Everything’s been GO, GO, GO the last four weekends – Miami for a graduation, Washington DC for a conference, back to Miami for Memorial Day Weekend, Cincinnati with some freaks…
…then I received some sad news – a close friend’s father had passed away. I flew back to the Lehigh Valley in support. Having only ever attended island funerals, it was all a very new experience for me. A beautiful one at that [and it seemed SO stress free in comparison!] My friend’s father was a revered jazz pianist – his service was held in a black Baptist church where they gave him a send off full of love and music.
The entire time I couldn’t stop thinking about my own father. I left to come back to Ohio on Sunday which happened to mark 10 years to the day since my Dad, Albert Schmidt, died in Samoa.
Doing my Dad’s eulogy is prolly the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I did it twice too – once in Lotopa, Upolu and once in Safotu, Savaii. Those are Dad’s two villages. Me, my sister Leini and my brother Miki all spoke to two packed out churches. Other than my Dad’s siblings and their children, I really had no idea who all the faces in front of me belonged to.
Because Lotopa and Safotu are on different islands, we travelled between them by ferry. The trip from the terminal to Safotu had me going “WOW!” As we drove through the island, navigating what felt like hundreds of potholes, we kept getting stopped entering each village. Tulafale [orator chiefs] would step out on to the road with their talking sticks while villagers came running out from behind them with ‘ie toga after ‘ie toga [fine mats] spread out with bright coloured trimmings followed by packages of food. A drive that would usually take less than 40 minutes took over three hours. When we reached the family house, we put Dad’s casket in the sitting room. Each night a different ‘aufaipese [choir] from a different church would sit around him and sing by candlelight until the sun came up.
My Dad’s journey is a simple one. He was a very simple man with simple needs. Born and raised in Samoa in a family of nine brothers and sisters, Dad spent a lot of time working on the plantation – a little too much bloody time that he permanently lost sight in his left eye out there from an accident that involved his brother swiping him in the face with a sapelu [machete]. That didn’t slow him down though. At an early age, my Dad was recognised for having a gift with numbers. He was a Maths and Physics whiz [this got passed on to Leini] and ended up receiving a government scholarship to attend an affluent private school in Otago, New Zealand. From there, Dad moved to Wellington where he met my Mum and became an accountant for the Ministry of Works. He retired at age 50 and moved back to Samoa. He loved Samoa – even though he lived in New Zealand most of his life he refused to get New Zealand citizenship, the egg.
Dad was a social butterfly. He was always down at the pub but he wasn’t one of those angry fobs looking for a fight – he was a happy drunk. He had him some rhythm too so he was always out dancing like Van Damme in the bar scene on “Kickboxer” [something I inherited!] Dad loved being around people and playing social sports. Even with impaired vision, he was a FIEND when it came to any game that required good eyesight and being calculative – darts, ping pong, pool and most of all golf. Golf was his passion [whereas I friggen haaated golf the most!]
Through each generation, Leini, Miki and me would get dragged out to the golf course on Sunday mornings to carry his clubs around ugggh. They fared better than me – after 5 holes I was like “Dad I need a rest!” then I’d take all the money he had in his wallet and run back to the clubrooms to eat and play on the pinball machines until he was done. He was a crazy player – he had 2 holes in one in his career. Everyone would say he could go pro but he didn’t, purely for the fact he was so simple and didn’t care for doing things big. He enjoyed some friendly local competition but even still the house was full of trophies and prizes he racked up over the years.
Court asked me, “what do you miss most about your Dad?” I thought about it and my answer was “the way he made my brother happy”. My brother Miki was closest to my Dad out of the three of us. He’s actually named after him – Albert Mikaele Fanene Schmidt [but we’ve always called him Miki]. She asked again, “what about YOU?” This sounds ridiculous but whenever I stop to think of my most memorable moments with my Dad, they all consist of me testing his patience. From arguing over how many grey hairs I plucked out of his head [I got $0.20 for each one so I’d be like *pluck* “twenty two” *pluck* “twenty three” *pluck* “twenty nine”] to jumping on his stomach, screaming “STOP SNORING!” whenever he’d doze off [another thing I get from him – not the snoring but falling asleep any time, any place]. I got away with murder cuz I knew my Mum would protect me. I got hidings from my Mum, Leini and Miki but never from my Dad. There was one close call though when I was about seven and he almost took my LIFE. It was just me, Leini and Dad at home. He was on a chair changing the lightbulb and he said “you sure it’s off Krit?” and I was like “yeah!” then just as he screwed the new one in I hit the switch – he got an electric shock and fell off the chair. It was freaky cuz he’s the type of person you don’t see angry but there he was, livid as hell and ready to take my ass OUT. I’ll never forget the fear in my sister’s eyes as she screamed “NO DAD, DON’T!” and ran in between us, using all her strength to hold him back so I could run outside and up the street to safety.
At the time of my Dad’s death, we were at odds with one another. I would say we prolly were my whole life just cuz our personalities clashed [I’m too much like my Mum]. The last interaction I had with him wasn’t a good one. It took me a while but I forgave myself with my Mum’s help. It was a pretty rough period. I didn’t cope with it too well either. That had a lot to do with me having just moved from Porirua to Auckland six months prior to start university so I didn’t have my usual support system around me. I learned a lot from it though. When dealing with losses, there’s always a few words I try to impart with my peers:
– Let your emotions run their course but don’t let them consume you. Things happen in life but you can’t just let yourself go. It’s natural to go through some depression but you gotta snap out of it. Make sure you’re still taking care of what’s important – your health, education, dependents, whatever.
– Surround yourself with people who uplift you. It makes such a big difference. That’s just in general. We’ve all got brethren who carry a little too much negativity – sometimes you can’t cut them out completely but the less contact you have with them, the better cuz all they do is drain your energy. Positive people bring positive energy.
– Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Make time for yourself when you need it but don’t try to do it all on your own. You may want to cuz you think you’re being a burden but I’ve seen people who do and they end up being more work to put back together as a result. Everyone needs a hand up every now and then.
– Keep things in perspective. There’s always someone who has it worse and there’s still so much to be thankful for – the time you had together, your family and friends, your future…
Thinking about my answer again, I miss my Dad’s soft nature [another trait Leini gets from him] and his upstanding character [Miki’s SO honest in the same way, it often makes me sick – he’s never hustled a day of his life]. My Mum and her family are all fighters, you would think they breathe fire. They taught me how to survive, how to take risks, how to stand up for myself and how to get what I want out of life. My Dad and his family are a lot more chilled out. They taught me how to be gentle and compassionate, how to be carefree and how to appreciate the simple things.
I love you Dad! Happy Father’s Day!