My Tribute to Dad

October 8, 2011 Off By leigh

This is the tribute I presented with my sister Gaye at my father, Peter John Smith’s funeral:

I’d like to talk about Dad’s life through some of our personal experiences and recollections of him.

I remember how as a young boy, perhaps 11, I was (as was typical) obsessed with making model tanks & soldiers. As part of my obsession, I had discovered somehow that there was a plastic modelling society in Fremantle. With very little pleading, Dad, with Mum and Gaye, would drive me all the way from Darlington to Fremantle on a Sunday afternoon, every month, to participate in the meetings. They’d let me socialise with older enthusiasts, and take Gaye roller skating. It must have cost them a fortune in petrol, but that was just something Dad and Mum did, just because it was something I wanted to do, and they’d accommodate me, with no complaints. That sense of cheerful sacrifice underpinned Dad’s service to the many community groups he was a part of.

As a younger boy, perhaps 5 or 6, he would always be making something for me, be it a crossbow (thoughtfully he ensured it didn’t really work), or a go-cart, or something else that was part of the crazy dreams of a young boy. Dad was always there to help me strive for that crazy dream. To make it real, to try it, to find out whether that idea worked, and join me in that discovery. Dad was someone who was always there for you, be it a son, daughter, wife or mate.

There were countless times I’d have Dad trapped in the car, driving somewhere, somehow always late at night. He may have picked me up from Boy Scouts, and I’d be bashing his ears with arcane discussions about tanks, military paraphernalia or as a teenager, computers. He’d graciously allow me to talk, and be interested in what I was rabbiting on about. Thinking back, it must have been utterly exhausting to put up with, but he rarely complained or suggested I change the subject. But those trips also became moments to really connect and discuss many things of wider significance. Sharing a journey with Dad was always a learning experience. He was someone that I think everyone will agree was a wise and valued counsellor.

With me starting high school, it was Dad who suggested I should take a computer class saying “it’s the way of the future”, when the idea of it seemed abstract and an esoteric niche. When I wanted to buy a computer, he didn’t just go and buy me one, he provided the opportunity for me to work at Scale and Engineering on holidays to earn money to buy one. Later, he gave Gaye the same chance to work at Smith’s to earn some vacation money. In that, I owe my career and success to that suggestion of his.

Of course, success comes from endeavour, and Dad was the perfect example. In so many ways, from helping him in his workshop, to just observing how he worked and interacted with workmates at Scale and Engineering or Smiths, I learnt deep and empowering concepts. Of the value of keeping at a task, of how to respect and understand others, especially someone you might not agree with, or how to ask someone to do something. It gave me an appreciation of the value of planning, of working, of focus and self-discipline, and respect for others. I believe Dad gave that appreciation to many people.

But the thing was, while Dad was always ready with advice, and a definite opinion, he always could find the space in his heart to consider and respect an alternative opinion. He could always find the lightness of a situation. I remember when a neighbour (probably justifiably) complained about my band practice, Dad responded to the complaint mocking deafness with “What? What?”.

With his diagnosis, what Dad ultimately taught me was courage. Dad faced lung cancer with the same sense of planning, of focus, of determination as every other problem he had encountered. But he did so in a way that did not make him embittered, or morose. He was very open about his illness. He didn’t make that illness other people’s problem, but he didn’t hide or wallow in it. He was honest about his fears and after reflection, simply faced them and pushed on with that combination of vitality and determination he displayed to everyone who knew him. In memory of Peter, we need to be active in urging our friends and family to not smoke.

Dad had a sense of adventure that really showed when he travelled. I remember when Mum and Dad visited New York for Jill and my wedding. On the first day he jumped on the subway system, and chose random subway stops to see parts of New York. Nowadays New York City is a very safe city, but of all the stops he could have chosen, it managed to be East New York, the last surviving ghetto, making Harlem look good. But in classic Peter fashion, he had to have a chat with some local folks, being the only white guy, let alone Aussie, to visit for probably some time, before jumping back on the subway.

As Dad was ready to admit, he didn’t receive a great amount of formal education, but for Gaye and myself, he was a teacher of something far more important: life skills. I believe there are many people in the room that will attest that he was as helpful to others as us in understanding how to deal with a problem, how to stand by your mates and family, how to appreciate and care for people, how to understand what the right thing is to do, and to do it properly. Thank you Dad for being a teacher, a joker, a truth teller, a sounding board, and an inspiration. Your memory and love will be with us forever.