I don’t come from a family with a major academic background. What I mean by that is that we don’t have a long line of doctors, lawyers, architects or scientists in our immediate family. My mom’s dad was photographer and journalist who also spent much of his life as a jazz DJ on SABC radio. My dad’s dad was a businessman who ran and owned many of his own businesses and, the younger generation of men (my brother and cousins) have gone on to pursue careers in tourism, events and music. As for the woman, well many of the women in our family have been artists and teachers. My dad’s sister Tiffany is an amazing ceramicist who has had her own exhibitions all over the country and my mom’s sister who has spent most of her life in India as a missionary with her family, is one of the most talented writers I know. So it’s clear, that although we don’t have any “Einsteins” in our family, the creative forces are strong and there has been no lack of success.
And then there’s my dad, whose story I’m telling today – It seemed only fitting that this post be centred around him on this very day as he turns 62! My dad followed his heart’s conviction and became a pastor at the tender age of 20 where he began training at bible college – While he may have never attended any prestigious university, he obtained a theology degree and has spent much of his life dedicated to learning and because of that he has become a great thinker, theologian and teacher. Through spending time with some very wise, influential and forward- thinking people, people who have and continue to challenge him and dig beneath the mundane surface of everyday life, he has never been complacent about his life’s purpose.
Since I was a little girl I can remember him devouring books, as though his life depended on it. He had a thirst for knowledge that just couldn’t be quenched, and still to this day at the ripe ‘ol age of 62 he will always have a large pile of books he is working his way through. He has certainly inspired me to keep asking questions and finding the answers to some of life’s most intricate mysteries.
His thirst for knowledge hasn’t been limited to Religion and the Bible, although much of his dedication to unpacking life’s truths has been deeply rooted in Christianity and God. But, his interests spread to Politics, the Arts, South African History and World Culture. And all those that know him well, will know of his passion and keen interest when it comes the beautiful process of wine-making! Having travelled the world ( some countries as many as 20 times) he has absorbed a certain degree of cultural substance in his bones and he can tell you about each of the places he has travelled to in great depth. But what may surprise you is that it’s hardly the beautiful sights and destinations that get him stirred to tell you more, but rather the stories of the people who he has met through his travels that bring a certain sparkle to his eye, a certain energy to his voice. My dad is people person through and through and as challenging as his line work can be, he will tell you that the connections he makes with people in this life, are by far the most rewarding and special parts when it comes to exploring the world.
But besides all this my dad has grown to become one of the most influential and wisest men I know. The effect he has had on me and so many others is not something that could have really been taught in a class room or lecture hall, even in the most prestigious of universities. It’s through his experiences and the people who have helped shape him at key moments in his life, that he is who he is.
It’s the man he is and the way he lives his life that really stands out when all is said and done. He is wise without being smug. He is kind and gentle with the people he pastors while still keeping his flock in line. He Is insightful and smart without all the (sometimes) snooty aires and graces of someone who’s master degree hangs in their perfectly styled study. ( I’m not saying either that those who have theirs hanging on their walls shouldn’t be immensely proud of their achievements, but rather that they don’t mean everything) He reads because he wants to know things, because he wants to improve his mind and gain a deeper understanding of God, but most importantly because he wants to learn the tools to help people.
He didn’t necessarily need to go to lectures to learn these things. His teachers have been his pastor friends, the teams he works closely with all over the world and the very team he continues to lead here in cape Town. His mentors have been all those who have taken him under their wing at different stages of his life and who have played key roles in some very defining moments. Sometimes teachers are found outside the classroom and in everyday life, the very people we surround ourselves with everyday.
You see where I’m going with this? As parents we place so much value on academics and education don’t we? And of course, I get it. We want our children to excel. We want them to know what it feels like to be dedicated to something and see it through. We want them to exercise their strengths and work their intellectual muscle. And we really hope they can stand on their own two feet one day and pay their own bills and look after a family!
But what I’m saying is that, there is no amount of money spent on any level of education that can teach our children to be good people with good character or contribute to the world in a meaningful way. That, for the most part is left up to us and eventually, well, it’s left up to them. Perhaps we should be ensuring our children are rather nurtured by great minds and given opportunities where they can explore their own passions and discover who they are. Perhaps we really need to look closely at our children as individuals and help them discover their strengths before they are overwhelmed with all the pressures of what their perfect future should look like. And perhaps we need to let go of our own insecurities when it comes to them fulfilling our expectations.
Not all kids are destined for great corporate success or to go on to have bIg powerful careers. I honestly believe this. Not every child is wired to become a computer genius or brain surgeon. But all kids, if given the right tools, enough encouragement and taught the fundamentals of caring, are destined for greatness. They are destined, with your help to be amazing human beings who can make the most of their strengths and who will offer the world something unique that only they can. They don’t need to be geniuses to offer the world something of value or make something of themselves.
Noah received his first report last week for Grade R and while he did so well on an academic level (as far as one can in Grade R anyway!) it weren’t these things that made my heart swell with pride. His teacher used words like “Kind” and “Respectful” and described him to have “Remarkable manners”. My eyes welled up as i tried to focus on these words. My child is far from perfect but I’m assured knowing he is getting the fundamentals right as young as he is. During the one-on-one meeting, his teacher explained to me that he has become particularly close with a young boy in the class who up until two years ago couldn’t hear or see very well (without his hearing aid and glasses) Noah has “taken this boy under his wing” and they have formed the most beautiful friendship. Noah can often be caught explaining things to his friend if he can’t hear or waiting for him at snack time. My child knows how to empathise and show understanding towards others. He knows how to connect with people in a meaningful way, and that just makes me feel like the proudest mom in the world. More proud than knowing he can add and subtract numbers or write a full sentence.
So while we need to teach our children discipline and guide them to use their gifts to their full potential, let’s spend the same amount of energy teaching them to be kind and empathetic human beings. Let’s encourage them to be passionate about the things they are good at and try their best at the things they don’t alway show a keen interest for or naturally gravitate towards. Let’s teach them to be dedicated to their homework but remind them that their best is good enough and that they are free to follow their own path as they mature into young adults. Let’s not pressure them into be anything that more or less than God destined them to be.
And above all let’s teach our children to be accountable for their actions, kind towards others and honouring of the amazing opportunities that life presents to them. Because if I am learning one thing very early in this schooling stint, it’s that I would much rather have a kind-hearted and happy child who is living out his true purpose than a prodigy who cares little for others.