Sunday, June 19, 2011


My Dad (on the left) at one of the power plants he built - the gentleman on the far right is Kasem Chatikavanij, General Manager of the Electrical Generating Authority of Thailand, later Minister of Industry for Thailand.

My Dad's story is incredible - he started out a country kid from Woodend, Victoria, where my grandfather had a pub. School was finished for Dad at age 15 and his first job was riding a bicycle, doing deliveries for a chemist (that's a drugstore here in the States). This was in the depths of the Great Depression, life was hard, and opportunities were few and far between. During World War II Dad got his break - an apprenticeship as a machinist in the shipyards in Williamstown, west of Melbourne.

My Dad worked hard; as hard as anyone has ever worked in their life. He went to night school and earned a tech school diploma as a machinist - riding the trams late at night after a hard day in the shipyard, cracking the books and studying hard. I've seen the books he studied; thermodynamics, principles of steam power generation - what they called a machinist in 1940s Australia is really what we call a mechanical engineer today, and somewhere along the way Dad parlayed that tech school certificate into just that.

There was a greater sacrifice; my Dad is an artist. He studied drawing and painting. There were always books around our house dedicated to art; the incredible works of Michelangelo and Da Vinci; the bright vivid colors of the Impressionists, Van Gogh and Gauguin. But when he was young, the life of a starving artist simply wasn't a realistic course of action for a member of the working class with a wife & kids. And so he nugged it out in the machine shops, turning and shaping metal on lathes and drill presses.

Opportunity presented itself in North America and Dad made his move, securing a job in the design office of a project in Seattle, Washington. Mum & us kids (there were only two of us at that time) stayed in Vancouver until Dad could work something with U.S. Immigration and get us across the border.

That was the start of my Dad's incredible career as a consulting engineer; he built industrial sites in all over Asia and here in the United States. A urea processing plant in Sumatra, Indonesia; three huge electrical power plants big enough to power the cities - one in Bangladesh and two in Thailand - a city water supply facility in Turkey, and several projects here in the United States. Nothing ever held my Dad back - he could do anything.

And so my brothers and I grew up overseas and lived the amazing ex-pat lifestyle; an education no school can provide. I still remember when I was six, in Indonesia - my dad built a classic, clinker-hulled dinghy with a mast and lateen-rigged sail and a 1.5 horsepower Seagull outboard. The sail was hand sewn from old rice sacks and the spars were bamboo. I remember Dad taking me up the river, and I remember the banks of that river lined with crocodiles basking in the sun. We stopped and visited a native village; bamboo longhouses up on stilts. It was a scene right out of a Conrad novel (even though I didn't know it at the time). By the time I was a teenager I'd had adventures most kids cannot even imagine.

Of course we had no idea whatsoever how hard life really is, no concept of how hard Dad worked each and every day of his life. Dad's greatest frustration was probably trying to infuse the work ethic into us. There were work projects and chores, but nothing like what he went through as a kid; so one summer vacation my Dad arranged for my older brother and I to work in a factory in Sydney (it was winter down there) - that was an eye-opener for an expat kid from Southeast Asia, let me tell you.

Dad told us stories of his life; trying to make it as a kid in the shipyards, and somewhere along the way some of it stuck. He taught us that for anything you want in this Life you have to work hard, that hard work is it's own reward, and if a job of work is worth doing then it's worth doing right.

He taught us to always be courteous, to speak clearly and correctly, to always say "Sir," and to always say "please" and "thank you". Despite his own 'School of Hard Knocks' background - or more likely, because of it - my Dad is an optimist; he taught me that as hard as this World is, it isn't always 'Dog eat Dog', it's more like 'Friend Help Friend', and that if you worked hard and played it straight and true, somewhere down the line somebody would be willing to lend a hand when you needed it.

Dad taught me valuable skills; how to work with tools, caring for and sharpening blades, small engine maintenance and repair. To this day I can sharpen any blade - axes, lawnmower blades, machetes; all my military knives are razor sharp. Dad taught me drawing; how human and animal figures can be developed from cubes, cylinders and cones; perspective, texture, shadow and form. What my Dad taught in maths and technical drawing - together with my own humble credentials as a military engineer - has led directly to my present career in industrial security.

Everything I've got in this Life I owe directly to my father's influence. He taught me that "God loves a tryer" - no truer words - that if I worked hard and tried, I might fail and fall flat on my face - and I have a couple times - but that if I picked myself up each and every time and kept on trying, in the end I'd always make it. My father's words got me through my darkest hours, the hardest times in Special Forces, and they inspire me to this day.

My Dad is a success story in Life, greater than most. He gave us kids the best educations, we wanted for nothing, and he honored my mother - a saint - who passed away eleven years ago this coming September. In retirement Dad returned to his first love, art. He took up oils and won several medals and blue ribbons for his works, and achieved significant success in selling them. Of course, he accomplished this with the help and support of his second wife, my step-mother Ruth, who is also a saint.

Dad is generous to a T; he has graciously helped every member of our family. It is impossible for me to thank my Dad enough for all he's done - the only way I know how is to live my life as best as I can, and to dedicate my achievements to him. If could ever achieve ten percent in my lifetime of what my Dad did in his - given his humble beginnings - I'd probably be Prime Minister of Australia by now.

Happy Father's Day, Dad!

We all love you!

from Sean, TigerLily & the kids . . .