So after twenty-something
years, I find myself writing to you to express these things.
Twenty-something years after your poor old heart gave out and you
left. I often wonder if you just gave up and decided it was
time to go, or whether your dreams for the future remain
unfulfilled, known only to you and your God, but suspected by me.
How come it was only when I
was maturing into adulthood that I came to appreciate your keen
sense of humour? Was it me, seeing you as cold and
unapproachable for most of my life, that had failed to discern it
earlier? Or was it that you, a victim of your own
upbringing, who was unable to allow yourself to share it with your
children? I suspect an element of both. Oh, there were
glimpses of it throughout my childhood, like the time you let a
wink and a sly smile slip at Michael Youdale and me – a couple of
eight year old kids giggling at the way you were letting the pale
green distemper paint slide from can to mixing bucket. It
amazes me today that, not only could you discern, from our
childish sniggers, that we kids compared the falling globs of
slippery paint with the formation of cow pats in the field, but
also that you too thought it to be funny.
And there were other times
when your young sons espied the secret smile playing around your
lips when we were playing with the toy train-set you bought for
us, or when we opened the gifts you brought home from your six
months in Zurich.
But, for the most part, the
humour didn’t show itself, or was not allowed to be shown, until
Colin and I were grown men.
To us you were distant,
stern, cold, weighed down by the responsibility for providing for
the family. Your regular trips to New Zealand, of course,
deprived us of your presence and influence for nine months of each
year; and our mother, your wife, God bless her, had to assume the
role of father-figure as well as mother and home-manager.
And how I resented that! Dammit, Dad, I yearned for a father
and you weren’t there. Mum was my mother, not my father!
But now I understand. You, yourself, had no father-figure in
your life. How could you even begin to understand the
requirements of fatherhood? And, of course, you had no time
to learn, what with the demands of your work.
Before your retiring from
the sea, several of your friends from New Zealand, and their young
adult children, visited us. From these people we learned
that you at home and you away from home were two entirely
different people. We learned that in your “other” life you
were lighthearted, articulate, funny, respected and loved by many.
A whole new side of you was described to me and I was, and still
am, saddened that you could not allow yourself the freedom to be
yourself at home. How revealing to hear from a complete
stranger, a business acquaintance of my teenage friend’s father
from New Zealand, that the Chef of the RMS
Rangitiki, my Dad, threw “the best parties” and was “a
The few years between your
retirement and your leaving were the years in which we, your two
sons and you, began to become friends. It was as if, that
with Colin and I reaching maturity and the age of responsibility,
you could free yourself from the chore of fatherhood for which you
were so ill-equipped, and you could be mates with a couple of
I suspect that you finally
gave up on the “home” life in England upon the inevitable
realisation that there would be no
more “away” life so far across the sea. I cannot condemn you
for this because, thankfully, I understand. But I so wish
that we had been allowed to share our upbringing with the warm,
carefree, humourous Dad that others
had been privileged to know.
All my love, Dad,
© 1999, 2004 Richard