The Rotterdam of the late fifties is the time in which I was born. The reconstruction of the devastated city was in full swing. When I think of my early childhood, I hear the endless sound of piles being beaten into the ground. A port city divided into built-up areas and empty sandy plains waiting for re-use. Our family lived in the middle of the center, in the shadow of the Laurenskerk. On Wednesdays I was allowed to stay up for an hour longer, because the Carillon of the City Hall was played until nine o’clock. The sound of passing trains over the air track was also a constant. As soon as you put a foot on the street, you had to determine whether the peers you encountered were friends or foes. It was the time that disagreements, quarrel, an insult or being bullied, was fought every day with feet and fists. You were always on edge.
As an advertising painter, my father made the big signs every week with film announcements hanging above the entrance of the largest Cinema CINEAC on the Coolsingel. On Wednesday afternoon, my mother received payment from the director. If I were present, we were allowed to attend the performance via a side entrance. One afternoon I saw a cowboy movie after the Polygoon News. The image of the gunfighter who picks up an opponent by the collar and then gives him a blow, which makes the villain collapse, would stay with me.
That same week I was bullied at several moments of the school day by fellow students, who saw easy prey in the sensitive boy I was. The school went out at about four o’clock and the biggest bastard of the group of bullies started pushing at me and insulting me. I turned around, grabbed him by the collar and gave him the blow I had seen the day before. The boy collapsed and had to go to the hospital with an ambulance. The school management had a conversation with my parents, but the bullying was over from that day.
When my father grew up, one day he saw an advertising painter at work. He took care of the lettering and the decorations on a truck. My father asked the man where he could learn this and within a week he was hired as a student at Atelier Leo Mineur. My father learned the trade there. In the evenings he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts and Technical Sciences.
Between the call of the arts and modernism, my father chose craftsmanship. To be able to maintain yourself was a great asset from 1930 onwards, the time of the great global economic crisis. Moreover, craftsmanship stimulates important qualities in a person. Peace, attention, care and patience. If one of those features is missing, you can mess up a workpiece at the last minute.
I have seen my father regularly at work. In his studio or on location. Sometimes I was allowed to help with the preparatory work, later with the completion of the parts, even when I was already living on my own. The concentrated way in which he did his work, within every phase of the project, is alive, even to this day. In that method there was a rhythm, a way of breathing, a choreography of steps and movements. Within that expressing craftsmanship you experienced his love for the metier. Another love was nature, which he experienced as healing. His landscape paintings testify to that.
Besides cinema and corporate advertising, my father also painted for the circus and the fair. When the work was done, we were free to go to the show or enter the terrain. The self-esteem that my father derived from his profession was untouchable. The day before he died, he confided to me that his happiness in life had always been in the fact that he could have earned his living independently. He did not know more ambitions. Being a good professional and a good person was enough. At his funeral not only old colleagues, but also several old friends of mine attended the ceremony. Some of them knew him from our high school time. All sisters of my mother were present, who liked him. And his own family, insofar as they were still alive, including my oldest niece. The memories of my friends to my father made it clear how much they admired the free-spirited nature of my father. He had an interest in music, art and literature throughout his life. Also what occupied the younger generation could fascinate him. That was not always the case with other fathers.
When I look at how much I have done in my life, which no one knows, I see an resemblance with my father there. It was a modest man who knew what he was worth. Of course, as a son you sometimes criticize your father later in life. He was aware of his weaker sides. He estimated the vigorous qualities of my mother, in business and relational matters, high. He was glad that in my life I showed that I also carry those skills. Meanwhile I understood that a man needs the example of his father to be able to embrace his own identity.
I do not have my sense of justice from a stranger. My father was also allergic to any form of abuse of power. He disliked the arbitrariness and arrogance of institutions and governments. Yet he was one of the few of his generation who, when talking about the war, took the word forgiveness. He understood only too well how most people, on the chessboard of history, are no more than pawns.
At the end of the seventies I had to wait for my next connection during my trip through America and Canada at a bus station in a big city. An elderly man of Indian descent came up to me and asked me if I might have money for him. He had, according to his own words, not been eating for a week with his family. A man and a woman next to me on the couch hissed that I did not have to give anything, because they would only be buying liquor. Instinctively I felt that it was different. Spontaneously I gave the Indian hundred dollars, with my father’s greetings. I had seen this gesture by my father sometimes. Once in the bus and waiting for the departure all of a sudden the Indian man, his wife and two children came alongside, he pointed at me and they waved. That is also the heritage of my father. Always listen to what your heart says.