Maverick Life

LESSONS FROM MY FATHER

The man with (nearly) all the answers: Samuel Johannes Jacobus Jantjies

Jantjies family photos. Courtesy of the author/ Image composite: Maverick Life

When I was growing up, my dad always said, and this is still one of his mantras: ‘Remember boys: Plig voor plesier’ (Duty before pleasure). That’s one of the things that has always kept me on track: do your duty before you do what brings you pleasure.

As told to Steve Anderson.

My dad, Samuel Johannes Jacobus Jantjies – generally known as Sammy – didn’t have an easy life when he was growing up. What he has done over the years to rise above very tough generational circumstances to a position where he holds down a job of much responsibility and has become widely known as a pillar of support to his family and the wider community, is a story that inspires me, and my brother, Sammy-Jo.

Dad was born and raised in Kylemore, a very small plaas dorpie outside Stellenbosch. That’s where we live. Not many people know where Kylemore is, even though some may drive through it along the wine route.

Dad is the second oldest of five children: he has four brothers and a sister, and also a half-brother who is older than all of them. Dad and my mom, Adeline, married in 1998. 

As a young child, life was not easy for my father. His late mother was a domestic worker and his late father a bricklayer. I remember my grandfather telling me that he and his siblings couldn’t even complete primary school because they had to go and work to earn money for the family to be able to put food on the table.

After school, he and his siblings had to do the housework, then collect firewood for their cooking, and make sure they had enough water for the household. As a kid, Dad was left with little time to play the sports he loved so much. Even when he had time to play, he couldn’t do more than play with his friends from Kylemore – because money was such a scarce commodity, his parents couldn’t afford the kit he needed, nor could they get him to matches in the district. 

Sammy on his way to a 10.92 win in the 100m, in his younger days. Image: Courtesy of the author

My father was raised in a very disciplined environment. The church (Old Apostolic Church) was a fundamental part of his upbringing; our faith is central to who we are. One of the many positive aspects of church involvement for Dad was that the officers of the church administered the local soccer club, Kylemore’s Seven Circles, so when he was older, his passion for sport – in this case, soccer – could be channelled into something more than the games with his buddies of earlier years. He was a good player, later representing the Northern Suburb Soccer Union Board team and the SANDF’s SACC Soccer Club. 

At Luckhoff High School he was able to play rugby, the sport he absolutely lives for now. And when in the army, he did athletics, running the best time in the 100m (10.92s). I’m grateful for the genes I’ve inherited! 

As I’ve said, Dad was, and still is, crazy about sport. My earliest childhood memory of my dad is playing cricket with him in the backyard. He built us a cricket net, using some old steel pipes and some netting. We couldn’t make a proper pitch so we just used an old mat. I remember friends coming over and we’d spend hours playing cricket.

Dad was always keen to join in, whether it was cricket we were playing in the yard, rugby or soccer. He’d get home from work and join in the game. Sometimes we could see that he was really tired but he’d still be keen to play and do his part to make sure that we enjoyed ourselves. That was quality time together.     

Sammy and Herschel. Image: Courtesy of the author
Hershel’s first visit to the Spur. Image: Courtesy of the author

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My dad never pushed me into something I didn’t want to do. He always let my brother and I try out anything we wanted to, especially when it came to sport. 

When I was 13 or 14, I was fortunate enough to play some club cricket in the same team as my dad and his brother. That was really special; it was all just fun playing with him; my dad never made anything serious of it – he just wanted me to have fun.

I guess other families have ways of spending time together; well, for Sammy-Jo and me, that was our way of spending quality time together –  playing sport.

When I was in primary school, I always wanted to attend the kind of school where I could show that I could compete with the best in the country. Fortunately, I got the opportunity to go to Paul Roos, through a scholarship. We still had to pay some of the school fees but it was the bare minimum, and there were a few occasions when we couldn’t even pay that. Most of my friends’ parents had the money to pay the full school fees, and every day at the tuck shop my mates would have money on them to buy something really quite fancy, but I’d usually just have two pieces of bread and a filler and would make myself a toebie, as we call it – a sandwich.

“Go out, have fun, enjoy it” 

Dad did so much for me when I was at Paul Roos: he was the guy who dropped me off at school in the morning, came to pick me up after rugby training, after cricket training. He was the one taking me to trials, whether my cricket trials or rugby trials. It didn’t matter where it was, he would take off from work if he had to, and would drive me there. I can’t think of a match he missed, from Grade 8 up to matric, except for one or two which we played in the week in another province, and an Easter Festival in Gauteng.

My father really got it right in the ways in which he supported me in my school sport. Having him there all the time didn’t ever lead me to think: oh my goodness, Dad’s here now – I have to perform. That happens with so many youngsters, and I think it’s because their parents – most often their father – place too much pressure on them.  

For me, I just felt so proud to have my dad there, to have my close family to come and watch me… It never became a situation where I felt that I had to prove to him that I was the best; my dad always said before my matches – and even says now as I play for my country – “go out, have fun, enjoy it”.  He’s right with this: the moment I stop enjoying whatever I’m doing, I should stop doing it.

The Jantjies family at the 1st team jersey handover at Paul Roos in 2014. Image: Courtesy of the author

Even though I’m now playing rugby at the highest level, he is still my mentor and sounding board. He’s just so honest in what he says to me,  maybe even more so than any coach can ever be. To my dad, I’ve never played the perfect game; there are always things I can improve on. He’ll always be brutally honest, but never in an overly critical way that might bring me down… his comments keep me grounded. They help me realise that I can still chase the perfect game; I can still chase being that perfect player. And it’s obviously not going to happen overnight, but I’m sure that one day my dad will say: “This was it, Herschel. This was that perfect game!” 

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On an emotional level, I can go to (my dad) with anything that bothers me; with anything I don’t feel comfortable with; with things I can’t tell other people and which need to be kept a secret – I know I can talk to my dad about them. And I know for sure he won’t go and talk to anyone. That’s the relationship we have; we have massive trust in each other. I trust my dad with everything, and I like to think he does the same with me.

When I was growing up, my dad always said, and this is still one of his mantras: ‘Remember boys: Plig voor plesier’ (Duty before pleasure).

As I get used to adult life and how I need to build my future, my dad has a massive role to play in it. I go to him with questions and he nearly always has the answers, and if he doesn’t have them then he’ll come back in a day or so with the answers I need. I guess that without my dad’s support – and my mom’s – I wouldn’t have been able to get where I am today. I’m especially thankful for the support that Sammy-Jo and I received at a very young age, when things were not always easy for my parents.

Back then, we had our struggles, as many around us in Kylemore did. But, those difficulties only made me stronger. In the midst of those challenges, dad would often say, and he still says it: “Ag, moenie worry nie” (Oh, don’t worry). He always says it in a positive, sincere way… he means it and he knows that things are going to work out.

On the couch with KLOP. Image: Courtesy of the author

When I was growing up, my dad always said, and this is still one of his mantras: “Remember boys: Plig voor plesier” (Duty before pleasure). That’s one of the things that has always kept me on track in terms of where I’ve wanted to go in life: do what’s your duty before you do what brings you pleasure.

Another of my dad’s sayings is “control the controllables”. Yes, I know some might say that’s a bit of a cliché, and I must admit, it’s advice that would sometimes make me a bit angry when I was younger. I’d say to him: “But Dad, I’m in a team; it’s not just me – I’m in a team.” 

That saying of his has always stuck with me, and has been of great help. Here’s an example: when I started to live away from home, staying at the Academy of Sports at the Western Province Sports Institute in Stellenbosch, that time was a challenge for me. I was being exposed to new things in a small student town where one can easily be distracted; one can easily be sucked into things that ultimately become really bad habits. 

Along the way, I’ve lost a few friends – really talented rugby players – who got sucked into a certain lifestyle… Those friends lost focus, lost control. It’s so very sad when that happens to someone who has huge potential, whether it’s in sport or some other area of life. Controlling the controllables – that’s what it was about, and I’m so grateful that my father drummed those words into me.

Sammy, Adeline and Hershel, not long after the World Cup. Image: Courtesy of the author

When I was at the academy in Stellenbosch, my parents would come and fetch me every weekend. I’d go home with them and there I’d often find myself thinking of my roots; thinking of where I’d come from; what my values were; where I wanted to go in life. That’s where my dad’s words would come through: “Remember, control the controllables” and, always “Duty before pleasure.” My duty was to focus on my rugby. And it had become clear from those days at the academy that I had to keep working at controlling what I could control. 

Dad taught me that. It paid off.

All these reminders, these gems of advice, were part of my upbringing. That’s where solid foundations were laid. The guidelines were clear, as were the expectations. When I was a teenager I was disciplined properly if I didn’t behave well; the army side of my dad would sometimes come out. (He joined the army straight after school as a way of earning some money for the family, and got the rank of corporal. He left the military after five years and took up a position at a local winery so as to be at home with his then very sick mother.)

You know, as a teenager, sometimes there’s some naughty stuff you catch onto and get involved in, and once I fell into some of that. There was one occasion when he said to me: “If you don’t behave you’re not going to play in the match tomorrow; you’re not going to be able to get a lift to the game. I’m going to see to it that you don’t play tomorrow if you don’t listen to me.”

I think my dad had that balance: he always knew the potential that I had, which maybe was what made him communicate with me in a calmer way than may otherwise have been the case, but he also knew exactly when he had to put his foot down.

Sammy working as ambulance reservist in his younger days. Image: Courtesy of the author

Self-sacrificing service to others outside of one’s family is something I learnt a lot about from my dad. A while back, he used to spend some of his free time as a volunteer doing ambulance services with what is now known as Disaster Management. He was actually the chairman of the volunteers in our region. He’s now an officer of the church, active in our congregation and in serving the community.

Dad is very free-giving, and always willing to help others. Sometimes he actually takes that to such levels that it puts him on the back foot with his own tasks that he has to complete. He never likes to disappoint people. He does, however, manage to strike a balance so that people don’t take advantage of his kindness. I must say though that his extreme self-sacrifice for others sometimes worries my mom because doing time-consuming favours for other people can have a negative effect on him.

I’ve been so blessed to have such loving parents, so committed to one another. Nothing could prepare one better for marriage and family life one day than what I see in my parents’ relationship. My dad and my mom, they really, really, really love each other. They care so much for one another. I’ve heard Dad say before that the secret to a long and happy marriage is to build it on love, trust, respect, understanding and unity in faith. I’ve seen that in my parents.

Brotherhood – Sammy-Jo and Hershel. Image: Courtesy of the author

I can’t think of one time when they had an argument in front of my brother and me. There may have been times when things weren’t right between them, but we never knew about it. I think that is partly due to the fact that my dad is such a calm guy, and he never overreacts to things. My mom doesn’t mind me saying this: she’s actually the one who does the overreacting, especially when it comes to rugby matches. On this topic, here comes a family and Paul Roos secret…

During a particularly tense match that I was playing for Paul Roos under-14s against Paarl Gym, things started to get really heated, on and off the field, as it was a very close and tense match. My mom was really fired up. Suddenly, there was a dash along the touchline by one of our guys who was heading for the very corner to score. Because so many spectators were standing very close to the edge of the field, it was difficult to see all the action, so my mom, in her wild excitement, ran far onto the field to be able to see the thrilling action better. She was so far into the actual field of play that the ref ran over to her. He was having none of it, and very sternly instructed her to “leave the field, immediately!” There was much laughter at this “red-carding” of my mom. I didn’t know what to say or do at the time: part of me wanted to crawl into the next set scrum to hide my embarrassment, but another part wanted to shout out with pride: “That’s my mom!”

This anecdote gives an idea of how my mom could react, and how excitable she sometimes could be, especially when it came to her son’s rugby matches! (By the way, my mom gave me the go-ahead to tell this story. Dankie, Ma!)

I love my mom to bits, and her exuberance, but it is more the calmness of my dad which I want to take from, and try to copy. And when I’m a father one day I will try not to argue in front of my children; I am really grateful to my parents for how they have shown us that this is possible. 

My parents have made me (the person) I am today, and I have been so fortunate to have a father who has known how best to support and guide me, in life generally and especially in my rugby career. 

And the hard times, the tough times, especially of my early childhood (and I guess of my dad’s childhood, too) have also shaped who I am today, and I’m very grateful for that. But I’m not someone who dwells on the struggles of the past, and my dad always pushes me to remember: it’s more about where I’m going than where I’ve come from. DM/ML

Herschel Jantjies is a South African professional rugby union player for the national team and the Stormers in Super Rugby. He plays at scrumhalf for the Springboks.

Lessons from My Father is a series of interviews and stories collected and written by Steve Anderson. Anderson has been a high school teacher for 32 years, 26 of them at two schools in East London and the last six at a school in Cape Town where he heads up the Wellness and Development Department and teaches English and Life Orientation. Throughout his career he has had an interest in the part fathers play in the lives of their children. He says: “This series is not about holding up those who are featured as being ‘The Perfect Father’. It is simply a collection of stories, each told by a son or daughter whose life was, or whose life has been in some way positively impacted by their father… And it doesn’t take away the significant part played by mothering figures in the shaping of their children. Theirs are the stories of another series!”

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