One of my favourite photos of my father features him at the table, eating breakfast with one hand, while holding me upright with the other. I’m about one in it, looking up at him in total adoration. At the time the adoration was probably because he was letting me pick pieces of dried banana from his muesli. I didn’t know it then, but John Paine was a man who took his breakfast routine very seriously… and the fact that he was willing to let me shove my podgy, grubby little hand in it was actually an early sign that I had his true and unconditional love.
From learning about the day’s most important meal, to learning how to drive, all through my life, my Dad has been one of the few constants I have known. John Paine was a constant, in every sense of the word. He collected the mail at the exact same time each day, always had a freshly ironed hankie in his pocket, and could be relied on to refer to every pair of socks he ever received as ‘Just what I always wanted’.
But he was more than a human clock you could set your watch to. For me: If life was softball, he’d be the catcher. If living was a tightrope walk, he seemed like the perfect net. If growing up was a journey, he was my map. Not one of those new-fangled, internet maps that totally baffled Dad mind you – a battered, well-thumbed, hard copy – the kind they just don’t seem to make anymore.
Of all the things Dad gave me - from a love of medieval history to an aversion to spicy food – his family was his greatest possible gift.
He raised five kids. I don’t feel that qualifying that with any caveats about genetics is necessary – I know he never did.
Dad loved us all. Through childhood mini concerts, during dress-up Christmases, after tense front room talks. While we were playing every variety of weekend sport, going through every moody teenage spasm of attitude… even when I repeatedly tried to hang upside down on his back machine when I was about 10, always getting stuck and having to call out till he came to rescue me.
Dad was steady as a rock – you always knew what to expect from him. If he wanted to express enthusiasm, he’d punctuate the conversation with his patented “Wacky Doo!” If he had one drink to many, his perfectly combed, wonderfully full head of hair would suddenly go askew. When you were in need of comfort, he’d always be there to offer a double back-pat, a “there-there” and a firm suggestion – “Have a glass of water”. Dad was making it clear he was there, and when he was there, it felt like nothing truly terrible could ever happen. He was also making sure you stayed hydrated.
Of course, Dad was capable of mistakes. Like the time he got experimental in the kitchen when mum was away, and decided to throw steamed zucchini into the dinner mix. It was only when we sat down to eat that it became apparent that Dad wasn’t entirely clear on the difference between a zucchini and a cucumber. And the time he bought mum that ornamental green umbrella for Christmas… that we never talk about and never saw again.
John Paine died how he enjoyed living – in Sunnybrae, surrounded by family, and with as little fuss as possible. Just as I did in that old photo, I was still looking up at him in total adoration until the very end. He lived the life he wanted. He was a generous, gentle, honourable man. An antique pocket watch in a digital world.
I’ll miss you Dad.