Friday, March 13, 2009
A year ago, I was in New Zealand to attend my daughter's wedding. Her first anniversary is in two days, technically tomorrow factoring in the International Date Line.
I lived in New Zealand for eleven years, back in the 70s and 80s. I met Gail, my first wife, in San Francisco. Gail is a Kiwi, and 18 months later we were in New Zealand. We settled in Dunedin, at the bottom of the South Island, and both of us enrolled in law school (law is an undergraduate degree there).
In our second year of law school, we had Emily. We spent the rest of law school handing off Emily like a football to each other between classes. Since males don't have breast milk, I had to be especially inventive in keeping Emily happy.
After graduation, we moved to Wellington, New Zealand's capital. Gail went into law and I found my way into financial journalism. A year and a bit later, our marriage broke up, and five years later I headed to Melbourne, Australia to take up a post as feature writer for the business section of a daily newspaper.
Six months later, thanks to a mixed manic episode, I found myself a stranger in a strange land, broke and friendless and unemployed. I managed to scrape by for the next five years, then returned to the east coast of the States just in time for a crushing depression and more lost years than I would care to admit.
Those lost years involved missing out on a lot of my daughter's growing up. Her mother did a great job raising her. Emily wound up getting a law degree from the same place her mother and I did, plus a marketing degree, then went to work in New Zealand's wine industry.
Fathers, of course, always ask questions they shouldn't. On the phone, I got Emily to own up to the fact she was dating. "Is he a keeper?" I asked. Let's put it this way - it was the kind of "yes" every father wants to hear.
I later met Hamish when he and Emily were visiting the States. I couldn't have picked out a better mate for her, myself. Her mother says the same thing.
I hadn't been to New Zealand since the early nineties. In many ways, it was the same country. In so many other ways, though, it had transformed itself. Back when I was living there, New Zealand was full of smart and sophisticated people working to fashion a society in their image. By the time I returned, they had largely succeeded.
I harbored a bit of regret that I wasn't part of that. Indeed, I spent a lot of time facing down - and ultimately exorcising - ghosts from my past. I was a different person now, but this distant place in a distant time shaped me, gave me an education, got me started on a career. And, of course, gave me Emily.
Funny thing about Emily's wedding day, the thing I recall most vividly is chatting with the taxi driver on the way back from the reception. He was from Somalia. Here he was, an immigrant, in a new country. A new start, a young man with a future. That's how I felt when I arrived on this distant shore more than 30 years before.
Now, here I was, looking back at my past. But also into a future that involves a wonderful daughter and her fine husband.
Happy first anniversary, Emily and Hamish!