Life Lessons from Dad – The Nature of Disappointment

When my father passed away in July last year, he was in his late 70s. He lived his last few years almost a hermit, going out only when necessary with mum, not wanting to meet his old friends, sometimes talking about the good old days, sometimes trying to lecture my brother and I on the state of the world the way he saw it.

We saw him mostly as bitter, angry, defeated, yearning for better times. I personally was disappointed in him, in his life choices, his shutting down when he could have attempted to rectify his mistakes and his pride, which kept him unbending, even when people tried to help him before he got sick.

Before he passed, I spoke to someone I considered a mentor about my disappointment, my anger, my bitterness at how things turned out. Instead of sympathy, he told me this: “Life is about disappointment, especially if you want to choose to believe in people. People will disappoint you. It’s not about whether you are disappointed in them or not. It’s about you asking yourself – are they worth the disappointment?”

His words got me thinking. Hard.

I was disappointed in my father, yes. But he was my father. Do I hold on to the anger and disappointment, or do I let it go and remember the man he was, the man who when I was growing up, was strict yet would move heaven and earth to make sure that I got what I needed, no matter the cost. He was my father and, for a time, my hero. How could he not be worth it?

But it wasn’t just my father who made me angry and disappointed when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s. It was also watching fellow schoolmates getting places in university, scholarships, those who had the means to go overseas to study, and then in the workplace seeing those who curried favour rise when I continued to work my ass off for recognition.

I got angrier inside, blamed everyone, the family I was born in, being the wrong race, the wrong sex, the wrong everything. Leaving was tempting. Then I had to support the family and I couldn’t leave. yet. So I saved to study. Then 1997 happened and my savings became nothing.

I was angry and disappointed. And I carried that anger and disappointment for a long time. It coloured my life. It made me ask – what about me?

My father was of the generation where apologies are Just. Not. Done.

But now, another old man of that generation has stood up and apologised for his mistakes. An old man who could have lived on his past glories, who steered that ship for two decades, who called for perfect Vision, and in many ways helped make us what we are today. An old man, who, if he had not done many things, could have helped all of us be better, stronger. Instead, we are now all angry and disappointed in everything. We got sold down the river. And for what? And whose fault is that?

Now, this old man tells us he wants to rectify his mistakes. He has even climbed into bed, so to speak, with old foes to do so.

Then he goes and starts a party that is STILL based on race, on religion. Exclusivity, still. Right. So, what’s changed?

And I look at the current captain. Yes, there have been disappointments and even betrayals. Yes, the situation looks bad. But there is promise of change, of another vision, for a national transformation.

So, who do we choose to be disappointed by? Who is worth the disappointment this round? Who do we choose to get fooled by, again?

Should we have Hope? Whose promises do we trust this time?

If only we can hold out for a hero…

“We do not work for men. We work for the land and the people. We do not even work for money.”
― Alan PatonCry, the Beloved Country



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