On 6 September 1937 my Dad, Truby Te Tauroa Mihaere, was born. Had he lived, he’d be eighty today. Eighty in my Dad’s whanau is a big number, particularly for the men. I have only one male relative who has surpassed this age and lived to tell the story. For the rest of the Mihaere men most pass on long before this age.
Had he reached eighty he would be an amazing gift to us all. I can just imagine this old man, more quiet than he once was, yet commanding respect and awe simply by being present. The wisdom of a full life would have been evident in the ageing lines on his face and the almost whiteness of his hair. And when he spoke the listener would have heard a man full of compassion, humour, and aroha that would have drawn you into to want to discover more of what this man might know. He would have told stories from his life, stories like:
- how he was literally born in a tent while his Mum & Dad were scrubcutting;
- how growing up he used to drink the top of the bottles of milk they got at school and filled them up again with water, or something worse 😉 ;
- how he used to be physically abused by his teachers for speaking Maori;
- how he didn’t have shoes, so would step in cow dung to keep his feet warm during winter;
- how he saw his Mum constantly being beaten up for no apparent reason – alcohol being a massive part of the problem;
- how he was determined to leave home and enter the military;
- how he will go down in history as the first recorded Maori to go to the Antarctica;
- how he went to Dunedin one Christmas with his army buddy and met a girl and three days later asked her to marry him;
- how TEN months after getting married the most amazing human being on the planet at the time was born (that would be me);
- how that followed with two more amazing girls (of course not as amazing as me) were born;
- how he took his family to Thailand as part of the NZ Army 5 Specialist Team teaching the Thai Government how to build roads;
- how he had a profound spiritual experience that remapped the course of life as a follower of Jesus;
- how he returned to NZ and trained in Bible college but received an ‘F’ in his first assignment because his hand writing was indecipherable;
- how he saw his son (that would be me again) give his life to Jesus at a school holiday programme in Kaitaia;
- how he embarked on a life long journey of piecing together our whanu whakapapa (family tree) back to before the Takitimu canoe arrived in Aotearoa;
- how he began searching for his long lost sister and found her in Northland;
- how he attended his father’s tangi (funeral) with mixed emotions;
- how he moved on from Bible college to Baptist Theological College (now Carey) and at his interview when asked what he did he replied, ‘I’m a professional killer’; and in that same interview suggested to the interviewing panel that they should pause and pray because deciding on who could enter training was a big decision;
- how he moved his family to Tuakau and there rediscovered his mother tongue through the help of a Pakeha (NZ European) who could speak fluent Maori;
- how he was meticulous in this timing, so much so that my amazing brother arrived at 10 to 10 on my tenth birthday;
- how we moved to Tauranga and his love and calling to ministry among Maori was realised;
- how a fifth amazing child was born to complete our whanau;
- how the black dog of depression would attack and he would be left for weeks and sometimes months lying in a blackened room hiding from the world;
- how he was always there for those who were hurting;
- how he would admit that he didn’t always do things right, even to the point of tragic consequences;
- how he appreciated the power of whanau as they came and ‘took us home’ from Tauranga to Otane in the wake of tragic debris, confused that apparently Christian love and forgiveness only extended to some sins even though Jesus died for ALL sins;
- how in returning home he gets a random phone call from his old boss, when he was a teenager, and ends up working on the same farm as he did way back when;
- how he would bring his organising skill to bare by helping Central Hawkes Bay College, where my sisters and I attended, to form Pukekaihou, our kapa haka group;
- how one day the same man who re-taught him to speak Maori, visited him and asked him to come back to ministry in Pukekohe as the Pastor of Puna O Te Ora;
- how he walked the bi-cultural journey by laying down his pastorate that enabled a predominantly Maori congregation to join with Franklin Baptist Church, which still holds true to that bi-cultural journey today;
- how he, with other whanau, organised the first family reunion at Te Rauhina Marae, Wairoa;
- how he got more involved at the national level of Maori ministry and the bi-cultural journey through whare wananga (house of learning) events in churches across Aotearoa, firstly with Baptist Maori Ministries and then Hou Honga Rongo;
- how he gave it all up to take Mum back again to Otane and care for her needs;
- how he learnt with earnest the real issue of lymphedema, which my Mum had all of her life, and how he became her primary caregiver and therapist; and
- how he gave the rest of his life to caring for Mum;
Had he reached eighty he would have so enjoyed his grandchildren and great grandchildren. He would have been so proud of each one. Of course he would have sometimes given them ‘the look’ that once upon a time would have caused a child to burst into tears and run and hide in the comfort of their parent. Now, however, it would have been one of those big gleaming smiles that projected love and warmth that made you all warm and fussy and worthy of life and living. He would have been so, so proud of my two beautiful daughters reaching for the stars they want to reach, even if they are in the Northern hemisphere. Although he may not have been able to travel, we would have lived vicariously through them through the likes of social media, which hadn’t been invented until after he had died.
He would have told each of his grandchildren and great grandchildren that no matter how tough life gets, remember;
- nothing in this world is out of reach if you want it, so go for it;
- whether it’s your worst or best day, the best is yet to come;
- don’t waste your life away with alcohol, smoking, and drugs, because you really are far too precious;
- if you get down, depressed, and want to give up on life, find your whanau because whanau is everything and they love you unconditionally, even when you screw up;
- look to God, through Jesus, he really is the real deal; and
- when in doubt, pull my finger!
Had he reached eighty he would have had a constant stream of people visiting him. Almost everywhere I go in Aotearoa, people will ask if I am related to Truby Mihaere, and then recount the greatness of this man. There are people in paradise, or pursuing their calling today because of him. I can’t even imagine the number of people that would amount to. What I can remember is that, while I was at home, there seemed to be many many people who flowed though our house being helped by him and Mum.
I remember the year he died. Michele and I were heading overseas for a holiday to Hong Kong, China and Macau. It was pretty traumatic trip for us on two counts. Firstly, we were leaving Jamila behind for the ten days; and Michele was pregnant with Shanae and was suffering extreme hyperemesis. While we were away it was planned that Mum and Dad would come and stay at our house, as a bit of a break for them. Back then is was a pretty significant mission to do that because of Mum’s condition and therapy didn’t go on holiday.
I recall with clarity, but not understanding the cascading ramification, a phone-call with Dad. He sounded far off and tired, and he said that he didn’t think he was going to be able to come up and bring Mum as well. I heard a resignation in his voice that he was coming to the end of his ability to help Mum. Only after he had died, when Mum was talking with his Doctor, that we discovered that three years earlier when he had been diagnosed with heart disease and Type 2 diabetes (we knew that bit) but he only had a couple more years to live (we didn’t know that bit).
As I processed his death, which was a heart attack one night in bed, this man died for the sake of another. He was supposed to give up all the therapy work two to three years earlier, but he kept it up until he could do no more. He literally died saving my Mums life. My Mum lived a further 10 years because of that sacrifice. Had it not been for his determination to serve my Mum in this way, she would have likely died before him.
I miss him terribly. A day does not go by when either something reminds me of him, or I think about him, or I do something that reminds others of him. What I have written here is only a small part of his life, but I cherish those memories and the ones I haven’t written down.
Father’s day is quite hollow for me as a son, while at the same time special as a father. We don’t do the OTT celebration of Father’s Day (although I would not be adverse to it kids), because fathers need to be celebrated every day. I would not be who I am today without my Dad. He was (and in many ways still is) my rock, my mentor, my teacher, my hero, my counsellor, my role model, my friend, and of course, my dad.
Everything my Dad’s life was, the things known and unknown, help shape who I am as a man, a husband, a father, a follower, a leader, and as a Tuakana in our whanau. I give tribute to him today, on what would have been his 80th birthday.
We would have had an amazing celebration for you Dad, but I imagine you’re having one any way, and we lift you up in honour, our Kaumatua in the sky!
Love you, miss you… see you in the soup!
Your loving and proud son!
Photo choice: Of all the many photos I could have chosen, I chose this one because it was one toward the end of his life yet speaks to so much of who he is if you know his story. Firstly this photo is in the kitchen of the home they lived in (my Grandmother is in the room behind them). Secondly this is possibly one of the last pictures of him, taken either in 1997 or 1998 (the year he died). Thirdly, he is behind Mum supporting her. Most of his life he was in front of Mum with her supporting him. He finished his race with roles reversed. How inspirational this is and unwittingly I find myself in similar postures at times. It’s not a great quality photo but it tells a story.