I have learned that the greatest test of the significance of love comes when the object of one’s affection is removed.
Yesterday my Dad, Robert Hine Sangster, died peacefully at the age of nearly 93. I loved him deeply, as the growing sense of loss I am currently experiencing testifies.
Dad was a major part of my life, from my earliest memories to watching him pass away yesterday. He was a friend and confidant, rescuer, protector, and a really good mate. We are alike in many ways, different in others.
I love machinery and gadgets, as those who know me well may attest. I hear the nodding heads of such people as they read this.
As an infant, my Mum eagerly waited to hear my first word, as mothers are want to do. Much to her disappointment, mine was “tractor”, testimony to the impact that Harry Ferguson’s TEA 24 – the Little Grey Fergie – had made on me even then.
Dad and the Fergie were a big part of my life growing up. At this point any health and safety aficionados should stop reading.
I started my driving career by sitting on his lap as he drove during feeding out routines to the stock on the farm. As I got older, I was allowed to sit on the seat and steer, while Dad stood on the rear-mounted tray and spread hay from the cut bales. In time, my feet reached the pedals. Shortly after that I was allowed to drive a tractor unsupervised and operate it for all of the various farm tasks for which it was used. I would have been about 11 years old at that point.
It was the same with other farm jobs. Once Dad was satisfied that I was up to the task, I was allowed to proceed unsupervised. He was generally always around to help if things broke or went pear-shaped, but there was always an expectation that I should be able to sort out things that went wrong.
Rabbit shooting was the same. Perhaps understanding the temptation that could come from a teenage boy being allowed out and about with a .22 rifle and a box of ammunition, Dad had a system. It started with being allocated only two bullets. When I came home with two rabbits, I was allowed four bullets for my next outing.
Blame and bullying were not part of how Dad operated. Trust and respect were. So fixing my own mistakes and not asking for help were things I learned at an early age. He was the best boss I’ve ever had the privilege of working for.
Dad never judged me. He let me be who I was and supported me. He was never far away if needed for advice or encouragement. I know I’ve done things in my life that have disappointed him, but he’s never said anything about those or held those against me.
Dad never complained or moaned. There was always a bright side to life’s knocks and set backs. He was loyal to family and friends.
He had a great sense of humour and loved to share jokes or funny stories. As kids we were frequently regaled with elephant jokes and similar. The more ridiculous the better.
When I moved to Wellington in 1984 I met a chap at MAF who had once been a practice vet at Eltham.
“Brett Sangster,” he said. “Any relation to Bob?”
“He’s my Dad.” I replied.
“That’s right. Bob Sangster. What’s yellow and goes click, click?**” he mused.
That was definitely my Dad he was remembering.
Mum and Dad built something pretty special together on their Taranaki farm. Their garden was amazing – it stars on the cover of and is included in the Taranaki version of the Private Gardens of New Zealand series of books. Mum was the creative genius plants-woman. Dad did the heavy lifting.
Surprisingly they sold up 21 years ago and, almost on a whim, decided to relocate to Waikanae. Not that surprising in some respects, given that all of us kids had ended up in Wellington. Another fabulous garden emerged there.
Mum died about 18 months ago. Dad loved her to bits. As she became increasingly frail and affected by dementia during her last years, he took over her roles as creative gardener and cook. Not bad for an 80-year-old. He never complained. He just got on and did, as he always had.
Earlier this year he decided that enough was enough at Waikanae and moved to the Bob Scott Retirement Village at Petone. Unfortunately, what should have been Quality Bob Time for Dad in his last years was not to be. Health issues caught up with him. Right until the end he was always great fun to visit and interested in what we were all up to. He always enjoyed a beer or a single malt whisky, particularly during a televised sports event.
Loving, caring, great fun, enterprising, reliable, dependable, forgiving. That was my Dad – my Little Grey Fergie.
**A ball-point banana is yellow and goes click, click.