I was looking for a decent picture of myself to put on tweeter (yes, I joined in..) when I opened the folder with pictures of my dad. I have a folder with loads of great pictures of him, even from when he was a little child.. I never realised it’s actually unusual to have your dad’s childhoods pics at hand, in you laptop, until people at his funeral asked surprised how we got them to Holland in time. He had them back at home in Bolivia, together with all our family pics, which I had scanned a couple of years earlier to have nice pictures at a previous family funeral, that of his sister, who also passed away after a long and awful battle with breast cancer.
My dad was born (1946) and raised in what was then a very small city in Bolivia (just a couple of paved roads) and after primary he went to a secondary school run by dutch Augustine priests; he was an outstanding student and this gave him the opportunity to travel to Holland and study there (with a lot of economic sacrifices from his family). He stayed with a dutch family that took him in, learned the language and decided to follow social studies instead of engineering, which was the expected course of action. He studied Sociology, made some good friends and worked supporting political refugees, this probably was of some use when his sister was apprehended in Bolivia during a military coupe, after spending some horrible time in prison she was exiled to Holland and lived there the rest of her life there.
He met my mum and they became an item. He convinced her to study Sociology at the university -she was a newly graduated journalist- and I still fail to completely understand how he got her to swap culture, language and continent. She went from living in a small post war family farm by the border with Belgium as a little child, to a catholic boarding school, to journalism school, to university, to Bolivia: unknown developing country which she made sure to visit on her own and in where against all sound local advice she traveled around -still on her own- before taking the big leap. My dad and mum moved back to be close to my dad’s family because my grandfathers health had deteriorated. There build a home, attached to the fatherly house. He started teaching for the Sociology department at the local state university and together with my mum they opened a consultancy, CIPLADE: Centro de Investigacion para Planificacion y Desarrollo (Research Centre for Planning and Development)
My dad was a great man, super intelligent, super sensitive and a dreamer. But I didn’t realise the extent of how sensitive he was, or how he was a dreamer because I think I met him a bit too late. I know form the pictures that he was super happy and proud to be a dad. I know form what he told me that he used to have good friends with whom he could hold long conversations/discussions about the great issues in the world. And I know he was very proud of some of his university students, specially some very interesting girls. I know he enjoyed life because he was always making plans to travel somewhere together. I know he was dreamer because he and mum bought a piece of land with ruins of a farm on it, that they fell in love with. They always wanted to go there, spend the night and work on it, even when it meant to sleep in one room, the four of us, sometimes no light, sometimes no water..
But when I actually experienced my dad more consciously I always felt he was a bit disappointed. I failed to understand why, but he didn’t seem really happy, more like “content with a hint of sad”. He was cheerful sometimes but it never lasted long, when he met friends on the street they where people I had seen once or twice before, never really close. With time and in retrospective, and with my own awareness just starting to catch up, I feel I can understand his sadness better..
He was well read, honest, not into politics or religion, very objective, hard working and straightforward. This is a combination that didn’t bring him much joy in life.
When doing consultancies he got first hand experience with the dark side of politics. As a lover of debate he didn’t find quite the contender in his native country, he always seemed to get into arguments, politics was the topic most times, and how the leftist movements had been unsuccessful and hypocritical so far -most friends had been of left affinity, and some were actively into politics-. At home he had a difficult relationship with his brother who considered him alienated and foreign, he didn’t approve his “modern” ways or those of his wife -who was working and always had an opinion-. My mum told me that dad stopped going out with friends in the early years of their return because they didn’t feel comfortable with her coming along and he didn’t feel comfortable with her having to stay home.
He graduated from one of the best secondary schools in Bolivia, a kind of cradle for the best performing professionals, back then a boys-only school; when I was born he started lobbying for girls to be allowed in and for the dutch support to remain to help new bright students to have a chance of studying abroad. He was baffled by the opposition he found to both ideas. Why, he would ask, do people who have clearly benefited from these programs not want younger generations to profit from it as well?. The issue with the girls was worse, even friends with daughters opposed the idea of letting girls in because they’d “lower” the educational level, either by needing extra support or by distracting the boys.
It is amazing that I was raised believing I could do or be anything. To believe that hard work, not politics, will get you where you want to be. I never felt being a girl could get in the way of getting where you want to be or doing what you want to do. I grew up hoping to find a guy that treats me nice and loves me for who I am, without the feeling I had to be, act or look a certain way to get there. I am aware now that I am lucky to have been raised the way I was, and that not everyone is that lucky. Girls everywhere grow up thinking really poorly about them selves.. Taking any chance that comes their way when it comes to choosing a partner and never really looking towards their own needs or wants. Eager to please, to be accepted. Seeking for reassurance of their own value through other people’s eyes.
I was quite a rebel growing up, always looking for an argument and a chance to prove my dad and mum were wrong and imperfect, a most annoying side effect of raising independent thinkers, my dad would say.. He also shared some sour truths:
The first half of your life your parents hold you back, the second half it is your kids
When you have kids you’ll know how frustrating an painful it can be to be a parent: your kid will be running at a 100 miles per hour, straight into a cliff, you’ll know this, but there’ll be nothing you can do. You’ll hold your breath, hope she stops on time or survives the fall, and then be there to gather the pieces.
What is happiness? we only seem to ask this question in its absence, when you’re happy you don’t know it.. You just are.
I love you dad..