Father’s Day. It’s always a tricky day for me, because, you see, my dad died 17 years ago, and I miss him very much
Dad was a remarkable man who lead a non-remarkable life. He was born the eldest child of 3, the only boy with two younger sisters. He grew up on our family farm at Maungati, a tiny rural settlement in the middle of New Zealand’s South Island. He was a gifted artist, musician and wanted to be a surgeon when he grew up. He would have done it too, but when he was just 15 years old, his father cut off several fingers in a wood chopping accident. Dad was removed from school immediately and went to work on the farm.
Although farming was in the blood, it wasn’t in his heart. He married when he was just 21, but his wife grew ill. She had contracted a rare blood disorder which was to eventually take her life. A year after her passing he met my mum and they were engaged in 3 months. Marriage quickly followed and mum, a city girl through and through, went to live on a 300acre sheep and beef farm.
I was born a year later. Then my brother born 11 months after that. My early memories of dad were sum
mer days having picnics while he cut the hay, riding horses, training dogs, rounding up (and often riding!) sheep, digging holes and gardens, paddling pools, pet magpies and ducks, lots of cats, rats and mice and potatoes roasted in huge bonfire ashes. I adored my dad. One of my first clear memories was at the age of about 6, telling dad that I was going to live on the farm forever and paint pictures. I think that was his wish too.
We never had much materially, but we didn’t have fights either. It was a calm, loving and laughter-filled upbringing. We all worked very hard, lived simply, spoke kindly. Dad once told me that his favourite quote was “treat others as you would like to be treated” and that was his motto; how he lived. He could be a cantankerous old bastard when he wanted (that was the Irish coming out in him), he was stubborn, we used to laugh and tell him that his Maori blood was getting thicker and thicker as he got older because his skin got browner and browner! He ate lollies and sweets with abandon – he smoked like a train, but I swear that he never actually inhaled – he just blew smoke all around the house (remember, it was the 70’s and smoking as the same as an evening glass of wine is today). His greatest legacy was his piano-accordion and his apple wine recipe (evil, potent stuff!).
I left home at age 17 to go to University. Mum and Dad left the farm in the mid 90’s and moved to Christchurch to “retire”, but dad wasn’t well – he hadn’t been well for a long time. I finished at Uni and decided to travel. I was away 3 years, and was travelling through Africa on my way home to New Zealand – Dad didn’t know I was coming home; it was going to be a surprise. I called home from the island of Zanzibar to tell mum and dad that I was off to see the Serengeti. Dad and I had a good talk as mum was out. It was the last time I spoke to him. 10 days later I called home again from Nairobi to wish dad a happy 60th birthday. He had died the previous dad – suddenly going into a coma and officially dying from septicemia (blood poisoning). It was April 20th, 1999. Dad was just 59, I was shortly to turn 28.
I miss dad dreadfully. I go to the beach at sunrise and talk to him a lot. I sense him around me, around us. Not all the time, but I notice when he is around. We always say “there’s granddad” when we see rainbows and ducks (yes, ducks – that’s another story!) – I am sad that dad never got to meet any of his grandchildren – and that they never got to meet him. But what I do know is that he would love them dearly, tell them rude jokes, teach them to make home-brew and how to make a knife.
Happy Father’s Day dad. I love you.