A myriad of thoughts and feelings came up during my most recent massage. My therapist dug into my lower back, the structural, supportive area around my sacrum where I have been feeling some aching pain.
This time the memories that came up were about my father, second last born of 7 children. My thoughts went flittingly from his various traumas and the resilience he showed through them – the ones I know were the loss of his brother, the orphanage he attended in Wolverhampton – a racist area at the time he was a teenager, possibly debilitating jealousy and slander from various community members.
It is only my opinion that these were some of the parts of the story that gave rise to his alcoholism and chain smoking 70 cigarettes a day. My mind jumped to how tough it must have been to quit cold turkey as he did one fine day.
That day was August 15 1980, when his wife, my mother, asked him to stop. She was pregnant with me and couldn’t stand the smell of the smoke anymore.
His doctor had advised him to stop or else it would soon be too late, the emphysema was setting in while he was coughing out black tar regularly.
So almost 40 years on now, he doesn’t smoke, he drinks only socially.
He chose to stop harming himself. He chose life.
With his wife pregnant, as many parents-to-be start doing they make changes, they start growing up, they begin to figure out who they truly are.
My dad was faced with the prospect of growing a new family. He chose hope.
It’s not an easy or obvious thing to do when you are in the depth of your addiction, but he did it, he stopped drinking and smoking without skipping a heart beat so to say, without self-doubt, without external help in the sense of group therapies or nicotine patches and so on.
He never gave up. He continued to stand up after every fall.
The emotions around this moment were very likely deep, and painful. I only wish that my dad would share more of these stories with us. His advice to us was always “Don’t look back. Be positive.” He is an eternal positive to the point where it used to stress me out! I couldn’t understand why he rarely shared the stories of his difficulties with us, only his successes.
My massage therapist told me the story of how we all carry a wolf of darkness and a wolf of light within us, how acknowledging them both is key to living happily but that the one we feed more will grow stronger and be more present. So I see now that my dad chose to nourish and nurture the wolf of the light.
As part of his method out of darkness, he became a bit of an “exercise and health freak.” He represented Zambia as a cricket player from the age of 20-24 and then went back into the Zambian national cricket team and played with the team again from 37 to 40, after having taken back his life, fit and healthy.
Zambian National Cricket Team 1972. Ravi Devalia (standing third from the left)
He continues to focus on his healthy habits, “to a fault” is how I used to think of it. But now I see how important that was to him, as a counter to addiction, as he chose to forgive people around him, forgive himself, and chose love.
I don’t doubt now that my father’s one choice at that moment has passed on a legacy of exercise, healthy eating, and self care to the three of us as his children, into our choice of partners and probably will filter through into our children.
Aditya is the pro-footballer, respected coach, well-rounded thinker and healthy eater, Nanu the semi-pro squash champion, squash coach, ex-vegetarian and generally healthy eater, and me the yoga and dance enthusiast.
And then one has only to look to our choice in partners, my husband Maher the marathon runner, independent minded healthy eater, football enthusiast, to Stephanie the teacher, swimming coach, triathlete, and iron woman, and to Chantelle the physiotherapist, marathoner, football player, overall fitness geek and instructor, to see more of him, our father, seeping through into our lives.
Here’s a funny fact: all three of us met our life partners in a gym setting, and to top it off, our poor kids all have relentless “parent-coaches” now on their backs!
So where does this all go? It’s about the generational transmission of intention, to the ripple effect of choosing hope, forgiveness, and love.