Once you’ve cleared Nerang, you’re in the mountains. It only takes about 40 or so minutes to get to this point – so close! I often wonder why I don’t come out here more, knowing the simple answer is time. My camera, Nana Mouskouri and The Seekers are keeping me company. There’s something special about Judith singing ‘A world of our own’ when you’re in a world of your own for four hours. It’s been my first real drive since Mackay, and the first in a long time sans loved ones. An introverts dream – time alone, where the music choice is mine, the route is up to the toss of a coin and I get to do those stops that you promise to do another time.
Recent rain put the rain back in subtropical rainforest. Narrow mountain roads wound through towers of green, arching over my drive like a reclaimed cathedral. Tree trunks spired around me, reaching the heavens for a glimpse of light.
I stop by a creek for some serenity and snaps. Close your eyes and just picture it – the bubble of water tumbling over rocks. Cicadas singing the song of summer. Frogs harkening the coming of more rain. Nettle tingles my shins and my shoes sink into soft soil. Still water pools in a billabong, insects bounce off the mirror-like surface. It’s peaceful, its perfect. I bet you wish you were here!
A side-street with no name provides the perfect detour. The road has light debris, a carryover no doubt from recent storms. It seems like one of those places frequented by the rich and famous, wanting to be rich, but not famous. Farmhouses with unusually high amounts of security dot the no-through road. The letterboxes are named, not numbered. Names like Wurrunyah, Taralgon and Wangawallon adorn high fences containing perfectly manicured lawns and homes that wouldn’t look out of place in Better Homes and Gardens.
The detour is complete, and I head towards Natural Bridge. I slow down going through Numinbah. The post-war School of Arts has a dance on the 2nd Saturday of every month. I imagine the returned soldiers who built the community halls, schools of arts and RSL halls after World War Two, coming back from far-off places to build these carbon-copy halls right throughout this nation of ours. I wonder what it would have been like, coming from Europe, PNG or the Pacific, coming back to Australia, shutting up and getting on with life.
I decide not to turn to Natural Bridge. The unknown road ahead invites me with a mischievous whisper, so forward into New South Wales I go. I’m right in the middle of the hinterland now. My windows are down and the cool mountain air kisses my cheek. Moist mountain air fills my lungs. It smells like eucalyptus and moss, if you could imagine such a thing. Just over the border and I hit green, cleared farmland. Cows raise their heads from grazing on lush green grass to watch me pass. They chew listlessly, tails flicking away ever persistent flies buzzing around. Paddocks surrounded by moss-covered fences hold livestock. Holding them in, but in reality, who would want to escape this thinkers paradise?
Abandoned farm houses with rusted roofs dot the paddocks and meadows. You’d be hard pressed to find one that wasn’t either on a slant, covered in ivy or crumbling over a rusted tractor. Curiosity gets the better of me, and I train my long-range lens on these modern relics, tributes to the sheer audacity of farmers trying to tame the Australian wilderness.
Numinbah Road twists like tangled fencewire through the escarpment. Grime covered homes hide behind the tree line. Letterboxes made of tin milk cartons dare the mailman to put his hand inside and offer all manner of creepy-crawlies sanctuary. The road straightens out somewhat as I approach Chillingham. This little town hosts not much at all – a puddle-covered tennis court, an honesty-box vegetable stand, an overpriced café and an art gallery that opens every now and again. Weatherboard houses are strangely symmetrical and painted in light pastel, and I think this town wouldn’t be out of place in a Wes Anderson movie. Naturally, I construct a short story of an eccentric retiree who falls in love with a widowed hippy who bond over sunset tennis and billy-tea.
I’ve hit the plains of the valley, where sugarcane towers in the breeze. The mountains dominate my rear-view mirror. I’ve always loved the mountains, and I’m reminded of the escarpment in my hometown. Houses on stilts perch high above the floodmark, sentries watching over the sweet crops below. Fresh shoots of green explode in rich, dark soil – this rain a blessing from above.
I turn north to slowly head home. My travels will see me navigate the hinterland once more – joys to continue once more. It’s much of the same, but all so different. Lookouts invite the casual traveller to stop – an invitation I take. At one, a dampened bible sits on the rock. A feather is used as a bookmark, next to it a post it note simply says ‘take me’. A bible, and like the valley that soaks up the rain, so do I ache to soak up the truth.
I find myself disappointed to find my way back to the M1. To my west, the mountains parallel the freeway and already I long to be back in her windy roads. Alas, this straight stretch of road and responsibility carry me back home. The better the road, the more cares one seems to have. The faster the limit, the more one has to think. The more lanes brings greater complexity. I reflect back to the single-laned mountain roads, where speed is limited by natural beauty, where distractions are beautiful.
I give thanks for safety on the road, and for a few hours of selfish fun in one of the most beautiful patches of God’s green earth. The Gold Coast / northern New South Wales hinterland – thank you for slowing me down and bringing me back to earth.
My kids recently had ‘lockdown’ training at school – think of fire drills, except for other adverse events. I don’t know what they do in this training, but it seemed to upset my son a little. He hasn’t wanted to sleep near a window, has been taking a while to get to sleep and has been a bit clingy at night time.
My natural reaction to seeing my boy upset is to comfort him – I’m sure that’s a natural reaction for most parents.
I held my little boy close, gave him a cuddle, prayed with him and generally settled him. My boy, without a care in the world, in a safe home, in a warm bed, with a full tummy. His room full of toys, his draws full of clean clothes. He has electricity that turns on, running water and a pantry full of food. He has emergency services literally a phone call away. My little boy, I held him close.
It dawned on me as I held him close – I want to keep him safe, but I think there’s a bigger lesson to be learned here.
I sat him on my lap and looked deep into his brown eyes.
“Boy, inside of you is a man-in-training. When you’re learning to be a man, you’re going to have to face things that are scary, uncomfortable or frightening. Sometimes, my boy, you’re going to have to be tough, and you’re going to have to be courageous”. I settled him, put him in bed and once again reminded him that sometimes, he will need to face his fears and just be tougher than the situation he finds himself in.
It’s a hard thing, looking into your kids eyes knowing you won’t always be there to protect them, knowing they’ll have to face hardships in their life that you won’t always be able to help with. Just like Johnny Cash’s classic ‘Boy named Sue’ . I don’t want my kids to live in fear, but I want them to have the fortitude to face challenges in their life.
So I’m asking, what have you dads (and mums) done to develop a bit of toughness in your kids? I’m so aware that our kids, certainly in Australia, are probably the most pampered, protected, safe generation ever. Our kids are well fed, immunised, protected, educated – the works! How do you prepare your kids for possible eventualities? How do you gently push back and help them find strength within themselves during hard times? To give them permission to fail, to gently let go so they can start building resilience within themselves?
I remember seeing him in the freezing mornings covered in a blanket, on his knees in deep prayer and meditation.
I remember watching him shave every morning.
I remember being subject to his firm, yet loving discipline.
I remember his terrible jokes.
I remember watching his hair going grey and receding.
I remember being able to hear him clear his throat in the shower every morning.
I remember a man who, in retrospect, made very difficult decisions to lead his household in holy and righteous ways.
I remember a man who would take punch after punch to drag his children out of the gates of hell.
I am blessed to have this man, who called me his own, even though I wasn’t. This man who took responsibility for me in every way, and to the best of his capacity. A man who still does this, even to this day.
Yes, I am talking about my step-dad, a man whom I have absolute respect and love for.
Despite these rich blessings, he wasn’t, and never will be my dad. Even though he loves me like a son, and offers me the same rights and privileges as all his children, he is not, and will never be my dad.
There are some that have been arguing that all a child needs is love. That love is love. And who can argue against the fact that a child needs love to bloom and flourish?
My dad was taken from me by cancer, but I am still blessed to not have my heritage withheld from me. I am still blessed to know my dad’s family – uncles, cousins, extended family. I can look at a family photo and see exactly where I fit in. I can see the classic Vidins traits in my brothers, my uncles, my cousins, my niece and nephew. I know where I’m from. I know where half my roots lie, where half my heritage is from.
I can’t imagine what it would be like not to know half my story. To look in the mirror and only have half the picture. To look at a family tree and not know half the roots, or half the branches. To not know the heritage, faith, ideals, quirks of half your family. To be robbed of being able to make up your own mind on your identity.
Love was never in question when I grew up. I got it in spoonfuls from my mum, my dad, my step dad and a host of extended family on all three sides of my family. I never had a deficit of love. I just didn’t have my dad. I remember snippets and snapshots, I’ve got second hand stories and a his smile when I look in the mirror. I’ve got his name on my birth certificate and his ears sticking out of my head.
To say that all a child needs is love robs a child. A child needs their mum, and their dad. They need the good, the bad and the ugly. To be able to make up their own mind on the bits they’ll keep, the bits they’ll learn from, the bits they’ll challenge and the bits they’ll cherish.
Love might be love, and my life has been greatly enriched by people that continue to love me. I’m thankful and blessed and gracious for all the love I’ve received. I guess when you boil it down, I just miss my dad.
Love whoever you want. Marry whoever you want. To be honest, I couldn’t care less if you prefer Adam or Eve. Just don’t rob a child from their right to have their mum and dad.
Did you know that there’s a law in China that adult children must provide for the financial and spiritual needs of their aging parents, if they are not involved with their ongoing care? Adult children can actually be sued by their aging parents for neglecting them!
I spent an afternoon playing Lego with my son yesterday. For about three hours, we sat on the carpet and built rocket-powered cars, office buildings complete with motorbike jumps and imagined a world where the usual laws of gravity, fear and responsibility did not exist. Whilst we were doing this, I dared not look at my quickly-growing lawn, or thinking about the garden that needed weeding, or that DIY job in the garage that should have been finished
months years ago.
In the last two months, a colleague of mine, a dad, passed away due to a horrible cancer. He left behind a wife and three kids. He would often say ‘no one gets to their deathbed and wishes they spent more time in the office’. I’m sure his wife and children would go to the ends of the earth to waste just a few more minutes with him, paddling on their stand-up paddle board or hanging out at a café.
In the last week, a family member has been diagnosed with a critical illness and is an induced coma. He has a wife and three young children. We are all very hopeful he will pull through, but in these moments, you wish you could spend just a few more minutes wasting time with those you love.
Those who know me know my dad passed away when I was 6. What I wouldn’t give for five more minutes that I could waste with him.
I marvelled at my son, playing with his Lego. I taught him a thing or two about the practicalities of building Lego, and he reminded me a stack of times about how to imagine. He told me ‘I’ll never stop playing with Lego, dad’. I responded, telling him I hope he never forgets how to play Lego, either.
You see, those moments of wasted time with your family are not actually a waste at all. That 30 minutes playing catch. That bike-ride. That afternoon of Lego. The sneaky after-dinner ice-cream dash. Those ‘wasted time’ moments aren’t ‘icing on the cake’ for your family. It’s one of the main ingredients. It’s the chocolate chips in the family brownie. It’s not an optional extra, it’s the sprinkles on the fairy bread.
At this point you’re probably thinking ‘but you don’t know how busy I am’. Maybe I do, maybe I don’t. I’m not saying I’ve got it all together. I don’t. Far from it. I find myself working sometimes 6 days a week, and doing extra things here and there for some extra bucks from time to time. I’m finding though the more I do ‘stuff’, the more time I need to waste with the people I love. It’s a quick game of Uno before dinner. Taking 5 minutes in the morning to help my son with some Lego. Brushing my teeth with the kids before I go to work.
You see, wasting time with your family is never a waste. I know there are times in your life when you do need to spend some time doing that overtime, or that extra bit of study, or spending a bit of time looking after yourself. I know that, and I know that all too well.
I started this blog talking about the Chinese rule of adult kids having to look after their parents. When I’m old, and grey(er!), I don’t want my children to feel obliged to support me, financially or otherwise. I hope that as my children grow and develop, I waste enough time with them now, so that when I’m old, they’ll want to waste time with me. I hope the choices that my kids make won’t be what retirement home to ship me off too. I hope the choices they make will be about how they can waste time with me.
I’ve watched two movies in recent times about the relationship between a son and his dad. The first movie, the Judge, was possibly one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time. It’s an arm wrestle of wills between a dad and his son, and truly, something I think you ought to watch.
This will be a short blog, and I think I’ll cut right to the chase.
I think everyone has a dad-shaped hole. Something inside of them that’s just YEARNING for the love, acceptance and pride of their dad. I can’t speak for girls, but I certainly know it’s true for boys.
It’s this inbuilt gauge, a compass, a guiding force. Your mum will always love you, but your dad – that’s a different kettle of fish all together.
It’s in a three year old, pushing his toy lawnmower behind his daddy as he cuts the cuts the grass in front of him.
It’s in the eight year old, proudly showing his science experiment, longing to know that his dad thinks its cool.
It’s in the twelve year old, hoping that his dad will tell him these changes he’s experiencing are normal.
It’s in the fifteen year old, wondering if he’s tough enough to beat his dad in football.
It’s in the seventeen year old, hoping his dad is proud that he got his licence.
It’s in the 21 year old, aching to know his dad is there for graduation.
It’s in the 25 year old, bringing the girl he hopes to marry home, hoping his dad approves.
It’s in the 27 year old, standing at the alter, watching his mum cry, but looking for that silent nod of approval from his dad.
It’s in the 28 year old, walking his dad through his first new house, telling him of the DIY jobs he already has planned.
It’s in the 29 year old, handing his dad his grandchild, beaming with pride.
It’s in the 30 year old, just wanting to bounce ideas off his dad about this whole crazy idea about being married.
It’s in the 33 year old, needing his dads advice on whether or not to take that job interstate.
It’s in the 40 year old, just racking his brains about this whole life thing, trying desperately to hold onto something strong
It’s in the 50 year old, catching a glimpse of the joy his dad had when he had his first grandchild
It’s in the 60 year old, wondering how he would carry the family legacy, now his dad has gone
It’s in those silent moments of fishing together. Wrestling through an idea together. Arguing over who’s boss, like lions fighting for command of the pride. It’s in that moment, when a son knows his dad went hammer and tooth, never giving up, never giving in, even when, in retrospect, things weren’t that good.
Dads, your sons need you. They need you when they are infants. They need you when they are boys. They need you when they are teenagers and they need you when they are young adults. They need you as they journey through life.
I’ve said it before, but being a dad is not a passive activity. It’s something you journey through. At first, you are teaching your son, mentoring him, guiding him. You walk with him, are in the trenches with him, are side by side with him. Finally, he will walk with you. He will be by your side, being your strength, the joy that carries you along.
Dads, don’t be shy in showing your boys love, pride, discipline and guidance. Your boys are aching for it.
Image from http://dorkshelf.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads//2014/10/The-Judge-Featured-1900×560-1412876043.jpg
I’ve got a friend who’s path has crossed mine intermittently over the last ten or so years. Recently, and very sadly, his dad passed away at a relatively young age from a terrible cancer. I saw this particular mate, only really in passing about a week ago. The look of, well, grief was written all over his defeated body. It was, for me a harrowing thing to see, and it’s been on my mind a lot over the last week or two.
I’ve written before about my story, and an article that I come back to time after time about dealing with your fathers death can be read here. I’m not really going to re-hash old territory – not totally anyway.
One thing people often say to you when your dad dies (especially at a young age) is how excellent your dad was, and quite often, how much you are like him. Indeed, it’s hard not to compare yourself negatively to this giant of a man that seems to have been created around you.
After the death of their dad, many boys (and men) struggle, trying to walk in shoes that they were never meant to wear. You could call it evolution, you could call it honour, you could call it seeking affirmation – I’m not too sure what it is, but inside a boy is an INTENSE desire to be loved and respected by his dad. When his dad is no longer around (and you can also argue it’s the case with boys who’s father isn’t on the scene), so often he finds himself lost, unsure where to seek these things from. He imagines shoes for him to fill – shoes that his father walked in.
One thing that I’ve been reminded of lately is one of the measures of a man isn’t how well he walked in his fathers shoes. It’s how he walked in his own shoes.
As a son, you never want to walk alone, and rightly so. As a man, some roads you walk down will be lonely. You will be faced with decisions, just like your father did – decisions you will need to make on your own. Sometimes, you know you have made the right decision, but walking down the right path can sometimes be a lonely road. Sometimes you’ll make decisions which turn out to be the wrong decision. We all make decisions with imperfect information – that’s half the battle of life, and indeed manhood itself – making decisions when all the bits of information isn’t available. That’s manhood. It’s about making a decision with the best information you had. It’s about being able to evaluate your decisions and confidently say Í was right’, or sometimes even ‘I was wrong’.
Sometimes, as a ‘fatherless son’, you long to hear your father correct you. Isn’t that strange! There are some decisions that you make, and you know full well that they are wrong, and you just long, long, long for his voice of correction, then restoration over you.
Y’know, your dad, without a doubt, made mistakes, as did his dad and his dads dad. It’s what made them who they are. You’ll make mistakes and you’ll learn from them. Those mistakes wont define you, but they can mould you for the better, if you let them.
Learn from those mistakes. Feel the burn of correction. Tie your shoes up again and keep walking.
Your dad had his path. There would have been times in his life when he didn’t have anyone to turn too. When he didn’t have anyone to bounce an idea off, to sound off or just shoot the breeze. He would have made difficult decisions and felt alone.
There will be times when you do the same. You’ll be looking down the barrel of a hard decision, and in that time, there are only one pair of shoes you can walk in. There’s one pair of shoes you need to put a shine on. To lace up. To put on. Shoes that you need to walk in with the consequences of your own decisions. Your own.
Image from http://sojo.net/blogs/2013/03/13/economy-and-pair-shoes
In the mid 80’s, my dad, along with many other men were laid off from work in the coal mines. The ‘recession we had to have’ was in full swing and many families in Wollongong were looking down the barrel of financial ruin.
Needing to support his wife and children, my dad needed to find work – and quickly. At the time, a hotel was being built on the beach in town. My dad contacted the developer and asked him who was doing the landscaping for the project, and if not, he is ready to do the job.
The developer asked my dad what landscaping work he had done before, to which my dad drove him to my grandmothers house and showed the developer the garden.
Unsure if he was being played, the developer asked my dad what the story was – to which he told him that he’d been retrenched from the mines and he needed to support his wife and three children.
Well, my dad got the contract for the gardens at the new hotel.
From there, he went to lots of other business in town, telling them he was ready to do their landscaping and gardens. When the business owners asked my dad for his credentials, he simply told them ‘put it this way, I’ve just got the contract to do the gardens at the new hotel in town!’.
I tell you this story because it has given me much inspiration in my life – certainly in recent months. Those who know me (and of course, you the reader!) have picked up that I quite enjoy writing. At work about six months ago I thought there has to be a dollar in this writing gig. I checked out seek and found a freelance writing position. Thinking of my dad, I wrote one of the most off-beat (and honest!) job applications of my life.
I got that job.
Since then, I’ve applied for other freelance writing jobs.
I’ve gone from writing articles for $15 a pop to ghost writing for many hundreds of dollars, all in the space of about six months.
I don’t say this to brag – to the contrary.
Behind any ‘lucky break’ is a stack of hard, hard, unseen work.
I would of written for free (and still do on this, and other blogs) just because I enjoy it.
Since getting these freelance positions, I’ve worked pretty freaking hard. Every article I write, I get feedback on. I read incessantly on how other people write. I study their style, how they put words together, how they use tone and so on. Sometimes I labour on every word, wanting it to look right on the page. I can do three or four drafts on something and still not love it. I can write a whole blog and not post it because there is one word I just can’t nail, or one sentence that just does not look right.
After my dad started landscape gardening, he started studying horticulture at night. To put this into context, here was a Berkeley boy, with parents from a non-English speaking background, who dropped out of school now learning Latin names of plants at night, after working a full day in the sun, coming home to spend time with his wife and three young boys, and trying to build up a landscaping business in the middle of a recession. My mum showed me his workbooks once – pages and pages of Latin plant names, written out in columns in pencil.
I don’t know your story. I don’t know your dreams, your talents or what you live for. Your dream could be staying home with your family, travelling the world, being the leader in your field, playing a musical instrument – who knows. Here’s what I do know – to achieve your dreams you need a couple of things. You need a bit of mongrel in you.
You need to want it, to be able to grab hold of something by the teeth, give it a shake and grab a bit of flesh. You’re not going to get a lucky break if you don’t ask for it. Do you want to be in a band? Start playing. Lots. Want to be a professional sportsperson? Get training. Want to climb that corporate ladder? Actually I’ve got no advice for that one.
You need to know what you want. Some people say it’s selfish to get the things you want – I disagree. Sure, there’s selfish things, but wanting to achieve your potential in life aint one of them. If you’ve got a dream, name it. Write it down. Put it on your fridge, next to your alarm clock, on your car dashboard. Remind yourself of your dream, on what you’re striving for. It will get you through the times when things aren’t going your way (and they won’t, when you’re trying to reach your dreams).
Be prepared to do a stack of hard work. A heap of it. I don’t know what my dad’s dream was when he asked that developer to do his landscaping. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because my dad had a dream of working for the man, digging holes and mowing lawns. Some might say he had a lucky break to get the landscaping gig but I bet your bottom dollar – if he didn’t meet the expectations of the developer, there were a stack of other unemployed miners calling themselves landscape gardeners who would of done that work, and probably for less money.
Finally, have fun with your dreams . Don’t be limited by them. That might sound strange, I know. I’ve found that when you’re doing what you love, you simultaneously feel terrified and confident at the same time. Live your own dreams. I’m not going to lie to you – I’ve had to write some REALLY BORING articles and content, but you know what – someone has trusted me to do it, so I’m going to do it the best I can. I’m going to make an otherwise boring heading or title an exciting, interesting article and someone is going to pay me good coin to do it. Make your dreams your own. Put your own unique stamp on them, have fun with them!
In all reality, if you want to do the things you love, do the things you love. I’m not saying discard your responsibility – not at all. What I’m saying, and to quote the Shawshank Redemption:
“ Get busy living, or get busy dying”.
What are you doing about living today?
And before you ask, I really had no idea what I should name this blog. The pic of Hemmingway also has little relevance to the content, but liked the picture and fancy myself sitting outside in the sun, writing.