‘By your deeds so you are known’
About this interview...
This is an ‘imagined’ interview because the person I am writing about, my Father, died a few years ago. So while I cannot say that we actually had this whole conversation in one go, we did talk often. About his early life and his experiences as an adult. My Father put a lot into life and was blessed with a long one. From our many conversations I also learnt much about him as a person. And he imparted to me, many gems from his store of practical and hard earned wisdom.
Of course, I miss him very much. To me, he was a very good and decent man, a humble one, and a kind and loving father. But like so many others of his time and generation, he did not have any easy start in life. Although in his case, this was due as much to unexpected misfortune as to world events which forever affected the lives of so many other young men of his day.
This is part of only one man’s story
So let me share with you briefly some of the chapters from my father’s life. The challenges he faced were not uncommon for his time. Many people can recount the similar experiences of their own loved ones.
Me: So Dad, you were the second eldest of five children?
Father: Yes, I had an older and a younger brother and two younger sisters.
Me: And was your childhood a happy one?
Father: Well I think it was, what I remember. We weren’t particularly well off. I was a child during the Depression here in Australia. Nobody remembers those days any more. Although my father was a local doctor, many of his patients had no work or money and couldn’t pay him at all. Some paid in kind by giving us vegetables, chickens and the like. But he couldn’t refuse to treat people because they had no money. There wasn’t much in the way of social security in those days, and certainly not Medicare.
Me: Was your own father a role model to you?
Father: Yes, I admired him very much. He was very well regarded and accomplished a great deal in his life before his sudden death.
Tragedy struck and everything changed forever
Me: What happened to him?
Father: He was on his way to meet my mother in town one evening, so it was around twilight. He was crossing at the bottom of a steep street. Without warning a truck which had been parked higher up the street suddenly came hurtling down the slope towards him and it hit him. It had old or faulty brakes. For whatever reason, its brakes released and the truck rolled down the hill gathering speed. My father had no chance to get out of the way.
Me: Was your father badly injured?
Father: Yes, his femur artery was slashed. He bled to death there and then on the spot, before any help could arrive.
Me: How old were you when this happened?
Father: I was 13. I found out he had died when I answered the door at home that night to a policeman who said ‘Sonny, I have bad news for you, your father is dead’.
Me: That must have been a terrible shock to a young boy. Something you never get over. And for your mother and siblings too.
Father: Yes, it was a freak accident. One of those things that should never have happened.
And then my father’s childhood was over
Me: How did your family cope?
Father: Well things were very difficult financially. I had to leave school and start work to help support my mother and the younger children. There was no alternative. There was no economic safety net when the family breadwinner died.
Me: So that was the end of your childhood. What did you do?
Father: I started a bookkeeping apprenticeship during the day, and later I started studying accounting at night at tech. I kept on with that pretty much until after the war (World War II) started. It took me about 7 years of working full time and studying but I finally passed my exams and qualified as an accountant.
Caught up by world events
Me: And what did you do next?
Father: The war had started so I enlisted in the Army. I was made a Lieutenant at 21 and later promoted to Captain in the Field. I saw active service in Papua New Guinea and was there for a few years. And I took part in the first beach landing in Borneo. I was in the Army for over 4 years. After the war ended, single men were among the last to be de-mobbed.
Me: You were always reluctant to talk to us about your war experiences.
Father: I think most soldiers are. We wanted to put it behind us. Both my brothers were also on active service in the Pacific so I was just grateful that all three of us came back.
Me: Fortunately you survived in one piece?
Father: Yes, I was lucky, apart from a bad injury when an army truck I was in rolled. My left wrist was almost severed and I had to spend 6 months in hospital. My left hand was permanently affected but at least I didn’t lose the hand. And I was still able to do most things pretty normally.
A new chapter begins
Me: And after you were discharged from the army?
Father: On the troopship coming back to Australia I met up by chance with an old friend. We got to talking about the future, naturally, and we both resolved to try to make a social contribution by engaging in some form of public office. I ended up getting involved in local government and was first an Alderman and later Lord Mayor of my local suburb for a term.
Me: Did you resume your former working life?
Father: I went back to working as an accountant and kept studying for a further accounting qualification. Like many returned servicemen, I had lost years of my youth and early career years as a result of the war.
Me: When did you get married?
Father: I met your mother not long after I came back from the war but it took me a while to persuade her to accept me.
Me: How was early married life?
Father: Well, like for most people it was a struggle. We had to save to buy a house. We had to save for everything. There were few luxuries. People like us who had lived through hard economic times and war shortages were careful. And wary about getting into debt. So we didn’t spend what we didn’t have. But over time things became easier, we were lucky. The family grew and everyone was well. You can’t ask for much more than that.
Me: But you worked very hard?
Father: You know my saying that the harder you work, the luckier you get. Over the years I managed to build up a loyal client base.
Me: I think the main focus of your life has always been family.
Father: Yes, your mother and our children were always what was most important to me.
Me: But you had to deal with the grief of another sudden death in the family.
Father: Yes, when your younger sister died suddenly (in her 30’s of a brain aneurysm) it was a terrible blow for your mother and me. People say there is no worse thing than burying your child, and that is true. She was an adult but she was still our much loved daughter.
A long working life
Me: I remember how much time you gave to honorary roles for various organisations over the years
Father: I tried to use my abilities to help out where I could. So for many years I did a lot of accounting work free of charge for several schools, churches, charities and people who needed assistance.
Me: And you kept working even well into your 80’s?
Father: I don’t have many clients now, I seem to have outlived most of them. But the ones I still have won’t let me retire. I feel I can’t let them down!
and the secret to happiness?
Me: You always seem to be in a good mood. And I can’t remember you ever being bad-tempered. What is your secret to a happy life?
Father: No secret, pretty simple really. Have a clear idea of your values and stick to them. Work out what is worthwhile in life and don’t waste time on what isn’t. Don’t complain, count your blessings. Don’t dwell on the negative or things you can’t change. Try to look for the good in people and situations, hard as that can often be. Don’t be critical or speak unkindly of others. These are all things I tried to teach you and our other children. Because I think they will serve you well in dealing with what life is bound to throw at you.
My father was one of that now gone generation of Australian men and women who lived through the Great Depression, served their country bravely in war and returned home to face re-building their lives from limited opportunities. You have to admire their determination and persistence, and their commitment to hard work and to just getting on with it.
His ‘rules for life’ may seem homespun and obvious but I think you can never hear these and other truths too often. I wonder how many people still hold or respect such values? My Father died peacefully in hospice at the age of 92 with family at his side. He was much loved and is greatly missed.
For information and assistance on end of life organisation and planning, we invite you to visit us at Anticipate Life.