. Somehow we saw our way through all of the dark times. We found a way to stick together, to emerge from that terrible bleakness and desolation as a pair, as an integrated whole. We know what we are capable of surviving. Neither of us could imagine life without the other one. We feel that we have earned the privilege of being married to each other.

I cannot wait. I am really, really excited when I think about the day I will exchange wedding vows with my beloved, in front of friends and family. It will be an amazing feeling, walking down the aisle on the arm of my brother, and then looking into Gerard’s eyes as I declare my eternal love for him. Mom will likely shed some tears, but there will be happy tears mixed in with the sad.

It makes me sad, knowing that I will not get a father-daughter dance with Dad. But I know he will be there, hopefully nodding with approval and glowing with pride.

February 6th, 2005

Dad has been gone for exactly two months. It is almost sunset.

Mom tentatively carries the urn holding his ashes to the edge of the rocks, with her sister standing a respectful distance behind. Clutching Dad to her heart one last time, she whispers her goodbyes to the wind, and hands the urn to the man standing beside her, the man who is surefooted enough to brave the rocks.

Mom stands beside her sister, and watches as the ashes of her beloved are gently transferred from the urn to the sea, from whence they will travel to who knows where? Many, many rose petals are placed into the sea to travel with the ashes.

Mom watches in silence as the ashes and the rose petals float out into the ocean. The tide is low, the rose petals waft lazily as they escort Dad into the beginning of his eternal travels. Together, the roses and the ashes reach the horizon. With the sun directly behind them, the ocean current moves them around in a small circle, as if they are waving goodbye to the widow standing on the rocks.

Ashes and roses disappear from sight, just as the sun dips below the horizon and closes the chapter on the day.

15 Random Facts About Me

16 Jan

Today is one of those days where I don’t really have a topic in mind, so I will steal an idea from a Facebook note I was tagged in, and tell you fifteen facts about myself.

  1. When I was in 5th Grade, my teacher hated me because I was left-handed, and she once kept me after school trying to force me to use scissors with my right hand.
  2. I am adopted.  I was lucky enough to wind up with fantastic parents, and about 15 years ago I got in touch with both of my biological parents.
  3. Based on behaviours in George that I recognize in myself, my developmental history as a child, and some difficulties I experience to this day, I am pretty sure I am on the autism spectrum – an undiagnosed Aspie.
  4. 16 or 17 years ago, I accidentally disturbed a bees’ nest and got stung 67 times.  I am now terrified of bees.
  5. I am allergic to mangoes, which is a pity because I actually like them very much.
  6. At the ripe old age of 41, I have finally realized that I would actually like to be a full-time writer.
  7. I have this weird recurring dream in which I am chased by a giant teapot.  Seriously.  You can’t make this shit up.
  8. Despite my constant whining about my commute, I kind of like my daily subway rides.  It is the only time I get to sit down and read a book.
  9. I bitterly regret not flying to South Africa to see my Dad before he died six years ago.
  10. Every year at Roll-Up-The-Rim time, I drink way too much coffee.  I always think that by the law of averages, if I buy enough coffees, sooner or later I will win the car.  In ten years of trying, I’ve never won anything more ambitious than a donut, but I am an eternal optimist so I will keep trying.
  11. My first pregnancy ended in a loss early in the second trimester.  I always think about that lost life, and how if that pregnancy had worked out, I would not have George today.
  12. I buy lottery tickets every week, because someone wins the jackpot – why shouldn’t it be me?  A few weeks ago, I won $120.
  13. I hate olives and eggplant.
  14. There is only one brand of shoes that I will run in: New Balance.  When I’ve tried other brands I’ve always regretted it.
  15. I think Barney the Dinosaur is the most annoying children’s TV show ever made, followed closely by Max and Ruby.

 

Christmas Without Casualties

29 Dec

Christmas is always such a weird time of year in my family.  It’s a mixed bag of emotions for me, ranging from the very bad (my Dad’s death three weeks before Christmas six years ago) to the very good (my younger son’s birth on Christmas Day five years ago).  Then there’s the fact that almost every year, I find myself inthe midst of some strange family drama that has very little to do with me.  I have to deal with someone threatening to boycott Christmas, someone else threatening to decline gift exchange, bizarre arguments, and plans that change multiple times before landing on the original arrangements.  Then you add a child with autism, and built-in resistance to changes in routine, and the picture gets very interesting.

This year it wasn’t too bad.  As always, I missed my Dad in the weeks leading up to Christmas, but took heart from the fact that Christmas was his favourite time of year and he would be bitterly disappointed to see me having a miserable time on account of his passing.  So it was with nostalgia and bittersweet memories that I put up the Christmas decorations this year, just a week before Christmas.  Dad would have approved of the Christmas tree laden with ornaments, including James’ plastic Playdough scissors that he insisted be hung on the tree right below the angel.  He would have loved the little village I have in George’s room, complete with lights and snow, and he would have nodded approval at the little Christmas tree with lights that I got especially for James’ room.

Here’s the amazing thing that happened this Christmas.  There was no family drama.  Let’s say that again, shall we?  No.  Family.  Drama.  Admittedly, we came close.  Gerard and his mother had some words.  Said words were taken out of context by both parties, and a big misunderstanding ensued.  I have so enjoyed the wonderful feeling of peace and harmony that we have been experiencing with my mother-in-law, and I did not want to let that slip away because of one stupid conversation.  I spoke to Gerard.  I spoke to my mother-in-law.  I smoothed the waters, and explained to each of them what the other meant, and peace reigned again.  Mother Theresa would have been proud of me, and for the first time in years, we were able to celebrate the festive season without waiting for the other shoe to drop.  It was truly a Christmas miracle.

Things were OK on the George front as well.  His resistance to changes in routine has intensified over the last few weeks, and while this did cause some difficulties, there were no crises that we couldn’t handle.  They were little things, like the fact that he got extremely anxious whenever the lights on the big Christmas tree were turned on (interestingly enough, he has no problem with the lights on the little tree, or the lights in the village in his room).  So, we dealt with it in the simplest way possible.  We did without the lights on the tree.  When he saw presents, he wanted them opened right away.  Seeing a wrapped present that he’s not allowed to open is not a pleasant experience for George.  Lots of distraction and tactical planning later, we had all survived, and apart from one casualty, all of the presents were left intact until the proper time.

There was one very difficult moment on Christmas Eve, after my brother-in-law had left with his wife and baby, when we were trying to get the kids settled for bed.  Both of the kids, no doubt reacting to the excitement and pure overstimulation, had meltdowns.  One autistic, one neurotypical, manifesting their pent-up anxieties in different, but equally loud and stressful, ways.  Simultaneously.  It was like Meltdown Central at my house, and it took a long time for calm to be restored.

In the end, though, Santa was good to everyone, and we all got through several days of Christmas (and one birthday) as a harmonious, happy family.   I can truly say this: Dad would be proud.

The Running Man – continuing the legacy

6 Dec

Six years ago today, my Dad died.  Dad had been many things to many people.  He was many things to me – in addition to being my Dad, he was friend, financial advisor, giver of wise advice, and provider of corny but very, very funny jokes.  He was also my unofficial running coach.

Dad grew up in a small town in South Africa.  In his early years, he was raised by his mother while his father fought in World War II.  The war split the family apart; my grandparents divorced, and although my grandmother remarried, the new union did not create financial stability.  Dad and his siblings were fed and sheltered, but there was only money for the bare necessities; certainly no luxuries.  His childhood was probably typical of the late war and immediate post-war years.

Dad did well in school, academically outperforming most of his peers.  There was no money for university, so he had to get his education in the School of Hard Knocks.  At some point in his youth, possibly when he was fresh out of school and newly employed at the bottom of the totem pole, he joined an athletic club.  He was physically fit out of necessity, having had a childhood where he had to walk or bike everywhere.   He started entering races, running longer and longer distances.  And he started winning.

In the days before there were heart rate monitors, motion control shoes, and online training programs, Dad made an impact on the South African running scene, distinguishing himself as one of the elites of his generation.  I have a folder full of newspaper clippings featuring his victories, and my Mom’s display cabinet at home contains medals and trophies.

Dad never tried to push me into running – far from it.  In my school days, I was hardly a poster child for athleticism.  But still, the sport of running always held a fascination for me.  Every year starting from when I was twelve or thirteen, there was one particular day when Dad and I would get up before six in the morning and spend the entire day riveted to the TV.  That was the day of the annual Comrades Marathon, South Africa’s premier ultramarathon.   It is the world’s oldest ultramarathon and draws more registrants than any other event of its kind.  Dad and I would watch the start, we would be watching when the first runners completed the 55 mile race about five and a half hours later, and we would still be watching when the final gun went off signalling the end of the eleven hours that runners were allowed to complete the race in.  Most years, Mom would be in the kitchen baking cookies.  She said it was the one day of the year when she could any baking done without the entire family getting under her feet.

I made my own personal acquaintance with running when I was 26.  I had decided to give up my ten-year smoking habit, and was preparing by taking on healthy lifestyle habits.  My first runs weren’t really runs.  They were walks with the occasional burst of running here and there.  But soon, with Dad’s help, I was following a program of walking and running that slowly but surely built me up.  Before I knew it, I was running and walking in equal proportions, and soon after that, the running overtook the walking.

I did not run my first race until I was 30, and that year, I did a 5K, a 10K and a half-marathon.  Out of all of these races, the one that is by far the most special to me is the 10K.  Sure, the half-marathon was a tremendous accomplishment, and as soon as it was over, I was on the phone to my Dad in South Africa, telling him all about it.  Earlier that year, however, Mom and Dad had been over to Canada on a visit, and they were there with me when I ran my first 10K race.  It is the only race that Dad was physically present at, where I crossed the finish line and saw him on the other side.

During those years of running, Dad gave me countless pieces of advice.  He coached and mentored me.  He told me what I doing right and where I was going wrong.  He was thrilled to have a receptive audience for his running-related wisdom.

By the time I started running again after my seven-year gap, Dad was gone.  But his words lived on in my head, and when I find myself hitting a rough spot either in a training run or a race, I say to myself, “What would Dad do?”  I draw on his advice time and time again – advice about everything from nutrition to shoes to running form and pacing.

Every time I run, I think of Dad.  Sometimes, when my energy starts to flag, I feel a sudden burst of energy, as if something unseen is lifting me up and helping me soar.  And so the legacy of the Running Man in my life lives on.  I am proud that I can call myself his daughter.

Fishing for runners

18 Oct

A decade ago, when I was training for my first-ever race (a 5K, if memory serves), my Dad taught me how to fish for runners. You start at an easy pace, he said, and you don’t allow yourself to be deterred by the hordes of people passing you. When you pass the halfway mark, you pick a target: a runner far ahead of you who you can set your sights on. You gradually reel in the runner and eventually pass them. And then you pick a new victim to fish for, and you keep doing this until you have about five hundred meters to go, at which point you just go hell-for-leather until you cross the finish line.

In his prime, my Dad was one of the top marathoners – and for a time, ultramarathoners – in South Africa. I had a great deal of respect for the running advice he gave me. I used the technique of fishing for runners in my first half-marathon, back in 2001, and it worked like a charm.

Dad was my unofficial coach. Even though he lived on the other side of the world, he was always giving me snippets of advice that ranged from, “Shorten your stride and keep a straight posture going up hills” to, “Bring your own toilet paper to races because the portajohns tend to run out”. He taught me that hydrating in short, frequent bursts is better than gulping down sixteen ounces of water every five kilometres. He took one look at me after the one race he saw me in (a 10K in North York) – he saw the fine layer of salt covering my skin and turning my clothes white – and told me to ditch Gatorade and get a better electrolyte source. He taught me how to shop for running shoes, and explained why good socks are almost as vital as good shoes.

By the time I returned to running after a seven-year gap, Dad was no longer with us.  When I was out on my Sunday long runs, and when I was running my first half-marathon in eight years in considerably less than stellar shape, I had to rely on memories of what Dad had told me. I missed him bitterly on the day of my first Run for Autism, just over a year ago. I did not get to call him for a pre-race pep talk. I was not able to imagine talking to him on the phone later, going through a post-mortem of the race. I was so anxious about simply finishing the race that I found following any kind of a strategy difficult.  I knew, however, that he would be immensely proud of me, and that was enough.

Throughout this running season that is just drawing to a close, I have felt Dad’s presence from time to time. I have remembered more and more of what he told me, and I have read through his old training logs for tips and ideas, and for general inspiration. And then, on Saturday, something weird happened.

I was registered for a 10K run at the zoo.  Initially, I wasn’t even sure if I would be able to run it: it was just three weeks after a half-marathon that left me walking funny for days. I had not really gotten back into proper training since the half-marathon, and I figured that this would be a problem because there are a lot of hills at the zoo. So I went in with absolutely no expectations of myself.  My plan was to just finish the run and enjoy myself.

About two kilometres into the run, I found myself getting frustrated by slower runners ahead of me.  The road was just too narrow for me to pass them; I was waiting for an opportunity to slip by them and surge ahead. All of a sudden I heard Dad’s voice in my head: “What’s the rush?”

“It’s a race,” I pointed out (in my head, of course.  I haven’t quite reached the point of conversing with my deceased father out loud).

“Sure, it’s a race,” said the voice of Dad’s wisdom, “but you have 8K to go. You’ll get your chance a couple of kilometres from now, when the runners are more spread out.”

“But I feel good,” I argued. “I want to go faster.”

“Trust me. You’ll thank me for this later.”

I briefly debated whether to listen to my own actual voice, or the imagined voice of a man who passed away almost six years ago. Imagined voice, I decided.  If there is an afterlife, and if Dad is making the effort to coach me during a race from the Beyond, the least I can do is listen and give it a try.

I approached the first hill of the run, and thought, “Uh oh.”  From way back in the past, Dad’s hill mantra came back to me. “Shorten your stride. Keep your spine straight. Focus your vision on the crest of the hill.” Because I followed the mantra, and because I hadn’t burned off all my energy five hundred metres previously by barrelling past the slower runners, I made it to the top of the hill without even slowing my pace. As it turned out, I passed a number of runners going up the hill.  “Thanks Dad,” I said mentally. “Told you so,” he replied.

Before I knew it, I was running over the timing mats at the halfway point. I was feeling good and enjoying the scenery. Suddenly, Dad was back, as if he’d just popped off to see the lions. “Speed up,” he said. “Where do you think you are, a picnic?”

“Cripes, Dad, you were just telling me there was no rush,” I grumbled.

“That was then,” he said, cryptically. “It’s time to fish.”

I looked up and scanned the runners ahead of me. “The one with ears,” said Dad.  This would have startled me if I hadn’t seen, just in my range of vision, a runner wearing a pair of rabbit ears on his head (one thing about a run at the zoo is that people get creative about what they’re wearing).

Rabbit Ears turned out to be the perfect point of focus for me. By now, the runners were spread out enough for me to pass without impediment. I picked up the pace and bit by bit, I closed in on Rabbit Ears. When he slowed for a drink at the water station, I zoomed on past (another bit of advice from Dad: always take your own water to a race to reduce the number of times you have to slow down at an aid station).

My next victim was a woman wearing a bright red shirt boasting the words, “Toenails are for sissies”.  Once I got past her, I set my sights on a man with some kind of turban on his head, followed by a man wearing a pair of butterfly wings. Throughout all of this, my legs were feeling strong, I was enjoying every step of the run, and I was running up and down the hills with not a care in the world. With five hundred metres to go, Dad had one last piece of advice: “Pretend they’ve let the lions out after you.”

I pretended the lions were after me, and sprinted to the end.  I crossed the finish line feeling strong. I missed my personal best time for the distance by about a minute, and I was OK with that. My personal best was set on an all-downhill course; I performed a lot better here at the zoo and felt stronger at the end.  From the perspective of pacing, race strategy, and running mechanics, this was my best race since my return to running.

Thanks, Dad!