40 fatherhood facts

2013-06-19 10:16

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As one of the country’s top comedians, he’s learnt loads about life by being on stage – but some of the best lessons John Vlismas received came from being a father.

He’s just turned 40 and has written and performed a one-man comedy show about this milestone, but John Vlismas shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, he knows he’ll need extra energy for his 12-year-old daughter Uma-Rose’s teenage years. The two live in the northern suburbs of Joburg with John’s life and business partner, Taffia Keight. Uma-Rose’s mom, Natalie, is a music teacher at her school.

John proudly describes his blonde daughter as ‘pretty smart, and she can also be funny. She’s got guts, isn’t afraid to question authority and has her mother’s voice.’ So what was his first thought when he heard he was going to have a daughter? ‘I can honestly say that I had no preference at the time. I grew up with a brother and a sister, so

I was cool either way. More than anything, I was impatient to meet the person who was coming to join us, hoping we’d get on – and we do.’

Like most parents, his journey in parenting has been filled with lessons, memories that he cherishes and gratitude for his own upbringing. ‘My father is a great man, a good friend, a mentor… I hope I do half the job he and my mum have,’ he says.

As the world celebrates Father’s Day, John has just wrapped up his show ‘40 – Is the Madness Over?’ at the Lyric Theatre and is looking forward to spending time with his family. He admits to not remembering his first Father’s Day. ‘It may sound a bit harsh, but I am not big on dwelling on the past. I tend to live in the here and now.’

40 Things I’ve learned as a dad

1. Probably the most important of all: kids check your integrity – they can sniff a double standard a mile away. They haven’t been corrupted by the world to roll with white lies – be prepared.

2. If you ever say to your child, ‘Because I said so,’ you are telling them that your imagination is dead already, you are out of ideas and you have stopped trying.

3. Just as much as we teach our children based on our past experience, they teach us based on their unclouded view of the future – do not undervalue that opportunity.

4. If you give your child everything they ask for, you are robbing them of the journey that will form their character. If you love them, let them battle sometimes.

5. In parenting, as in life, always remember the words of Winston Churchill: ‘Never, never, never give up.’

6. Also the words of the graffiti artist Morley: ‘Don’t give up, get up.’

7. When using anger on your child, check your motives. Often we attack our kids in public only to satisfy the outraged looks of strangers, because we can’t bear to be judged – and yet we claim to love our kids more than anything.

8. My parents rock – they gave me great gifts: my mother always showed how an open mind is much more useful; and my father taught me to distrust clubs, groups and societies – generally people group together to share a weakness and create an artificial strength around it. I respect the rights of people who choose to belong, but my own judgment remains my own.

9. Just because something has been done before, doesn’t mean it is the best way. While experience is valuable, there is always room for improvement.

10. Only someone who doesn’t want to be questioned will tell you not to. I encourage my daughter to question everything, including me – which can be frustrating, but keeps me on my toes.

11. Never be afraid to admit when you’re wrong. I’ve made the mistake of doing this with my daughter, and the feeling of being caught out is not only humiliating, but showed her that I had taken a chance with the truth, which is worse.

12. Mark Twain was right: ‘If you always tell the truth, you never have to remember what you said.’ On this point, Buddhists refer to confusion as ‘the first poison out of which all other poisons arise’. The truth is a great clarifier.

13. Whenever your child has made a mistake, or there has been some kind of accident, first ask if they are okay and then point fingers. Show them that care comes first, then responsibility.

14. Don’t get hysterical when they are hurt or sick – you are teaching them that they should attach emotion to these events. Rather be cool and help them quickly, but don’t add emotional weight.

15. You don’t need to go to initiation school to become a man, gents – you just need to travel by plane alone with your baby, and have to change a really messy nappy in an airplane toilet during turbulence – that made me a man in seven minutes. I came out of there a different person.

16. Try your best to show your child the consequences of their actions directly, rather than just punishing them. If they don’t do their homework, let the system take its course. Walking into school without your homework is already scary, but they still have the chance to ‘never give up’ and find time to get it done. We grow up to hustle a living – they should see how it feels.

17. Don’t ever start a conversation about God or death or belief unless you know where you stand on the subject. A kid freaks out when the parent is stumped for answers – my mum wasn’t ready for ‘So, who did Cain and Abel marry?’ when she told me about the Bible… We want to be authorities on the world, but we don’t always know.

18. Bubblegum is not just a chewy thing – it is also a chemical warfare programme. Ask the cat. It can be grape-flavoured hell unleashed without warning.

Myths about parenting

19. ‘Like father like son.’ Contrary to popular belief, daughters also have the deoxyribonucleic acid of their progenitors, and do actually exist. This is a sexist idea, probably spawned after a rugby match by lonely men eating charcoal and drinking heavily. Obviously, some men are afraid of being likened to their daughter, but it would only worry me if I hadn’t been careful to raise a cool chick.

20. ‘Children should be seen and not heard.’ Perhaps the Victorians were right, but they also believed in child labour, child prostitution and colonising other nations.

21. ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child.’ Hitting a child to teach them a lesson is transferring a value system that we may have evolved beyond. If Nelson Mandela had stuck to that idea, many of us would be dead now.

22. Soft drinks are only soft until you give them to three kids in the back of the car on a long drive – then they may as well be Jägerbombs.

23. Wall sockets are placed at that exact height and have holes that cleverly allow the finger of a one-year-old to fit in them because we are not active enough and need to exercise more.

24. The people who invented wet wipes should be given Nkandla as a gift. They are my heroes.

25. The mantra to always have on hand is, ‘I know it is blue vomit and should not exist in nature, but it cannot harm me.’

26. When you say ‘no’ to a kid at a certain age, you are really saying ‘I dare you’ – remember this, it is very important.

27. No matter how hard you search, you will never find what your child can see through the open door of the cupboard at night, and you will never understand how real it is.

28. Don’t fuss when kids seem to do nothing with their time. Remember that pointlessness is one of the most magnificent things about being young. Having a point has been proven to limit the outcomes of quantum experiments. Sometimes purpose kills possibility.

29. While it is important to teach the value of money, don’t make your kid all about the bottom line – plenty of time for that awful truth to sink in later. Let them dream while they can.

30. Teach them to call everyone they meet ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ – it lets them in on a great secret early on in life.

31. Know the difference between assertive and aggressive. Don’t be a bully to your children.

32. If you’re ever stuck on a decision, read our Constitution – it is a great guideline for raising a fair human being.

33. Always be open to learning, from everything and everyone – you’ll teach your child by being, which is the best way.

34. Don’t talk to your child while texting on your phone. It’s a rudeness you won’t accept from them, and your full attention is a huge gift that costs you nothing.

35. By definition, nobody but you can determine your self-worth. We say other people can, but that is their ‘worth’ of us, not ours. This sounds complicated, but it is simple.

36. When you lose your temper, you lost it, no one else, so you better go find it.

37. Loving someone doesn’t mean you give them what they want. It means you watch them looking for what they need and lend a hand where you can.

38. My grandfather once told me that it is useless making promises to anyone unless I can keep a promise to myself. He was a remarkable man, and humble about his courage.

39. Laugh whenever possible. We all have a limited number of heartbeats – taking them seriously won’t multiply them.

40. And the best for last: don’t take too much advice.

Bonang Matheba, TV presenter

Bonang Matheba. Picture: Revlon

My biological dad is ambitious, tenacious and success driven. My stepdad is loving, kind-hearted and forgiving. He’s a straight talker and his judgment is neutral, and this has influenced how I treat people. I got my drive for success from my biological dad. Both my dads are my number ones. They are my point of reference and my protectors. If anything happens in my life they’re the first to know, and I treasure that.

Loyiso Bala, Musician

Loyiso Bala. Picture: Lucky Maibi/Foto24

A smile has never meant so much as it does from my daughter. I could sit all day and do nothing but watch her grow. Fatherhood has made me more focused on building a good future for my family. This child is totally dependent on us and I want to make sure that what she inherits is the best life in the world.

Zizo Beda, TV presenter

Zizo Beda

My most memorable childhood experience was when my dad was part of the church procession;

I would literally be one step behind him at the altar. That meant protection for me – I always wanted to be with him. He also took me with him on his boys’ days to watch soccer and that turned me into a big Kaizer Chiefs fan, like him.

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