Nearly fifty years on from his death, memories of my Dad are different for each of his four children, very precious and still tinged with sadness. His irreverent sense of humour and tame jokes, his courage, his great enthusiasm for life and his love for pretty much all people have gone forever.
I am the eldest child, so I was lucky enough to have benefited from his youth, patience and the strength he had before illness catapulted him into premature old age, causing him to become irritated and frustrated. When I remember what a wonderful father he was during the years of my childhood, I am filled both with gratitude and joy.
It was Dad, who, when I was at Primary School struggling with arithmetic, brought his till home from the business after work. Night after night he helped me to learn to count and to give change. We also played cards, and cribbage (on the board he had made himself during the war out of wood and bullet casings) so that I would learn to count and multiply quickly.
My siblings and I are fortunate to have inherited Dad’s love for music and his great sense of rhythm and beat. He had a warbling whistle and a deep tuneful baritone voice. He particularly loved the song The Gipsy Rover - a tune that haunts me to this day. I can see me now with my lips pursed, blowing furiously and hopefully as Dad taught me to whistle just as he taught me with great humour and patience to snap my fingers.
He gave me his own childhood toy yo-yo and showed me how to do tricks with it. I can’t seem to do them anymore. But at the time, I was as good as him.
He seemed to be unprejudiced; he befriended, employed and enjoyed the company of people from all walks of life. From his example, we learned right from wrong, patience and tolerance, kindness and sympathy for all people regardless of race or creed.
Dad and Mum made it possible for our summer holiday memories to be sweet, innocent and happy. Each year our Vauxhall car hauled us up over the Kaimai Ranges. It sat puffing and steaming at the summit while we ate ice creams bought from the Summit Dairy and dabbled our feet in the nearby waterfall waiting for the engine to cool down and the radiator to be refilled.
At Mount Maunganui, he dug ‘cars’ in the sand for us, read his books, and basked in the sunshine under the bright sun umbrella. It was his only opportunity during the year to really relax. He and Mum took turns watching us swim.
Twice he saved my life by dragging me from the surf. Once when I was a toddler chasing a beach ball into the sea and a second time when as a teenager I was knocked out by an unmanned surfboard and pulled under by the rip.
Sometimes he infuriated me by stepping out of character and treating one or more of us unfairly. When I was a hot-tempered, stubborn teenager we argued a lot, mostly because even in the face of overwhelming proof, neither of us liked to be proved wrong and neither of us would never give in! It wasn’t that funny at the time, but I do smile about it now.
At High School, we learned about World War II and it astonished him that this was now history. Oh how I wish I had listened to his stories instead of showing off my knowledge of the events of that time.
On the weekends when he lay doggo in his bed pretending to be asleep, we children (encouraged by Mum) sometimes sneaked up on him to put ice down his pajama top or a cold metal torch on his chest to encourage him to get up and do things with us! Sometimes he’d take us out to the Hamilton Aerodrome to watch the planes doing ‘circuits and bumps’. He’d been in the NZ Airforce as a Flight Mechanic, so he knew the sounds of all the engines and instilled in me, an adoration of those beautiful big birds of the sky.
On Sundays despite his laughing protests we all cuddled in under the eiderdown on the double bed to listen to stories on the radio. Then we were up and scrubbed and in our best clothes ready for church.
Bravely Dad tackled Billy the bad-tempered, smelly goat when the wretched animal went on the rampage in the vegetable garden and he was always on hand to rescue his girls from spiders.
He was a good dancer and I remember him patiently, teaching me how to waltz by putting my feet on top of his and dancing me around the living room to music on the gramophone until I learned the steps. I don't know who was the more proud - he or I - when he led me in the fathers-and-daughters dance at the Cambridge East School's Standard Four Ball.
Beer and chocolate were his favourite foods and he was greatly saddened when his diabetic condition eventually forbade them. Every Sunday he carved the evening roast and always took what he called ‘the carver's privilege’ - a piece of the overcooked, crunchy outside.
We always knew when he was in a really good mood, because he would come home whistling loudly, and dance Mum (in her apron, laughing and protesting) around the kitchen singing, Sweet Rosemary I love you... while we all grinned and pretended to be embarrassed. That he loved us all dearly as we loved him, I have no doubt.
He was only forty-three when he died of diabetic complications; he was tired and in pain. Many times, over the years I have wanted to have him champion me again and help me get out of stupid sticky situations, as only your dad can do. I would have given my eye teeth to have had an opportunity to hug him and talk to him again – to say all the things that never got said - but in all honesty, he was so ill at the end of his life that realistically I would not wish him back to suffer even one more day.
East of the sun, west of the moon? Where are you now Dad? I miss you so.