Dad was born in 1913, the youngest of five children plus a cousin: as often happened in those times his parents had taken in a foster child. My grandfather was a bookbinder who ran his small business from a shopfront (now an Indonesian restaurant) on one of Amsterdam’s best-known streets; the family lived in the crowded floors above the shop.
Both dad’s parents were very much part of the Dutch Reformed Christian world of the late 19th and earlier 20th centuries. The accounts of the “Doleantie” (“protest” or “regret”) which marked the start of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands to which my family belonged included several names of people who were also part of Dad’s extended family or church circle.
Opa (my grandfather) van der Bom was very much committed to the Reformed Christian world-and-life-view being espoused by the Church’s leadership: he wanted the Lordship of Jesus Christ and his Christian faith to motivate everything he did in any part of his daily life and work. So the bindery and shop staff started each day with a Bible reading and prayer, and Granddad attended a meeting of the International Labour Conference in Geneva in 1932 – representing Dutch Christian employers and to support the world’s trades unions “organising”.
Dad’s mother came from a family of teachers and writers: one of Dad’s aunts wrote a widely used children’s story Bible and other books. Oma van der Bom passed on her family’s love of words and writing skills to my articulate father and his children. On the other hand, Dad’s two brothers were technically gifted: they chose civil engineering and architecture, fields I also love. My family has been blessed by a rich blend of the literary arts and technical skills.
We’re told Dad preached his first sermon as a small boy in a bath-tub sermonising to a scrubbing brush. Although he grew up in a strongly committed and academically rigorous Christian and Reformed slice of Dutch society, he was able to develop a relatively open- and broad-minded view of faith and life issues. Dad’s secondary schooling was at Amsterdam’s Christian “Gymnasium” – not a basketball building but a high school teaching academic rather than practical or mid-stream subjects. He felt called by God to continue his studies towards becoming a Christian minister, an honoured profession in the first half of the 20th century, and enrolled at the “Free University of Amsterdam” – a multi-faculty institution set up by thoughtful Reformed Christians to be independent of both government and church control. The Reformed Churches in the Netherlands ran a seminary, whose graduates were generally recognised as being less independently–minded and more church-loyal and theologically conservative than their “FU” colleagues!
Dad graduated during the depths of the world Depression, and had to make do with a series of lowly paid positions assisting senior ministers in several Dutch cities. During his university studies he had met and become engaged to Willy, but marriage was impossible, and seven long years of marking time and restraint followed before Dad was invited to work for a Friesian church in the summer of 1943. My parents married immediately!
In 1948 Dad was called to work with the Reformed Churches in the northern city of Groningen which had suffered from a bitter division over a relatively minor issue that was inflamed by what we often call “Dutch personality” issues and poor conflict management. Dad’s practical, pastoral, and irenic manner was an asset in Groningen and at least as much in his later years in Australia.
Next time: Dad’s life and work in the Land of Oz