The day before he died, my dad said to my mum “Rose, get me my phone so I can call the office”. Stan was a stubborn old bastard!
In the year after he died, my brother, sister, and I spent a weekend together, sharing stories about Stan and reminiscing on our relationships with our father. We discussed the good and bad times. We remembered individual instances of when we got smacked by his belt for some perceived misbehavior.
We siblings all mentioned his stubbornness, and how each of us inherited that trait. However, on further discussion, we discovered that his stubbornness was strength of commitment and dedication. Stan made a difference in his work, to people around him, and most definitely, to his children.
We talked about his influence on family, friends, customers, and strangers. Stan’s business was agricultural and irrigation engineering. He always went above and beyond the job at hand. When we were young, customers would deliver baskets of fruit to our house because dad had done something extra for them and they were showing their appreciation. Stan was a pioneer in the dried grapes industry — you’ll know that as making raisins. He helped invent and improve the rack dehydrator — essentially, an 8ft hair dryer that would blow heat along a 50ft rack of grapes to dry them in days, instead of weeks.
In 1944, when Stan was 11, his mother was put into a wheelchair. When he was 16, she died. Being the youngest of two sons, he became the “housewife”. When he married my mother, he took on the role of “man of the house”. Matching his generation, Stan worked hard to provide for his family. He started several successful businesses, built two houses, and left a legacy of integrity, kindness, and leadership.
We would spend Sunday afternoons driving in the bush, chasing gypsum, rabbits, and mushrooms. And some weekends we — all 6 of us — would be treated to an ice cream. Other weekends, we would drive out to the sandhills — “doons” in American English. Our favorite play was when we found a hood from an old car. We’d flip it over so we could hang on to the front. We’d pile on burlap sacks to sit on. Dad would tie the hood to a long rope behind our family car, and then drive around the salt flats. We were riding a chariot! We were gladiators — until the bottom of the hood got too hot for us to bear.
One weekend, I went on an irrigation call with my dad. We drove to the river to a water pumping station he had built. The owners had asked him to look out for a goanna that had been harassing their chickens and eating all their eggs. A goanna is a lace monitor lizard — first cousin of a komodo dragon — and can grow up to 7 or 8 feet long. I remember dad shouting at me to “get in the truck!”. About 20 minutes later, he came and got me and showed me what was in our trailer. Apparently, with a rather big stick, dad had managed to track down and kill the predator. He had placed it in our 6 foot long trailer, where the head was in the front and the tail was just hanging out over the back. My dad was a hero! When I saw Jurassic Park for the first time, I realized they had stolen my dad’s story!
My own adult relationship with my dad had a certain amount of distance, both geographically and emotionally. I was the intellectual and ran off to college at the age of 17. Both my parents told me I needed to be an accountant because I was good at mathematics. They had even sent me to a mathematics camp in Year 11.
When I did arrive at college, I discovered computers and found my first passion. When I got a job as a technology consultant, dad once asked me what I did for a living now I was no longer an accountant. I tried to explain once that I walked into companies, made them feel good, they paid me and I left. I think, to him, it sounded like I was some kind of hooker.
The distance between my dad and I grew when I took a job in Chicago, 10,000 miles from home. Before my first year was up, I called to tell him the good news that I was getting married. His immediate response was “what? aren’t Australian girls good enough for you?” and he handed the phone to my mum. The next day she called to apologize, telling me that was not what he meant. His reason, she said, was that I told him I would only be in the US “indefinitely”, and he was disappointed that I would be now be here permanently. True to his character, dad made immediate plans to travel to my wedding, and did me the honor of standing up as my best man.
Every time I would visit home over the years, I would learn more about my dad. For 15 years in a row, he won an Australian International trade award for agriculture. He was always a pioneer in developing innovative agricultural equipment and methods. I would always catch up with more family, friends, and schoolmates. And every one of them, to a fault, would tell me stories about Stan. They told me how much they loved him, how kind he was, what he did for other people, and how everyone was inspired and motivated by his kindness and integrity.
I sat down and talked with him about this phenomenon. I told him I thought he was making a difference in the world that was his sphere of influence. When he tried to deny, I told him about all the new ways he had made a difference since I last visited. At the time, I had found an acronym — MaD — m.a.d. — which stands for “making a difference”. I told him “dad, you’re making a difference — you’re MaD!”. His sarcastic retort was his usual dryness — he said “yes, but Trev, you’ve always been a little mad…”. Every visit I made home since then, we would start with our usual bear hug, then I would look him in the eye and say “Stan, you’re MaD!”.
And, just like the times before I left Australia, on every visit, dad would ask me what it was I did for my job. While I was a computer consultant, I was now presenting motivational keynote sessions. It wasn’t until he died that I realized how much I was following in his footsteps — how much he inspired me to be someone who makes a difference.
Six months before his death on my visit home, dad was facing his cancer diagnosis and his own mortality. He confided in me that he felt like he had never told his kids — enough — that he loved them. I brought up the amazing childhood we had, sharing with him some of our stories that demonstrated how much he loved his kids and how he inspired them all to make a difference in our world. I told him that we always knew that he loved us, no matter how infrequent those words were from him.
As I drove away from that visit, he and mum were standing in their driveway watching me leave. What I saw in my rearview mirror was my dad standing with his arm around my mum, with the other hand waving goodbye. This image is burned into my memory and I treasure it every time it comes into focus.
The night before dad died, I was so pleased he had insisted on having his phone with him. Our call was short, and there was no way of knowing it was his death bed. My last words were “I love you, dad” and he said “I love you, Trev”.
Stan made a difference in the world that was his sphere of influence, and I told him that many many times. He was my inspiration.
If I had one more chance to talk to my dad, I would say: Dad, you inspired me to make a difference. Stan, I’m MaD.
Stan, I’m MaD was told at:
- Stories on the Lawn in Austin on November 2nd, 2023.