Today is my birthday. I am 55. 55! How did that happen? It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was turning 21. My father was almost 40 when I was born so it is always easy to remember how old he is. He did not marry until late (well, in those days, 30 was considered late), so consequently Mum and Dad’s four children, including the first who died were born over a 9 year period until his 40th year.
My day started today with a cup of tea in bed with some sourdough bread toast, and the paper, one of the cats and the dog in the room with me, and a gift from my husband. I stayed in bed for a while – a rare occurrence. But I did get to see Dad early, as today coincided with the need for the ulcer dressing change that has to happen every two days.
He greeted me with his beautiful smile and a big hug as he said ‘Happy Birthday’. I took off the dressing and sent him off to the shower, then fixed him up afterwards. This ulcer business is SLOW. It is almost closed but after four months, it feels like it is going to take another four months.
I was not in a rush so stayed for a chat. He told me that while he was waiting for me to be born, he was practicing making jigsaw puzzles. Someone had given him an old sewing machine that had been converted with some sort of small saw, to enable it to make jigsaw puzzles. ‘I was getting quite good at it’ he said. But he was interrupted by the doctor telling him he and Mum had another girl. He said he didn’t finish the jigsaw puzzle.
A few days ago he pondered what he could get me for my birthday. At 55 I don’t think Dad needs to be bothered with worrying about that any more because I can honestly say there is nothing I want or need at this age. But it got me thinking about the many gifts he has given us or taught over the years and here are just a few of them:
- Education is important – Dad is a very intelligent man. He topped the nation in Greek studies at some point. He still knows his Latin Roots. He can intelligently discuss any subject (except perhaps how a computer or iPhone works). A good and well rounded education was very important to our parents and all three of us have in turn made sure our own children have had the best education. Dad did not earn a lot of money as an Anglican priest, so to put three children through private schools was always a stretch and they sacrificed a lot to get through that very expensive time. We have all had successful careers due to that good start in life, which means we are now in a position to help him out financially if he needs it, even though he doesn’t want us to.
- Values – Dad has always had a strong faith and strong values. While we may not have always followed them or been true to them, we always come back to them. He has never wavered. A fair few CEOs and politicians could take a leaf out of his book about how to live values and values based leadership
- Resilience – my goodness he is resilient. My sister keeps reminding me of how resilient he is, whenever I am fearful of the impact of some change on him, and I wish I had that strength of character, or at least to that extent. When I think of how much he has been through since Mum died and how much change he has coped with my heart bursts with pride. He has taught me that the sun will come up after a tough day, and to have faith that things will get better.
- Budgeting – my husband and other family members will laugh at this one but honestly he has taught me this. I remember each week he would write up a little book – every pay had a particular sum of money allocated to different things, and I started doing the same almost 20 years ago for those regular bills like rates, electricity, school fees and also christmas presents so that we didn’t have a hideous surprise in January. If I didn’t want to use the shampoo and conditioner they bought, I had to pay for my own. As soon as I started a part-time job, I had to pay a small amount of board (which I later found out they saved to pay for my wedding). I opened his mail once while he was away and his electricity bill was so small I thought it was a mistake. I commented on this to one of my kids who said ‘yeah it’s really weird – grandad only ever has the light on that he’s using’. Quite!
- Reading is the best entertainment – he still uses his library card at the age of 94. And reads the paper every day. And writes to politicians. It is a bit sad that he has never learnt to uses an iPad or a computer as he would be reading things on it all the time! Reading was a night time ritual for us all – and I could read before I went to school; not because I am so smart, but because my parents or siblings would read to me every night.
- Cards and other games are also good entertainment – we were a big card and board game playing family, as we didn’t acquire a television until I was about 8 years old. One that required one to get up off one’s arse to change the channel to a selection of only four channels . In black and white (Yes I am that old). When we get together we still play cards. He is a cunning old fox with cribbage and scrabble and it is hard to beat him. Family lore has it that Dad would only read the scores out when he was winning. He also taught me to be competitive.
- A smile will cure most ills – Dad has the most glorious smile; one that always reaches his eyes. On the few occasions that he is grumpy, he will always find something to smile about. That resilience thing in micro.
There are many other things of course – these are the ones that spring to mind when I sat down to type. I used the following quote at Dad’s 90th birthday party. I remember looking for the perfect quote about fathers, and found it.
How lucky are we to have had a father like this?