When Keagan Johannes opened his eyes, and the anaesthetic slowly wore off, and he was still coming to grips with the shoulder operation following the first major injury of his rugby career in Matric, there were a lot of questions on his mind. But there was one thing he had absolutely no doubt about. He knew his dad would be there for him.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better father. He has always been there for me. When I suffered that injury I was at school in Pretoria and my dad was back at our home in Mamre in the Western Cape. But he flew up to be with me for that operation and to help me through the recovery,” says the Vodacom Bulls scrumhalf.
The power of a present father is something Johannes has not only experienced in his own life, but something he believes has the power to shape entire communities and change the future of a child.
That’s certainly the same message behind the Vodacom RED Father and Son Campout which will take place at Loftus Versfeld on 5-6 March, and where several Vodacom Bulls players and their sons will join other dads and their boys in the one thing they all have in common beyond their shared love for rugby and the Vodacom Bulls – the desire to be the fathers their boys need them to be.
And for Johannes, his father Franco is the epitome of what it means to be a present dad.
“I grew up in the small town of Mamre. I fell in love with rugby because my dad played the game. He played flyhalf and scrumhalf for the local club, Hamlets. In 1999 he represented the Western Province Disas, a team made up of all the club teams, when they played against France who were touring the country.
“Things didn’t work out the way he planned for his career because it was a different time for him with different challenges. But from the moment I started playing he has supported me. He’s always been there for me, on the side of the field, or even now on the other end of the phone.”
Johannes believes the conversation of fatherhood and the almost cultural movement that the Vodacom RED Father and Son Campout has come to represent for so many since it was launched several years ago is vital for his generation.
“I can show you so much talent in Mamre. I can show you potential rugby players and doctors walking the streets. But so many of those kids don’t have the father I have been lucky to have. They don’t have somebody there who’s supporting them, who’s got their back in the difficult times, who’s guiding them. So they lose interest, and that talent never develops. I was very lucky to have a dad who believed in my dreams and supported them.”
The time the dads who will attend the Vodacom RED Father and Son Campout are giving their sons is exactly the kind of fatherhood investment Johannes believes has been the backbone of his own success as a kid from Mamre now living the dream of professional rugby that was denied his own father.
“Whether it’s to do with my rugby, or just my life in general, my dad has always helped me with whatever I need. I just knew he would provide – he’d be there for me. I think that’s the biggest lesson for me about what fatherhood really means. It’s just to be present.
“I have never doubted, and he’s shown it to me time and time again, that I can call on him and he’ll be there to help. He’s never said no when I need help.”
And most importantly, it’s in those tough times, during those moments of doubt after a major operation, or when the nerves are building before a big match, that Johannes has felt the calming presence of his father in his life.
“He’ll phone me before every game and ask me how I’m feeling. He watches every game I play on TV. And he always tells me to just be myself and enjoy it. He’ll often remind me that there are so many people who badly want the opportunity I’ve been given, and I never forget his words whenever I pull on the jersey.”
The Vodacom Bulls jersey is sacred to the players who wear it. It’s a jersey that has been passed down from one generation of Loftus Versfeld heroes to another. And as Johannes speaks, you imagine it’s the same with his idea of fatherhood. The fathers of today are only as strong as their fathers before them. And like that jersey, they’ll hope to leave it in a better place than when they were handed that honour.
Under the floodlights of Loftus Versfeld on 5-6 March, the Vodacom RED fathers of today will be building the fathers of South Africa’s future.