If you’re lucky you grew up with two parents in a loving family. You have an extended network of relatives and close friends who form your family tree. Or at least that’s how I think of my close friends — as part of my family.
The bonds between you and the people in your family tree help you weather the worst storms that life brings. They’ve seen you at your best and your worst and they do a very important job of keeping you grounded.
Teachers from school, sports coaches, mentors and your peers in your professional life can also play important roles but the values you live your life by are heavily influenced by your family tree.
I was raised on a beef and sheep farm by parents who grew up in the 1930s during the Great Depression. Times were tough growing up, but we had everything we needed: hand-knitted jerseys and machine-sewn clothes to keep us warm; a huge vegetable garden, an orchard and home kill meat to keep us fed.
Money was scarce and we learned early on that it didn’t grow on trees. I raised calves but instead of getting cash in hand when they were sold, my father gave me an investment certificate instead.
“Don’t get ahead of yourself” my father, Leonard Crocombe used to tell me all the time.
“Yes, I know, Dad,” I’d sigh.
“Hmmm, well you think you do,” was his reply, always said with a knowing smile.
Every 16-year-old thinks they know more than their parents. That feeling doesn’t tend to go away until you’ve lived a little and then realise, that your parents might actually know a thing or two.
Whether it was buying my first car, going to university or my decision to get married, I resented my father’s less than enthusiastic response.
“We’ll see how you go” or “It will be pretty tough,” were lines he trotted out all the time.
He always gave me this sense that life wasn’t straightforward so don’t be too sure of yourself. I took it to mean that I wasn’t special and would have to rely on luck to get ahead in life.
I realised later that I had it all wrong. My parents never needed or expected reassurances or recognition for doing what was right, for living a good life and helping others when needed. In a farming community, that’s what you do to survive, without looking for a pat on the back.
My father gave money to some local community groups when he could. He helped people out when their cars or equipment broke down and he did what he could whenever there was an accident at the notorious ‘black spot’ at Meremere. He supplied the huge Christmas tree for the 59 Dance Club and when a neighbouring farmer died suddenly, he helped his young adult children to run the farm.
Sixty years later they recognise him as their second Dad for all the help and advice he offered freely over the years. To Dad, it was just what you did. He thought it was nothing special.
That generous attitude towards others was something he inherited from my grandfather. My granddad didn’t talk much about the First World War except about how much he hated his officer in charge. He had to do what he was told by this officer even though he disagreed with him most of the time.
When he returned from the war my grandfather worked as a builder and farmer. The officer he didn’t get along with knocked on his door one day looking for work. He was desperate and my granddad gave him a job and never once mentioned how he felt about him during the war. This was now the real world.
I remember an interview I saw once with Laurence Tureaud, the actor who played Mr. T on the TV show, The A-Team. He was asked why he wore old tatty shoes on his feet while also wearing millions of dollars’ worth of gold and diamond jewellery. He explained that his shoes had been worn by his father and grandfather and they were a reminder of those who had gone before him. They hadn’t been dealt such a good hand in life and the shoes reminded him of where he came from and helped keep him humble.
Staying humble means to know your place in the world and to know you’ll always belong there, nothing more and nothing less. I realise now that was the message my father was trying to tell me all those years ago.
Dad was there to support me when my husband left me with my two-month-old, an empty bank account and not much else. Dad was there when I made other bad decisions. And he never once said, “I told you so,” or “Well, that’s just how it goes.”
I always thought my Dad had doubts about my capabilities, but I realise now that he was doing his best to prepare me for life as best he knew how. It’s like that song by Lynn Anderson:
“I beg your pardon,
“I never promised you a rose garden,
Along with the sunshine
There has to be a bit of rain sometime.”
One day you may be winning and the next you might find yourself back where you started. Through life’s journey, I’ve been lucky enough to achieve some major milestones, not always at the first attempt, and rarely exactly as I planned. But I persevered and stuck with it, even when times were tough as my father predicted they would be.
I laugh when I hear myself tell my own adult children they can achieve anything they set their mind to but to remember the value of a person is not in what they have but what they give back to others. Gee, I am sounding like my dad. But that’s not such a bad thing.
I was fortunate to hear my father tell me how proud he was of me. Not only of my own achievements but also of how my husband and I raised our now adult children. I was my bravest when I said goodbye to him.
Dad, you knew all along I would be fine because you didn’t inflate my ego and tell me everything was going to be alright. You made me strong and you were there for me when I fell.
I know where I come from, who I am and a place where I belong, nothing more nothing less.
In memory of my Dad.
RIP Len 26.10.2017