Shedding a tear at the school concert. When daughters still dance into Dad’s heart.

October 29, 2013

This was going to be about something else. Until the girls started dancing.

Why was this performance so special? Remember, I’ve been watching them jump and twirl since they came up to my knee.

I’ve sat through concerts where fathers should have been receiving the medals.

We’ve done shopping centre recitals. Strutting their stuff in front of the fruit shop, as bananas are weighed.

They’ve always been good. Natural dancers. Both practice hard, at rehearsals and at home.

This particular show was for school, on a Sunday afternoon. I went alone, and managed to snare a seat close to the stage.

Their first dance was a lively number. They nailed it. The kids around them were great too. Such a confident, talented bunch.

But it was the second dance, a more sedate affair, that blew me away. I have no idea why. I’d seen them perform it before. In the same flowing red dresses.

For some reason, this was different. They LOOKED different. Older, both of them. With perfect hair and make up.

It was like I was watching in slow motion. I saw things, in those precious few minutes, that I hadn’t seen in months.

Teenager Too was glowing. I had to look twice, to make sure this tall, graceful young woman, was the daughter who used to fall asleep at the dinner table.

She stood out, among girls much older. Every move was perfect. But it was beauty shining from within, that lit up the stage. Her smile, lit up my heart.

The Teenager is now a leader in the group. The others follow her. When did she get so .. mature?

She works so hard, to be so good. Every spare hour, she’s trying to get better. I watched her glide across the floor, and saw the passion in her eyes. Ridiculously long limbs, making complex moves look easy. Every teenage boy in the room was watching too.

I thought back, to when this gorgeous young woman could hardly get out of bed. Not that many years back. A stomach problem that had us visiting every specialist in town.

She couldn’t eat. Constantly felt sick. Reflux you would normally see at the end of the bar.

The little girl who would listen to stories in bed until I fell asleep, could hardly keep her eyes open. She had no energy. And she was scared.

I feared the worst. That’s what Dads do. So one night, running out of options, I prayed.

It was a shout out to anyone who was listening up there, to swap the pain. Whatever this bad thing was, I wanted it. Or anything else, to square the ledger. That’s what Dads do.

To this day, I don’t know what that sickness was. One doctor said he thought it could pass, with time. And so it did. With or without my help. Slowly, her old spark returned.

So here she was, with the sister she squabbles with on the hour, but loves like no other, dancing like there was no tomorrow.

Near the end of the performance, they linked up, and for a split second, they were as one on the stage.

It was then, sitting alone in the dark, that I shed a quiet tear. So very proud, and so incredibly lucky.

I wish every one of you had been able to come and share those few minutes with me. Even my old racing mates, who last waltzed to the Glenn Miller Band.

That one dance, made me as happy as a father could be. Sometimes, you can’t beat the simple things.

Mates for 45 years. A bloke who’ll always be our Captain. Even if he falls asleep mid-sentence.

March 5, 2013

We’ve known each other since we were 4 years old.

Kindergarten buddies. First day, with Miss Thorburn.

I don’t remember the finer details, but I’m sure he would have been organising us. Who could sit where. What we’d do at the lunch break.

We were together in primary school. Played footy and cricket all the way through.

He was the Captain. That went without saying. A natural leader. Even back then, he was defending his mates.

His other nickname was ‘Weird Harold’. From the character in the Fat Albert cartoon. They looked nothing alike, but by actions alone could have been twins.

As kids, a bunch of us would get up to wonderful fun each afternoon. Whatever was going, we’d be into. He was always leading the way.

It was the same in high school. If we were in a team together, he was the Skipper. By then, we were also playing league on the weekend. Of course, he had the ‘C’ next to his name in the program.

He was fearless on the field. Always looking out for his friends. He loved the battle, and the mateship. He knew how lucky we all were, forging friendships that would last a lifetime.

I remember The Captain in a dressing room, before a final. He was receiving a pain-killing injection from the club doctor. His knee was a mess, but he refused to leave us short. He climbed the wall as the needle went in. All the way up. Excruciating pain.

I thought about that episode, when I saw him limping last weekend. A visit we’d both been looking forward to. He’s already had major surgery on that leg. It’s playing up again.

He’s paying the price for not wanting to let us down, all those years ago. It just wasn’t in his nature. Old school.

There was no complaining this time around, of course. He was too busy telling me a thousand stories. And listening to mine. Over numerous cool drinks.

We still laugh at tales we’ve heard a thousand times. That’s what old mates do. We get faster, and stronger, and funnier, as time goes by.

He’s another one who graduated from the University of Life. With an opinion on everything. And you’ll hear what it is, whether you like it or not.

Don’t tell him I said this, but he’s one of the smartest people I know. An answer for everything.

We talked for hours, until he fell asleep. Mid-sentence, sitting up, on the lounge. Granted, the hour was late. But I didn’t think I’d been that boring.

He explained it later as a ‘micro nap’. Part of his army training. Yes, he’s also incredibly full of it. He forgets that I’ve been watching him nod off since Hawkie was PM.

We made time to remember a great mate, who’s no longer with us. A cancer victim, who was taken far too early. We both miss him dearly. He was another from those carefree early days. Glasses were raised. The joy of shared memories.

Mateship, in all forms, is a wonderful thing. I feel for those who miss out on it. Life-forming, and life-lasting.

We’ll catch up again soon. There’ll be more laughs. More drinks. And The Captain will fall asleep. That’s the beauty of true friends. You know exactly what you’ll get.

Good teachers making a difference. How one man has improved hundreds of young lives.

December 18, 2012

One of the best teachers I’ve been involved with is a bloke who has been known to wear a skirt.

Not always, mind you. Just special occasions. And no one dares to snigger.

He’s a Pacific Islander. One of those Samoans built as wide as he is tall. With a neck ready to serve as a tree trunk if needed.

His passion, outside family and footy, is teaching. He has a gift. The ability to educate. And to get through, where others fail.

Visit him at school, and you’ll find a classroom that’s alive. There is learning in every corner. And fun in the air.

We met him a few years back, when The Teenager was lucky enough to be put in his class. It remains her favourite year of schooling. And her most productive.

He encourages students to achieve, in whatever field they can. Not great at maths? Have a go at music. Do your best, and you’ll be on the end of a High Five.

There would always be songs played in his room at lunchtime. Someone would get a guitar out. The boys would be dancing. No time for bullying or bitching.

They had a pact, the students and their teacher. One in, all in. If someone was doing the wrong thing, they’d all suffer the consequences. The power of teamwork, on show in Grade 6.

Away from the classroom, his influence was even greater. If there was a game of touch football happening during the day, he’d be part of it. The footy coach, of course. He was a leader of the cultural group, so important in a school full of kids with so many different backgrounds.

Lots of them do it tough at home. So he would give them hope. And something to do. Keep them busy.

I know of so many youngsters who’ve been given a path to succeed, thanks to his perseverance. Making them believe. Walking out of that school gate, feeling good about themselves.

It’s crucial. Even when parents are on the job too. Together, it gives the kids every possible chance. They enjoy their schooling.

Daughter Two was crushed when she was allocated a different teacher this year. So were we. She would have done so well under him. But even in another class, he helped her. A wisecrack in the playground. An encouraging word. Sometimes that’s enough to make the day a little brighter.

We said our goodbyes to him, at last week’s Year 7 graduation. The end of an era. The school has been home to a daughter for the best part of a decade. Next year, the girls will be back together, in high school.

I shook his hand, and thanked him for all that he’d done. Not just for our children, but all the others. It didn’t seem enough. His giant hand crushed mine, and he smiled. Sadly.

It was his last week too. He’s been moved on. The Education chiefs, in their wisdom, have decided he needs to move in a different direction. To a small school, many hours away. I wonder if the parents there have any idea how lucky they are.

He was wearing a necklace made with lollies, carefully constructed by his class. It was straining around that giant neck. I got the feeling that he won’t be eating them any time soon. Like us, he’ll want to hang on to the memories.

Thanks Mr T, for believing in so many young people. We’ll never forget the bloke in the skirt.

Her grandpa would have been proud. My daughter the woodworker, now the family handyman.

March 27, 2012

There are some things a father accepts offspring will be good at.

In my case, these are usually tasks I perform poorly at. Dancing comes to mind. Selecting clothes. Understanding mobile phone functions.

Every now and then, the girls surprise me. One or the other will throw up a new success story, that I didn’t see coming.

It’s a wonderful part of being a parent. But still a shock.

The Teenager does some groovy subjects at high school. Media studies. Dance and drama, where they actually get marks. And something called ITD.

It sounds like the method one would use to call friends overseas. Instead, it stands for Industrial Technology and Design.

From what I can make out, this is something similar to our old woodwork class. In her precise teenage terminology, “we make stuff.”

She was able to show me this “stuff’, by using her smart phone. Lots of photos and video, of the various stages of her work.

The current project is a paper towel holder. Very handy for a household that goes through bundles of the stuff. Mainly for mopping up Coco’s frequent floor puddles.

She saws the wood. Shaves it. Drills holes in it. Hammers nails. All the while humming Taylor Swift songs.

From what I could make out, everything was where it should be. Not that I’m an expert. Far from it.

I don’t own a drill. Never have. Wouldn’t know how to turn one on. My hammer is rusted. There is a court order somewhere banning me from using any kind of saw.

Dad had the most amazing set of tools. All hanging neatly on hooks, carefully arranged on his garage wall. He could make anything.

He seemed to understand early on that I didn’t possess his love of craft. It never worried him. We shared so much else together. No great problem if I couldn’t hit a nail in ten goes.

Classmates at school excelled in woodwork and metalwork class. Most were naturals on the tools. Not me.

My measurements were always out. Bits never stuck. Teachers counted my fingers at the end of each lesson.

A few years later, a mate talked me into doing Industrial Arts with him. Wood, metal and technical drawing, all rolled into one. Actual alarms went off as I walked into the room.

He was a whiz at it, and promised to help me out. He would live to regret that decision.

My friend had to draw everything for me. Then bring the image to life. Every single assignment. All done with a smile. I believe he now does wonderful things in a senior role at BHP. After carrying me for two years, the world of international mining would be a walk in the park.

In the years since, I’ve assumed my rightful place. Tools are for others. The workshop is not for me. We keep a wary, respectful distance.

But it would seem Dad’s expertise has not been lost after all. It just skipped a generation. His love of building things is safely in the carefully manicured hands of his grand-daughter.

I can’t wait to use the new paper towel holder. And even better, if it breaks, I now know someone who can fix it.

The family tradition continues. Daughters dressing up to accept a schoolyard badge of honour.

March 20, 2012

Daughter Two had that look about her. The one that says those over the age of 15 have no idea how the world works.

Her big day had arrived. The presentation of School Leadership badges. And as such, dress code would be hotly contested.

A crazy suggestion had been made, that she might want to wear her school dress to mark the occasion. It was like someone had told her to turn up in the local garbo’s uniform.

The Dress, she informed us, was not needed. As the new House Captain, she reckoned she had a duty to attend in the official sports uniform of blue shirt and tight shorts. And anyway, none of her friends would even THINK of frocking up.

It appears that The Dress became uncool sometime last year. The sporty look had become the preferred option. With approval from teachers, apparently.

It was explained to her that while such attire was fine for strutting around the oval with the boys at lunchtime, it didn’t quite do when one was receiving her badge from the a bored local politician.

There is family history in these badge ceremonies. The Teenager picked up the same title in her final year of primary school. Funny, but I don’t remember her wanting to ditch The Dress.

My nieces and nephews have captained everything bar the Queen Mary. And the boys would have a crack at that too if they were allowed on the bridge.

Going back a few centuries, my peers voted me in as school captain. Several probably still wake in a cold sweat at the thought of passing such responsibility my way.

I would never tell the girls, but I found the leadership role a great way to get out of schoolwork. The perfect excuse. There was always something to do outside of the classroom. Usually involving sport.

One teacher was a wake up to me. She would have none of my ‘The Touch Footy team needs me NOW’ plea. This woman had the nerve to make me do entire lessons, which was unheard of in other departments. Annoys me to this very day.

Anyway, Daughter Two finally agreed to wear The Dress. For one day only. Which was just as well. Because all her friends did exactly the same. No shorts to be seen.

The kids all clapped her, and the other young leaders. The family was out in force, proud as punch. There’s something about seeing a loved one on stage, being rewarded for effort, and potential.

My daughter would never admit it, of course, but she got a kick out of the whole thing. That shy smile gave the game away. I promise I won’t tell her buddies.

When the grandkids check out my photos in years to come, they’ll see their mum as a Year Seven girl, taking great strides in becoming a young lady.

They’ll spot the badge. And the dress. She’ll thank us for that one day.

The old home town doesn’t look the same. Losing memories in the name of progress.

January 24, 2012

I don’t remember any of these houses. Not one. I’m driving down the first street I lived in. My home town. Where I rode my first bike.

Nothing is familiar. The picture in my mind of Britannia Street is so different. The homes were bigger. More impressive. These images don’t match.

I returned to have a look last week. The house that Dad built so long ago, when the street was bare, is tiny. Almost box-like. My mind had it as big as a castle.

I’ve been back before over the years, and never noticed. Or didn’t want to. Now I do.

I tried to peer over a fence, without getting arrested. Dad’s old garage was mostly intact. But the rest of the yard was unrecognisable.

It shouldn’t be a surprise. We’re going back more than four decades. What was I expecting?

It sent me on a mission, to see what else had changed. And what remains, in the place of my childhood.

A few streets away, I found a lovely brick home. Right where our old fibro rental house use to sit. Where we moved to when Dad’s business collapsed.

That wonderful backyard is gone. No more cricket games. The orange tree, so handy for shade while having a cool drink, is no more.

Somehow, the old laneway behind all those modern homes, has survived the area’s revamp. The short stretch where the Old Man taught me how to steer his beloved Holden. I drove down it again. Slowly.

Across the road, sits the primary school I went to. Now surrounded by a giant, imposing, dark green fence. Keeping the vandals out, and the students in. We never needed a giant fence.

My journey took me a little further up the road. The short stroll I made to catch the bus to high school. It’s all different.

There was a milk bar I used to stop at each afternoon. A strange old man and his wife ran it. There would be extras in the lolly bag. It’s now a real estate agency.

Around the corner, I would spend time in the local bike shop. Nothing like the  smell of new rubber.

The bloke would show me his latest skateboard. Spin the wheels. I’d imagine how cool it would be to own one. But it was too expensive.

The bikes and skateboards are now but a memory. Replaced by a Homewares shop. Whatever that is.

Keep going down that road, take a right, and you’ll find the oval that I did laps of. The place where Dad took charge of the Under 7 soccer side. Even though he’d never seen the world game played.

What made that field stand out from everywhere else, was it’s old, creaking grandstand. About ten rows of solid wood. We’d sit there when it rained. Or when it was too hot. Or when there was a schoolboy secret to be told.

It’s gone now. There’s no-where to sit. The adjacent van park has swallowed it up. Room for one more holiday cabin.

Next stop was my old high school. Which I discovered is no longer a high school.

It’s been re-branded as a Secondary Campus. Whatever that is. But some things don’t change.

I snuck down a driveway, and found two blocks, that are exactly the same as the day I walked out, more than thirty years ago.

They haven’t been touched. Not so much as a lick of paint. The adjacent toilet block, where we fought off being flushed on a daily basis, is exactly the same.

It seemed to be the only place of my childhood that hadn’t disappeared. Even though it was the one that needed change the most. So much for progress.

I wanted to check out one final location. A place that gave us lots of fun, for very little outlay.

Plenty of Sundays were spent on the magic waterways of my home town, riding around in small, wooden hire boats. If we were lucky, we’d get one with a half cabin.

A group of us would carry on a carton of cool drinks and a hot chook, and leave our problems on the shoreline. How we didn’t end up on a beach in Fiji is beyond me. But somehow, we always returned safe and sound.

The homes surrounding the boathouse have all changed. Those little holiday shacks have been replaced by expensive coastal cottages.

But tucked behind them, is my boat hire place. Exactly as I remembered it. And those original boats are still there. Right down to the colour, and the names. I almost danced a jig on the end of that little wharf.

Things change. People, too. I get that. Especially over such a time frame. The price of getting older.

We can’t stop progress. Even if it’s painful sometimes.

But while the buildings might be gone, they can’t demolish my memories. Even if I’ve built on them a little.

That’s the beauty of reminiscing. Things get bigger and better with time. Except when it comes to hire boats. They stay exactly the same. Bless them.