In Memoriam

Warning: sad, and more emotional than you’d normally get from me.  You may wish to skip this, and wait for another cute Samuel video.

Some kids’ dad died today.  Mine died two years ago, 10/10/09.  So long ago; no time at all.

Dad had health issues his entire life, although there were certainly times that they were more of an issue than others.  These certainly came from frequently (or at least, that’s how I recall it) in the later years, and there were a couple of very bad times a bit before Olyvia & I got married and a little after Samuel was born.  After that, it seemed like things had smoothed out again – although it might have just seemed that way to me.  Certainly he wasn’t able to be as active as before (certainly not as active as he would have liked), but life went on.

Particular awareness of his mortality came with the scares early in the 00’s.  Certainly I knew that there was a chance that he might not survive to reach retirement, and each operation brought new worry.  Hearing that he was in hospital after getting back from a trip overseas, though, still managed to be a shock.  Even then, although I feared the worst, I lived in the idea that this would be like all the other times and he’d beat the problem & the odds and, while worse-for-wear, continue on.  My grip on this became more and more tenuous over the next day, until it had to go entirely.  Some things in life are still surprising, even when there’s every reason that they shouldn’t be.

Dad, like most interesting people, was full of contradictions.  He’d have told you that he didn’t want a big deal for a funeral, just close friends and family, sharing a laugh if possible.  However, he was also a big fan of tradition, and (appropriate) ceremony, and showing (deserved) respect.  His funeral service clearly had to be more of the latter than the former.  It had been a long time since I’d done any public speaking (other than teaching, which isn’t really the same), and I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare, but I tried to make my eulogy as polished (but human) as I could: something that he would have been able to respect as a student’s speech.  Although I’m a passably good formal writer, I do considerably less well informally.  I said:

Mark Twain once said “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years”.  This fit me and Dad pretty well.  When I was a kid, I had no idea how blessed I was.  Once I grew up, left home, and even more after I became a father myself, I realised just how amazing Dad really was, and how proud I could be that he was my father.

If I were to use a single word to encapsulate Dad, it would be generosity.  For as long as I can remember, he was always giving.  Not the ‘faceless money to a charity’ kind of giving, but true giving, where he would put in whatever time and effort was required in order to help others.  This is, of course, true when it comes to me, Brenda and Mum (and in later years Olyvia and Samuel).  As you’d expect, it included our extended family and friends and colleagues.  It hardly stopped there: students, players in teams he coached, kids at poor schools, stray cats – even just kids that happened to be in the same soccer team as me, were all given everything Dad could give.  He was always willing to help.

I think this is part of what made Dad such a great teacher.  He always put in whatever it took to make sure that his students reached their potential, and – importantly – so that they had fun doing so and would start to find their own passions.  That’s not the only thing, of course – it helped that he was so multi-faceted – he loved sport and the outdoors (cricket, golf, even cutting wood), the arts (film, music, TV, books, history), and so many more things – he even had a soft spot for geometry.  His passion and knowledge was a lot deeper than just the trivia he loved so much.

At heart, a great teacher is someone that loves learning.  Dad loved learning and experiencing new things, and he truly appreciated people sharing things with him, whether it was his students raving about a film they had seen, friends and colleagues sharing travel stories, or anything else.  Everyone here, and many that aren’t, helped him (in ways little and big) in this way, and I’d like to thank you for that.

I thought Dad’s funeral service was everything that it should be.    People across the spectrum of his life spoke – but without remembrances going overlong.  There were laughs as well as many tears.  If errors were made, none were so obvious that I noticed.  It was large and formal and ceremonial, but still human and intimate.

I read a lot about death (it’s a pretty common theme in science fiction).  Abstractly, I know that it’s an essential part of humanity, and that it comes to everyone eventually, and almost never when it’s wanted.  I know Dad’s final years – even though he was still pretty young – had a lot of frustration due to his health, and leaving that behind to move on to whatever you believe comes next does have some good.  All that abstract knowledge doesn’t really help much when you rage against reality because you can’t share something with someone you love any more.

Randy Pausch said “It is not the things we do in life that we regret on our death bed. It is the things we do not”.  This is true of those left behind, as well.  I wish I had spent more time with Dad as an adult – that I hadn’t naively (and against all evidence) assumed that there was always more time available.  I’m happy that, especially in the last 3 or 4 years, I did manage to spend time with him – even in small doses – fairly regularly.  I hate that Samuel had so few years with him, but I’m thankful that he didn’t miss out entirely.

The last two years have had other low points – although I hope that 2009 will forever remain the worst year of my life – but there have been highs as well.  Some things have gone better than I expected; others have been more difficult.  The pain doesn’t go away, but it’s not as pressing as often.  I still think of Dad every day, which certainly – and regrettably – wasn’t the case before.

Many would characterise me as blunt; perhaps even callous – I would say that this is more true the better I know you.  For the most part, I’m polite to strangers, and follow societal niceties; the more I know and like you, the more you get the honest me.  Jobs said “all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important”.  Since Dad died, I care even less about external expectations.  I’m often wrong – most people are – but I try to live confident that I’m right (but open to the possibility that I am not).  I really don’t care if my opinion or way of doing things doesn’t match yours, I’m not going to lie to you just to make you feel better, and I don’t feel any obligation to care about something just because you do.  I know what – and who – is important to me, and I plan to follow my heart.  Individual time is limited; there’s none to waste on things that aren’t important – if you don’t understand why I’ll read five stories with Samuel each night, but don’t have time to ‘go out’, I really don’t care – nor do I have any need for you to share my values; each to their own.

Four of my friends lost parents in 2009.  30 didn’t really seem all that old before then.  I’ve tried to apply two lessons in particular since that time – things I tried to do before, but try harder now: take every moment possible to enjoy life (in particular, family time), and try and incorporate Dad’s spirit of generosity into my own life.  Like everything, there are days where I fail, miserably, at both of these.  There are other days where I feel I’ve managed to accomplish both.  Each day I try to add more to the latter tally.

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