Christmas this past year was tinged with a touch of sadness at the passing of my father.
Now, Dad was 90, so he’d had a pretty good run and even up to the time of his death was enjoying a reasonable standard of health, given his age, so although his passing saddened me, I was comforted by the thought that he’d “had a good innings”, as they say. I was also warmed by the fact he would now be reunited with my mother, his wife of over 60 years, who passed away almost six years ago now.
When I received the news of Dad’s death, I was actually on holiday in a tiny village in the rural backwaters of Occidental Mindoro, The Philippines, called Rizal (my wife’s hometown). Unfortunately, given the timing and a few other reasons I was unable to attend the funeral service, in Dunedin, New Zealand, for Dad, held just after Christmas.
I know had I been able to attend, there were a few things I would have liked to have said to him, before we said goodbye, so today I want to dedicate this blog to my father; Andrew Aitken Fleming Leishman, and express some of the sentiments I might have told him, had I been able to.
Now Dad was a product of his generation. He grew up in the tough times of the Great Depression and, as a teenager, he had watched from afar as the world went to war in that bloody conflict called World War II. He had known austerity and poverty and, it seemed to me, his one determination in life was to ensure that his family never had to suffer through some of the privations he had to. I am sure that it was this grounding (plus, of course, his Scottish heritage) that made him the man he was.
Dad’s life pretty much revolved around work and his family. His sole concession to an outside interest was his involvement in the United Ancient Order of Druids, in which he rose through the ranks to become Grand President.
In later years, he played bowls and the Caledonian Bowling Club became a large part of his routine, where he would become firstly President of the Club and later be awarded the special honours of Life Membership and Patron.
He was a humble, quiet man who generally kept his own counsel and it was only in his later years that I realised he did actually have strong opinions on issues and was prepared to articulate them.
For myself, the best memories I have of my father are those of caregiver. When Mum decided to return to her nursing career, after four children, it was Dad who stepped into the breach as the caregiver during the weekends. Mum’s work was usually Friday, Saturday and Sunday late afternoon and evenings, so it was left to Dad to look after my little sister and myself; my two older siblings generally being able to look after themselves. It was in this role that I was most grateful and thankful for Dad’s attention and care.
It was during this time that the Saturday morning library ritual was begun. Every Saturday morning Dad, my little sister and I would head for the Dunedin Public Library, where we would spend some of the happiest hours of my childhood just sitting, reading and deciding what exciting tales to take home for that week’s enjoyment. It was here I got my love of books and it was here I discovered the true power and joy of words. I owe my father so much for introducing me to this wonderful world of books, at such an early age.
Sunday afternoons were also a special time for my sister and I, when Dad would take us for our Sunday outing. Just about every week, rain or shine, we would pile into the car and dependant on the weather, we would head off for one of our venues. If the weather was kind, then the destination would invariably be the Botanic Gardens, but if the weather was a bit lousy (and this was Dunedin after all), the destination would be either the Public Art Gallery, the Dunedin Museum or the Early Settlers Museum. The highlight of our Sunday outing was always the obligatory ice-cream on the way home – something we looked forward to with real excitement each week.
Looking back now, as kids growing up in the 60’s and early 70’s, we had plenty of fun things we could be doing with our friends and sometimes we resented having to traipse around the Art Gallery or the Museum on a Sunday afternoon, but with the benefit of hindsight, I am so glad Dad took the time to share his time and interests with us. I have no doubt it was this that awakened my passion for history, anthropology and most importantly of all, before the internet age, gave me an enquiring mind, Thank you for that Dad!
Dad worked for many years (46 I think) doing a factory job that he didn’t particularly enjoy. I once queried him as to why he stayed at this job when he didn’t really enjoy it. To my youthful mind, it seemed a bit silly. His answer was enlightening as to the character of this man. He told me that with a young family to feed and clothe, security mattered more than anything to him and his job gave him that security.
Dad was a highly intelligent man, one of the smartest people I’ve ever known actually and I have no doubt he could have done anything he’d turned his mind to if he’d wanted to. But he made the decision, very early on, that family was the most important thing to him and security of that family was paramount, so he’d stay where he was. I respect him so much for that.
Both Dad and Mum showed us children what being in a relationship was all about (not that we always listened). They stayed together for life, through the hardships, the trials as well as the good times and they showed, by example, how to make a marriage work and work well. You were both great role models and its just a shame we didn’t always take note, That’s all you can do though, point the way and hope we follow and you both did that magnificently.
More than anything, this man showed his true mettle when placed under extremely trying circumstances. Anyone who knows me, knows that in my sometimes turbulent and torrid life, I have done some things that would make many parents just “disown” their children.
Dad and Mum, despite everything I threw at them over the years, were always the very first people to come running to help me when I needed it. They forgave when forgiveness was neither deserved nor warranted. They supported me through some incredibly tough times and they both showed a heart for their family and a love for their children that places them at the very top of the tree. That’s what makes Dad so special and that’s what makes him a hero in my eyes.
I am sure that those last few, lonely, years after Mum’s passing were much more tolerable for him with the regular visits of his children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. Sadly, for me, the last time I saw him was when I left for The Philippines, almost five years ago.
I will never forget the last farewell; when he hugged me (I can;t remember him ever doing that before) and with his voice breaking slightly, he grumbled in my ear “keep in touch”. For Dad that was a rare show of emotion and one I’ll treasure forever.
I will finish this little reminisce down memory lane, with my Dad, by telling you about the last telephone call I had with him.
I was feeling pretty excited about it and just a little bit too proud also. I had just had my first book published and I knew Dad had had a copy for a couple of months, so I was excited to hear his reaction to it and was looking for that fawning affirmation of praise. I would be disappointed.
“So,” I said; “did you read my book?”
There was a moment of silence before his gravelly voice replied;
“Ahhhh….well, I did read the first chapter…but…you know, it’s wasn’t really my cup of tea.”
Deflated was I! But that was Dad. He didn’t leave you in any doubt what he thought and he did try to soften the blow with his afterthought.
“It’s hard to read in here anyway….and my eyesight’s not what it used to be. It would make a great movie!”
Thanks, Dad and thanks for a life well spent, in the service of your family.
Rest well! No doubt you’ve been busy catching up with five years of gossip from Mum.
We never say this enough in our lives but better late than never; “I love you, Dad. Thanks for everything!”
Till next week, have a wonderful, peace-filled day!