A family affair

In no other space are our leadership skills challenged more than at home

The place where leadership skills are put to the most stringent test is in the family circle. It used to be simple. Dad was the boss and everyone did his bidding. Just like the captain of a ship or an aircraft. 

That’s gone of course because nowadays in many families, husband and wife share the decision-making. And in others even the children are consulted on where to go out for lunch, where to go on holiday, what movies to go and see and what car to buy. I am not kidding about that last one, because a recent research study on ‘pester power’ or the influence children have over parental purchase decisions, showed that kids actually influence more than 40% of motor vehicle purchases.

In my home, we didn’t quite go as far as letting the kids take part in any of these decisions but I have to say that my wife and I now share decision-making. 

She decides where we will live, what we will eat, how our home will be furnished and I decide on whether or not the USA should attack Iraq and the wisdom of having two spinners in the Protea’s test side.

As the latter responsibility includes ownership of the TV remote, I am content with this arrangement.  

I come from a huge family. My paternal grandfather and grandmother arrived in South Africa from Holland about a century and bit ago and set about the business of procreation with considerable gusto. Not only setting an example themselves with nine children but passing the tradition on to their descendants, many of whom accepted the mantle of ‘princes of procreators’ by having many children. My brother holds the immediate family record with nine children including two sets of twins. 

There are, I believe, more than 4 000 descendants of my paternal grandfather and grandmother in South Africa right now and if only we could agree on at least a few things we could be a political party. Now that’s leadership for you. 

Interestingly my grandparents’ children, well, the sons particularly, mostly all married English, Irish or Scots women. I asked why and never ever got a reasonable answer. My father and his siblings were all brave men. 

Anyway, as a consequence of this, my bloodline is 50% Dutch, 25% Irish and 25% Scots. This  is something of a challenge every Heritage Day holiday in South Africa when I have to wear wooden shoes, eat cheese and raw fish, drink copious amounts of Guinness with Johnnie Walker Black on the side, all the time making sure my testicles don’t show when I sit down in my kilt. And then shouting “top of the morning” to anyone who will listen. 

My immediate family hates Heritage Day.  One would think however, that having such, let us say, ‘rich’ heritage with both sets of grandparents having been born abroad, I would be able to pick and choose a useful foreign passport. 

Of course, I am a very proud South African but like many others I get very frustrated by having to crawl on my knees to beg for visas from Europe and their dreaded Schengen, not to mention the finicky Australians and now the insane British who require a visa even if you are just passing through Heathrow Airport for half an hour. 

Well, the Dutch laughed at me and literally told me to go to hell, which, of course I didn’t – I just went on holiday to Ireland instead because they remain one of the few countries South Africans can visit without a visa. 

Anyway, when it came to an Irish passport they were very sympathetic and extremely impressed with my accent when I gave them my salutary “top of the morning”, in spite of this actually not being something that real Irish people say anymore. 

They apologised profusely and said that quite apart from a fire at Somerset House having destroyed all my family records, they weren’t all that keen on issuing passports to the decendants on the mother’s side but only to paternal descendants. 

The Brits were the same about my Scots heritage. Only paternal descendants need apply. 

So, at the end of it all, this entire exercise left me with the understanding that the British and Irish were sexist and discriminated quite openly against the daughters of their citizens. And the Dutch were just, well ... Dutch.  

Actually its all turned out quite well because now when I go abroad I choose those countries that don’t require visas from South Africans. 

Which is a pity because I still love countries in Europe, and Scotland is a firm favourite. 

But alas, I have to live with the stigma of discrimination and feel a bit sorry for myself that my father’s people came from Holland and my mother’s from Ireland and Scotland and not the other way round. 

It has suddenly occurred to me though, that the lack of travel that has faced my family is probably the reason why there are now more than 4 000 of us.



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Issue 394


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