By Peter Cordtz - Group Manager, Community
I was five-years-old when my dad died. My memory of him is different from my sister’s, which differs from my mum’s and that is exactly what you’d expect: we all had our own relationships with him and our own distinct memories.
To me he was a hero, to my mum he was a protector, onto his second marriage and who worked two jobs to support his young family.
My father came to New Zealand for the same reason my Māori mother left the safety of her ancestral lands in the far north: the opportunity to build a better life, not just for themselves but to provide more for their children than they ever had.
They both taught me the importance of the past as an anchor for our identity, but also the value of vision in providing for the future.
That vision led them to forgo welfare benefits for young families in favour of a government home ownership scheme in the mid-1960s.
It also led my father to make an unusual decision for a Samoan immigrant, one he made less than 12 months before he passed away in a car accident and which continues to have an impact on me and my family today.
He insured his life.
I don’t know how my mum, who was only 26, would have coped if he hadn’t. I can’t see how she would have been able to keep the roof over our heads.
The insurance pay-out gave her choices at a very difficult point in her life and the decision she made about what to do next was just as important as my dad’s decision to buy the insurance.
She could have banked the money and used it to pay the bills and help out other family members when they came asking.
But instead she paid off the mortgage on our house and gave me and my sister the stability and security of a permanent home, with no question of having to move around at the whim of a landlord. That house provided a safety net for us and our extended family for over 30 years.
Life was still hard – mum worked shifts in the freezing works café, a local factory and at a cleaning job – but as I grew up I realised it could have been a lot tougher and without the life insurance I would have ended up on a very different path.
My father’s foresight and my mum’s wisdom enabled me to be the first from either my Samoan or Māori families to gain a university degree and have opportunities neither of my parents enjoyed.
Both of their decisions were very future-focused: the ability to look beyond the urgency of now and think about tomorrow.
I know it’s not easy, but as a parent, I’ve come to understand that the best way to honour your heritage and the past is to build a better future for you and your whānau.