My Dad died last month.
It wasn’t expected but it was peaceful at least. He’d had a cold for a week or two beforehand and it appears to have quietly and suddenly developed into pneumonia. He died in his sleep early on a Sunday morning aged 78.
My dad had a secret identity – he was Superman!
Well, to me at least.
He couldn’t fly (as far as I was aware) and he didn’t wear a cape or his undies on the outside of his clothes – that would be far too flashy or attention-seeking for this typical, humble, kiwi bloke.
But he was my hero.
He was a loving, caring, loyal and attentive father and husband and I already miss him more than I could ever describe.
While 78 may be relatively early age to die (the average age of a New Zealand male is 77), he packed a whole lot of life into those 78 years.
He grew up around Lake Waikaremoana in northern Hawke’s Bay in the 1930’s and 40’s where his father was the Government Ranger. You couldn’t make fun of Dad when he said the old line of “Walking a mile, barefooted, through snow to school”, because he really had!
He lived the ultimate “Good Keen Man” lifestyle – hunting, fishing and tramping through some of Hawke’s Bay’s wildest and most beautiful areas.
Dad’s mum and dad divorced (he never talked much about this, but it must have been highly unusual for the time and I think he held this against his mum for some time) and when Granddad retired as a ranger, he and Dad moved down to Napier.
One house they lived in was on Carlyle Street (now part of the Countdown carpark) and another was where York Avenue and Wharerangi Road now meet in Tamatea. The council enacted the Public Works Act to buy their property. Dad was always a little disappointed that the grass ‘park’ area that remains (originally part of his home’s back yard) was big enough for another home to be built on the site but was not returned to our family.
Dad lived in that (now mythical) age where jobs were plentiful. You walked out of one, down the road and straight into another. One of Dad’s many jobs was mowing the runway at Napier / Hawke’s Bay Airport – Air-FIELD would have been a more appropriate title, as this was in the years before the tarmac runway. Earlier this year a friend of mine who works at the airport now happened upon some old invoices and letters of Dad’s from his time there (50-60 odd years ago!) that were unearthed when an old hangar was demolished. Dad was stoked.
Dad owned numerous cars and loved all things mechanical. Despite never being a qualified mechanic, he worked in a number of garages and was head-hunted a number of times by other workshops.
He met Mum and they ‘dated’ for 14 years. Dad’s marriage proposal was allegedly “Well, I suppose we had better do something about it.”
I (an only child – Mum and Dad had me when they were quite old) came along 11 months later. Dad gave up his outdoors lifestyle to look after his family, but he was still involved with running the local Mountain Safety and Deerstalkers’ Associations for a number of years.
As a father and husband he was outstanding. He was caring and considerate, always helpful and encouraging. He must have been at least a little disappointed that I never took a major interest in his loves of hunting and fishing, or cars, but he never showed it. He was very proud in later years of my writing and activity in Napier. He kept clippings of anything I’d written or appeared in the newspaper for.
He supported me in whatever I wanted to do. He helped coach my school and junior club soccer and cricket teams. If I tried and failed at something he encouraged me to figure out what I had done wrong and try again the right way. He was very patient.
He was always very fair and when making a big decision, like buying my first car (or even small decisions for that matter) he would list all the positive points…… (here it comes)… BUT… then list all the negative points. It was infuriating, BUT (damn it!) ingrained in me that there are always two sides to every decision, story or argument that have to be considered and taken into account.
Dad LOVED learning stuff – he was always open to information and ideas – something I’m very glad I inherited from him. Even in retirement, Dad was always busy with little projects – fixing this, making that, finding a better way to do things.
Dad never once insulted or belittled me – something that can’t be said for a lot of other people.
As I said, my Dad was Superman. But even Superman has his Kryptonite. Dad’s was his health.
Like many of his generation, he was a smoker, but gave that up when I was young. He had a heart attack that eventually forced him into early retirement in the late 90’s. He had successful prostate and bowel cancer surgery, but contracted pneumonia last year and ended up on a respirator in ICU for a couple of days.
I told Dad emphatically on a number of these health scares that he was not allowed to die until he had grandchildren. With the early passing of my grandparents I never got to interact with or remember mine and I wanted my children to have that experience.
Dad and Mum were always supportive when my wife and I were having trouble starting a family and as a result Dad was super-proud when his granddaughter arrived last year. She was his “Little Princess” and “Little Angel”. One of the last times we talked he was going to solder up some angel wings for her.
Dad had complained of feeling tired and sluggish in the weeks before he died. But, as the typical Kiwi bloke, he took the stance of “if it hasn’t fallen off, don’t worry about it”. I spoke to him on the phone the day before he died and he said he was fine.
But he wasn’t.
While his mind and spirit were perfectly capable, his body was not and he leaves an immeasurably huge hole in my life.
Goodbye, Dad. I will always love you. If I can live my life half as well as you lived yours and be half as good a father and husband as you were, I’ll be a very happy man.
You will always be My Hero.