Darra

In this post, the writer, from Cape Town, reflects on the life of her working class father, who like her friends' fathers worked tough jobs for low pay, and hid his vulnerabilities.

Image credit Andrew Garton via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0.

Where I grew up you hardly heard someone say “dad” or “daddy,” it was always Derrie, Derra or Darra. We called my father Darra [a colloquial name for daddy on the Cape Flats]. His name was Raymond aka Boeta German or Boeta G; literally because he always looked stern. I used to think it was because of his light skin, until someone in my family explained the naming. Trust Capetonians to give you a nickname. He had a friend called slang [Afrikaans for snake] because he was skinny. One other friend was called perdekop [horse’s head]. For years I thought maybe it was because he resembled a horse. I found out it was because he was always placing bets on horse races.

On June 16th 2021, my father had been dead for 16 years. I never felt a need to write about it. His death was so swift and the funeral even faster. Then, recently, I heard a song he liked so much and started thinking about him and our relationship.

He was a complex man. Quiet when sober. Loud and angry when drunk. For years I dismissed him so unfairly for this. I never processed his traumas and, as a man of his age, social standing, and skin color, what this all meant to his life. He started working when he was 12 out of necessity. He kept working and ended up on fishing trawlers. He did so much. He was in construction, cleaning, and fish hawking. He was always skarreling [hustling]. He was the original skarrelkind.

He was also so generous. It was small things I remember: buying a bag of oranges then sharing with the whole Argo Way off of Galaxy Crescent in Mitchell’s Plain. Or how took me and my sister to the opening of Westgate Mall and bought us goema hare [candy floss] and held us in each of his arms so we could see above the crowd.

I don’t think he ever recovered from an assault by the police. He had bought a Mercedes sedan from his boss at the time. The company was the biggest name in construction in Cape Town. One day, he was pulled over by the police and beaten up and asked how a Hotnot [a slur for colored South Africans] could be driving a Mercedes. His boss drove from Newlands, a rich white suburb along Table Mountain, to bail him out and prove he sold him the car; he was making weekly payments.

For a long time I just dismissed him as an angry drunk. He really wasn’t. He was gentle but had no real outlet for his trauma. At the time who did? The men drank and kept drinking. They worked tough jobs with low pay, and still tried to hold back any vulnerable emotions about it. All they knew was aggression.

He calmed down with the drinking in his last years. He couldn’t keep up anymore. I saw more of the real him during this time. I saw the man who taught me to ride a bike; who bought a bike from a postman so I could have the best bike in our street. I saw the man who called in sick from work so he could take us to the Spineview Primary School fair—a local carnival—so we could ride on the Big Wheel. I saw the man who took us to Kalk Bay and taught us about fish and how to cook it well and properly. He actually taught me about food sustainability long before it was fashionable. Insisted we eat the whole fish. No waste.

He was also the first person I was really open with years ago about my sexuality. We would always watch movies and TV shows together. I made a casual remark that I was like one of the characters; all he said was “Ok, that’s good then.” It was all I needed from him to never feel shame ever again. He loved music so much. I get the repeat play habit from him. He would ask us to rewind his Engelbert Humperdinck and Patsy Cline tape cassettes over and over for him. He had great taste. He wore bold shirts, and could langarm [a South African dance form] his way around a dancefloor like a pro at any function we attended. He was the problem solver too. He came to so many people’s rescue. To this day people still talk about how Boeta G helped them.

He really loved us and tried so hard not to let alcohol consume him, though it did many times.

See, he was more than the bad parts of him.

He was my Darra.

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