(I’m writing something every day for #100days. This is post 37/100.)
When your Dad dies, and you’re still young, you start to piece together a kind of composite father from the world around you.
I can look back on the past decade and see in many different people the slivers of paternal influence I’ve sought.
It’s usually narrow enough that the person I’m seeking it from wouldn’t know the significance of the role they’re playing.
When my Dad died, I felt like I was on a ship and the upper deck was ripped off in a violent storm.
I was 19, and I didn’t feel ready. But I had to climb out into the wildness with my Mum and help her hold down the tarpaulins to stop the rain pouring in.
Anytime I’ve found someone in my life who can help me relieve that burden for just a moment, to make it feel like there’s someone above me, holding things down until the storm passes, I’ve deeply appreciated it.
Eventually, I’ll tell those people who they are. Thank them for the support.
But one man who already knows, and someone I’ve been fortunate to spend many days of quality time with, is Matthew, my father-in-law.
Speeches about admirable people tend to devolve into abstract cliches — “such a good person”… “cares so deeply for his family and friends”.
So I’m going to avoid those and share five specific examples of what I admire so much about Matthew.
Service. Matthew spent the last 20 years of his career as the Executive Officer of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-run organisation in Northern Queensland. Through the organisation, Matt helped run a school, a residential aged care facility and drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre that supported the cultures he was serving.
There’s a much longer, and windier story here, but Matthew dedicated his life to helping improve the lives of others, which deserves immense admiration.
Forgiveness. I am not particularly prone to forgiveness. But in watching Matthew live and work in the 10 years I’ve known him, I’ve been forced to confront my own compassionate shortcomings.
I remember vividly on a trip to Tasmania, Matthew and Julia were eating oysters (one of their favourite things). There were 12 oysters between the 3 of us. Matthew insisted I have my allocation of 4. I argued that since I didn’t like the oysters, that he and Julia should instead have 6 each.
In the majority of situations, I abide the view that ‘who cares wins’. If I love cake the most, I should have the most of it, since that maxmises the total available pleasure.
Matthew disagreed. “Imagine if we can give you a taste for oysters. We’ll get to share the joy with you for the rest of the time we know each other.”
The Piano. At the age of 70, Matthew bought a piano, moved it into his bedroom, and started learning how to play. How many 72 year olds you know are willing to humble themselves with ‘Greensleeves’ renditions?
Mirr Mirr. At the age of 71, Matthew built his own house, with his own hands. They made a TV show about it. It’s probably my favourite house in the world. The most peaceful and relaxing place. And he built it from scratch.
“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
Over the past three years, Matthew has planted more than a thousand trees on his property, by hand.
He’s taken a relatively barren sheep paddock, and is turning it into something that will sustain itself for decades.
A life of service. Deeply forgiving. The humility to be a beginner at 70. The drive to build his own house.
A thousand trees in whose shade my children will one day sit.