By Jodi Bryant
Whitney and Stacey Kitchen remember little of their beloved mother but their childhood memory banks are still full of happy times thanks to their dad Mark. Carol was 41 when she died of ovarian cancer in 2000. Whitney was 7 and Stacey just 4.
"The best memory I have was when she wasn't well and they let her come home and I came home from school and she was sitting on the couch. That was a great surprise for us," recalls Whitney, now 24.
Stacey, 22, mostly relies on the many home videos capturing the family swimming and camping and doing all sorts of 'crazy things'. However, she still has some precious recollections.
"I remember our mum to be such a beautiful, kind-natured lady who was a great mum. I do remember small things, like her taking me to visit the primary school I'd go to, lying together in bed on Saturday mornings and visiting her while she was in the North Haven Hospice."
The girls have been told they are both like their mum in their own ways.
Says Whitney: "I've been told we're quite similar in personality. Apparently, she was organised and a little bit bossy. She was quite loving and kind but also straight to the point. Stacey looks more like her with her dark features so we both have her in us in different aspects."
"Actually, I can see my mum in Whitney when I look at her," adds Stacey. "She has a similar face and smile, whereas I have similar colouring with dark brown eyes and olivey skin tone."
When Carol died, the community and their large extended family rallied around, bringing home-cooked meals and the grandparents moved in to help. Mark down-sized his business to allow him to be home more.
"It was great for us because we got to have dad at home," Whitney recalls. "Before, when he had the support of mum beside him, he was leaving the house really early and returning late but after he down-sized, we all had breakfast together and he made our school lunches all the way up through high school until we were 18!"
The girls believe, one of the biggest challenges for their dad raising daughters, was mastering the art of hair tying.
"He'd obviously never had to do this before and we both played hockey because mum was a hockey player so he got us into that pretty young but, of course, come Saturday morning, he'd have to tie our hair up. He'd get us to lie on the bed and hang our hair over the edge of the bed and tie it up. It was an interesting technique but it worked – with lots of hair spray and head bands!"
And how did he handle teenage girls?
"Teenage girls are quite difficult, especially with all those bits and pieces going on that he's never had to deal with," laughs Whitney. "He's really good with the birds and the bees talk but our nan dealt with a lot of the other stuff.
"Dad had the final say on wearing make-up and boyfriends. We knew to make sure all our chores were done; our rooms were clean and the ironing done - and then ask if we could go out. He was firm but fair. But we didn't want to get into too much trouble otherwise we'd hear about it at home."
Add Stacey: "It's funny to look back, especially over our teen years, and realise how protective our dad is of us! I'm sure most boys would have chosen to run a hundred miles rather than meet our dad!"
But while his daughters say 'you still wouldn't want to get on his bad side', their father Mark is very kind and loving and 'a bit of a softie'.
"Considering the awful circumstances of losing our mum and my dad's love-of-his-life, we had such a lovely upbringing with the endless support and love from our dad," Stacey says.
"Life growing up without a mum was tough but our dad could not have possibly done a better job. He gave us all the love and support a kid could ever wish for from a parent. The way in which he brought us up was definitely in true Kiwi fashion - Saturday morning sports, fishing on the weekends and camping in the summer holidays.
"Obviously dad was dealing with his own grief and he could have shut down but he did an amazing job."
Both girls agree their dad instilled in them important values that they carry to this day.
"He taught us so much. He taught us about kindness, he taught us to be independent and back ourselves and be confident in whatever we're doing and we got to see what hard work looks like with him owning his own business," says Stacey, a marketing manager, adding that both she and Whitney, a chef, have strong work ethics. And he clearly taught them the value of family.
"My dad is my number-one supporter and my best friend," says Stacey.
Adds Whitney: "Dad's amazing. We wouldn't want anybody else for our dad - we love our dad. Happy Father's Day."
❤ Mark is a daily reader of the Northern Advocate and his daughters opted to keep this story a surprise. Happy Father's Day Mark!