A FATHER'S LAMENT
When a child flies the nest it’s always a testing time, but when your son is going to one of the most dangerous places on earth, it’s doubly worrying, says Guy Grieve
Guy Grieve finds loosening the reins to see his son travel tough going
‘It breaks my heart to think that I will never return to my country of birth’
Today my eldest son is leaving Scotland on his first big journey as a young man. Oscar is off with his school rugby team on a three week tour of South Africa. I found myself conflicted when his school contacted us with the great news that he had been selected for the trip. Firstly, I was very proud of his achievement and excited that he was going to see my fatherland and feel for the first time the beautiful, southern African sunshine on his skin, and have a chance to experience the sights, sounds and people of a different part of the world. His family has deep roots there, right back to his great-great grandfather, who was the son of a Presbyterian Reverend Surgeon from Aberdeenshire and was also the Reverend at the siege of Ladysmith during the Boer war.
These positive feelings were coupled with anxiety as in so many ways I wished it was Australia, New Zealand or Canada he was going to visit instead. The thought of him being there without me to protect him and possibly offer armed back up, thousands of miles away in a country which is notoriously violent and dangerous, was terrifying. Sadly, South Africa is a country with appalling crime figures and horrendous levels of violence, where straying out of the relative safety of gated communities and homes protected by razor wire is a risk.
It breaks my heart to think that I will never return to my country of birth, the reason being that it is impossible to ignore such tragedy. Of course in my youth the country was controlled by Apartheid and a vicious police state. Yet, being honest with myself, if he’d been heading to South Africa during this era I’d have felt, unforgivably, far less worried about his safety; for the simple reason that during those times it was a minority tribe in firm control, though with indefensible motivation and means.
Now history is correcting itself. White South Africans are vulnerable, and in some cases – as demonstrated by the violence against whites in rural areas – actively on the run. And now my son is visit- ing to play rugby, the sporting totem of the white ruling class. I’ve no doubt that he’ll be safe within the confines of his hotel, playing fields and the homes of his host families, but I just wish it was some other country. A land less complex, less violent, where rugby belonged to the many and not the few. A land where he could walk safely with his friends, building his own feel of the place, instead of remaining within artificial bubbles of prosperity.
I feel ashamed by my worries. Ashamed too that the roots of the tragedy of my country lie within the destructive march of British colonialism. I think of Oscar’s great grandfather, propelled and buoyed by an Empire’s call for her sons, who left South Africa and headed north at the same age, 17, finding himself in a kilt and apron, fighting hand to hand in the Battle of Delville Wood during the First World War. He came back to South Africa a changed man. I wonder how this visit will change my son?