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.
Have you ever Googled ‘Family Trees’ and checked out all the different types of family trees? Do it. Tell me what you see.
One thing you’ll notice with most family trees is they start with the trunk, and branch up and outwards.
Most family trees place the genealogy above the soil line. Everyone is just an offshoot of another offshoot. A branch, seemingly blowing randomly in the wind of existence.
I suspect, however, we’ve got the concept of family trees wrong.
In Australia, (not including Indigenous Australians, who have a rich history and identity in this great land), we really don’t have a real concept of ‘generations’. Unlike a host of Indigenous communities worldwide, plus Europe, Asia and even America, we really don’t have a strong generational connection. Many families can’t map out more than two or three generations in Australia. As a result I think, Australia has an absence of a generational family culture. Certainly, we see pockets of it with some cultural groups. We see it sometimes with special events, like Christmas or Easter when the family gets together. As a whole, however, I don’t think we have a close-knit family and generational influence culture. The reasons for this are many, and maybe we’ll explore those in another post.
The concept of ‘strong foundations’ is used in many contexts. We see it in building, for any structure that does not have strong foundations is set to shift, move and not be stable. We see it in education, where to build a love of learning needs a strong foundation of literacy. We see it in the spiritual, where adherents of a faith need to be strongly grounded in their beliefs for them to stay strong in their faith. We also see it in both individuals and families.
I mentioned above that I think we have the concept of the family tree wrong. I think we need to look at family trees in reverse. What roots have nourished the tree?
Most would agree that you are the biological product of your parents genes. You might thank your dad for your big ears or your mum for your fast metabolism. Your growth may have been stunted in utero if your mother suffered from an illness or malnutrition. Your genes may be subject to some type of abnormality if your fathers sperm was affected by chemicals. Inversely, you may have benefitted from healthy parents who gave your growing body the best chance in life.
If you go to your parents, their parents too had the primary biological influence in their lives, and so it goes, back through the generations. Your olive skin might be a gene from Mediterranean blood, passed down from many generations ago. Your crystal blue eyes could be a throwback from some Nordic gene inherited from your grandparents grandparents.
Whilst we often think about the biological traits inherited from generations past, do we ever give thought to the spiritual traits inherited from generations past? I’ve mentioned in past posts of my Christian faith. I know that my faith is the product of the prayers of generations past, proclaiming the love and faithfulness of God on offspring they will never meet. These faithful voices of yore, proclaiming love and life through the generations.
We know that a parents (and grandparents) influence does not simply stop once a baby is conceived. Family influences have a HUGE impact on the direction a child goes in life. Anyone who’s been married will attest to the influences their spouses’ family has had on their spouse in relation to money, careers, life perspective, faith, parenting, sex – actually, almost anything!
Here’s where the concepts of an ‘upside down’ family tree and a generational family culture meet the real world. Here’s where they meet your world.
You can’t control or change what came before you. You can’t change your genes, not one iota. You can’t change your grandads violent alcoholism, your mothers cold personality, your fathers austere upbringing or your grandmothers faith. You can’t simply put roundup on the weeds in your family tree. You can however be thankful for the good, understand the bad and seek to learn from their mistakes of the past.
A tree needs ongoing nourishment to survive, just like a person. One of the best ways to nourish a child is in a family environment. A place where not only mum and dad, but grandmothers, grandfathers, uncles, aunts and cousins share their love, their knowledge, their experience and their wisdom. A place where the generations feed off each other.
Now you might say ‘but you don’t know my family – that would NEVER work!’. You know what? It might not have worked in the past, but guess what – you have the opportunity to make it work for your children.
Here’s the challenge for you, especially if you are yet to have children. What are you doing now to make sure the tree you will eventually support will have the best shot in life? What decisions are you making now to develop healthy habits – with money, physical health, spiritual development and relationally – that will positively impact on your future generations.
What will the root you spawn say about you? Will they say that your root was unhealthy? A drunk? Unwise with money or angry? Will they say that your root was healthy? That you paved the way for a healthy tree? That you faithfully sewed nutrition and life into the generations to come?
You may have gotten to a point in your life where biologically or relationally, you’ve messed it up for your children, or even your grandchildren. Maybe you were an angry father, or a distant mother. Maybe you worked too much or were financially irresponsible and have no inheritance (in any sense of the word) to pass onto your children. It’s not too late to start trying to develop a generational culture. Of trying to break those bad habits of the past. Those generational curses. Those harsh words, those seeds of unhappiness. It’s time to start developing a positive generational family culture. It will need to start with you, and it will need to start now.
Don’t be the root that stunts the growth of your family tree. Take ownership of your family tree. Start nourishing it with love, faithfulness and kindness. Believe it or not, it’s your responsibility. There’s plenty out there that will seek to grind your family tree down to a stump.
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.
The collective chirp of a multitude of birds. The distant sound of a motorboat punting through the oyster leases. A far-away roar of jets cruising from the air-force base.
They say things change, just to stay the same. Nearly thirty years ago, my grandparents bought a holiday house ‘somewhere’ north of Newcastle. They bought a quaint, two-bedroom weatherboard shack, overlooking the bush, with a secluded bay at the bottom of the garden. Those ‘in the know’ will have very vivid and happy memories of what I’m talking about.
‘The Shack’ as it was once affectionately called contains many mamories from my childhood, and perhaps one of the last ‘physical’ locations in which I spent time with my dad. As you can imagine, this is a very, very special place for me.
I have both photographs, recollections and a pocketful of legends of adventures (and mis-adventures!) of my dad being here. Needless to say, fishing ‘off the jetty’ remains one of the most prominent and happy memories.
Through most of my adult like, I’ve longed to bring my own family back to ‘The Shack’. I’ve longed to spend the days looking for crabs, licking ice-cream, splashing in the water and of course, fishing.
I expect any psychologists out there could label this behaviour – I guess I just wanted to recapture some memories from many years ago.
Over the last thirty years, this place has changed to stay the same. The two bedroom shack has grown to encompass a larger family. The place has had improvements – touch ups here and there, all little changes, all to keep the place the same.
In a similar way, I guess, I’ve changed to stay the same. To come back here now is a considerable drive – over 700 kms, which is no easy feat with two children (and a wife!). It’s been a change of holiday destination for me – all to have the same holiday that I had all those years ago.
This week, I’ve been blessed to finally bring my family back to ‘The Shack’.
In retrospect, I’ve focused too much on what this beautiful place ment to me in my past – childhood holidays with my amazing brothers and wonderful cousins. Days spent in the sun, on the beach, crabbing, fishing, digging sandcastles with our special uncle. Nights filled with wishing we had a TV, playing UNO and colouring in competitions. Perhaps, for a while, I focused on a memory that was unchanged, despite my changing.
You see, I’ve had to change, to stay the same. I’ve had to escape the mindset of childhood reminiscence, to a mindset of creating new memories.
This week, I’ve been blessed to have a dream come true.
I’ve taken my children fishing ‘off the jetty’! I’ve gone from being a passive recipient of memories to an active creator of them. I could of spent the week thinking about what was, and forgotten to admire the simplistic beauty in front of me – my wife, my children and these serene surrounds I find myself in. Yes, I’ve re-lived some beautiful, happy memories. I’ve shared stories from yore with my family, but more importantly, I’ve started a new chapter in this book we call life.
I received an email from my grandparents, just prior to posting this. They relayed to me the unexpected joy that ‘The Shack’ has brought not only to them, but to three generations after them!
The story changes, as it stays the same. Chapters are written in different styles, but the themes remain the same. It’s beautiful to flip through the earlier chapters and share past joys and it’s amazing to see how the story continues to be written, the themes of family, love and fishing ‘off the jetty’ remain the same!