/ 12 November 2008

The romance of the rand

Forget about Barack Obama, I have decided to be rich and famous. This is a decision I did not come to lightly, but after much introspection during almost 40 years on this earth. Critically, you need to be both.

My problem with the famous poor is that they think their name alone should open doors that even self-important politicians would have difficulty getting through. Equally, the unknown rich hope that their cars, houses and clothes are enough to grab attention. More like lipstick on a pig.

This week I cast my eyes back on an episode that has left an indelible mark on my life.

In the summer of 1983 my childhood sweetheart — the first woman I ever looked at and said, “This is my future wife” ­- ditched me for a lipstick-wearing pig. I have never recovered.

In spite of being an above-average kid at school, scoring well in subjects generally regarded as anti-black — like mathematics — I was no match for this man. Though he ranked among the ugliest men I knew in my township (don’t you ever accuse me of sour grapes), he was born of wealthy parents. His family owned a string of businesses, including a supermarket and a filling station. His family was known by name.

Mathematics and charm aside, I, on the other hand, had nothing to show the girl. Other than my ability to memorise and parrot all the recitations in class, I was just another poor boy of blue-collar parents.

So while I charmed my childhood sweetheart back at primary school, in her early teens, during that despicable state called puberty, she realised that mathematics doesn’t buy the fancy things in life. Okay, we know today that mathematics can go a long way to make one rich, but my warning to 13-year-old boys is that as a teenager, your ability with numbers is about as useful as your tree-climbing prowess — a fart in the wind. She still left me for him.

Today when I look at my son, I do not wish upon him half the troubles I have seen. Forget about apartheid and the gangsters I had to survive, only now in life do I come to realise that there is no bigger curse than being born to a nameless parent without a bank balance. It will not matter that your father was a conscientious activist or that he named you Uhuru or Madiba. It will not matter that your mother was so sought-after at 16 that she had to quit school to raise you.

One thing’s for sure though, teenage girls don’t care about your history. I do not want to see my son sobbing his eyeballs out because some unambitious sod left him for a small-town radio disc jockey who changed his name from Kgetsi to Stan Getz. It would break my heart to know that after sacrificing half his lunch box at primary school, my boy was ditched for some lousy loser whose father owns a football team. For as long as I remain a low-life who wakes up every morning chasing month-end, I am exposing my boy to the clear and present danger of continual heartbreak.

True, girls grow up and realise that fame and richness aren’t everything, but most of them would sacrifice fame rather than wealth. In the event that my boy is not found to be good-looking, or does not scoop the odd Scrabble-loving lass, I want to give him every opportunity to compete for the normal girl who dreams of rich and famous in-laws. Not many will love him for who he is rather than his money, his looks or his father’s fame.

Granted, later in life some girls get to love poetry and they find playwrights exciting and attractive. They have this “thing” for intellectuals. But all girls love a healthy bank balance, especially if it comes with a famous account-holder.

So the decision to be rich and famous so late in my life is a selfless act on my part. As my father chose loyalty to Orlando Pirates above all others and then bequeathed it to me, I want my son to look back and say: “Dad, you did not give me the good looks, you did not teach me poetry and you did not take me to the best schools … but you sure gave me a good start the day you let me take your Ferrari with the personalised registration ‘Rams’ to my matric dance and every girl abandoned the hopeless romantics in tuxedos to hang around me.”