Three weeks ago, on September 4th, my father Phillip Harry Poulton passed away at age 58 after a brief battle with cancer of the gall bladder. The toughest thing I've ever done was read part of his eulogy along with my siblings, mum, and Dad's friends.
I'm very proud of my Dad, and I'm happy with the stories about my time with him that I was able to squeeze into the few short minutes that I spoke.
Below is one of my earlier drafts, which has more detail than what I read at his funeral on September 11th 2013. At the bottom is a video that was recorded - I've included this for friends and family who weren't able to make the service - I assume it isn't fascinating viewing for anybody else.
A number of newspaper notices were placed for my Dad, from friends, family, and his colleagues. You can read tributes to Phil Poulton on the Herald Sun website.
Like most people, I learned a heck of a lot from my Dad. Chatting to my siblings it was clear that we all saw Dad in much the same way - he was genuine to everybody he met, and didn't filter his personality to suit the audience.
Dad married my mother, his first wife, and they renovated their home together in Ringwood. I was their eldest child, but not their first pregnancy - Dad helped mum through a miscarriage in an earlier pregnancy, setting the scene for the strong role he'd play for the rest of his family life. The fernery in their Ringwood home was expanded as a small memorial for their unborn baby.
We moved to Mitcham before I started school, into a house that was continually being worked on.
Before Benn started school, Mum and Dad showed us the world. We moved temporarily to the UK for a working holiday, to a small town outside Cambridge called Royston. My memories are foggy but fond, and seemed to involve more time driving our little Ford hatchback around Europe than we did at school or work.
Whilst in Royston, Mum discovered a lump - she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The UK jaunt was cut short, and we returned home for treatment.
In 1992, Mum passed away. Benn was 6, and I was 9.
When I look back on my hero father, it's from this point forward that he really deserved that badge. He was a widowed father of two young boys, working full time, running regularly, but he couldn't cook to save himself. For a short while, Benn and my diet consisted of sausages in bread and "fruit cake" - but I use both words loosely. Sue recently reminded me of the recipe, which was a grand total of 5 ingredients: flour, bran, milk, dried fruit, and sugar. You'll notice a distinct lack of eggs.
Apparently such a loaf is fantastic for endurance runners, but Benn was lucky enough to get one for his birthday one year. It seems to be one of the few things for which he hasn't forgiven Dad.
Even through this grief, the accountant in Dad kicked in. Although he was working hard at Heritage Seeds, and trying to keep up with Benn and I, Dad made sure mum's teachers superannuation was shared between Benn and I - a forethought that gave both of us a huge help to buy our first homes.
Alice and Bill, my maternal grandparents, were and still are a huge part of our lives. They often lived with us, and us with them. Dad still called grandpa "Dad", even though there they were inlaws.
A while after Mum died, new neighbours moved in, so Dad went over to introduce himself to the lovely blonde who had started making a new home with her two kids.
My memory is hazy, but I'm told that it was Ben and Benn who became great friends and knocked a hole in the fence. Something tells me that's only part of the story, since I doubt Dad would have let a primary school kid loose on his fence with a powersaw - but soon after, we were a regular fixture for dinner at Lesley's house.
I'm sure Dad would have hosted Lesley, Ben, and Tash for dinner, but he was trying to make an impression - and sausages and cake wasn't going to help his cause.
Soon after, we found ourselves living together as one family here in Eltham. Dad always seemed to have a love for Eltham, especially for places such as Montsalvat where we are today - lots of trees, lots of timber, and other eclectic building materials. Many of you will know of our first house in Eltham, a timber and mud brick house that was always being extended upon. This theme of always improving was one of the biggest that rubbed off on me, as evidenced by the number of half-finished jobs around home.
My time in Eltham was my true formative years: I started high school, made lifelong friends, and really got to know Dad's own lifelong friends. As time went on, I learned more and more about the world, much of it from Dad's viewpoint. I was learning from Dad until the day he passed away.
Dad got me my first job, doing work experience with the company who looked after the computers at Heritage Seeds. As a result, through a series of buyouts and cross-training, I've never had to interview for a new job - yet I've ended up working somewhere I love with a fantastic group of people.
We often spoke politics at the dinner table, although we rarely saw eye to eye. The weekly dinner table was where we bought our own growing families, to talk with and learn from Pa. It was also the scene for the infamous "Sonos Battles".
Us four kids had always considered Dad a bit of a ... let's just say he was an Accountant. Fads, trends, and new stuff wasn't his cup of tea, and as he held the cash we weren't likely to be sporting new video games or the latest Nikes.
When he moved to the new house at Wombat Drive, something seemed to change. Maybe it was because we weren't in his back pocket all the time, but suddenly there was a huge TV. Then two more, just in case.
The old record player was put on the nature strip, and a top of the range surround sound system found it's way into the living room, along with a remote-controlled music system.
It became a bit of a game at Sunday dinner to see who could choose a song that would actually get played through to the end. One of us kids would chose something contemporary, and we'd all happily hear the first half of the song. Dad would then decide that he'd like to hear Aretha Franklin, so he would pull out his phone and queue up an Aretha Franklin song. Well, he tried to - but every time, without fail, we ended up with the entire Aretha Franklin back catalogue, including live versions, cover songs, and interviews. And he didn't just queue them up to play after our one song - he stopped the song hard halfway through, and we'd hear the opening bars of "R.E.S.P.E.C.T", followed by her rendition, as lovely as it was, of "Bridge over Troubled Water".
Dad was a pretty non-technical person, who still did his banking with bits of paper. To watch a new guest arrive for the first time was amusing, as they tried to deal with Dad's excited demonstrations of wireless music selection. Who would have thought that after a life of collecting 8-tracks and then records, that he'd be most enthusiastic about music over the internet.
Watching him in the last few years I learned a few other useful lessons. It turns out, that a caravan cannot be too large. It also cannot have too many gadgets. Once the gadget-laden caravan arrives, there's no reason not to go out and buy more gadgets to go in it.
It turns out it's also OK to wear shorts. Dad was particularly rapt one night after going shopping on his way to running, having had a stranger at the supermarket yell out "Nice legs!".
Even when we landed in Nepal, our Sherpa guide, Lhakpa, asked with a concerned face, "Mr Phil, do you know you are in Lukla?". Dad was doing us proud, surrounded by the permanently ice-capped Himalayas - wearing his shorts.
Dad also taught us that coffee is a great way to catch up with friends and family. Meeting for Saturday coffee was as important as Sunday dinner, as Ollie sat on Pa's lap to eat his muffin while we slowly started our weekends. More recently, we'd started bumping into each other at the coffee shop before work. It was a nice coincidence that we started going out of our way to foster a few days a week, even if it was only a 2 minute chat while getting a take away coffee.
But above all, Dad was all about family and friends, tied together by music - and he used it to make us laugh at the saddest of times.
Last Wednesday afternoon, with friends and family sitting in the sun at home, we put on a playlist Dad had built called "Phil's Favourites". Of course the first 5 hours was everything the Rolling Stones have ever had a part in, but the music kept going, and going, and going. I guess that's the advantage to adding entire discographies to your playlist.
As the evening wore on, we knew what the outcome would be. With twenty of us surrounding Dad's bed in tears, we kept talking to him and listening to the music he queued up.
Then, some of the worst music interviewing I've heard came onto the stereo and filled the room. I have no idea who it was, or why an interview was even on Spotify, but his living room was filled with noise we didn't want to listen to. We reached for Dad's iPad, to try to get back to the music - but it refused to work for us. His horrid music management made us all laugh, both with him and at him, at a time when we should have been in tears.
Luckily we fixed the music, and soon after Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" came on. It was quite possibly the last music he ever heard.
The messages and support I've received from everybody around me has been simply amazing, for which I'm eternally grateful. Good friendships make tough times that little bit easier.
Dad's gall bladder cancer was rare and aggressive. In his memory, we've been raising some funds for the Forgotten Cancers Project at the Cancer Council of Victoria. More research into this cancer might help extend the lives of future patients, so that they may spend more time with their families than the three months we got with my dad.
Thanks for reading.
© Copyright 2006- Ross Poulton. All Rights Reserved unless explicitly defined.
Opinions expressed here are my own, and not those of my employer or any other party.