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Posts Tagged ‘2020 blogging project’

Week Six of Blogging with Friends

Note: My father-in-law is my only living parent or parent-in-law. He’s very different from my parents, so not always easy to understand. Choosing him for this post – when the task is to write an advance eulogy or note of appreciation to someone still living – is actually a lesson in compassion. It requires me to make an effort to remember the man behind the  loneliness, old age, bad decisions, and aches and pains. It asks me to see him as he was, and as he surely still feels he is on the inside.

I’ve known K, my father-in-law, for a long time. I met him a year or so after I first met his son, many moons ago. I was the first young woman to arrive in their family, and I’m sure it took some adjusting, given that they had four sons and I was a vocal (to them at least) feminist. In more recent years, as he has aged and lost his beloved wife of 63 years, I have played more of a caregiver role, and in turn that has taken some adjustment too. It is sometimes hard for him to accept, but I know he appreciates what my husband and I do.

K was raised by hard-working parents, who had come from lesser circumstances, and as a result he always valued a strong work ethic, practicality and self-sufficiency, and education. He has always been a serious man, focused on doing what is right, being frugal, and taking pleasure in hard work. He believed in committing to the good of the community, and voted accordingly. It was a point of chagrin – and much amusement to the rest of us – that his vote was always cancelled out by that of his wife, and vice versa. Perhaps it was a result of being born just before or during the Great Depression, but he shared that strong desire to “do what is right”for the community with my own father, though it manifested in very different ways.

Accordingly, K has never believed in putting one person above another. This made him scrupulously fair (perhaps inflexibly so) as a manager, and as a father. Some years ago, when he and his wife were travelling with one of their sons and his family, they stayed in a hotel on an Executive floor. His son had thought it would be a good idea to use the Executive lounge for the whole family to get together at the end of busy days of sight-seeing. Father-in-law told them they were “getting above their station in life!”

K always had an interest in how and why things work, and perhaps being an engineer was inevitable. I love the story from his childhood, when he fashioned a makeshift diver helmet from a bucket (he cut into it and fixed a small window to look through) as a child, weighted his pockets down, and walked underwater on the seabed looking at the fish.

When I first met him, he was still in his 50s, at the top of his profession, taking pride in his technical knowledge, and the city landmarks that he had built and maintained throughout his career. He still takes pride in that, and well into his 80s, he lobbied for recognition of the organisation and its staff (it was privatised after his retirement), resulting in the placing of a commemorative plaque on the waterfront in Wellington.

Whilst K’s work was always technically complex, at home he got his hands dirty, and loved it. His garage was his workshop, and even now he treasures a large set of much loved tools, some of them from his father. He still lives in the home he designed and helped build, back in 1962, and has maintained lovingly and meticulously since then. His practical streak – his ability to figure out how to do or make something – was inherited by my husband, and I’m grateful for that too.

He took great pride in his large garden, focusing on growing food to eat, and leaving the more frivolous (in his view) issue of flowers and beauty to his wife! In their later years, they both enjoyed spending a day working in the garden together. The satisfaction of a day’s hard work outside, and the results of fresh vegetables or fruit, or a well-tended flower bed, were amongst their greatest pleasures. In the last couple of years, as his physical health has waned and he has been unable to maintain the garden, he has – I think – appreciated the fact that my husband has still endeavoured to grow vegetables there.

House-hunting back in the 1990s, we brought K and his wife to see the two houses on our shortlist. After the visit, he sat down and wrote a list of pros and cons for the two houses. We were staying with them at the time (we’d just returned from living in Bangkok), and I don’t think it was an accident that we found that list sitting prominently on the otherwise tidy desk in the study (which we were regularly using to make calls, get privacy, etc). There was a long list of pros for one house, and an equally long list of cons for the other, with only one pro. “Interesting design,” he noted. Reading it, I could hear his puzzled sigh as he wrote it. FYI, this is the house we are still living in! He only saw the practical issues – aesthetics and views weren’t even considered – and couldn’t understand our choice, though never argued it with us. A few years ago, when we had to spend megabucks to strengthen our cantilevered concrete driveway (one of the cons he had noted), he never once said – to me at least – “I told you so.” I appreciated that. Though I’m pretty sure he would have thought it, and probably said it to my husband’s brothers too!

But he enjoys a bit of fun too. Never a fan of travel, he has had no choice when all four of his sons have lived overseas at one time or another. We nonetheless managed to get K and M to visit us in Thailand. I have a happy memory of him playing volleyball with my husband and I in a swimming pool on the beach in Cha-am, leaping out of the water to catch a ball. It was probably the most animated I’ve ever seen him! He played and loved sport as a young man, and that has stayed with him, these days enjoying sport on TV. He’s not very forgiving to the teams when they lose, but has learned over the years to turn the TV off and go to bed if things are going badly, to keep his blood pressure from getting too high. We are all happy for him when they win!

He’s also a fan of puns, but I won’t hold that against him. Much. He does like a laugh, and a happy grin or chuckle from him makes our day. These days his pleasures are small – sports on TV, a visit from us or a favourite niece, a phone call (or rare visit) from one of his sons, a chocolate bar or an ice-cream, and the meat pies my husband buys him for lunch on weekly “shopping” days.

K has struggled for years with retirement, the resulting depression, and ageing. I would never tell him this, but as a result of watching him, my husband and I have learned how we want to spend our retirement. Speaking frankly, he has taught us what not to do. As a result, we have plans in place to try to make our old age (when we won’t have children or even nieces/nephews nearby to help us) easier. I hope we’ll do what we say we’re going to do. And if we do, we can be grateful to him for that too.

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