Peter de Lisle

Instruction by Design


Daphne's Reflections

I am going to talk about how Dad changed through the years. And to give you a little picture that may give you some idea of how he was as a younger man, I will describe our annual trek for the xmas holidays to Cape Town from Johannesburg when we were children.


Dad would set the hour of departure – usually 3 or 4 in the morning. A little before the appointed time he would be in the driver's seat revving the engine and if we left a little late, we would set off in a cloud of disapproval, careening through the streets of Joburg while Dad would determine the hour at which he and my mother would swop drivers. I can hardly believe the way in which my parents changed drivers, but I promise that it is true. They did not stop the car, open the doors and walk round as that would have wasted a couple of minutes. No, they had to do the change-over without stopping the car. Time was of the essence and therefore it was necessary that one foot should be on the accelerator at all times. This involved some complicated contortions around each other, over the handbrake, with hopefully some understanding of who was holding the steering wheel. I would watch nervously from the back seat ready to leap forward and take the wheel if anything should go wrong. (I am a nervous passenger to this day, and have no doubt that it comes from these early experiences of driving with dad.) My father was definitely not of a mind that believed the journey to be as important as the destination. The destination was what counted and you employed whatever means to get there as soon as possible. There were only two reasons for stopping: getting petrol and bio-piracy. In Dad's phase of aloe collecting he seemed to think it quite reasonable to dig up a rare specimen no matter the legality of such an action or the size of the specimen. A squashed existence in the back of the car would become still more uncomfortable when we had to share our already cramped space with prickly aloes. Once on the open road and if were making good time, Dad would relax enough to teach us how to count in Italian or give us tricky words to spell and we would whiz through the Karoo chanting these strange incantations.

I tell you about these journeys because they are a reminder of how dad was as a younger man – he was driven, aggressive, impatient, stubborn, eccentric. He pushed himself and he pushed his family. It would never have occurred to him to stop and buy a colddrink, or still more unimaginable, a meal. Bully beef and brown bread while squatting in some gravely culvert by the side of the road was quite good enough for him. He was frugal. He was stoic.

But of course there is so much more to be said of dad. He was erudite and scholarly. He was courageous. His memory for names and the details of peoples' lives was amazing and he loved working out the connections and relationships between people. He was very concerned for people but socially awkward. He was utterly reliable, faithful and honest. He loved simplicity but was impressed by wealth. He did not suffer fools and was judgemental about many things that did not meet his high standards. In times of crisis – and I gave them a few – he was completely there, focussed, giving and wise. He was the most organised and efficient planner and he couldn't bear sloppy administration. He diced with death throughout his life but accepted his dying with graciousness and gratitude. He suffered great insecurity and needed constant reassurance and acknowledgement. My mother unfailingly gave this to him and I want to pay tribute to you, Ma. You have a rare combination of a gentleness of spirit which let dad always determine your path, and a tenacity of purpose that enabled you to walk a path that no one else in the world could have walked with him.

Dad came into his own when he felt himself to be appreciated and loved. This happened for him in his group of Monday Mountaineers where he experienced a great companionship in the mountains that he loved so much. And this happened in a most profound way at this church of the good shepherd. Here he was seen and loved in ways that changed him deeply and powerfully. We thank you for the embrace of this church family for dad. Particularly in this last month of dad's illness we have experienced so much support and love and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

No one has had more of an impact on my life and more shaped my identity than dad. He, more than anyone else has evoked in me such idealism and adoration, such pain and fury, such compassion, such irritation and such love. In the last year or so dad has always greeted me as dear Daphne. And now I say farewell to my dear daddy who is so much a part of me.

© 2018 Peter de Lisle