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Op-eds

The things our children will never experience

  • Howard Feldman 2018
We were having dinner, and discussing what food my wife had prepared for an upcoming trip to the Kruger National Park. The list was uninteresting, and included the predictable.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Jul 05, 2018

That is until I asked how she intended to heat everything. “We bought a brothel,” piped my son. “A what?” I asked thinking I had not heard correctly. “A brothel,” he repeated, to my wife’s horror. “No boy,” she corrected, “It’s a skottel. A skottel!”

Which made me realise just how far removed our children are from the world we that grew up in. This is not to suggest that we would have known what a brothel was, but we most certainly would not have mixed it up with a skottel.

Younger parents (those in their 20s or 30s) might still live with the illusion that the chasm between themselves and their children might not be that big. They might still feel very up to date with the latest in technology and trend. But it won’t last. Before they realise it, they too will look at the life that their children are leading, and wonder how to describe their own.

Our children have never had the experience of the comical multilingual announcement. “Good morning, goeie more, kan ek jou help, can I help you?” That phrase will never trip off their tongues as it might ours, and they have never been threatened that some rowdy bunch was going to throw them “with some stones”.

Most likely, they have never watched any television programme produced in English, dubbed into Afrikaans, and then simulcast back into English on Radio 2000. They will never understand the heart-sinking feeling that because it’s Thursday, they will have to be patient until 8pm in order for the English broadcast to begin. They will never have watched the test pattern as they waited for 6pm for TV to start, and will never contemplate how one was either a Betamax or VHS family.

For that matter, they can have no idea what it is to wait for Tuesday nights to find out what happens next in Dallas, and they definitely never spent an entire Northern Hemisphere summer wondering who shot JR. And then, not ever really understanding who pulled the trigger. They also did not learn what a mastectomy is from Miss Elli.

Unlike us, our children were never burdened with closed shops and cinemas on a Sunday, because it was the “day of rest”.

Our children will never experience riding their bicycles around the block over and over in the July holidays, and having no way for their parents to contact them. They will never know what it is to be completely without technology, and not have immediate access to information should they need it.

Unlike us, they won’t need to listen at the door when their parents speak in whispers about riots and robberies and the dangers of the secret police. Because if they want the information, they can access it.

Conventional thinking is that the generation gap between our parents and theirs was one of the deepest. Many of our grandparents came from Europe, which meant that not only was there a geographical divide, but also a linguistic one, of culture as well as upbringing.

Often, the horror witnessed and experienced by that generation forced them to leave all memories behind, both the bad and the good, which removed them even further from each other.

That said, the advent and exponential fast pace of technological development has had a similar effect on the relationship between us and our children. Add to that the fact that many of us spent our youth under an apartheid regime, something our children thankfully cannot begin to fathom, it distances us even more.

Neither childhood was all good or all bad. Just very different.

It is difficult to understand how our children, who carry part of us, are not part of our experience. It is difficult, as they get older, to not assume that our knowledge is theirs, and that our backgrounds are shared. Shared DNA is just that. And as much as it perplexes us, if we want them to know that a skottel is not a brothel, then we have to tell them. And maybe, let them know that although they are different, both can burn them.

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