I have spent 33 years looking for a replacement dad. My own one died when I was 5 and I've been searching ever since for a father fill-in. I've found a couple. They aren't full replacements, but combined they have filled the gaps in my life where my dad would have been.
The first one was my best friend's father. Craig had a beard, a flash truck and he was my soccer coach. He taught me about getting stuck in on the football field and not being intimidated. In the mud of Southland, being determined and aggressive made up for a lack of skill. I wanted Craig as my dad, and luckily my best friend Michael was happy to share him.
When winter turned to summer, soccer turned to cricket. I found a bloke called Ron Pearce. I was no child prodigy with a cricket bat, but I could hang around long enough that the local senior team picked me when I was 16. Ron was the manager. He took me under his wing, especially when it came to the bus ride home.
Buses in Southland have problems going straight home. They like to stop at every pub. This concerned me because I was some distance from the legal drinking age. I didn't want to get drunk, but waiting on the bus while everyone else did didn't seem feasible either.
Ron told me not to worry. He said if any policeman asked, I was his son. This sounded too good to be true.
I found out later my own dad used to coach Ron's kids athletics. I guess Ron was paying Dad back by looking after me.
Ron loved cricket. More than any man I've ever known. Every year he would go to a test with a score book and several different coloured pens. He would score all five days from the same seat in the same grandstand. Boundaries were marked with blue pen and wickets with red. He also went to England once and scored from a grandstand at Lord's. A dream come true.
Last weekend I was back in Gore and, because news travels fast in those parts, I heard Ron was sick. It was bone cancer. I dialled up a couple of old team- mates, we grabbed a box of beers and met at Ron's place. I was scared of seeing him. I'm good at life, but struggle with the prospect of it ending.
I was relieved Ron was happy. Ron's wife, Janice, made chips and dip and then mouse traps while we told long funny stories about cricket games we could only partially remember. Ron told us he took five catches off his son's bowling once and will never forget it.
What we didn't talk about was the cancer that has already taken control of his legs. He's in a wheelchair and refuses to go to a hospice. Ron's staying at home. I don't blame him.
The hours swept by and soon we were lifting Ron up the stairs to bed. I wanted to tell him how thankful I was for what he had done for me. I'd said it to him on the phone the day before, but wanted to tell him to his face. I couldn't. It was too hard. I gave him a hug, said goodbye and gave him one last long look. He had the same idea. He was looking back and smiling.
- Hadyn can't cook but does write a fortnightly column.