Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Cyprian Fernandes: Alu: Daughter's tribute to a humble man

Eulogy By Erika Mendonca-DeSilva, Service of Remembrance
March 31, Toronto, Canada

A hero is defined as “A person who is admired for their outstanding achievements”.  By that measure, my dad was a hero for his outstanding athletic ability and the honour he brought to Kenya and the Goan Community.  We Goans have a difficult time celebrating successes within our community.  But since his death, we have been truly overwhelmed with the many tributes and accolades that have been showered upon him and amazed at the number of people who stated that dad was their hero.  It is comforting to be surrounded by your love and respect for my dad. Thank you so much for coming and showing my family that my Dad holds a special place in your heart.
I would like to read an excerpt from an article his friend Norman Da Costa wrote after his death:
There isn’t a greater sight in field hockey than seeing a player thunder down at full speed and cannon the ball to the back of the net with awesome power.
With the constant roar of the crowd chanting “Alu, Alu, Alu” the great Alexinho Mendonca would ignite City Park Stadium with his exhilarating pace on the left wing.
The exclamation point was the ball finding the top of the net past bewildered goalkeepers.

What a special time it must have been for the Goan Community in Kenya in the 1950s and 60s?  A whole class of special athletes, most from the Dr. Ribeiro Goan School, were coming into their own and it started with dad being selected to the Kenya Olympic Team for the 1956 Melbourne Games.  I can just imagine the pride all Goans must have felt.  No wonder so many Goans considered him a hero. 
Four years later in 1960, dad was again selected to the Olympic Team for the games in Rome, and this team included several more Goans including Hilary Fernandes, Silu Fernandes, Leo Fernandes  and the late Egbert Fernandes his brother in law and my uncle.  Dad played in two more Olympics, 1964 in Tokyo, 1968 in Mexico.  Thereafter, he retired, became a coach and was the assistant coach for the Munich Games in 1972 and head coach for the Montreal Games in 1976. 
My dad was a humble man who never bragged about his athletic career.  In fact, unless asked, he never talked about his career; he had turned the page and moved on.  I would like to share a quote from his memoir “In the modern era when top sportsmen and women can earn huge financial rewards, I reflect on the fact that financially my unique sporting achievements did not bring me any material advantage. However, I regret nothing. I played only for sheer love of the game.” 
As a child, I was too small to see him play in big stadiums.  I have vivid memories of going to the City Park Stadium with my mom, Derek and Cora to watch a game and instead of enjoying the game and joining in with the chanting crowds we were too busy playing hide and seek in the stands.   It is ironic that we his children and his grand-children did not really comprehend the greatness of his career and his athletic talent until his death.   It is because of all of you sharing your recollections of him, that my son Tyson better understands what a great hero his Pa was and is today proudly wearing his Olympic Jacket.
Dad loved field hockey in his time, but his love for his family was greater.  He adored his father, Manuel, who himself was a great cricket player.  I was amazed to learn that dad had the chance to play cricket with Papa when he was 18.  After Papa passed away, Dad ensured that his beloved mother, Mai, was taken care of.  She was the primary reason he never left Kenya.  But the greatest love of his life was my mom Alba whom he married in 1963.  To paraphrase the great poem by W.H. Auden:
She was his North, his South, his East and West,
His working week and His Sunday rest,
His noon, His midnight, His talk, His song;
He thought she would live longer than himself: he was wrong.
Her death in 2001 devastated him and he truly never got over her loss in his life.  A few months before Mum passed, Julius, Tyson and I went to see her in Nairobi.  Shortly before we were to leave Nairobi, mum had to be admitted to Nairobi Hospital and we spent the last day of our trip with her at the hospital.  As we were getting ready to leave for the airport, we got to spend a few minutes alone with her.  She was at peace with her fate, but was worried about leaving dad behind.  We promised her that we would ensure that dad would be looked after for the remainder of his life.
We as a family honored that promise to dad’s last day.  After mum’s death, dad lived with his older sister Annie for 10+ years.  We his children owe Aunty Annie a debt of gratitude for staying with him and looking after him through what were often difficult times.  In 2011, as dad’s health worsened, he moved in with my younger sister Cora, her husband Shaun and daughter Nicola and they took great care of him till the end.  His death has impacted them the most because it has left a big void in their home. 
The support dad received was a family affair not limited to Nairobi.  His younger brother Pius, who moved to Germany as a young adult to become a doctor, never forgot the support his elder brother provided him and in turn provided support from afar.  Dad’s youngest sister Teresa who worshipped her older brother and her husband Ron also supported dad.  Before leaving Nairobi to move to Canada, I had a special relationship with dad and whenever we met over the years, in Kenya, Goa or Canada, we always bonded and re-established our special relationship.  Two years ago, I travelled to Nairobi to spend quality time alone with dad while Cora and family were away.  We bonded every day listening to his favorite music, trading jokes in Konkani and laughing; I will always cherish the brief time we spent together.  Through the magic of Facetime, I am grateful that, my children, Tyson, Jadon and Chloe got to know their Pa. 
Dad had a difficult relationship with my brother Derek over the years.  As a youngster, Derek had shown promise as a field hockey player, but never embraced the game as Dad had done.  Michael Jordan, the great basketball player, once stated that he felt sorry for his kids, especially his sons because people would always compare them to him instead of recognizing their own unique abilities.  Perhaps that is why Derek never followed the same path.  After Derek married his wife Rosalyn, their relationship with dad grew more estranged.  But in the end, after dad was admitted to hospital, Derek, Rosalyn and their daughter Angelica came to visit and dad was overjoyed to see them.  Their final two weeks together were blessed and it is somewhat appropriate that dad chose to take his last breath with Derek and Rosalyn at his bedside.  In the end, our hero rose to the challenge and made peace with his son and daughter in law.
My father was a teacher of all things. He taught by example as did my mom.  They have always been my moral compass. He always wanted me to be a self-sufficient and independent woman.  These values have helped shape us and have made me the person I am today. His own parents were adamant that he learn those same values and to know the difference between right and wrong so this is one of my earliest remembered teachings.   He taught us perseverance in that you have to work for what you want in life. And sometimes you have to fight for it; don’t let anything or anyone get in your way. Don’t let an opportunity pass you by.  If it doesn’t work out, move on and try again.  Eventually, something will work out and you’ll never have regrets because you won’t have to look back and wonder what if.
Dad was a giver.  The generosity he expressed with his money matched his generosity of spirit. He would have given you the shirt off his back even in his last moments. He had a quiet dignity and as he faced his final days, his body ravaged many complications.  Not once did he complain or ask ‘why me?’
It was once written that the value of a person’s life is directly related to the number of people they positively affect.  Thank you, Dad, for being you. We will miss you.
Finally, dad had many sayings, but the one I will cherish the most is “A parting is never a farewell – until we meet again

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