A year ago tomorrow my father died. I've been thinking all week what to write about him and have realised that I am not ready to say anything new. So here's what I said at his funeral:
Thank you for being here today to share in this celebration of the life of a man who was straightforward, honest, fair, intelligent, loyal, funny, dedicated to his community and on occasion, even a little cranky and eccentric. A man on whose feet I learnt to dance and whose arms could hug away almost all of my childhood troubles – my Dad Joe.
I think everyone who knew him will remember his sense of humour. Dad never knew what to do when people were sad or upset. Whenever my Mom was unhappy, my brother and I would joke that Dad could be found up a ladder – a place where she wouldn’t follow. His other solution was to crack a joke. So, I thought I should share an example of Dad’s sense of humour.
Dad enjoyed his food and wine and developed a girth to suit his appetite. One day my brother, who was about seven at the time, asked him what was inside his tummy. Well, an illness in Dad’s youth had required surgery and left him with two scars on his abdomen – one long and one small. So father solemnly explained to son that a rugby ball had been inserted into his stomach via the long incision and the small one was for its annual service where it would be re inflated using a bicycle pump. The joke backfired on him a little when his son – who, of course, believed everything his father told him, documented this scientific marvel in a school essay which was later displayed at his school open day.
Dad was really a very practical person. He showed gratitude by repairing plumbing, love through building furniture and social commitment through electrical planning for countless Rotary projects. He was an engineer and in his case I do believe it was a calling – all of the hobbies that he had over the years - yachting, flying model aeroplanes came back to engineering. It was his job but also his greatest pleasure. He did not, however, require that things look beautiful – a recurring bone of contention between my parents - only that they function smoothly and efficiently. I am sure we will be pulling prestik off walls and unwinding recycled wire hangers he converted to many uses for many years to come.
Any tribute to my father would be incomplete without a mention of his life as a Rotarian. He joined Rotary the same year that he married my mother – in 1968 and since then has been committed to serving his community through this organization. He has volunteered his time, skills, energy and even his wife and children on occasion. But I think he always appreciated what he got in return – a deep sense of satisfaction and his very best friends.
A side of Dad that many of you may not be familiar with was his romantic side. The flowers on his coffin are a reminder of the first flowers he ever gave my Mom – Compactas which he called "Hermanus red roses". He was actually quite determined in his pursuit of my mother. He planned the courtship on a calendar – when each family member would be introduced – where he was going to take her and when. And with a great big star on the day he planned to propose. Considering that it was only four weeks from first date to proposal, such organization was required. Six weeks later they were married.
As a teenager with the hormonally charged notion that I would set eyes on some boy at the Bishops disco and have found my life partner – I remember asking him how he knew so quickly that Mom was the woman for him. He told me that he loved her because of her faults. Now, I will agree that on the face of it this doesn’t sound like much of a compliment, but his theory was that one should look for a partner whose failings we could live with which in turn makes their positive attributes so much sweeter. I still think he must have been a remarkable judge of character to have figured that out so quickly. My brother and his wife were together for 6 years before they got married and my husband and I were together for around 3 years before tying the knot so the skill appears to have been lost with him!
On my wedding day my now husband hired a beautiful old car for the occasion. On the way to the church I waited for my Dad to give me one last bit of sage advice. The secret to a long, healthy marriage maybe. But he didn’t. Instead he grilled the owner of the car on all its glorious specifications. Everything from top speed to tyres was covered. But marital advice - none. I remember feeling a bit disappointed at the time. But now I think that he felt his job was done. He was giving me away and, I hope, believed in my ability to figure out the rest on my own.
And now, without the man we loved so much, and with God’s help, that is what we all must do.