by Sandy Burgham
Every year my Dad, now 90 years old, books several tickets to the NZ International Film Festival, the mid-winter Auckland delight that stops some escaping to Fiji in July. This year, my sisters and I press-ganged him into agreeing with our executive decision that he was no longer allowed to attend the movies alone; we insisted a family member had to accompany him and his wheelchair to each movie for the sake of everyone’s peace of mind. While he can walk with a stick, the wheelchair is a handy accessory. It also makes me look like a caring daughter even though I really use it with Dad just to speed things up a little. I’ve always been obsessed with keeping people moving. When my kids were toddlers my husband complained about the variety of mobility devices I deemed necessary – jolly jumpers, bouncers, walkers, ride ons, battery operated swings…. And now I have transferred this obsession to my aging dad. Not only is he also fully equipped with a mobility scooter but I even move him from a to b by remote control using Uber (or Yooba as he so irritatingly calls it). Actually, I admit to another hidden agenda here. I am trying to keep him off the roads. Some idiot renewed his driver’s license; he’s 90 and is blind in one eye for god sake. Think Mr Magoo…..
It is poignant and regrettable that I am only really appreciating Dad and the impact he has had on my life as we both age. For years I credited my Mother for my few redeeming qualities such as my hell-bent independence namely because she died when I was a teen. I had always painted Dad, the disciplinarian, as the bad cop; the killjoy who imposed socially crippling ideas like a midnight curfew. He also had the audacity to charge me board as soon as I started earning money; He made me pay for my own car – what a cheek – and forced me into slave labor by making me pitch in on household chores. In the early years, my life was so hard; I had to get a part time job! Imagine that! I should have pressed charges.
Both he and my mother took what seemed to be zero interest in my schooling. Rather than sweat over which school to send my sisters and I too, they lazily assumed that the school down the road would be fine. And we had to walk there and back every day… even in the rain…. carrying our books. Occasionally, after school, Dad would surprise us by picking us up in the car. But rather than greeting with him with gratitude I’d admonish him for not parking down the road in heavy disguise to spare me the embarrassment of, well, just having him as a father. When I was 15, I remember he made the stupid mistake when picking me up from my Friday night job at Woolworths of coming in to say hello to me in front of my workmates! “What the hell are you doing in here”, I snarled, “Go back to the car and wait”. I was sure he was only doing it to annoy me.
As I mature, he seems to be getting younger and our roles are changing. He’s Benjamin Button and I’m Nurse Rachet. He wants adventure, I want control. He went on yet another cruise recently and as I waved him off from Princes Wharf I couldn’t help admiring his chutzpah. Who would have thought he’d be travelling more than me? Who would have thought he’d be so entertaining? Who would have thought spirited oldies were so wonderful to have around? A favourite family story of ours is when Aunt Peggy, a Croatian grande dame on my husband’s side, once went to see “101 Dalmatians” under the misguided assumption that it was a documentary about the ‘old country’. But Dad has even topped that: as an active, Winston-loving (“he got me my gold card so he deserves my vote”) Grey Power member, he once took a movie title on face value and found himself at an afternoon session of “50 Shades of Grey” (“that was a strange movie” he declared…). See? That’s why I need control! He can’t be left to his own devices.
At 90, his field of vision is narrowing, but that is compensated by a mind that is broadening. He laughs at the antics of his grandchildren, the same sort of antics that had me grounded (ok, I know, I’ll get over it). While his body may be shrinking and his memory lapsing, curiously we have noticed no change in his very selective hearing…
In my younger years, I never would have dreamed that I would have called my father an inspiration as he aged. He not only watches foreign films and travels, he reads controversial books, loves Ted Talks, plays games and dines out with us.
When I took him to see “My Year with Helen” at the Film Festival, a movie about Helen Clark’s unsuccessful bid to be Secretary General of the UN, he declared at the end of it: “Well, well, they were sexist!” “Dad”, I said, “you’re a feminist now? Who knew?!”
So Dad, Happy Father’s Day. In case your selective hearing screened this out, like all of the extended family, I love you. You’re an inspiration and thank you for parenting me just the way you did.
This article first appeared in The Hobson Magazine September 2017