I was blessed with a healthy, happy childhood and excellent education, and graduated at tertiary level in a field that I love. Although my working life was spent in nine different companies in five countries, it was, for the most part, highly stimulating, challenging and rewarding. I have also been blessed with a loving wife and three wonderful children. Now in retirement, we are emotionally and financially secure. Our children are independent, married, raising their families and pursuing their dreams.
I know that I have enjoyed more blessings than many of my fellow South Africans even hope for and so I must have been advantaged in some ways. Certainly success took much effort from me, but many others try as hard and win less, so that is not the only factor. I have thought long and hard to try and understand the other contributions to my “advantage” in life.
It was easy to conclude that at least 90% of my childhood advantages were directly attributable my parents. My father had a wonderful way with animals and always dreamed of becoming a vet. My mother was brilliant with figures and longed to become an accountant. Both were born in the Eastern Cape and had to leave school well before reaching Std 9, because of their large families, too little money and the premature deaths of their parents. As a result, neither achieved their dream jobs. However, both believed so passionately in education for their children, that they worked their butts off for the next 30 years to ensure that we got a better chance in life. This they did in other African countries, as they married early in the 1930's depression years and there were very few jobs in S.A. at that time.
I remember when my father had 3 jobs. He worked shifts on mine, averaging 56 hours per week, ran a 50 acre vegetable farm and jointly (with a friend) built up a 10 truck transport business. My mother handled the finances, brought us up and cared for my crippled brother. Apart from marketing our vegetables, she also ran a distribution depot for railed-in crates of eggs, milk and cream, which could not be obtained locally. This allowed them to finance our schooling and half of my degree studies. They found ways to enjoy life, their friends and their country of residence, on a fairly frugal budget. They bought their first house when my father was 55 and he was able to retire at 57, when they both returned to S.A.
Because they paid for my schooling, my parents expected me to perform. Anything less than a “B” came under scrutiny. Birthdays were usually blessed with a serious book, atlas, or encyclopaedia, rather than toys or comics. If I wanted toys, I had to make them myself.
I was also taught many lessons of dedication and hard work outside of school - in the house or garden and on the farm. At 13 I had the confidence to tackle almost anything and knew that, through common sense and hard work, I could determine my own future. When I matriculated I knew exactly what I wanted to become and that it would not miraculously drop in my lap, be provided by government or be bestowed on me by some fairy godmother. Four years later, when I graduated, I had paid off the balance of my fees by working after hours. This helped me realize that any salary I could ever earn would always be less than the value I was able to add for any future employer, otherwise he had no reason to hire me in the first place. I also understood that “to demand” only resulted in failure, punishment and resentment. However, “to do” got me the success I sought.
My parents were not very religious, but they lived by the same commandments as those who were. There were no affairs or divorces and they were married for over 50 years, despite some hard times financially and emotionally. When my brother was 6 years old and got mumps, he was quarantined in hospital. Unfortunately, the staff put him in the same ward as another patient with an active polio virus, which he contracted. Despite being crippled and brain damaged by the disease, there were no civil damages paid and no government grants to help. We all had to just care for him in the best way possible until his death 50 years later. As kids, we were always expected to treat others as we wished to be treated ourselves.
In summary, my parents gave me so many good core values, that I could easily withstand the bullies, the liars, the bad teachers, miserable bosses and unfair treatment I encountered along the way and take full advantage of the good that I met. With this start in my formative years, it was easier for me to continue winning my battles later and become more “advantaged” today.I meet a lot of other similarly advantaged people, from all walks of life and from all races. Some may be more financially successful, but all are rich in so many other ways. They own their lives and are truly free. They need no one else’s permission to be happy. They understand their own strengths and weaknesses and the world around them. They know what they can do and do it confidently and successfully. They take responsibility for their and their children’s future and work hard at it. If a lucky break comes along, they make the most of it. If disaster strikes, they quickly get up and carry on.
I must therefore thank my parents, for this huge “advantage” they gave me as a child. Their parenting reminds me of the words in that beautiful song “You Raise Me Up”, which I find quite inspirational. Now my wife and I hope that we have similarly blessed our children and that they do likewise for our grandchildren.
To all my compatriots who, through no fault of their own, have never had this blessing, I can only say that I am saddened by their handicap. I wish I could wave a magic wand and change it, but I cannot. All I can do is plead that we, as a society, recognize the massive influence we have to either advantage, or handicap our children. Let us be the best role models we can be, whatever our circumstances.
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