Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something (The man in black from The Princess Bride)

You angel, you (You may say I'm a dreamer - Chapter 2, part 1)

I've overcome the blow
I've learnt to take it well
only wish my words
could just convince myself
that it just wasn't real
but that's not the way it feels
(Operator - Jim Croce)

There have been a few fab fours in my life - there's my four children; John Paul George and Ringo; and the fab four who shaped me in my young years (and beyond).

That original fab four was my maternal grandmother, Lucy Adsett (Ma); her eldest son, my Uncle Jack; her daughter and my mum, Dulcie; and my paternal grandfather, Harry (Deedoo).

Dad with his boys on holiday (he and Ross were peas in a pod)
I guess when people write their life story they sentimentalise their past like crazy and maybe I've been guilty of that already. Maybe.

Certainly, there is nothing I could write or say about these four people that could do justice to their impact on my life or express the love I felt, and still feel, for them.

Although they are not physically present any more, they continue to force themselves upon me in my daily life.

To those four, I also need to add a fifth Beatle -in my case - my father, Graham. Perhaps it is his example that has had the deepest affect because he managed to outlive all of the others until he passed away in 2009 aged 82.

But during my childhood, he was more of the shadowy disciplinarian who flitted in and out of my life (mum was never afraid to trot out the, "wait till your father gets home", line when it suited).

Dressed in his crisp suit, he was off early from 18 Korma Ave to his work in Otahuhu, and he was often late home. By the early 1960's he'd become a manager at the large multinational pharmaceutical company Burroughs Wellcome. I'm not sure why. He would later express the regret that he didn't own a chemist shop so becoming a manager and eventually the managing director seems a bit incongruous.

He had a cool office like the one Don Draper has in Mad Men, with loads of cool stationery that I'd grab whenever we called in, which was usually after hours when he had to pick up something on the weekend.

My memories of dad in those days were mainly as the driver of the family car on holidays. Both my parents smoked then, so when I think of those holidays, apart from him driving, it is the smell of burning tobacco that I remember most.

I hated that smell. But I loved the holidays.

Thinking about it now, maybe that's why we had so many trips away - both family holidays and coming along on his business conferences. That was a key way for him to spend time with us.

In England for a conference
Work seemed to be a major part of his life. 

He would sometimes host work dos at our house. Ross and I would score snacks and fancy hors d'ouvres before bedtime. 

His friendship group became work related (with Merv Hynes a constant as well). We would often hear stories about his boss and his co-workers like John Smith.

The big overseas trips he took were for weeks at a time. The largest took him away from us for months when he went to America, Rome, the UK, Canada and Australia. He hated being away from us but that was his job.

Quickly, we learned that we had to share dad's time with others.

He was always in heavy demand for his tech skill. Our first television came from a kitset he bought and assembled; neighbours and friends of friends would often call on him to fix various devices. I remember going with him a few times as he installed 8 tracks in cars, or set up stereos or repaired broken TVs. He was very skillful and knowledgeable and obviously loved doing it. Even at Maygrove where he retired to he was Mr Fixit.

Being a chemist meant that he also acted as a quasi doctor for friends and family. He was a wiz with potions and sometimes regretted not going to medical school.

Another holiday - we often went with him
on business trips. The Chateau Tongariro
was a popular venue.
As a family we had many rituals. My father LOVED routine! On Saturday mornings we travelled from 18 Korma Ave to his parents place in Mt Eden. For a start, I didn't mind that much - Grandma always had a magazine for me - Look and Learn or Goal! Saturday nights we always had a roast dinner. Both of these I came to dread as the years went by, without understanding their importance or how lucky we were.

Perhaps dad being an only child made it difficult for me to get close to him in those years. He'd been brought up without a close mother/son bond and I think that made it hard for him to communicate his feelings. That pretty much lasted all his life too. 

He wasn't a huggy guy!

That he loved and cared for us hugely was never in doubt though. I remember Ma saying, "You have to make allowances for Graham", meaning that growing up as an only child in his circumstances meant certain consequences. Ma, as always, spoke with sensitivity and common sense.

As the years passed our relationship changed: I became a teenage boy living in a fog for a while; a university student who really didn't share his stance on things; a new father who suddenly realised a lot of stuff that I'd taken for granted; an experienced and wiser person who sought to renew the relationship; to, finally, the one who was there by his side at the end.

Dad and Nita at his retirement from BW in 1988
On holiday with Nita, 1994

Graham's second wife Nita is on record as saying that Graham was hard to live with and I'd agree. Basically, as I've indicated already, my family always put it down to the fact that he was an only child and had a difficult relationship with his mother. It meant he couldn't easily show his feelings. Generally though he was about protecting me and Ross. So, if like Nita you wanted a close personal relationship, he didn't really know how to give it.

He only let his guard down with me twice.

When my mum died in 1983 I was in my mid twenties. He fell apart. I remember we were in the car, alone together, when he opened up about the depth of his loss. He really needed me to be strong for the family. And I was. The protective seal closed up again quickly afterwards though.

The only other time was during the few days before he passed away. After his stroke I drove up from Stratford to be with him on the weekends in hospital. On his last weekend, in front of Ross he remained the protecting father putting on a last show, but he was very different alone with me before Jacky flew up to be with us.

Strange really. Although Ross always had a tighter relationship with him (they were very similar in their ways and their interests) I don't believe Ross ever caught a glimpse of dad's vulnerability.

Looking back I know how lucky I am to be Graham Purdy's eldest son. As a father he set the bar high. Many of the values and virtues that I have, have their root in him and his example.

Mike Rutherford's Living Years song says some key things about father/son relationships, about missing opportunities in life, about regrets.

Luckily I have very few because, before he passed away, I was able to thank him for being my dad and he was able to thank me for being a good son.

Love and peace - Abu Keegan bin Graham.

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