Older and Wiser

Last Wednesday was the 1st anniversary of my fathers death. Due to the vagaries of timezones he died on the same day as David Bowie last year. (11th of Jan in NZ was 10th of Jan in U.S). Of course Bowie’s passing was big news unlike my Dad.

At the funeral I made up a bit of a eulogy. As the oldest child in a family I had mixed feelings. My Dad was remarkable in many ways. He would have done well as an academic but in real life he was a farmer for many years despite the decades he spent teaching himself 3 ancient languages. (Context: He left school in 1940’s around age 15.)

He also used to play the guitar and when he did that he was a more rounded person. He even managed to play a few songs at his 80th birthday 5 years ago. The pic shows his hands playing the close end of a Fender at the same time as his brother who was playing another part on the other strings. A great party trick.

He was interested in rugby and once watched a league game which he begrudgingly enjoyed. Despite his research he had no social skills or interest in small talk. He never took much notice of birthdays or Christmas for decades until he got to about 70 and started to chill out a bit.

I once organised to drive a car from Wellington to Auckland with him so we could have a meaningful conversation. We got all the way to Taupo before he said much at all. That is about 370 km or half a day.

Before all the old timers start reciting their versions of the Monty Python (4 Yorkshire men) skit “we had it tough” I am not complaining – that is just what he was like. In the circumstances we didn’t talk that much for quite some time.

“The point is that in the 70’s and 80’s no one knew that much about why we are the way that we are. Who cares if you have discovered some new translation of an ancient text when someone has to go milk the cows. And that someone is you.”

I suspect that for generations many of us have similar experiences with family members. We probably make jokes about it as you do because; lets face it – people are funny. And we just work around each others foibles and fables.

There is a more serious side and probably today my Dad would have been diagnosed as having something like Asperger syndrome even though he was relatively high functioning.

The good news is that despite his lack of interest in social interaction outside a tiny wavelength of interests he did manage somehow to transmit an solid work ethic and respect for research. And the gift of music is everywhere in the family.

Music was our shared common language with our Dad even when our tastes didn’t match. There is just something very cool about an 80 year old guitarist still playing away.

Once when I was a teen working on a farm with him (trying to back a tractor and trailer) he said that whatever you are doing ‘you have to have a system. Find a system and work on that to make a better system.” Something I never forgot.

Ironically – years later I found myself working in the early days of what was then called “management information systems” and later into a combination of technology, software and learning systems which I still do.

These days I have a daughter, nieces and nephews and the usual share of ‘interesting’ relatives and siblings. All making and doing stuff that makes a difference.

I’d like to think that now we are all better at sharing and learning as we too, get older and wiser. My Dad is gone but not forgotten. We learned what not to do as well as what else we could be doing and I’d like to think that somewhere on a spaceship far, far away…

But the film is a saddening bore
Because I wrote it ten times or more
It’s about to be writ again
As I ask you to focus on

You know how the song goes – now make it different and new.

Update Note: Serendipity at work – Here is a podcast by Professor Cornel West. Back in 2011 I wrote on Facebook – (from 6 years ago – 10 January 2011)

“Loved this interview today on Radio NZ Prof Cornel West almost “boiled over” a few times into speechifying flights of fancy. Noelle mostly kept him on a short string.

Loved it at the end when he requested John Coltrane – A Love Supreme” – Podcast link:

Cornel West Podcast manages to namecheck Plato, Bootsy Collins, Socrates and more – the funk of life…possibilities for transformation. …

Professor West is still a great listen – especially considering these we are short on ‘profound teachable moments” and the U.S is embarking on a dangerous experiment. Among other things Cornel is famous for “Examined Life” which I didn’t remember when I wrote the post above but it all fits.

Note to self – (make a separate post on Cornel West) soon.