What fascinates me most is how my Dad can just look at a project, visualize it and simply start. No sketching, no triple checking calculations and using spreadsheets. Just crafting the image he cooked up in his mind and moulding it into reality.
He comes from a different generation where having a trade and being a skilled artisan was the natural progression. I’ve seen him build cupboards in our home with minimal planning, sometimes making adjustments along the way with his trusty planes, almost always looking at the problem and muttering under his breath that it’s “out by 5mil”. Ultimately, resulting in something built to last. It’s a style almost other-worldly compared to my own very planned and calculated approach. But, like a sculptor, he has brought to life so many pieces in our home – including the very home we live in. He is the manifestation of the art and science of his trade.
The trade artisan career was what most of the men in our family pursued during apartheid South Africa. Carpenters, plasterers, mechanics, electricians or working at Nedbank – those were generally our family’s options. But this isn’t a piece about politics.
Rather, it is about how I’ve grown to know my Dad.
Some of the earliest memories I have is seeing him bent over a table saw and cutting wood in my aunt’s garage in Sherwood Park. He was fitting pine wall panelling which was a staple in Cape Malay households in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I now associate the smell of wood shavings and the loud whir of table saws with my Dad.
While he was planning, cutting and fitting the panels for Aunty Sally, I was in the yard with my cousin Reyanah playing with her Barbie collection – I think it was already safe to say that I wasn’t exactly going to be following in my Dad’s chosen career path… lol
Throughout the years I’ve seen him build extraordinary things. From custom designed cupboards, wooden rocking horses for the kids in our family, to restoring old furniture which often looked irreparable. He truly is a master craftsman. He came through the traditional school of studying a trade, completing an apprenticeship and then building skills and experience over a career. It was tough work and the many pairs of worn overalls I’ve seen come through our home were evidence to this.
Even though the work has demanded a lot from him physically, he is at his happiest when building something and sharing that hard work – a bond among men in the trade. The pride at accomplishing his project and being able to stand back and look upon it knowing that he built something properly and without cutting corners. This is a value he’s imparted to me.
Two years ago, he single-handedly restored my 100-plus year old Victorian house in a matter of weeks, all while I was at work in my corporate gig. From replacing light fixtures, to painting both interior and exterior, to plastering weather damaged walls and more. He just went on methodically from one area of the house to the next and now it will probably withstand another 100 years of Cape Town weather being thrown at it. A gift that will live on long after he is gone. A legacy created out of love for his family and expecting nothing in return.
Last week, he completed the final bit of the renovations on my parents own Victorian styled home together with my cousin Aasief a master bricklayer and plasterer. It brings the end to a restoration and renovation project that has been going on for 20 years. Now in his retirement, he can finally just relax and focus on growing his veggies and spices in the yard. But somehow I expect to see a few more pieces of furniture come to life from his imagination before he calls it quits.
The craftsman will get restless.