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Today is my father’s birthday.

I’ve only ever seen or heard my father cry twice in my lifetime.

The first occasion was at a family wake when we lost a dear cousin to a freak car accident. The memory is faint, I was young and I didn’t understand what had happened. I didn’t understand the sense of loss that was being expressed by the entire family.

The second occasion was on the day we left Johannesburg for Wellington. I knew my father wasn’t coming to the airport to see us off. I called from my sister’s house to say my farewells. There was the usual superficial chatter about how we were, the weather and if were all packed up and ready for the flight. Deep conversation has never been something we do, mostly because we don’t have a common language with which to express complex ideas and feelings. My Portuguese is rudimentary at best*, and my father’s English is a charming mix of odd words and expressions that he’s picked up having lived in South Africa for 40 years. Also, my father isn’t good with expressing emotion of any kind. That’s just how he is.

After wishing us well, he began to cry and he said in a choked voice: “I’m going to miss you.” He spoke in English as if to impress upon me his meaning.

Today I miss my dad. I miss that we won’t be going over to my folk’s place for lunch in celebration of his birthday. I miss that he won’t sweetly chastise me for giving him a present instead of saving the money for something ‘more important’, and yet he’ll be smiling so broadly because I remembered. I’m sad because we won’t gather around the table to eat my mom’s roast chicken, and he won’t pour a straight whiskey on the rocks for my husband and brother, even though they object a little too much. He won’t offer my mom, sister nor I a tot of aniz**.  We won’t eat too much, and then an hour later have coffee with a thick slice of my mom’s bolo de laranja***. And just when we’re about to leave, my daughter won’t take a little walk with my dad down to the spaza shop and help herself to a little chocolate, a bottle of bubbles, and a packet of chips. My dad won’t absolutely insist that we take some pimpinela or couve from their garden, or leftovers from Sunday lunch, home with us. And I won’t stand outside with my mom and siblings, hovering at the car doors, having one last conversation that lasts 45 minutes whilst my dad darts in and out of the house gathering more food to send home with us. None of that will happen.

And I am sad for it.

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*we were never formally schooled in the language

** a traditional aniseed liqueur made in Madeira; each bottle typically contains a dried aniseed stem with lovely crystals that form around it.

*** bolo de laranja = ‘cake of orange’; this is a recipe of my mother’s making. pimpinela = chayote. couve = collard greens.

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