[A Father’s day tribute to my dad. This is the first year I face this day without you.]
The origin story of our father’s scar is a long-standing family tradition that constantly ignites humour in its vast inconsistency. With three kids born in three different generations, we each heard a different story of how our dad got the scar. One thing was consistent in all its retellings though, and it was that he received this scar during a war.
The perfectly round, dime-sized, shiny scar that was on the outer side of our dad's right thigh, shed light into a life that once was. Be it a life he missed or just remembered, it was the remnants of a life before his kids, and even before his wife.
One Father’s day, sitting around the dinner table, all in good cheer, the story came up about the origin of dad’s scar. We all decided to tell the origin story as we knew it to be true.
Terence, the eldest of us all, first questioned my dad’s scar in around 1979, when he was just a four-year-old boy – the age when curiosity practically peaks and everything seems to be a question.
“Dad, how did you get that on your leg?” this was an innocent question that our father probably knew would come on that hot summers evening after a swim, him reclining with his son outside, under the setting sun. Small fingers poked at the scar and dad made an extravagant gesture of pain at the slight touch.
“I got it during the war, son.”
Terence’s eyes grew big as dad said the words. Dad didn’t need to say anymore for his son to gaze at him in awe and amazement.
“Really? What happened? What war? Was it a bomb? I didn’t know you were in a war?”
The questions spilled out of the wide-eyed boy. If his dad wasn’t the most awesome man to grace this earth before, he certainly was now.
“During the Vietnam War. I was protecting my best friend from enemy fire and I took a bullet to the leg. But because my friend saw me trying to protect him, he helped me run away to safety.”
A young four-year-old boy only heard his dad being a hero, and never thought to question why a South African man who was recently married and expecting his first child would be fighting in the Vietnam War.
Now, more than 40 years later, when telling the story, Terence stands with a quizzical look on his face, knowing that it doesn’t add up.
“No, dad,” he laughs, “this story just doesn’t make sense, now that I think about it.”
A sly smile crosses their father’s face as Trevor prepares to tell his version of the story.
When the second son curiously asked about his father’s scar, it was seven years after the first telling of the tale. Times had changed and what was prominent and relevant in 1986 – what was history in the making – had changed.
In 1986, South Africa was set against the backdrop of intense racial discrimination under the apartheid regime. Wars were fought on the ground level with bombings and explosions as the sound track to daily tasks.
On a summer’s afternoon, between dad washing the car and his sons playing soccer, his youngest at the time ran up to him with great concern on his face.
“DAD! You got hurt!” the six-year-old shouted, telling his father rather than asking him. The love in his father’s eyes grew because of the concern that came from his son.
“No, my boy. This is an old scar,” dad says, with honest admiration for this little boy’s worry.
“Well, I was trying to help a few friends get home before dark, before the cops came around and saw them walking in the street. All eight of us managed to fit in the car, but not before we saw the lights flashing and heard the siren wailing. We were all scared. We knew this could mean us getting arrested. I couldn’t get arrested because I had you, your mother and your brother waiting for me at home.”
The little boy’s eyes grew wider and wider as he hung onto every word that came out of his father’s mouth.
“We all had to step out of the car and present our dompasses (passes that all non-white people over the age of 16 were required to carry outside of their designated areas). As we stepped away from the vehicle, about six guys, dressed all in black, threw petrol bombs at the cops. One of the bombs landed right by my leg and when it exploded, shrapnel hit my leg and left me with this scar.”
Sitting at the dinner table, once again, his son knew the story didn’t add up.
“I remember that time, dad. You always made sure you were home before dark, even when you were on your way from work. That’s how you kept us safe. Besides, how could shrapnel leave a perfectly round scar?”
Again, dad chuckled with the mischievous smile playing around his lips.
“Ah, come on! Why don’t I get an elaborate story like that?” Theresa, the youngest of the three, and the only girl, asks a father who constantly tried to shield her and protect her innocence.
“Why, what origin story did you hear?” Terence asks.
“All dad told me was that he got shot in the leg while fighting in a war.”
“Well, you looked like you were going to cry when I told you that and you didn’t ask any more questions. Also, you weren't really interested in any details of war in the late 90's,” dad points out matter-of-factly.
The stories of the scar are all shared in the light-hearted atmosphere. When the kids leave the table, their mother steps over to their father and softly asks, “When are you going to tell them it was just a boil that your mother had to burst when you were a young boy?”
“Never,” he says, the smile still dancing around his lips. “With these stories, I am a hero to my kids.”
Later that night, once everyone has left or retired to bed, dad opens up his Father’s day gift. It is a medal unlike any other. There, engraved in gold, it says: World’s Greatest Dad.
He reads the letter with tears in his eyes:
You don’t have to be a war hero to be our hero. You’re our hero because you’re our dad.
PS use a warm compress and antibacterial soap for any future boils. Also, tissue oil will prevent scarring.