What I should have asked my Dad.

Dear Dad,

What did it mean to you to be Samoan? It saddens me to think that I never took the time to find out or even thought to ask.

As a child I was oblivious to the fact that your marriage was unusual or that your brown face was different to others in our neighbourhood; you were my Dad and that was enough for me.

We grew up in the small Hawkes Bay township of Taradale where our grandparents were prominent members of the community. My mum had attended a private school before going to Wellington to train as a kindergarten teacher where she met and married a young Samoan lad.

Photos of those early times show a fresh faced and happy go lucky couple, but you were special, as yours was one of very few mixed marriages during the late 1950’s. I don’t have any memories of bias or prejudice but I don’t know if you and mum experienced any.

Our house used to smell of delicious aromas as Mum used to cook up a smorgageboard of both New Zealand and Samoan delicacies including raw fish, taro, chop suey and palasami (when someone came back from the islands as a special treat). However apart from the food our life held little or no reminders of your island home, no flax bags or fine mats, wooden drums or native language spoken.

At high school I was a confident intelligent young woman but at the same time confusion reigned within me. I was pale skinned and easily got sunburnt whilst my brother and sister were olive skinned and lived for the sun; the family joke was that I was ‘the milkman’s’. When asked what ethnicity I was I selected Europeon whereas my sister choose Samoan; I should have asked her how she felt Samoan when I had no understanding of what Samoan meant.

After 24 years of marriage you moved back to Apia, remarried and had another family. It wasn’t until we visited you there that I finally heard you speak Samoan on a regular basis, everything about your lifestyle was now Samoan, you even became a Deacon in the Anglican Church (your old mates at the Taradale Hotel had a good laugh about that). You were home.

If friends introduce me to other Samoans and say ‘she is Samoan as well’ I cringe inside. It is hard to explain as I constantly feel like an imposter, a cultureless visitor to my Dads heritage. I am that girl that visited the islands as a teenager and all the local children called from the top of the coconut trees ‘toh-far palagi’ (goodbye European) as we drove past.

Dad why didn’t you share your Samoan life with us when we were growing up? Mum always said that you had made a conscious decision when you came to New Zealand to become a Kiwi. Was it an easy choice or did you feel you had no option? I wonder what it meant to be that young man from the small inland village of Patamea in Savai’i, who moved to Wellington to learn a trade. Did you see it as an opportunity to escape or was it a punishment? Living and working away from family and friends, in what must have initially been a cold lonely experience, was it fortitude or your charming personality that saw you succeeding and making your way? How did it affect your relationships with your family, did you miss home or love the adventure?

Dad, I should have taken the time to ask some of these questions, especially once I became a mother, so I could share what being Samoan meant to you with your grandchildren.

Fa’a Samoa (the Samoan Way) reflects important Samoan values of the culture which include family, language, genealogy, church, community and service.  Dad for the last thirty plus years of your life you returned to your culture, I just wish that for the twenty plus years that you were with us in NZ, that you kept hold of your heritage, so you could have shared with us the joy of the Samoan people that laugh loud throughout the pacific.

Don’t get me wrong Dad, I am proud to be a kiwi girl and my heritage here goes back to the early settlers and the clans of Scotland before that. My ancestors helped to shape early NZ and I know their stories and can share them with my children and grandchildren, including the more recent history of a grandfather that is a legend in the local wine industry. I own my kiwi culture but the fact is that I am not the daughter of the milkman so it would have been nice to have a balanced view of my mixed parenthood or at least to be given the choice of identifying with ethnicities based on facts not based on a void.

When I see my Dad…

When I see my Dad he is working:

A craftsman that could turn a heap of twisted metal into a pristine vehicle with straight lines painted in the latest colour; I can still smell the bog or over spray when I remember the workshops where he spent so much of his time.

Toiling away at the farm or plantation, always improving, altering and extending to make things beautiful.

An integral organiser amongst the action getting the jobs done at Rotary Auctions and the Church Fair.

When I see my Dad he is enjoying life: Gun club and duck shooting, golf, fishing and the life of the party.

When I see my Dad he is tough to live with: Too loud, too ferocious, too stubborn.

When I see my Dad I see him, blue eyed, smiling, charming, generous, loved by many and mate to everyone.

When I see my Dad I see the luckiest man, who loved life and who was loved by all his families. I am forever grateful for the care and respect he received in his final years from his Samoan family. My Dad is their Dad.


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