Today is Arthur Hall’s birthday. “Who is that?” you well may ask. Well, that’s actually a surprisingly complex question. Another question you may ask (if you know me at all) is how the heck I remembered his birthday when I forget just about everything else. These are both valid questions. I’ll deal with the second one first.
I remember his birthday because he’s born on the 8th of the 8th (August) and one of the first birthdays I celebrated with him was back in 1988. (8/8/88). It was a very popular year for Asian couples to get married since 8 is considered very lucky by some. It’s hard to believe that it was probably around 20 years ago that I met him.
I first met him in a swimming pool, which seems appropriate since he was a competitive diver for a period in his life. I was around 8 or 9 years old at the time. I was playing in my uncle David “Big Man” Reid’s swimming pool and was working industriously to submerge a rather buoyant yellow ball. Arthur turned up and helped me, much to my chagrin. How dare he interfere with my game!
He’s an energetic man who gives me the impression of being on constantly on the balls of his feet. His stomach speaks of a deep, almost spiritual appreciation for fine beer and his bright baby-blue eyes suggest an intelligence he tempers with humility. All around, the sort of person New Zealanders would refer to as a “good bloke”, or a South African may deem a “lekker ou”.
I didn’t know then that the short young, slightly balding man with the little white Honda would end up being such an important part of my life. It was only a few years later and I was dressed all fancy at his wedding.
You see, Arth is my stepfather. Growing up, my sister & I never called him that, though, it’s far too impersonal and antiseptic. It’s always a little awkward trying to explain complex family structures to people without making it sound too impersonal. “Well, he’s my half-brother on my father’s side, then I have a full-sister” Life doesn’t work like that there’s no such thing as a half person.
We simply called him “Arth”. That moniker was used so frequently that even my brother Scot, his “genetic” son (there I go with the antiseptic terms again) called him “Arth” for most of his life as well. In this case, it’s just as affectionate as “Dad” though. I remember my music teacher used to say “oh, here’s your Arth” as though it were a title rather than a name. Perhaps in many ways it is.
The way I see it, we only get one father and mother: the people whose genetic material make us up. No one can ever take that away from them or from you, no matter what form your family make take in future. It’s a special thing and an important thing and not something one should deign to diminish or treat lightly.
That said, the people who brought you into the world are not always the people who bring you up in the world. Nowadays we need to be a little more open-minded about what (and who) we consider family. The days of the nuclear family with 1.5 children, a picket fence and a dog have long since passed, along with the cold war and the Berlin wall.
The people who raise you are your parents. They’re the ones who teach you about life, set the day-to-day example to live by, set boundaries, handle needs and the like. Arth is my parent, as dear and as important to me as any father though I have never called him such. He didn’t replace my father and I know he didn’t presume to.
It’s only now, so many years on, that I have a vague understanding of the sorts of things he went through, marrying a woman with two school-aged kids in tow, and only now that I think I realise why he did it.
I love you, Arth. Happy Birthday. I hope the beer arrives!