Searching for Daddy

I'm trying to picture life after February.
What will I be dreaming of? What worries will claw at my conversations like a child wanting attention?
In one week, I will be strapped onto a plane with those closest to me, venturing to the other side of the world.
It's no big deal, really.
Except for the fact this journey has been on my radar most of my life.
At my age, 45 years ago, my dad stepped onto a boat with those closest to him and set sail to the other side of the world.
They never returned.
There are many reasons why it's taken me this long to visit.
Living on the North Shore, I regularly come across South Africans relieved to have dodged a life behind electronic fences, driving through red lights to avoid being carjacked and shunning public transport.
But as we have introduced our one year old boy to each of our families, my husband and I have felt the pull to connect with Dad's side grow stronger still.
Through various circumstances, my sister Sharon and I are the only members of his family left in New Zealand.
This is a legacy trip that's been years in the making.
"Yeah, we'll go in a couple of years, definitely," my sister would say.
"That's the next big overseas trip we're doing, totally," I'd say.
"We are planning on going, for sure. Just after I pay off this car. After we get the mortgage down. When the baby's a bit older."
Yes, my son will experience his first flight in just over a week.
His very first flight bound for a land of wild snakes and baboons, wildly hot temperatures and even wilder after-dark behaviour.
It was 1971 when South Africa was in the throes of its ugliest social period that my 28 year old father upped sticks with his brother and parents for a better life.
Officially "coloured", Dad and his family required passes to show their ethnicity whenever they ventured out of the house.
Dad graduated from a coloured university, taught at a coloured school and mixed with a strictly coloured circle of friends.
There is little that I understand of this time.
The last conversation Dad and I had together was on the phone, after school back in 1998.
North Island to South, from my rumpus room desk, I heard about his new house and school in Waimate and I told him of my first days at intermediate.
He spoke nothing of the surprise visit he had been planning for Easter, or of the lung cancer that snatched that trip from us.
I fully expected, while pressing my ear to the phone as cartoons buzzed in the background, that I would hear his voice again soon.
After everything, Mum suggested I call his answering machine so I could be comforted by his pre-recorded voice on the other side.
I couldn't.
I lost Dad when I was 11. Now 18 years later, I'm going to find him.
His homeland is a destination I'm meeting with equal parts longing, awe and trepidation.
I have met but one of the extended family that eagerly awaits our arrival on the shores of Cape Town. I was four when Dad's cousin visited our Inglewood, Taranaki home, popping in while my sister and I were in the bath and teaching me how to blow bubblegum.
I am looking forward to seeing their faces and hearing their accented voices tell stories of Dad as a boy as I try to picture what he would be like as a man.
It is the thought of meeting the last strong link to Dad's family, his Aunty Alice, that has pushed this trip off the back burner and into fruition.
I hope that in taking this seemingly risky journey, that I am doing the right thing for my family.
The right thing, in retracing the steps of an earlier generation who sought to do right for our family, 45 years ago.


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