Dad was an only child
He was born at the tail end of the Great Depression, in 1934, in Inglewood. His Dad – my Pop – was a schoolteacher and later a headmaster. Pop went away to war in 1939, and so Dad and his Mum Elizabeth lived a pretty meagre existence for a good part of his childhood. Elizabeth died when Dad was in his late 20s. She drowned during her daily swim in the sea at Paihia. I grew up knowing little of her, as Pop remarried and I grew up with a different Gran.
Dad was a soldier
He joined the Army as soon as he was old enough. He wanted to go to Korea, but I’m glad he didn’t. He went to Malaya and fought in the Emergency that was happening there. He didn’t like to talk about it much. He did like to tell us though, about his trips to exotic places like Bangladesh, Australia, Singapore and the States, and the shenanigans he got up to, including asking for a huge plate of cabbage from the mess when he arrived back in New Zealand from USA. I’m sure they thought he was mad, but apparently you couldn’t get cabbage in America back then.
He met Mum in the Army. She was a senior rank to him, which raised a few eyebrows back then, but he didn’t care. He swept her off her feet and into an Army House in tropical Waiouru once they were married.
When the Army Cadet unit started up in Lower Hutt in 1990, Dad told us all about how he was a School Cadet in the 40s, which sounded pretty exciting. Carol and I joined up the next week, and Dad even joined as an officer for a few years. I owe a lot to my 9 years in the Cadets. I would never be so confident as I am now if I hadn’t been to all those courses or taught all those lessons, or led all that drill on the parade ground. I will always be thankful to Mum and Dad for taking us to that first meeting in a draughty drill hall in Petone.
And “on time” to the Hall family ALWAYS means “five to ten minutes early” thanks to our military parents.
Dad was a family man
So much so, that he had two families.
He married Jean in 1956. Steven was born later in the year. Dad had always acknowledged that he was a bit of a lad, and wasn’t always around when he was needed, and eventually they divorced. Steven grew up into a fine man and we used to all go to visit Jean and Steve a few times a year for a catch up. When Steve developed cancer in 2005, Mum and Dad opened their home and hearts to have him move into our place for the last few months of his life. It was a really special time.
He married Mum in 1973. Carol arrived in 1974, I followed in 1976. Apparently when Mum was in labour with me, the doctor sent Dad home, saying it would be a while, and that he would call when it was time to come back.
He was at home, mowing the lawn when the phone rang. Mum’s voice on the other end of the line said; “Hello David… we have another daughter!”
He replied; “Who is this?”
He was a surrogate Dad to Katie (Carol’s friend), Sarah and Kirsten (my friends), and Allison, our exchange student from Chicago who stayed with us in 1990. Recently he was also Dad to Lauren, who stayed with Sam and I while on teaching exchange from Canada for four months.
He was also a loving Gramps to Megan. There will be more Grandchildren eventually, but unfortunately they won’t get to know him as Megan did.
Dad went on a big trip overseas with Mum in 2001
The planning conversation with Mum went like this:
Where do you want to go?
No, just Chicago.
What about England?
No, just Chicago, to see Allison and her family.
OK, but we’re going to England too because I want to go there.
OK, but only because you want to. Don’t ask me to enjoy it.
When they got back, the conversation went like this:
Where do you want to go back to?
Dad was skilled with electronics
He was what is known as an ‘early adapter’, trying and embracing new technology as it came to hand. Working for Philips helped. We had a video well before most other people we knew. The cassette was two-sided like an audio tape, and popped out of a little hinged door. The technology never took off, but ‘Mr Philips’ always provided us with newer, better models as they became available.
Carol and I had a Philips version of the Walkman, before most people even knew what one was. The batteries lasted long enough to play about 3 tapes before they went flat, but damn we were cool, walking round to the dairy in the 80s with our big black foam headphones on.
When things broke, Dad was always able to fix them. He could still install and programme a video faster than any cable guy, and always knew exactly which cable went where, even over the phone, which he had to do the many times that Carol and I moved flats.
When the Defence Film Library became the Defence Video Unit he took it all in his stride. Watching him use a mouse when computers came in was hilarious, because his finger would hover over it like it was the Doomsday button, but we taught him how to play Minesweeper and Patience, and pretty soon he was using the mouse like a pro. He was pretty good at using the internet and email, and loved being able to interact with his Army buddies using SigsNet.
He could also send a text message faster than any other Septegenererian I know. Even though he held it at arms length and typed with his index finger.
Dad was great with his hands
He made a wooden rocking horse and a doll’s house for us when we were kids, and heaps of wooden toys. The wooden train he made is still at home, and Megan now plays with it. He remodelled every house he lived in, including Miro St, which has now been remodelled and redecorated at least twice in some parts.
He made Carol and I wooden boxes that sat at the end of our beds. And later, a blanket box for the end of his and Mum’s bed too. He made our garden furniture, built the pergola at the back of our house, and rebuilt the deck in 2005 with Steven and Murray. He made a beautiful changing trolley for Carol and Murray, and a trolley that he used to get himself round the house when he was still mobile. When he couldn’t do the big jobs anymore he started making holding crosses. They are all over the place; as far afield as Canada, USA, Japan and England. And even Gore.
I learned a lot of skills from Dad, and own my own tool kit and power drill. Sometimes I even let my husband use them.
Dad was firm but fair
He picked us up from parties with no questions asked; whatever the time or place, he and Mum were there to take us home. Even if there was underage drinking involved. Which there was, on quite a few occasions.
When we were old enough to drive, we got to return the favour by collecting him from the Taita RSA on ANZAC Day and Corps Days. These were the only times he ever left the seat up! Living with three women engourages a man not to do that very often.
When one of us had a boyfriend round very late at night – a BIG no-no, Dad chased him out of the house. Naked. That certainly scared the living daylights out of the would-be Romeo.
Dad was smart
He did the prize cryptic crossword every week in the paper. It became a bit of a competition between him and Peggy from Church and Jim from SigsNet. The record stands at three pens each.
He did Sudoku every morning. Mum and him would each work on their own copy after breakfast, and race each other to finish it.
He loved maths, particularly algebra. I couldn’t wait to find out what that was. When I found out, I loved it too. Now I’m a maths teacher, passing on my love of maths to my students.
He loved to watch Eggheads and Who Wants to be a Millionaire? on the TV, and knew a heck of a lot about a heck of a lot of topics. Sam and Dad’s combined knowledge base was a scarily powerful combination, and they used to love watching it together when we went home for tea every Thursday for the last few years.
Dad loved to have fun
He used to take us to a local playground after Church on Sundays, to let Mum have some downtime. We loved going to Avalon Park, or Petone Foreshore, or the playground just near St James. He would push us on the swings till we were so high we could see everything around us. Or he would take us on the model trains at Petone and Avalon Parks. Dad loved going on them with us too.
He was a great rock 'n' roll dancer, and would eventually dance with me after a bit of persuasion. He would get breathless at times, but he gave it his all. He taught me how to follow, as often I would second-guess the next move and try to lead. I have great memories of dancing with him at Carol and Murray’s wedding.
He used to read to us at bedtime. Our favourite book was There’s no such thing as a dragon, but he never got to find out how it ended, as every time he got to “luckily the milkman was able to tell them which way it went”, he would collapse in laughter and tears, unable to read any further. Even in our teens and 20s we would beg Dad to read it to us, just to watch him laugh. He never got to read it to Megan, but we will do it for him when she is older.