Happy birthday Dad, because I didn’t have time to prepare a decent speech

It was my dad’s 60th birthday party last night. It was a great party. Lots of family and friends flew in from Auckland and other places, which was lovely. Heaps of people who’ve known me since I was the little dude’s age. We let the little dude sleep in, then put him down for his nap late to prime him for a late night, so he could join in some of the festivities. He stayed until halfway through the speeches (interrupting my mum with a loud announcement of “all done Nana!”), whereupon Mr Daddy took him and my sister’s two boys back to our place to sleep while I stayed on to dance/eat/chat.

Reflecting on the party earlier this evening, I was thinking how lovely it was to see my parents’ friends. My mum and dad made a wonderful village for themselves. Dad was always big on that. Big on community. He organised parties on our street, and made gates in our fence to connect the garden to the neighbours’ on all three sides so that we could run through and play with the next door kids. He said that when he was a young man travelling alone in Sweden he stayed at a stranger’s house for a few nights, and when he asked how he could show his thanks this guy said he could open his home to others when he had a home of his own. Dad took that to heart. Always choose kindness. Always choose generosity.

There was a band at the party. The little dude danced crazily with great enthusiasm, before anyone else joined the dance floor. A beautiful thing about toddlers is that they feel completely free to enjoy things without worrying whether they’re good at it or not. And because 99% of all two year olds dance like drunken wind-up toys, the adults can’t tell either whether it’s something they’ll become skilled at one day or whether they’ll always be wonky and arrhythmic, so everyone is amused and delighted and encouraging. It’s so cool.

Older kids lose that, eh. By the time most people are adults, they don’t do things they’re not good at. They say things like “I’m too old to learn a new language.” Have you heard a toddler speak?! Learning a language is hard at any age! The little dude uses the letter “d” for maybe half the consonants. His word for “porridge”, “sausage” and “trousers” is the same – “daudauche”.

My dad though, he’s not like that. He’s had several medium-term hobbies – most recently dancing – where he’s joined a club or taken lessons and stuck with it for years, out of pure enjoyment, and despite it not coming easily. When my brother and I were kids, he found a choir that was open to all ages and didn’t require singing ability, and we went along and had fun every Wednesday after dinner, all through primary school. My brother could probably have joined a more talent-based choir but dad and I were just there to enjoy belting out our tuneless warbles.

As a kid, this attitude just seemed like one of dad’s endearing eccentricities. He was more fun and more irreverent than many of the other dads. As an adult, especially as a parent, it seems like the lighter side of an important life philosophy. He had a very restricted childhood – extremely religious family with lots of children and not much money living in a tiny rural town – and when he found himself as an independent adult in a world of endless possibilities, well, maybe that excitement never left? Which is awesome. And while it’s mostly displayed in his love of giving things a go for the hell of it, it’s also reflected in the way he always affirmed to me the possibility of doing things differently to how I’d done them before. He always emphasised that when something couldn’t be controlled or changed, that’s life, life’s like that – but your attitudes, your next steps, your whole way of approaching the situation, that is within your control. I wrote about this once before, on a rough day in the year the little dude was born, in a blog called “enjoying the vanilla icecream”. Growing up with that lesson repeated in a thousand ways has been an enormous gift. Thanks dad, and happy birthday!