When I was a little girl all I wanted to do was play cricket (or any form of sport) with the neighbourhood boys. This was partly due to the fact that there were only neighbourhood boys. No girls. Not one Barbie tea party. Which is a good thing, because I wasn’t that much into playing Barbies.
The only problem was, the boys didn’t want to play with me. What would girls know about cricket? Well, they had one thing right, I couldn’t hit the ball. When they did let me play, they’d practice their best ‘googlies’ and ‘bouncers’ at my expense. I clearly kept my eye on the ball a little too well, and on more than one occasion sported a lovely bruise between my eyes.
Luckily, though, my dad would sometimes come to the rescue. My dad was a fantastic sportsman in his day. He was also a very good teacher.
He would stand behind me, arms either side of mine helping me grip the bat – enveloping me in his strength and protecting me from anything those boys would dish up. He’d make sure the ball connected with the bat, not between my eyes. He kept my elbow up, my line straight.
This was all about 35 years ago.
When Dad was 49, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Gradually, over the years we have seen him slow down and lose his fine motor skills. When he was first diagnosed, the prognosis was grim. The doctor told him that he could well be in a wheelchair five years down the track. Fortunately, since then, there have been some great advances in the treatment of Parkinson’s.
Today my dad turned 70, and there isn’t a wheelchair in sight.
Yesterday we had a party to mark this milestone in his life . It was at my place, so of course there was champagne. And all the aunties and uncles and family friends who had heard the stories wanted to see some live sabering action. So I showed them how it was done once, then convinced someone new to try each time a bottle needed opening. I didn’t really need to twist anyone’s arm terribly hard!
As the day went on, I became more and more determined to get my dad to sabre a bottle. I had a couple of obstacles in my way, though. Firstly he’s a teetotaler – hard to believe he produced me, I know. Secondly, and slightly more problematic is that he is not really able to hold the bottle.
I started laying the seeds early on “You should do the next one, Dad, you’re the Birthday Boy”. He’d just smile and say he couldn’t. “Of course you can, I’ll show you how.” He didn’t immediately take the bait, but the next time I asked him I could see a spark of interest in his eyes “Is there a bottle that needs opening, then?”. You see, my dad, being the consummate sportsman, even despite his disability, is never one to shy away from a challenge. “Quitters never win, and winners never quit,” he’d tell me every time I’d get discouraged and want to give up when I was young.
Finally, we cut the cake, some nice speeches were made, and it was clearly time for another bottle to be opened. “C’mon Dad, your turn – I’ll hold the bottle for you”. That put a spring in his step, and sent everyone else scrambling for their cameras, phones, and videos.
I explained the basics to him, and told him he just had to follow the seam, and follow through with his motion, just like he’s told me to do with my backhand in tennis. I told him that I had the bottle and he just had to worry about finding the sweet spot. And he did. First try. Because he is amazing. And he is not a quitter.
Yesterday we created another wonderful memory. And I thought back to when I was a little girl and he was helping me to bat, and I thought that somehow, the tables had turned.
Happy Birthday, Dad!