Some people lead charmed lives. Dad’s was charmed until he was six, when his father died of a brain tumour. To his last days he remembered the smell of Bakelite in the room where his father’s coffin lay, and how his mother picked him up and held him over the coffin; an experience that terrified and never left him.
Today we stand by his coffin – a very small space for a man who suffered from claustraphobia, and an even smaller space for a man whose pride was so huge, his life was barely big enough to contain it. But what great cause he had for such pride. He wooed our mother, Dorothy, right out of her father’s bakery, and in 1955, married her. He loved her to tiny little bits until the day he left. Between them they created eleven children, starting in 1956 with Maria, and in succeeding years, John-Paul, Mark, Yvonne, Monique, Pamela, Nicole, Simone, Marcel, Guido, and Jurgen.
Children can always complain about their fathers, and Dad certainly wasn’t always an easy man. He had an exacting way about him. No thing in his house was allowed to remain in a state of disrepair. No curtain could bear a crease, no mat a ruck, no tablecloth be laid out of square; but he was a good father who cared very much that his children were safe, healthy, and supported. He often didn’t like the things you did, but he always wanted the best for you, and did what he could to help. With absolute willingness he crafted anything you wanted or needed; a weaving frame, a boot-puller, a recorder stand, furniture, picture frames. There was nothing Dad couldn’t make if timber was the material to be used. His precise eye faired everything to within a thousandth of milimetre. He taught us by example that if it was worth doing, it was worth doing well.
He was always very generous, overly so, but many benefited as a result. He found it hard to walk into the grocers in Dargaville if there were people outside selling raffle tickets…he always felt obliged to buy one.
In his army days, during the Dutch-Indo war, Dad was a mechanic and a driver. He was also a messenger required to run through enemy fire on Indian motorbikes. As a young man before he left Holland permanently, he sold cars.
Dad arrived in NZ in 1952 on the Bride Flight out of Holland after ten days of air travel. The plane broke down several times, but eventually he stood on the tarmac in Auckland with a pushbike and seven and six in his pocket. He’d come from a background of comfort and had turned down several positions as manager for various factories owned by relatives, so that he could make his own way…be responsible for his own success. Materially that probably didn’t work as well as he would have liked, but he’s left our mother in relative comfort, and a family that truly cares for each other, that has character, down to the last one; backbone, stickability, curiosity, that most keen of gifts. Not all families are so fortunate.
In the late 1950s Dad helped build the harbor bridge. When he became better established, he sold Volkswagens, and drove them for many years, Beetle after Beetle after Kombi after Kombi. He piled us all in the Beetle one day, with Martin deJong, to go for at least an hours trip to Waiuku. There were two tots in the back, three on the back seat, each with a little one on their lap, and Mum had one on her lap in the front. God used to shine his light on our lot…that’s all I can say.
In the early 60s Dad was AMP’s top insurance salesman. At 42, when we moved to Hatfields Beach, he taught himself wood-turning and founded NZ Woodcreations, which at its height, produced 53% export to Australia. We had a small Austin, I think…a little truck with an open tray…that’s how we’d arrive at church – Mum and Dad in the cab with all the kids on the tray. It would have suited Dad because most of us avoided doing the proper wash thing in the morning if we could. He didn’t have to be at close quarters with our combined Sunday morning breath.
No man is without failings, and Dad’s provided a bit of entertainment if you were game enough to try it on. Mum had him sorted best. There was a rule that no-one was allowed to feed the dog from the table. You watch this, said Mum one day, as she loaded his plate with way too much fat. Sure enough it went overboard and the dog caught it in her waiting choppers.
The trick was…….. not to laugh out loud.
After subsequent moves to Waitoki, Parakai, Helensville and Dargaville, Dad began to lose some of his mobility and was in severe pain. In his early 70s both his hips were replaced, and from that time on, he was never without pain, yet he showed a remarkable stoicism and bore it valiantly.
As he began to suffer from the effects of dementia the opportunities for a smile at his expense occurred more often, and we enjoyed them as the occasional bright spots that they were in an otherwise sad situation. Yet despite the days when he clearly struggled with reality, he always maintained that pride – he always dressed well, always shaved, his hair always had to be trimmed – there was never a time when he didn’t care about how he presented himself to the world, right until the time when he had no control over his faculties at all.
In the last few years or so, Dad’s capacity for enjoyment was much diminished, but I will always remember as long as I live how he loved to laugh with our mother. One time I was home from Sydney and Dad was in the bath. He called out for Mum who dropped what she was doing in the kitchen and went to see what he wanted. He’d opened up a small wound that wouldn’t stop bleeding. There was his deep voice, murmurmurmur, and then Mum’s higher pitched voice, murmurmur, and then they both fell about laughing, then Dad’s voice again, and more laughter. …
I think Dad must have been born with a steering wheel in his hand because it was a defining characteristic of his…an incessant need for movement…any excuse to drive somewhere. And when he could no longer drive a car and had a mobility scooter, that sufficed admirably…off he’d go…as long as he could keep moving.
Well, you’re moving now, Dad, moving with the choirs held in God’s warm hand. We wish you… all of us…. the most perfect drive, in the best of glorious vehicles…and when you pull the brake at last…… may you rest with joy in the blessed peace of infinite loving grace.