During the last few weeks, I have neglected most of my duties and usual routines because of the need to help care for my father.
Many men of his generation, as they near the end of their lives, often regret having spent so much time pursuing material prosperity and career opportunities at the expense of family life. This was not the case with my father.
Last Friday I stood by his bedside as he took his last breath. He died at the age of 95 with no regrets over the way he carried out his role as a father and grandfather.
Afterwards, while filling out hospital forms, I hesitated at the heading ‘Occupation’, and then, after some reflection, left it blank. No single word seemed to fit. As a young child, I remember his going off to work but I never knew what this work was. I only knew that he would work for just a short time, and then leave his job so that he could enjoy his family. When the money ran out, he would get another job.
I have since learnt that he worked as a builder’s labourer, caretaker, painter, farm labourer and factory worker. During the 1930’s he drove a bullock team. He was also a farmer, orchardist, property investor and property developer. He once owned 80 building blocks and often sold them for whatever the buyers could afford to pay. On many occasions, young families paid very little, and on at least one occasion, they paid nothing. He was a giving man, and when he had little left to give, he gave out of the little he had.
We lived a simple life and I don’t recall ever having any more than we needed. I also remember that we never wanted any more than we had.
My father knew what was worth having and provided us with an ideal lifestyle. Our old weatherboard house was no showplace, but it was full of contentment, laughter and security. The location was perfect. From our clifftop position, we had an uninterrupted view of the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Each morning at breakfast we would watch the waves, the dolphins and an occasional whale. To the south we had views of a headland, two lighthouses, a small fishing harbour and rock pools. All there were within a few minutes’ walk. To the north we looked over endless stretches of beaches, with the best of them being the closest.
My father’s greatest pleasure was seeing his children enjoy themselves. This was his prosperity. He once delighted us when we discovered a young kangaroo in our backyard. We once surprised him with a penguin in our bathtub.
I should not have left the space blank on the form next to the heading ‘Occupation’. There is a word that well describes his job, his efforts, his role, his purpose, his motivation, his ambitions and hopes, his identity and his heart: that word is ‘Father’.
[Photo by Aaron Andrew Ang