Often the ancient Biblical warning that “the sins of the fathers are visited on the children, to the third and fourth generation” is all too clear to see evidenced. In Helen’s and my extended family some of us struggle to manage our money, our interests and our diet. We are grateful that violence, abuse, alcohol, and indolence don’t seem to be major issues in our little circle, but have certainly worked with people for whom they are.
My parents did not have an easy life, but they lived it in a good style, and their children are greatly blessed by not having any serious vices or crippling issues to contend with. These are some of the memories of my parents’ ways which I still cherish most…
Meal times were family time.
Dad’s work meant that he was normally emotionally or physically absent over the weekend and often away for the weekday evenings. But we always had breakfast together, and dinner almost always, and these were to us special times. During our primary school days, we came home for a hot lunch because in the early 1950s Dad’s work often took him away for the entire second half of his (often) 16 hours plus day. So our meal times were important and good times, although I now think they were sometimes too lively, with too much playful, childish banter and even teasing. But kids will be kids, my parents were clearly sparing with that notorious old rule that “children should be seen but not heard”, and they clearly didn’t have the energy to guide the family conversation towards more mature, educational, or just useful talk!
The neglect and degradation of meal times as family time today is something many of my generation regret, even deplore. Blame TV, individualism, work pressures, just plain sloth – whatever the reason(s), we believe that daily time together is like a sacrament: a gift, a reaffirmation of a pledge and of belonging, and time to share and remember.
Meal times were times of Christian devotion and teaching.
Breakfast and dinner included a chapter from the Bible or a Bible story book for children, which over our childhood gave all five of us siblings a thorough grounding in what my parents and I have regarded as God’s manual for living in and relating to our fellow beings and our planet. These meals also included a prayer which (thanks to Dad being a pastor and preacher) was pretty comprehensive, including thanks and needs, our wrongs and God’s kindness, our family and God’s wider interests. As we grew up my parents helped and later encouraged all of us their children to develop our personal walk with God: they bought me Scripture Union notes and taught me to pray.
Today only one of my siblings has continued with me as a Christ-follower, but I know all five of us still value highly our solid Christian faith foundation.
We were a bilingual family.
Our family interaction and even the Bible reading and prayer times happened in both English (our adopted language) and in Dutch (our mother tongue). Perversely, we kids had a tacit agreement to speak in English amongst ourselves (easier and the lingua franca) but in Dutch when it came to our parents, who were understandably keen to practise their second language as much as possible! When our youngest sister was born in Sydney in 1955 we decided that although born in Oz she had Dutch parents and would therefore become a Dutch speaker: Joyce speaks and writes passable Dutch today, certainly helped by her sibling’s decision.
All of us five siblings deeply appreciate retaining our bilingual skills over 60 years, as it very much enhances our links with our two national worlds.
The extended family was kept in touch.
As I have mentioned previously, migration cost us dearly in family and cultural ways. But my parents and our Dutch relatives certainly did what they could to maintain and build our awareness of our wider family and Dutch roots. There was always a blue air-letter in process of being written, and two or three would arrive in our letterbox every week: always from our grandparents but also from our uncles and aunts and my parents’ distant friends. Our home and sometimes each of us children also received postcards with a greeting and often a short message from our Dutch connections: this was just so personal and especially exciting. Postcards helped celebrate our birthdays, and also marked those times when our European relatives were summer-holidaying somewhere interesting.
As my siblings’ and my family nests are empty now, it has been very enriching to be able to renew our extended family ties on the basis that was laid by the names, letters and postcards that were so much part of our upbringing.
The internet, phone and international travel have made it so easy to return to and reinforce those ties. Thank you, Mum, Dad, and Dutch connection for your part in making this possible.