Monday, 20 December 2010

3.5 Billion Fellas - honourable mentions #1

The planet's human population is 50.3% male. Applying that ratio to this World Population Clock, there were 3 466 676 503 fellas on Earth at the time I started drafting this. Our recent posts have canvassed the insights of a small fraction of that cohort - some boys and their dads from Ballarat offered what qualities they see in the good men they know. I promised to share some thoughts at the end of that series.

So, over the next few days leading up to Christmas and New Year you're getting my honourable mentions for 2010 and here's my take... for every good man in the public eye, there is probably someone you know whose qualities and circumstances are similar and are equally as grand and inspiring... they're just not as widely known. As you read my list of good fellas, consider your own people. And of course all of these qualities apply to the other 49.7% of humanity, the inspiring females of the world!

Jimmy and Stephen

If you're reading this in Australia (or Ireland), you will probably know the name, Jimmy Stynes. He's the 1991 Brownlow Medalist (Australian Rules Football's highest individual honour), the co-founder of Reach - an organisation that helps young people foster self belief, has an Order of Australia and was the Victorian of the Year in 2003. A pretty impressive CV. Something I saw in his public profile though... rankled in recent years. He was doing good work - undeniable - but to me the best way of describing it was that it seemed like he had 'lost the ground'. I only offer that as an opinion because I see that having happened in myself from time to time - we can be doing stuff that looks publicly like good work, our purpose and intent can be all be tracking OK but it doesn't take much to get out of whack in a helping role. Things can quickly become a bit of a 'me-fest'! That's why, in the touching clip below, I find it seriously interesting how Jimmy reflects on the time he became president of his beloved Melbourne Demons, that he 'was probably addicted to anything exciting'... 'was getting a bit consumed' and this may have fuelled 'a bit too much of the ego'. It is a humble self-critique of his attitude about a year prior to discovering he was seriously ill...

Jimmy Stynes inspired before he got cancer. The way he is living now is off the charts inspiring. He has taken an extraordinary personal challenge and turned it into a positive... Jimmy's final words in that clip really get me...

"When faced with death, the ego just drops its barriers. I needed to live a better life, and getting cancer has led me to a much better life."

My friend Stephen is slightly different from Jimmy. He is not quite as into sport. That's why I listed Jimmy's CV above as there is every chance Stephen doesn't know who Jimmy Stynes is! Stephen is similar to Jimmy as he has been a quiet inspiration to our little corner of the planet here in West Preston.

Stephen's passion is music. Playing, writing, conducting and teaching, he has done it all over the years. He is a highly regarded musician, has an extraordinary ear and can pick up and play a tune so quickly. He is a fellow band member with me in SHeD - four blokes and a guitar. Here's one of our cover songs we did for a family member in the UK... with acknowledgement, thanks (and probably apologies) to Things of Stone & Wood.

Over ten years, we've built up a repertoire of sixty plus cover songs and have always joked that if Stephen gets hit by the proverbial bus, we are down from 60 to three songs... namely our three a Capella numbers! That joke has seemed less funny over the last couple of years as we have watched Stephen struggle with his bad kidneys. He's just had a transplant and all appears to be going well but we noticed how much he struggled when he forgot words to songs (his memory was always phenomenal) and how he needed more frequent breaks when we played. It became obvious that everything was a struggle. His kidneys not functioning properly, his system was becoming toxic. A mutual friend noted recently about Stephen... "I never once heard him complain". There lies the inspiration.

In the midst of this tough time for Stephen, different people have organised little events to acknowledge and support him. The gold here is that Stephen let all this happen. Sometimes being helped can be kind of awkward - but Stephen is pretty laid back and people have done what has needed to be done with good grace... Heidi has organised a roster for meals (did I mention he has six kids?) and the community is rallying; his old choir, put on a 'kidney benefit concert' a few weeks ago... the generosity of the organiser Janice, reflected the generous way Stephen had thrown himself into anything musical over the years... kids' concerts, writing and arranging serious choir pieces... playing in SHeD.

Tonight marks another great Stephen tradition... it's a great memory for our family because one evening in the first Christmas we'd moved to this area, we people heard singing outside. Neighbours wandered out of their front gates to listen to the carol singers in our street. There was a lady living across the road then who had a battle with the bottle... I clearly remember holding my son in my arms, then five months old (now 14!) looking across at her we exchanged big smiles. I saw her shed a tear.

I hadn't met him at the time but the person leading the carol singing was Stephen.

Tonight, our bunch of friends are getting together for our annual Christmas Carols sing-along around the local streets... Tim from our band has kindly offered to host from his place. Stephen will play it by ear but chances are that he won't be able to wander round the streets with his guitar tonight... him just being there is going to make the night extra special. Tim hosting, keeping the tradition going, as Stephen recovers is more evidence of the community kindly pitching in.

Both Stephen and Jimmy Stynes have somehow made their tough illnesses something that can create good spirit in the world around them.

Stephen and Jimmy are good fellas.

Feel free to write about your good people in the space below.

Bill Jennings

Monday, 13 December 2010

Seeing their Boys 'Step Up' - dads' insights

What are the building blocks to adulthood? Can we spot when a young person is stepping up to the next stage of their life?

Some Ballarat dads penned some beautiful insights about their boys recently.

Young People Step Up in Tough Times

Recently when we had a family member pass away, my son was able to show initiative and help out with his younger siblings. (MK)

Next door neighbour's funeral. Son had the choice to attend school swimming carnival or go to the funeral... chose the funeral and missed out on being part of a winning team. (RR)

When I had to go home to my mother's funeral... he made it easier to go by being strong. (MP)

When my wife was diagnosed with cancer, we tended at the beginning to keep it from him. There was a moment in the hospital when he asked "Mum - why didn't you tell me? You will beat it!" We were both astounded at the way he coped with the serious nature of his mother's illness." (AM)

Young People Step Up into Responsibility (and they love being with you)

I went to cut a load of wood one day and my son insisted he come even though he knew it was hard work. I know he didn't want me to be alone or do all the hard work. (RA).

Yes, he's wanting to drive machines, cars, motor bikes... wants to help dad with business... wants to go camping with dad. (AB)

He shows great skill and concentration moving sheep. (BS)

Yes, when he said he wanted to help with the house. I said no but he kept saying he wanted to come and help. (TS)

When I've headed away to work and he has stepped up as the man about the house - (cutting/collecting) wood etc. (DL)

I was going to head off on a bike ride by myself. My son told me he wanted to come along with me. We talked about things... he talked, telling me what he found interesting... (BL)

Young People Step Up by 'Serving'

My son often displays 'grown up behaviours' especially if someone needs help (i.e. people with a disability). He demonstrates a desire to volunteer. (BM)

He helps other people and he is always 'stepping up' in his acts of kindness. (DM)

You did the dishes without being asked. Gave your mum a hug out of the blue! (MC)

The Gold

What is crucial here? The dads noticed.

These moments can be subtle. In the meeting point between a young person's readiness and the older person's intuition, there exists an opportunity to help form a healthy young adult.

The seeds of maturity are there in our kids and catching these moments is key.

If you are a mum, a dad, a mentor, a teacher... when did you see a stepping up moment in a young person?

Do you remember a stepping up moment of your own? Do you recall a person who made the space for you to step up?

Feel free to offer your thoughts and memories below.

Bill Jennings

Friday, 26 November 2010

Good Man Profiles - Year 7's insights

In this week's Good Man series, we are asking what are the characteristics of a good man.

Today we tap the insights of some Year 7 boys from a school in Ballarat. At a Time & Space event last month, these young blokes were asked if someone had given them the space to 'step up' or they had taken an opportunity to step up and show their capabilities, their maturity and show that they are on their way to becoming a fine young man. There are some great examples here...

When my dad had an injury and I said I would do the mowing for him. And now it's a regular thing.

Yes because I'm good at moving the sheep on the motorbike.

When ____ first let me use the 'Whipper Snipper'.

Last year I stepped up to helping my friend when he was not really happy.

There's a palpable pride in these boys' comments. At the evening, the boys really understood that concept... they had an intuition about moments in their life when they 'stepped up'. When young people are invited to be generous, fill a gap when they are genuinely needed, the foundations of adulthood are made stronger.

In the next post, you'll see how the dads and mentors have noticed the acts of kindness in their boys that show the characteristics that will help them become fine young men. Did you have a moment where you where invited to step up?

Feel free to write your thoughts below.

Bill Jennings

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Good Man Profiles # 2 and 3

Here are two more short, sharp insights about good men in the view of a couple of dads from Ballarat.

My Brother, (name withheld), honoured and loved his wife and showed real integrity watching her die for five years.

When my son-in-law came to me telling me he wanted to marry my eldest daughter.

A couple more examples of a good man thanks to the fellas from Ballarat. Unstinting and loving sacrifice in the first instance and a bit of old fashioned honour in the latter.

Next post, we'll tap the wisdom from the Year 7 boys (13 year olds - their ideas of who/what makes someone a good man). But don't forget... you are welcome to offer your own opinion in the space below.

What do you think make up the characteristics of a good man? Who is a good man you know and why is he is a good man?

Bill Jennings

Monday, 22 November 2010

Good Man Profile # 1

This week I'm passing on the insights of some Year 7 boys (about 13 years old) and their dads (or mentors) from a school in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia.

In the last blog post, the question was raised, 'What are the characteristics of a good man?'

Here's what one dad wrote...

I remember as a small boy my family travelling in the car & my dad stopping to help a drunk woman on the footpath. It spoke to my heart deeply & I have never forgotten the impact in regards to loving those in need.

What are the characteristics of a good man? Or, who is a good man that you know and why is he a good man?

You are welcome to write your thoughts in the space below. Give your answer. Share your story.

Bill Jennings

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Copping a good question

I copped a real poser recently - a great question that has seeped into my mind and heart. It went something like this...

What are the characteristics of a good man?

I was asked this during a phone interview for The Mercury in Tasmania.

So many questions shoot off from this. Can't the same characteristics be those of a good woman? How is it possible to be definitive?

I remember running a panicky inner dialogue something along these lines, "Oh no, that's a tough one... c'mon Bill you're the parent-child program guy... you should know the answer... all your work started in the father-son area... she's trying to write some good news about the two boys' schools you work for in Tassie... c'mon Bill, say something profound and expert-y'.

My recollection is suggesting something about how a good man can regulate his anger. A lot of blokes push all of their emotions through the funnel of anger because paradoxically, anger feels 'safe' - it is standard 'bloke' mode.... and just because your blogger runs parent-child programs, doesn't mean he doesn't go 'off-tap' on occasions. C'mon - I've got two teenage kids!

I think I might have said something about the man, who is a dad, giving his kids time... not even quality time, just time.

That'll do I thought. In one sense, the answer given captured the two things I have to say (at this stage) to parents...

1. No one is perfect.
2. Half the battle is 'being there'.

But many men are not parents. So the question... 'what are the characteristics of a good man?', has stayed with me.

The thought has occurred that many would have their own answer to this question. So this week, I'll be blogging a fraction more than usual. The journalist asked a fine question. I suspect that my own answer will always be incomplete but I'll give you what I've got after the next few posts. The next posts will present the answers some others have offered - some men and some Year 7 boys who wrote their thoughts on this theme at a recent Time & Space program in Ballarat.

And feel free to offer your own answer here in the space below - 'What are the characteristics of a good man?'

Bill Jennings

Friday, 5 November 2010

A Selfless Act

Bumped into a former colleague yesterday - top person. She had just received some bad news that she had missed out on a promotion. Tough when that happens - vulnerability is exposed. In the time I was chatting with her, someone else came up and said, 'bad luck'.

You probably recall a similar experience. You put yourself out there, experienced disappointment and everyone wants to commiserate with you. They're being kind. You know that. All you want to do though, is crawl under the nearest rock.

I remembered that her Aussie Rules team won the premiership this year. Asking if she managed to get a ticket, she said she did have one but she passed it up. From little girl and now as a young woman, she had always gone to footy with her dad.

"One ticket doesn't get you two seats... I decided to watch the game with my dad on the TV."

That is kindness. I do believe the universe looks after us - something even better should come her way soon.

Thanks for taking the Time & Space to read this.

Bill Jennings

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Who's in Your Corner?

My Dad and I are pretty different. He's fine detail, I'm big picture. If you read one of my blog posts and find a typo in it, you can be sure that I haven't sent it to Dad for a forensic proof-read. He's read two drafts of this and suggested that I get my 'dads' consistent - he recommended going with upper case 'Dad' all the way through. I defer to the master!

This year marks my full-time move into the Time & Space program work and Dad has quietly responded when I have needed a hand.

"Hey Dad... can you pop over and just help me get what's in my head, down on paper?" Dad crosses town and is sitting next to me, asking all the practical questions, prompting and suggesting. He does the same but different things for my sister, brothers and all our kids (his grand kids).

Yesterday I needed someone to step in for the opening night of the 2010 Time & Space program at St Kevin's College. A couple of circumstances for my usual helpers meant that it looked like I would be running solo. Someone needs to greet people at the front desk, do a couple of other administrative things for the program set-up. With only a few hours notice, Dad was there.

Michael McGirr recently shared his insights (in The Age) about Mary MacKillop who is to become Australia's first saint on the 17th of this month. She once wrote, 'never see a need without doing something about it.' Dad read that line and said that for him it is all about helping his kids and grand kids where he can. He has been technically 'retired' for a few years but that term couldn't be further from the truth in the way he has launched into the next phase of his life. Dad is actively helping his busy adult kids.

So when you're asked 'who's in your corner', what name or face is the first that comes to mind. If you can, get in touch with them and let them know how much you appreciate their support. I'd love to hear your thoughts about who this person is for you or how they felt when you got in touch to say 'thanks'. Feel free to write your thoughts in the space below.

Time to give Dad a call. He's read the drafts - you know that's already happened. Thanks Dad.

Thanks for taking the Time & Space to read this.

Bill Jennings

Monday, 27 September 2010

Washing the Dog

Do you ever notice things have changed through some task that you do repeatedly?

I had this experience on the weekend. It is part of my household role description to wash the dog. We've got a West Highland Terrier named Sno-Joe (my daughter wanted to call him Snowy and my son wanted to call him Joseph!) He is approaching ten years old. Still pretty fit and well but definitely getting older. So the first thing noticed with this regular task is that Sno-Joe didn't flinch when I asked him if he wanted a bath. The words 'bath' or 'wash' tend to see him get up and find a hiding spot. It is terrible teasing but we always get a laugh from our dog's antics - please don't tell me that dogs aren't intelligent creatures.

So, Sno-Joe was up for a bath. He walked towards me and seemed to be saying... "Yeah, I am a bit pongy. I'll take the wash!" (Yes I know I'm anthropomorphising him - but I challenge you to convince me that dogs are not people.) The big thing I've noticed over the last few washes is that when I tell him he is good to jump out of the bath, he is now really struggling to get out. As a sprightlier hound, he always cleared the bath-tub edge on the first attempt. Now it takes him quite a few goes. There will be a point in the not too distant future where I will have to lift him out. But my heart is saying 'not just yet'.

The thing for me with this is that my kids have grown up from being real little people as Sno-Joe has gone from being a puppy, to a dog in his prime to the beginnings of an 'old man'. I want our dog to keep being fit and independent... but with my kids, I want time to put the brakes on their independence just for a little while yet. I want my kids to hold back on growing up. My daughter is seventeen, my son fourteen and every week, there are signs that those little people are disappearing. My daughter had a friend over last week and got out some old school photos - her first year in primary school... just eleven years ago. Then she found another class photo of her in Grade Two - the year we brought Sno-Joe home as a puppy. How quickly does the time go?

The rhythm of household routines and everyday rituals that we practice can pique moments in time and enliven the memory. I am proud of how my kids are growing up but part of my 'dad-DNA' worries for them just like I'm sure my mum and dad felt for me. Repeated activities have a meditative dimension that invite our attentiveness. I notice these feelings attached to the shifts in time as tiny bits of grief that have their melancholy, their bitter-sweet edge but there's stacks of love too, in the mix of all this. That attentiveness maybe helps us to invest small pieces of extra trust in our kids as they make their journey towards young adulthood.

I guess that the challenge is to enjoy every moment. It is 9.46am in the morning here in Melbourne - my teenagers are still fast asleep (on school holidays). Who knows what time they will wake up? They need their sleep... but old man Sno-Joe is up and sitting at my feet as I write. Time to sieze the day and take him for a walk. It is certain that he will he will be deleriously happy about this simple invitation. It is great having an appreciative dog when you have teenagers in the house!

What are the everyday tasks and rituals that give you a subtle measure of the steady movement of time? Feel free to write your answers below. Also - have a guess at what time you think my kids will wake up today! I'll let you know in the space below!

Thanks for taking the Time & Space to read this.

Bill Jennings

Monday, 20 September 2010

Making Good Decisions

Murray described what was in his hand as something that, at first viewing, is a fairly unremarkable collection of metal. At a Time & Space expedition, we bring along, and share treasures around the campfire. People bring a tangible item that they value and share the stories that are attached to that object. It doesn't have to be something of significant monetary value - just something that is valuable to the story teller.

In one of the sessions leading up to the camp, each participant shares their own story. Who have been the influences for good or bad in your life? What are the big events and experiences that have shaped who you are? Murray looked back on a life that had had a lot of twists and turns along the journey. I've been privileged to have heard many people in this mode (telling their story to a small group) over the years. It is a privilege because everyone has a unique story, everyone is different and it is precious to hear because people are giving themselves the time and space to take stock of their life to that point. Quite often, the person is telling their story in this way, for the first time. This was the case with Murray and he was a having a real crack, digging down to the things, the people, the events that had shaped him. A lot of stuff had happened in Murray's life and a lot had happened recently. That's all I can say... we respect the confidentiality of the small group.

Murray was happy for the story of the handful of metal to be told. Pretty simple connection he made but simplicity can be poignant and it was, in this instance. Murray was holding in his hand, his dog tags. He had experienced active service as a peace keeper in the Australian Army.

As Murray held the dog tags he said, "these represent a time when I made a good decision. I could have gone off the rails as a young bloke and joining the army gave me stability." Then the wisdom emerged... Murray shared that, "whenever I have to make a big decision I get my dog tags out... I sit with them in my hand and say to myself, 'I made a good one then, what's the right one now?'"

What helps you to make a good decision? Feel free to write your thoughts below.

Thanks for taking the Time & Space to read this.

Bill Jennings

Monday, 13 September 2010

A Piece of Teenage Wisdom

A colleague, Michael Grose, tweeted a question to prepare for a presentation he is doing this week.

"Why do teenagers binge drink? What's the motivation?"

It got me thinking and, as I live in a household with two teenagers, I posed the question to my daughter this morning. Always best to ask these questions in the car. She drives to school most days, racking up her hours in the Learner Driver log book, 10 minutes at a time. So I pose the question... she fires back a brilliant straight answer... well actually, it was a return question.

"Why do adults binge drink?"

I think in her return question, there lies an answer. What do you think? Feel free to write your thoughts below.

Thanks for taking the Time & Space to read this.

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Monday, 6 September 2010

The 'Tim-Tam' Journey

If you are reading this outside of Australia, how do I explain Tim-Tams to you? Have you ever met an Aussie travelling in your country? We are prone to more than a little home sickness. This usually applies most acutely to the foods we can't get easily overseas. Perhaps the traditional foodstuff that is missed the most, and gets the most attention, is the famous 'Vegemite'. Nothing like the taste of that distinctive bitter, black yeast extract on toast, melting in with the butter. However Vegemite does have a younger sibling that can spark tears of home-sickness in even the most unemotional travelling Aussie. The Tim Tam.

The Tim Tam is a beautiful combination of biscuit, chocolate cream centre with another outer layer of chocolate. It is delicious on its own but combined with a hot beverage or a glass of port, it takes on even greater powers. By biting opposite diagonal corners off the biscuit, it becomes a drinking straw... dip one corner into the cup of coffee, suck the coffee from the other corner through the biscuit and as soon as the liquid hits your tongue, pop the whole Tim Tam in... it melts in your mouth. This ritual, called 'shot gunning', has been taken to every corner of the planet. If an Aussie has shot-gunned fermented goat's milk with you in a yurt somewhere in outer Mongolia, with their rationed supply of Tim Tams, then you are considered to be an OK person!

Alright, have I sufficiently built the premise on just how sacred the Tim Tam is to the Australian people?... my point is?

If you recall, the last blog post promised a 'Part 2' to the wonderful experience of sharing a recent Time & Space canoeing weekend with Simonds College. Some Vietnamese families participated, one of the Vietnamese boys is called Tim and his dad's name is... you guessed it, Tam!

Around the campfire we had so much fun, laughing and enjoying some friendly cultural rivalry. Tim and Tam were the only father and son team not to capsize into the Yarra River that weekend. So to us, ‘Tim Tams’ were now, not only Australia’s greatest biscuit… our ‘Tim-Tam’ canoeing pair were the undisputed champions on the water. Michael, the other Vietnamese dad, raised his arms triumphantly, declaring, "We are the boat people!" Laughter... great Australian humour with its special brand of irony, is delivered perfectly. The irony of course is that ‘boat people’ is a term in Australia that evokes images of fear and mistrust. Yet Michael turned that mistrust into a moment where all around that campfire, shared delight in his quick wit.

Tam’s brother-in-law was a ‘boat person’, a refugee. He made a risky journey in a leaky boat from Vietnam to Australia. He sponsored his sister, Tam’s bride then of one year, to come to his new country. Tam had to wait five years until he could rejoin his young wife. Imagine that? What's important is that Tam and Tim got an opportunity to share significant parts of their own stories with each other. Some special things happened at this camp. Dominic, one of the other dads of Italian background is a mad follower of the AFL team Collingwood. He taught Tam how to kick an Aussie Rules footy. Tam skews a kick off the outside of his boot and laughs and claps. It is just a beautiful moment.

Tam explained to me that he took up the weekend as, "an opportunity to learn another way to be close to (his son)... another way of communication." In Vietnam, communication is often one way. The older generation give instructions and the children respectfully listen. Extended families live close together. Uncles, aunties, grandparents pitch in, collectively parenting, if mum or dad are busy. This is how it happened here in Australia with Tam and Tim. Tam has been busy working. Only, they didn't really have enough of that old country extended family to step in. So, Tim has felt that absence over the years but in the course of the father-son program, these two had a wonderful chance to explain each other's perspective. I watched Tim respectfully explain how he felt that absence through his childhood, not really knowing his dad as he was growing up. However, Tim also acknowledged that his dad had put his hand up to participate in the canoeing weekend with him, and he considered that a great achievement. Another beautiful moment.

So what do I learn from this story? Firstly, that when we come together with good intent, like trying to be a better parent as Tam and the other dads did on that weekend, we share more in common with each other than what makes us different. I’m in awe of the determination of Tam to learn ‘another way of communication’ with his son, having journeyed far away from his country of origin and a culture that was familiar to him. Isn’t that the challenge that leads to growth in any relationship? I am honoured too, to have witnessed Tim not shy away from the truth - he told his dad what had been tough but then affirmed him as well... masterfully, he combined kindness and courage. The boy presented himself as a young adult before his father.

Well done Tim and Tam – just like your biscuit namesake – you make our world a better place.

Thanks for taking the Time & Space to read this.

Bill Jennings

Monday, 23 August 2010

Feeling 'New Learning'

Do you ever feel new learning? Good new learning can take us to a place that is so transformative, that we feel that new insight impacting deep within.

Your blogger felt that ‘new-ness’ around a campfire at the recent Time & Space expedition for Simonds College. Over the years, I’ve been on many of these camps and they are all great experiences. Dads or mentors being there intentionally as their boys get to be their leaders on a journey.

There is a point in time on the first night of the camp when the traditional older generation authority is officially reversed. We say, “OK, the boys are now in charge.” In the earlier sessions at the school, the ground-rules are outlined… the boys are our leaders on the expedition and when we say, “Start”, the dads can’t give any advice from that moment unless they are asked! It is always a source of amusement, in theory, prior to the rule coming in to force. Let me tell you, I have had some very focused chats over the years with some frustrated dads who wanted to break the ground-rules and give their young leaders, not just one piece of advice but every single piece of advice that had been boiling up in them over the journey!

It is tough for most dads to step back. Dads are often the boundary setters. They can see the danger ahead for their kids but, just imagine how much more perplexing this program condition is when it is completely foreign to your cultural traditions. This is where I felt the new learning with the questions that Michael and Tam put to me. Michael (whose name has been anglicised) and Tam were both born in Vietnam. Both, as young men, made their journeys to Australia from a country ravaged by war and poverty. So, when the official handing over of decision making was given to the boys, Tam and Michael followed me around that fire and were intent on understanding more!

“Bill, this is very interesting to us” says Michael, “In our culture, the father is a person of high authority.” Tam nods in agreement. They explain that if a boy wants to get a message to his father, he usually does it via the intermediary of his mother.

Tam explains, “We worry that they will go down the wrong path… so we say things like, ‘no girlfriend’, ‘no boyfriend’ to our children until they finish university.” Michael agrees.

I am feeling the new learning. I am seeing the need to clarify, come from Michael and Tam. I am seeing also, these two men bringing some new insights to themselves.

“This could be important for us. These rules for the camp could teach us something.”

The next morning, Michael sidles up and tells me that, in their two-man tent as they went off to sleep, his son shared with him that he has a girlfriend.

There is a bit more of this tale to be told in next week’s post but for now, let me tell you that at this point in the story, Michael is beaming. He let the new learning in.

Thanks for taking the Time & Space to read this.

Bill Jennings

Monday, 16 August 2010

Smart Parenting

There are little pieces of parenting 'gold' surrounding us, all the time, I reckon.

We often hear that licenses and accreditation's are issued for nearly every task that we take on in society with the exception of being a mum or a dad. There is no official guide book, so capturing a good idea when you see one is important. Yesterday, I was catching up with Ted just briefly. Ted does the design work for things like my recent e-book and he was kindly doing a couple of revisions for an upcoming Dads and Daughters night.

I have always admired the way that Ted is 'dad' to his two boys. There are the headline moments he has crafted - a while back he created an adventure with his oldest son, who is in senior primary school now. They drove from Melbourne to Ted's home town of Perth. Ted's son was the navigator and helped with the planning - those sorts of journeys forge in the memory for nothing short of a lifetime. I recommend to all parents, planning and creating big memories for your kids.

The little things matter too and yesterday, I saw one such moment that could be useful to you if you have kids that enjoy a bit (or more than a bit) of time on a PS3, PS2, X-Box, Wii or any other game platform your kids have. We've finished that bit of work out in Ted's office in the back yard and we walk back through the house... Sunday morning, and his youngest is up, in his pyjamas and asks if he can have a go at a game on the Play Station 3.

What Ted does next is simple yet really, really smart.

"Sure, you can go on it" says Ted, "I am starting your time now."

And with that, Ted walks over to the oven, sets an hour on the timer.

Simple. Clever. Most ovens now have a timer that beeps. Ted's son knew the ground rules... he asked if he could play on the console. He knew how much time he had.

If there was an instruction manual for parenting, I'd hope that Ted's idea is in there in the 'electronic games' section.

What ideas do you have? What smart parenting have you witnessed your friends carrying out - even really simple things? Feel free to write your comments and ideas in the section below.

Thanks for taking the Time & Space to read this.

Bill Jennings

P.S. Ted's website is

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Andrea - a fantastic coach

This blogger is the linesman for the Moreland City Soccer Club Under 14B's. It is not a bad way to see the game and it lets my son get on with things at his end of the ground (as he is the Goalkeeper) whilst I keep an eye on the 'off-sides' for our forwards at the other end. I get a good insight into how the opposition teams operate for one half of the game when I run along their side of the ground.

We played Gisborne last Sunday. The temperature was forecast to be only 12 Celsius in Melbourne. Subtract another three degrees for Gisborne. It is about a 30-45 minute drive outside of northern Melbourne. We had a rain shower bordering on hail during the game. For the second week in a row, the official referee didn't turn up, so Andrea, the Gisborne coach asked one of our dads to take on the task. She and some of the parents on the sidelines had a good laugh during the first half as at the height of the rain squall, Nick, our dad who volunteered, officiated with his wife's dainty red umbrella in one hand and the whistle in the other.

And they weren't the only laughs that happened out there. There was banter between the Gisborne kids and the coach. I distinctly recall a wonderful warm exchange between one player on the wing and his coach, Andrea. He was joking and smiling and just purely enjoying himself out there in the freezing cold conditions. These kids were having fun.

So at this stage of the story you'd be perfectly entitled to comment, "Yep, that's all nice Bill but they're kids having fun playing sport on the weekend. What's so special about that?"

Ah well, there is the small matter that they lost the game 10-Nil.

Have a look at the ladder for this competition. You will see that after last weekend, Gisborne have a goal difference of 'negative 81'.

I chanced a conversation between Andrea and one of her defenders who was having his turn on the sidelines. He was watching the play with her and spoke about where a couple of the other kids needed to be in the back line and where he should stand when he goes back on. Andrea came back with a couple of ideas. What stood out was the extraordinary mutual respect. The way the young player spoke to his coach and felt comfortable airing his analysis, was outstanding. Andrea's obvious calm manner and the serious way she listened to her player got me thinking that these sorts of interactions don't just happen by accident.

Later on back at home, my interest is piqued, so I have a look at their website. Gisborne has a mission statement which says that the club is on about 'providing a quality learning environment for young people.' They want to 'promote community values and provide a healthy and nurturing environment.'

The number of times the ball hits the 'back of the net' is really only one of many types of goals that can be achieved when your ultimate aim is to help and teach kids to be the best person they can be.

On that score, I reckon Gisborne are kicking a lot of goals thanks to good people like Andrea, a fantastic coach.

Thanks for taking the Time and Space to read this.

Bill Jennings

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Father Bob - Self Proclaimed 'Old Twitterer'

At this point in time, I reckon there is only one multinational organisation that is taking more heat than BP - the Catholic Church. The Pope does have at least one shining light though on his global team, who this past weekend celebrated fifty years in the corporation... Father Bob Maguire.

If you are reading this somewhere outside of Australia, you will find Father Bob Maguire on Wikipedia (I didn't know that before he became a priest in 1960 he was a beekeeper). He has been doing 'front line' work with the people he calls the 'undeserving poor' for exactly half a century - this past weekend, he has celebrated being fifty years a Catholic priest. In recent years, he has gained some media attention around the nation. The fame rests lightly on him I think, because it hasn't changed him doing what he believes to be important... he has simply embraced the media gaze and made it work for his cause. Father Bob is a definite character whose appeal reaches well beyond the 'company shareholders'. He is different and as result, he is loved by people, young and old, from all walks of life in Australia. He appears regularly on the fresh and popular national TV show, 'The 7PM Project'. Father Bob was the first person I started following on Twitter. At the time of publishing this post, Father Bob has 'tweeted' six times already on this Monday morning, having started at around 6.30am - that takes it to 3939 tweets and counting.

I've had a very blessed life and the work I did in schools enabled me to meet Father Bob. The Year 12 students at my last school got to travel out in what Father Bob calls the 'Hope-Mobile'. They would help serve food outside a rooming house in Fitzroy Street, St Kilda. The experience makes a huge impression on the students. They meet people who have done it tough in life. Often the kids reflect that before, they might have crossed the street in fear of the 'homeless guy' that they actually met, then talked to, on their night in the Hope-Mobile. It is pretty special when you witness young people discovering that they share so much more in common with someone they thought was totally 'other' to them.

So in recent times I've been very lucky to get to know 'F-Bob', as I like to call him. On a personal level, he has been very encouraging of the full-time adventure I've started this year, creating Time & Space for kids and their parents or mentors. That's how our little corner of the planet came to be visited by this 75 years young 'Rock Star' on Saturday night. Underneath the West Preston Skies, we celebrate with an annual party in my shed. Mums and dads who have become friends through our kids' local school, play a bit of music together. It has been happening for about eight years now and at one of the parties someone came up with the great idea that if we are having so much fun together, why not share the love and give guests the chance to contribute to a charity. This year, we thought - how about supporting the Father Bob Maguire Foundation?

Here is Father Bob's tweet in the lead up to this event...

Must do 7Mass then flip over Bolte & back support Bill J and mates making music in Bill's shed.Funds for FatherBobFoundation.

He's describing that he'll get to the party via the Bolte Bridge after saying mass in his parish at 7 O'Clock. It was so kind of him to come over. Everyone gathers in the shed and we do a quick spiel on the foundation's work.

I offer a context explaining, "In the past, we've raised money for example, to buy an overseas village a goat."

Without missing a beat, Father Bob retorts, "so this year, an 'old goat' has actually turned up to your party!"

Delighted laughter erupts in the shed and for a few minutes the quick wit of this man warms the atmosphere on a cold winter night. A cake arrives to acknowledge his golden jubilee of priesthood and the next day he 'tweets'...

BillJ's place last night.Greeted with an anthem written by local in praise of neighbourhood "Under the West Preston shies".

Maybe a Freudian slip, that 'typo' as we know that Father Bob presents as anything but shy. The 'local' who wrote West Preston Skies is Moi Tyers who leads off on her guitar... we all know the words and by the end of the song, Father Bob is singing along as well.

It was a magic moment. One thing I think we especially love about Father Bob is how he is beautifully self deprecating.

A friend shakes his hand "Father Bob it is so good to meet you!"

"What are you takin' about" says Father Bob, "it is good to meet you more to the point!" He makes people feel good about themselves.

Self deprecation shines through in this morning's tweet...

Must front annual meeting /lunch priests' association.After yesterday's "4 he's a jolly good fellow"50th, just another priest.

Just another priest! C'mon F-Bob! Most of my friends who gathered in the shed are not religious but as Moi's husband Ken said "I just love him... he's got the old values... he's out there looking after people who need help the most... he has an unbelievable rapport with young people... to them he is actually pretty cool!" Ken explains how a young work colleague's girlfriend is helping out with a housing project that the Father Bob Foundation is starting up. A couple of mums at the party have said they'd like to go over and volunteer in the soup kitchen that runs out of the back of Father Bob's parish house.

Kindness begets kindness I reckon.

And humble in the midst of all the delight Father Bob spreads in the world, he tweeted a note of gratitude to all of his anniversary well wishers yesterday.

Thanks 2 all comrades who sent greetings to this ol' twitterer on the "in house" occasion of 50 years strapped to the mast.

Father Bob - you are a legend!

Thanks for taking the Time & Space to read this.

Bill Jennings


Father Bob on Twitter -
Father Bob's Blog -
Moira Tyers -

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Great Teachers

"Look at that guy dad - he's one of the maths teacher. How cool are his laces?"

My daughter is driving to school... logging in 10 minutes of the 120 hours she needs to take her driving test next year. She points out this man waiting to cross the road as we too, wait for a 'green arrow' at the traffic lights on Bell Street. No fashion expert writing here but to the untrained eye he does look cool. A mop of black curly hair under his bicycle helmet, dark clothes and black boots with some striking red laces, brightly standing out. Again - please note, this is not a fashion blog... but there is a 'grunge cool' look there. The maths teacher is alongside some students and looks happy and content, coming to work to teach.

My daughter offers, "you know what is great about my school? All of the teachers love to teach." You cannot buy that kind of endorsement... these are the sorts of compliments that are earned.

Earlier this week, a Time & Space evening at Simonds College, saw a hardy bunch of parents and even a couple of students come together on a cold, wet night. The evening themes focus the discussion around what is most important in life. At all Simonds events, there in the background... present but unassuming is Bernie, the Principal. He is accompanied by about six of his staff. They've just come along to be part of the night. This may not seem particularly remarkable but in the world of schools, teachers get asked along to so many 'extras', that an optional event like this one might get a polite 'no thanks', in most places. My experience is that the Simonds teachers 'rock up'.

In exploring 'what's important', Eder... a young man from the staff talks up in the group discussion. For someone who is relatively early in his career, he speaks from a place of earned authority... one that comes from the respect that the boys at the school have for him.

"I'm not a parent yet... well, I will be a dad in a few months but I want to say that as a teacher, all the best things happen when kids stop and want to chat with me."

"I might be in between classes and in a rush to the next one but I do try and stop and listen to them. If we tell them we are in a hurry, we might miss the moment. I think being a parent must be like that. There are so many reasons why we are too busy but it is in those times that all the good stuff happens."

I remind Bernie, the Principal, of something he had shared with me at an event earlier this year.

"Bernie, you said that when you are interviewing for a new teaching position, you are looking at the person first."

"That's right," Bernie replies, "We can always help them develop their teaching skills, but it is important to get good people."

Good people like Eder and that cool maths teacher with the red laces who loves teaching.

Thanks for taking the Time & Space to read this.

Bill Jennings

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

A Quiet Inspiration

A cold rainy night in Hobart earlier this week saw a good crowd of brave people come to St Virgil's College to listen to Stan Alves and find out about the Time & Space programs.

Stan tells his powerful story... we set up a bit of a 'let's move and chat to the people around us' situation. Talk to someone you haven't met... all that usual uncomfortable stuff!

People start to move, react and connect to the powerful messages Stan has had to share about his own dad, about another man who mentored him, helped him train to be a player for the Melbourne Football Club and about his message 'How Lucky Am I?' This message is forged optimistically and comes from some dimensions of Stan's life story where he had to face intense adversity. It is always good to work with Stan. I find something new in his story every time I hear it. It is something to witness how people connect their own experiences to what Stan offers them.

I meet Steven and Annette - what a team! They have a boy at the school who has just started this year. When younger, Steven played at a high level in the Tasmanian State Football Competition. He was a real all rounder, having been a champion in the diving pool as well. I don't find these things out from Steven directly - I get that information from Annette later on. He strikes me as a very humble person.

Steven and Annette just shine and I'm moved by the extraordinary privilege it is to visit schools around Australia, meeting parents who are really having a go at being the best they can be for their kids. We discover we have daughters about the same age. The three of us swap notes. How best do we manage the challenges? We want our girls to be safe as they go out and socialise - how do we balance this with their wishes to be trusted? Here are two people who are just great to be around. There's a strong sense that they have been very intentional about how they have raised their kids. And you know, they have had to be, because...

To have the conversation, the audience were invited down from their tiered seating to stand and mingle on the stage floor below them. Annette had helped Steven down the stairs as I imagine she would have done many times before. She helps by holding, propping, supporting as Steven moves his legs, swinging out in a kind of circling motion, to create a forward momentum so that he can get down from one stair to the next. He laughs a bit as he gets to the stage floor... looks me in the eye, and says kindly, "I'm not drunk you know! It's just that I've got MS."

Annette and Steven explain how their gender roles are a bit non-traditional. Annette kicks the footy with the kids (it doesn't stop Steven from passing on a few tips). Steven explains that Stan's message 'How Lucky Am I', applies to him.

He explains that his dad once asked him if a cure for Multiple Sclerosis was suddenly found, would he be lining up to receive the treatment?

"I told dad, 'no I wouldn't do it' - you see, I've gained so much from this disease. If I didn't have MS, I'd be out working in an office or something like that and missing out on so closely seeing my kids grow up. There are a lot of dads that don't get the chances that I get."

I talk to Annette again later. There is a comfort that Steven has with the world. He got the most out his body prior to the MS onset, when he was able to take himself to high performance levels. Now he is getting the most out of his high performance spirit! Annette states simply, she finds Steven an inspiration.

"He is a great dad", she says. Annette, you're an inspiration as well, just quietly! They are both pretty chuffed when I seek their permission to be 'the story' for this week's post.

Steven seems surprised but offers, "you can write what you like, no worries, but I really don't see myself as that special."

Steven, I'd say that sums up exactly what is special about you.

Thanks for taking the Time and Space to read this.

Bill Jennings

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Old School Fun

Now I know you will probably get a bit suspicious if you read this blog regularly because the star of this post is someone called... yep, you guessed it, Joe. That makes it three 'Joes' now who have featured in recent weeks. I promise you it is not my default name for someone else!

This is Joe, my son's soccer coach.

Joe provided a moment that was just delightful for its simplicity. What he did, got me asking myself questions.

How do kids have fun today?

Is there too much screen time... too much virtual world?

Are we obsessed with safety and cleanliness to the point that childhood is threatened... risk is eliminated? What learning gets lost? What happens to spontaneity?

The key elements to the back story of this great moment are...

1. It is an extremely cold winter here in Melbourne. In recent times there has also been constant rain. The sports grounds have become waterlogged for the first time in years (it looks like Melbourne may be finally emerging from a drought).

2. Despite the very cold winter these kids, who could be at home on their Play Stations, consistently get to training with their coach, Joe.

3. Joe is a volunteer - he comes down and trains my son's team two nights a week, two hours each session after he has worked for the day. He coaches the team on match day Sunday.

4. Joe is great with the kids. He sets expectations - they respect him and respond. He recently, said humbly "I mightn't know much technically but I do know how to build a team spirit".

And that's exactly what he did at a recent training session. The rain had pelted down in the previous days and a sheet of water had spread across the usual spot where the kids train. At the end of training, Joe brought the team over from the other side of the ground and lined them up at the edge of the massive rain puddle that had formed on the ground. It was big enough for them to stand shoulder to shoulder.

"OK", yells Joe "Take three steps back... now on my count... ONE, TWO, THREE - go for it!"

As a unit the kids sprinted towards the pool, flung themselves into the air, stretched their arms forward... landed and slid on their bellies for a few seconds across the water and mud. They were saturated, filthy and incredibly happy!

This was old school fun.

Thanks for taking the Time & Space to read this.

Bill Jennings

P.S. Released my first e-book last week - enjoy!

Sunday, 27 June 2010

'Alongside' Conversations

Recently, I received a text message from my daughter. Verbatim, I quote…

‘Hey can you pick me up at like 4.15 and we can go for a drive yeah?? :)’.

She writes like she talks but… like there were not as many ‘likes’ as she like, usually like puts into her like normal-like speech patterns.

Do you resonate with what I’m… like, saying here?

Sometimes the best conversations occur when you are on your way somewhere. Let’s face it. The modern parent is a taxi service to their kids. And with my daughter being 17 years old, we are racking up the hours in her Learner Driver log book as well.

I find that no matter where we are at as dad and daughter (and sometimes that is a challenging place), driving alongside each other is pretty soothing. In Victoria (Australia), Learner Drivers have to spend 120 hours behind the wheel with a supervisor alongside them to be allowed to apply for their driver’s license. We could see that 120 hours as a massive hassle or, as an extraordinary opportunity.

What I am learning is that as we drive, there are quiet periods. Quite often my daughter will start talking about something a friend has said… something that is really capturing her at school – the important thing is that it comes from her first. It might be the motion of the car – it is carrying us somewhere – but talk can be different when we are side to side, not face to face.

As adults, often, we drive the discussion (if it can even be called a ‘discussion’). We bark the instructions and set the expectations. Leaving a gap for stuff to come up is key and even if your ‘parent-teenage child’ relationship is strained at times, I reckon regular ‘alongside’ time leaves that space for communication lines to have another channel.

Earlier this year, I read something on the day I started this Time & Space venture full-time. I was asked to consider what it is that I want to say to the world. Two things came to mind.

Firstly, we are not perfect. Our own parents were not perfect (and don’t we remember that), we are not perfect (and no doubt, our kids will remind us of this) and my prediction is that despite the fact that they currently believe that they will be the coolest parents to their own future kids, our children will not turn out to be perfect parents. We live in a world that assumes perfection - the media portrays images of super-parents and I believe that can put pressure on mums and dads trying their best with their kids. After all, my daughter gets 'L-Plates', then 'P-Plates' in her driver training but there is no license issued for being a parent!

The other thing I have to say is ‘half the battle is being there’. We may not be the most popular person in our kids’ lives every moment of the day but in time they will remember and put new meaning to how we hung in there and spent time alongside them.

Thanks for giving yourself the Time & Space to read this.

Bill Jennings

NB - Whenever I write about my kids, I always run the post past them first and get their 'OK' before I publish. Cheers, BJ.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Joe's son

My great friend of 20+ years, Tony, lost his dad Joe, on the 24th of June, 2009 at about 4.45am in the morning.

Tony and I are about the same age, in our forties and we met in 1989. The first thing I ever said to Tony was "Do you like a beer mate?" We were mates from that moment on.

Tony is from Sydney, I'm from Melbourne and how and where we met is a whole other story... suffice to say, we were part of a different year back then in 1989. Young people with ideals who were starting in a volunteers' program that saw me leaving my home to do my year in Sydney and Tony did the opposite - Sydney to Melbourne. We now live back in our own home towns. Over 21 years we have kept up contact and a great friendship has ensued. We often just talk about sport... lately we have been dissecting Australia's flagging fortunes in the FIFA World Cup.

I met Joe, Tony's dad, a couple of times. How would I describe him? Joe was old school. Practical. He was an 'unrevised' man... no modern 'sensitive, new-age' elements to Joe. An Aussie bloke who had endured his fair share of adversity in life and 'sucked it up' as they say in sporting circles. There was never any 'wordy' expression of sentiment from Joe. The last time I visited his place, travelling through with Tony... he gave Tony some chops.

"There you go, you've got your mate up from Melbourne... I got you some chops." Simple expressions, practical gifts.

On Joe's funeral booklet... a black & white photo from 1947 shows Joe and Barbara (who would become his wife) on one of their first dates walking through George Street in Sydney. Joe and Barbara are holding hands - she is beaming, her eyes are smiling. Joe can't hide half a smile curling up the right side of his mouth. He is looking sharp in his pinstripe suit. Tall, broad shoulders. She looks so pretty. A young couple in bliss.

Another photo shows Joe the footballer - Rugby League is the football code of the workers in New South Wales and Joe played over 100 games for the North Sydney Bears (who disappeared as a senior club in the 1990's). Joe is being tackled by a St George player. He has two hands on the ball and is about to pass it... one finger is sticking out from the ball. It was probably dislocated. As a forward, Joe took all the big hits - that was part of his role on the team. He endured a lot of injuries. Legend has it that in one game on the Sydney Cricket Ground, Joe was so badly cut that he was taken to St Vincent's hospital. These were in the days when a side could not replace players so the Bears were down to 12 men. Once they had stitched him up... Joe got in a taxi back to the ground and went out and played the last 15 minutes!

Those injuries are a powerful metaphor for the ones that didn't show as scars or dislocations in Joe's lot in life. They were deep within and restricted Joe's capacity to play the 'game of life' in a fully fit fashion.

Injury number 1 - Joe lost his son in motorcycle accident.

Injury number 2 - He lost Barbara too early - a long battle with cancer that eventually claimed her. Appreciate that Tony, the youngest of Joe's kids, lost his older brother and then his mum at sixteen. That is a lot for a young boy to endure.

Joe, having access to only the narrow band of masculinity available to men of that age, became withdrawn. He was angry and distant. From what I have gauged from Tony's stories, Joe sounded heart-broken and he pushed love away. Where Joe got back on the park as a footballer, he took a much longer time to find his way back as a father. Remember Tony was only a boy when all of that sadness happened. He needed his dad but sometimes traumas happen to people that stop them doing their key roles.

Lets cut through to early last year. Tony has been consciously visiting his dad regularly now. Joe had moved a couple of hours north of Sydney. Tony decided that despite the emotional absence of Joe, he would reach out with a forgiving heart to his dad and try to reconnect. He just gave back practical kindness to his dad. It was over about ten years that the son had faithfully been visiting and caring for his ageing father.

As we chatted over the years, I heard via Tony about Joe and built up a picture of how ever so gradually the father started to drop his guard. It was his son who was reaching out. As he got older, Joe needed Tony... for all the practical stuff - shopping errands, odd jobs around the house and visits to the doctor.

So, on one of those visits to the doctor, early last year, Joe found out that he had cancer. It was serious and Tony, being a 'career bachelor' was in the position to move up and live with his dad through his final months. Tony gave up work and nursed Joe in his own home. In the final days as he weakened, Joe had to go into palliative care at the local hospital. He was not happy about this.

I laughed as Tony explained that he tried putting a reassuring hand on his dad's head, he stroked his hair, as the paramedics moved him on the trolley into the hospital...

"I'm not a bloody cat!" - Joe was fighting to the end and growling at his son but he he was too weak to fully push away now. I do know that in those final days in the hospital, in those final months living full-time with his dad, in that ten year period of reconnecting... Tony built to a point that some lucid conversations were shared. Joe's guard was down and he had got back on the field of life because of his son's willingness to reach him.

So it is nearly a year since I saw my great mate get up and tell Joe's story in a moving eulogy. I am proud to be Tony's mate... he has endured tough stuff in his own life but he has never built a complete fence around his own heart.

I got a voice message from him yesterday. He has worked out how Australia can beat Serbia this Thursday morning in the final match of the group stage of the World Cup. He had done the statistical analysis. We are hanging on to a slim hope of qualifying for the final group of 16. One stat' is if Germany and Ghana draw, Australia only need to beat Serbia by eight goals! But the most important statistic is this one... at the 15 minute mark of the Australia-Serbia game which I will be watching in West Preston (Melbourne) and Tony will be watching in Marickville (Sydney), it will be exactly one year since Joe died.

We may not get the movie script which would see Australia scoring a goal just at that point but I will be thinking of my good friend at that time... about Joe and holding a quiet thought of respect out to a son who forgave his dad and helped him re-join the game of life.

Thanks for taking the Time & Space to read this.

Bill Jennings

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Community Rituals

There is the small matter of a football tournament presently taking place in South Africa - had you heard?

It is Sunday night in Melbourne and as I write Australia is undefeated in this year's World Cup (well, we haven't played yet!). If you are into soccer, by the time you read this, you will know the result of the long awaited opening game with Germany. Looking at my computer clock right now, the game starts in 4 hours and 25 minutes. It is a special time for some families in our local community - here underneath (what we call) the West Preston skies!

Four years ago during the last World Cup, a West Preston tradition was born. Our group of friends had intended to rotate the venue for a our shared viewing of the World Cup. But Australia won the first game against Japan (3-1) kicking three goals in the last ten minutes of the game - our superstitions kicked in and so it was sort of subconsciously decided that every other game would be watched at Nick and Clare's place. We brought the same food to share, we sat in the same seats so as not to upset Australia's progress through the tournament. Four years on and a collection of mums, dads and kids will gather again at Nick and Clare's and watch and hold our collective breath. Food will be shared, the match will be dissected and new memories will be built.

My son was not quite ten years old last time. He was then and is now, mad about the game. Last time the event was so large in his reality that he provided some wonderful memories for all who gathered at Nick and Clare's. Australia was down needing a draw in the final game of its three first round matches and Croatia had pushed ahead. It was too much for my son when Croatia took the lead that would give them, and not us, a place amongst the final 16 teams. He was distraught. Tears could not be hidden. Seeing my son Jack, a couple of the mums present including Clare, started crying - a young boy's World Cup dream was vanishing. The tension was too great. A game shouldn't matter this much but try telling that to my son.

Then, a miracle that created more tears... Harry Kewell magically weaved in and around a ball and slotted an equaliser into the goal deep into the second half.

Jubilation! A lounge room under the West Preston skies was full of people who were jumping and screaming in sheer delight. My son burst into tears again... tears of joy that flowed even more when the final whistle blew. Australia was through to the next round.

Now you can get far more expertly reported accounts of one game between Australia and Croatia in the 2006 World Cup but regard the angle of vision we had as our community enjoyed the afterglow of the win we had shared. The group were chatting and enjoying the win but also remarking how helpless they felt as a young boy willed his national team to keep their campaign alive.

I still clearly recall seeing, when it was time to go, Jack going up to Clare to do the right thing, manners-wise.

"Thanks for having us Clare" said Jack... and instead of just leaving it as a polite 'thank you' - his arms wrapped around Clare and she received an enormous hug.

Alot of us saw the moment. Clare reciprocated the hug and said "You are a wonderful boy you know Jack! You have made this night very special."

And here's my point. There is something lovely that in a few hours, we will be doing this all again. It has become a ritual for our community. I'll go over to Nick and Clare's tonight with Jack who is now my teenage son, nearly fourteen. He's a little more aware of how hard it might be to win... more wise in the ways and fortunes of the world. He is growing up and as we observe our community World Cup ritual, a point in time is marked again.

I think community rituals are so important for our kids. They give them a memory. The one Jack has will grow in its richness in time. In time Jack's appreciation will grow that he belongs to a family that loves him but he will also hold a memory of his village, the people who enjoyed his uniqueness... his special character that added to the life of his community.

Whenever I mention my kids in this blog, I always sit them down and show them the gist of the post - I seek their permission to publish. As I read this to Jack, a smile grew over his face... "Yep, that's fine... you can put that up" he says. I'm smiling too.

Off to bed now. Three hours and fifty-five minutes till kick off! I can't wait.

Thanks for taking the Time and Space to read this.

Bill Jennings

Sunday, 6 June 2010


Joe's dad stood at the door to the big school hall every Friday night.

This was when I was a teacher and coordinated kids who went off voluntarily to Friday night community service programs. School was officially over for the week, so it was always something of a privilege to be around young people who wanted to go and do something for someone else. The most popular activity was a tutoring program for kids who were new to the country... asylum seekers and refugees. At the time, you could walk up to this church hall in East Melbourne and see 100+ pairs of kids engaged in what I called, 'mutual learning'. Typically, a private school student was paired with a young person of similar age. Perhaps that kid had just arrived as an asylum seeker from war ravaged, East Timor.

You'd see laughter, enthusiasm - a lot of magic happening in the big room. Most of the kids made their own way home but Joe's dad was there every week.

"You're a good dad to be here and pick up your son every week" I said one night, "I notice you always get here fifteen minutes before tutoring finishes."

Joe's dad replied with a line I have never forgotten... "I believe in presence".

Every Friday night, Joe's dad built into his schedule that he would arrive in time to see his son tutoring a peer who, by their accident of birth, had started their life in the 'majority world' where education is not a given. He saw his son acting generously. He witnessed his son learning perspective, learning 'not taking things for granted' and being inspired by the enthusiasm of the people he met and taught.

Joe's dad was there at the door quietly witnessing his son's choice to make a contribution.

Joe's dad was present.

Thanks for taking the 'Time & Space' to read this.

Bill Jennings

Sunday, 30 May 2010


There are heroic sacrifices that inspire and embed themselves in history but then there are the hidden sacrifices that don't necessarily make the headlines.

Remember last week I wrote about my mate who loves coaching cricket but dislikes making speeches? His name is Brad. I explained that he had to do an extended speech about his side this year because they won the premiership... wasn't really keen to speak but he asked the Under 13's to cherish their victory and said that he had been fortunate to play in two Grand Finals - one at the start, one at the end of his senior cricket career. On both occasions though, Brad was on the losing side. He asked the players to understand that premierships may take a long time to come around again if at all.

Brad, as I said, is passionate about cricket and so he still plays in a 'Masters' competition for guys over 40. His side made the Grand Final this year... but the game was scheduled on the same day his Under 13 side were in their Grand Final. He chose to be with the team he coached and you guessed it... his Masters team won the premiership. Brad has still never played in a cricket premiership of any type as a result.

At the time he gave the speech to his Under 13's he asked them to cherish their win but he never told them about the sacrifice he had made. Thought it might be nice to tell you via this blog.

It won't make the front page but that is the sort of sacrifice that inspires me.

Thanks for taking the 'Time & Space' to read this.

Bill Jennings

Sunday, 23 May 2010


Here I sit waiting for my son's soccer game to start. I can see buckets of generosity out there on the field

... there is Maria, team manager - she organises the roster for who brings the snakes and jelly beans for the kids' half time glucose hit.

... there's Joe - coach of the Moreland City Under 14B's. He's been training these players since early February - two or three sessions a week and here we are at match day Sunday.

Volunteers give generously of their time and I think this creates a space for some of those magic mentoring moments to happen for kids. I've just chatted with a couple of other dads and collectively, we are noticing this. Sure the kids learn football skills but they also get the added value of: being part of a team; working to succeed as a group and encouraging others. One dad said it really well, "all this stuff helps a kid to become a good adult".

A good friend of mine has a passion for cricket combined with a massive fear of public speaking. He coaches one of our local junior teams and each season he dreads the end of year presentation night because he has to say something about the award recipients. Just his luck this year - his team won the premiership... every kid gets a premiership medal and gets individually presented by the coach! So my friend tells me how he prepared really carefully so as not to freeze up as he talks.

He shouldn't have worried - his care and passion shone through. He got each player up, looked them in the eye and spoke directly to them. Each player received a public declaration of his talent and special contribution to the team.

"I liked the way you curbed your natural aggression Ben, in the semi-final... we'd lost a few quick wickets and you played a safe dead bat for the sake of the team."

"Simon - you are so positive... you encourage everyone in the field."

"Peter, you never complained when it was your turn to miss out on a bat."

Something special said about every kid. You could see their heads being held higher, their chests pump out. At the end of each carefully thought out presentation, he shakes the player's hand and says... "See you back at the club next year".

Why wouldn't they want to come back with a coach like theirs?

Hey - if you want to help shape the adults of tomorrow. Volunteer for something in your kid's world. It will make you feel good and you will put a great memory in the vault for your kid.

I go and shake my friend's hand, say what an honour it was to watch him honour each player and I quietly tell him... "you're a good speaker mate!"

Thanks for taking the Time & Space to read this.

Bill Jennings

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Everyday respect

I popped in to an old workplace yesterday. I sought out an old friend and colleague, Peter - he didn't know I was visiting.

It was the wait at his office door that is the inspiration for this short post. Peter is in one of those front line 'House Leader' roles... following up on kids, keeping an eye out for their welfare, keeping them in line. Perhaps for a minute or three, I stood at his door and watched him carry out one of the dozens of interactions he would undertake with his charges each day. He was asking about the unexplained absences of a student.

You see, my friend doesn't know I'm there.

I am struck by the respect he shows to this kid. He doesn't give him an easy road but Peter's respect is paramount all of the way through the discussion. The boy responds equally well and I think partly, he is responding well because he is being listened to. This was a privilege to witness.

What are the chances that someone, without your knowledge, will see you committing small acts of kindness today?

Thanks for taking the 'Time & Space' to read this.

Bill Jennings

Monday, 10 May 2010

Press send - get it in

I'm sitting here, late in the evening. Just seen a movie with my wife 'I Love You Too'. Written and co-produced by Melbourne comedian, Peter Helliar. It had some wonderful Melbourn-ish references. I know people hang signs expressing loving messages off road overpasses in other parts of the world.. but it does happen quite a bit here in Melbourne.

What I love about the movie is that it wasn't perfect. It didn't quite knit together but it had more than a few flecks of gold in it. It is going to be very hard not to seem patronising here but Helliar has gone and done something a stretch beyond what I thought it was that he does. He broke out of the mould of his national persona and made something that can be shipped to the world beyond Australia's shores. It has got some genuinely touching moments... just see it for the scene where Charlie, a photographer (played by Peter Dinklage of 'Death at Funeral Fame') prompts a memory as he talks to, asks questions of a senior couple. He tries to capture in one shot, the years of love they have built up.

I've really been thinking alot recently about Seth Godin's concept of things being 'shipped'. If you want to get stuff done, it seems fairly logical but you have got to get stuff done... that means pressing send or 'post this blog' and not worry about things not being perfect. It doesn't mean, 'be deliberately sloppy'... or that is it is OK to always do things in a half baked fashion. It does mean though that it is so important not to be frozen by the fear that what you do is not going to be perfect. I've read a couple of reviews of 'I Love You Too' - one gave it a bit of a bake. I say, more power to Helliar for getting the movie out there. He published.

My son plays soccer for a local team. I help out with some things on the junior club committee. The other day we applied for a community grant... it wasn't absolutely ready. A couple of the pieces of information we were asked to provide weren't ready. I just put 'xxxxxxxx' in that box on the e-form and sent it anyway.

Guess what - we got the grant!

As I write this in our home office, my daughter is here too on her computer pleading that I go to bed soon as the sound of my typing fingers, heavy on the keyboard are driving her nuts. She has been working on a history essay that has to be in by midnight. She thought she had until the end of this week. There was a choice there, ask for an extension or get it done. A few moments ago I heard a really compact summary of the battle a group of women took on to get the vote in the early twentieth century... she has been chipping away for a few hours now and it sounds good. She just pressed 'send' (got it in at 11.59pm) and in a moment I will click 'publish post'.

Thanks for taking some 'Time & Space' to read this.

Bill Jennings

Friday, 7 May 2010

A Mother's Day Gift

It's Mother's Day on Sunday in this corner of the planet.

Earlier in the week,one of the very first schools in Melbourne that took on the Time & Space programs had their annual Mother & Son night. They always schedule around Mother's Day. Two older students, who both happen to be called 'Luke', were part of the 'panel of experts' that we set up for each program - they help set the scene for the interactions that happen between the participating mums and boys. So the two Lukes were there without their own mums that night. I reckon, they both provided an extraordinary example to these newest boys of the school who came along with their mum (or aunty, grandma).

Asked to find and describe a special quality in their mum, 'Luke 1' said first, "I found it pretty hard to limit it to just one quality". His face contorted as if to show just how tough a struggle it was to sum up what his mum means to him. He zeroed in on his mum as his personal 'encourag-er'. She had given him the confidence to have a go at things. 'Luke 1' clearly appreciated this.

'Luke 2' said that the word that best sums up his mum is 'selfless'... he then reeled off a litany of traits and actions that captured this special quality. I was struck by his openness. 'Luke 2's' face shone as he spoke... it was reflected right back at him as I saw how moved the mums present were... a couple of gentle tears, some glowing smiles. You could hear the thoughts of those women present... "Your mum would be so proud of you".

Luke 1 and 2... there is a lot of discussion about role-modeling today. It is often tagged to negatives, associated with the celebrity cult. You two blokes showed the younger boys an authentic way of expressing sincere appreciation and you are only three years older than them.

And whilst your mums were not actually there in the school library, you gave them a gift. You took time to carefully consider one special quality amongst, no doubt, the many that you see in your mum. You took time to think about her.

I know at least one of your mums knew that you talking about her that night... how special do think she felt that you were telling an audience what was good about her.

So following your lead, Lukes 1 & 2, let's all consider one special quality in our mum... and let her know.

Hey mum (yep, that's you Joan!) - it is your 'thoughtfulness' for mine, evidenced by the text you sent me last night!

And what about you, reader of this post? Even if she is not around now... take the Time & Space to consider one special quality in your mum and send a little expression of appreciation for that quality out to the universe.

Thanks for reading and happy Mothers Day.

Bill Jennings from 'Time & Space'

Friday, 30 April 2010

A Daughter's Tribute

My friend Heidi is a champion - generous, funny and a great animator in our local community. We are lucky around here because over the years our friends, formed through the connection of our kids' local primary school, have created a few music groups. Whilst my 'day job' (that happens mostly at night) is facilitating life time memories for parents and their kids, I do also belong to a band made up of four dads who play covers at our local shops once a month. We practice in my shed from time to time. This structure is the eponymous (I love the word 'eponymous') inspiration for our band name. SHeD! In fact one of our guitarist's kids thinks my name is actually 'SHeD'! It will be a sad day when he starts calling me Bill.

Heidi is part of a group of six local mums and dads called 'Sirens' who rehearse at our friends, Nick and Clare's place - they have a studio out the back and so you can see that the pattern of eponymous band names finished on a sequence of one as Heidi's band do not practice in a siren (I promise you that I will limit the bad 'dad' jokes to only one every few blogposts!)

Sirens and SHeD and other local parents' bands get together in the shed once a year for a big party... it is an annual tradition now. We have had many memorable 'Cold August Nights', 'Rocktobers' and 'Warm November Rain' parties over the last decade.

We had a different day last Saturday - Sirens and SHeD held a 'Parents Concert' at Heidi and Tony's place... the point of difference was that the parents there were my parents, Heidi's parents and the mums, dads and aunties of a number of the band members. Heidi's thinking was that it is rare that our own parents get to hear the music we make together. At the end of the day SHeD member, Tim's dad remarked that "it was just like going to your kid's school concert except that all the kids are in their fifties!" (NB - this blogger is still way early into his forties!)

So this extraordinary gathering played and listened... SHeD played first, and not being 'age-ist' still required (as is their custom) all song requests to be sent by text message, rather than called out verbally (far more efficient). My dad hogged the request line sending in texts at a pace that would exhaust the thumbs of even the most tech-savvy Gen Y-er. We shared food in between band performances. I tried to race one of Steve's (from Sirens) kids in eating as many of the beautiful chicken drumsticks made by his γιαγιά (pronounced ya-ya', Greek for Grandmother).

"How many did you have Bill?"

"Four" I said to Steve's son, feeling pretty confident I had won.

"I stopped after six" he declared with a conquering tone.

Sirens played next. I took a seat at the back just behind my mum and dad. I love listening to the girls sing and they had some new material. Dad leaned over to mum and I heard him share an insight...

"This is not just community but its world community".

In Sirens, Clare and Nick are Macedonian, Heidi was born in England, Lisa is Irish and was born in Wales, Sandra was born here in Australia and is fourth or fifth generation and Steve is Greek. Here was the world playing for us underneath what we call the 'West Preston skies!' I got a bit of a shiver... something special was happening. The mums and dads were clearly moved.

Heidi's 'parents' concert' idea had a simultaneous inspiration that I felt honoured to witness. For many years, she has had a poem written by her mum, Bonny, in her possession. I asked Heidi and Bonny's permission if this could be the topic of today's post. Here's some background that Heidi e-mailed to me earlier this week.

'Hi Bill, ... Sadly for your blog, my mum wrote that poem while she was bored at work and that’s about all she says about it although she definitely remembers writing it and it’s more than thirty years since she wrote it. I was about sixteen when I was ferreting through mum’s dresser looking for a pair of earrings. I found the earrings but I also found the poem stuffed (literally) into a drawer. I took it and thirty years down the track I asked some of our very talented friends to put it to music for me.'

The culminating moment was Heidi singing her mum's words in a song she had recorded with Stephen from SHeD and Nick from Sirens who wrote some music to go with them.

For Bonny - it was a total surprise. Heidi sang her words and then presented her mum with a CD recording of the song. Here are the lyrics...

I’d like to weave my dearest dreams
My fondest recollections
In silks of finest gossamer
And fairy floss confections
And as the gentle breezes blow
The silks float in the air
The fairy floss melts sweetly
And all my life is there

The snow white shapes of drifting clouds
The hot sand on my toes
The multi coloured butterflies
The fragrance of a rose
The careless days of golden youth
When time ran on forever
A world of dreams like Peter Pan
In lands of Never Never

To understand the sadness
To hear my music play
To live and breathe the many things
I find so hard to say
…so hard to say

Mingled tears and laughter
Of early adolescence
When moods were black and hopeless
Or bright and effervescent
Too old to run to mother
Too young to know the ways
The struggling in-between years
So bittersweet the days

And all these things would be there
In my tapestry of dreams
Wafting in the sunlight
And drifting in moonbeams
And just to make it perfect
My daughter would be there
To sense and feel the living
That’s trembling in the air

To understand the sadness
To hear my music play
To live and breathe the many things
I find so hard to say
…so hard to say

Bonny Cox

Heidi provided a stunning moment of tribute to her mum. It was palpable to those of us lucky enough to be there, that we had experienced something beautiful... a true act of love from a daughter to her mum.

My mum sent me a text the next day... 'Thx again 4 a lovely occasion yesterday. It was very special.'

In the work I do, the focus is often on the influence a parent or mentor can have on a young person... if you are a daughter or son reading this - never doubt the power you have to make your mum or dad feel like their efforts in raising you are appreciated. Heidi - I'm proud to count you as a friend. You made the world different last Saturday, in a very good way. And Bonny, thanks for your poetry.

And to you thanks for taking the 'Time and Space' to read this!

Bill Jennings -

Wednesday, 14 April 2010


Recently I ran a Mother-Son night for a school in Adelaide. On my way to the airport in a taxi... bags have been packed the night before, feeling pretty smug - 'wow my new routine and my prepared packing list for interstate trips seems to be going smoothly', I think to myself.

Get through check-in, on my way to security and that is when I miss my mobile phone. I've got ten minutes to boarding my plane. I head back out to the taxi drop off point. The taxi is gone. I check and see if it is in the gutter - no. Then I see a man in an airport security uniform. I ask if a mobile phone has been handed in. He says "no - check at Qantas' lost property desk" he advises fairly half heartedly.

This is where Mick - the hero of that hour, that day and this blogpost steps forward. He starts instructing the security guy, "Hey ring this guy's phone!" and he asks me "What's your number?" I dictate it to the security man whilst at the same time remembering I had it on silent.

"Show me your taxi receipt", Mick asks "it will have the cab number on there, I will drive down to the cab pool and get your phone!" Everything is happening fast. I hold some suspicions at the extraordinary effort Mick is making - no question.

"I've got to be at my boarding gate in less than five minutes, it won't work... I won't be able to wait that long."

Mick produces the next solution "Here is my card - ring your phone number when you get to your destination... where are you going?"

"Adelaide" I say.

"I will talk to you on your phone in about an hour then... when do you get back?" asks Mick.


"What time?"

"About half three"

"I will be here with your phone and I will drive you home in my taxi limousine"

As I fly to Adelaide I think conspiring thoughts about Mick - 'ah, that was the catch... I'm going to be going home tomorrow in a Limmo for more than double what I would pay in a taxi... still I can't really begrudge his industriousness' I reflect, trying to think generously.

I ring from Adelaide airport. Yep Mick's got my phone.

"Look Mick - it is so nice what you have done but I can't really afford to go in a Limmo mate."

"It is the same price as a taxi - I will look after you I promise! You pay whatever you usually pay."

"I've only got cab charges Mick."

"I take cab charges - it will be no problem."

So I spend a day without my phone (now there is a topic for another posting but for now let me recommend having a 24 hour period without your phone - it is great exercise in discovering that you still can actually breathe and perform most daily tasks without a problem - try it!). I have delivered the program which went beautifully and I am on my way back.

Pick up my bags... walk out the designated place and there is Mick, waving at me next to his beautiful luxury car.

No taxi rank to wait in... my own driver in a wonderful clean car all because I accidentally left my phone behind. I take a seat in the front... there is my phone - Mick hands it to me.

"Bill, you will see that I made no calls but I did take the liberty of charging it up for you - the battery was low!"

We talk as we headed home (Mick even had my address but I was not concerned now - he had my full trust) and I hear Mick's passion for the service he offers in his business. We talk about my enterprise, how I love seeing parents and mentors sharing life memories with their kids and at the same time, creating a life memory as they speak. That gets Mick talking about his own kids, grown up... he emigrated to Australia as so many Europeans did looking for better opportunities and I can tell, here is a good dad proud of his kids... here is a good man. I am in the presence of goodness all because of my absent mindedness - this is sweet injustice!

As we arrive home, the fare is of course, as promised, nothing more than a normal fare. The final generous act is upon us... not me offering a significant tip - but Mick insistently refusing it!

"Bill, you do not live far from me... all I would ask is that you consider me to be your driver to the airport for your interstate trips... I do not want a tip, I want your business from now on."

Mick - you've got it.

How sad is it that I held Mick in suspicion... 'he's going to pinch my phone, he's going to charge me $100 to take me home' were some of my conspiracy theories.

Generosity when it is unqualified, surprises us. When offered with little expectation of reciprocity that is when it absolutely shines... if some good karma comes back, great.

Mick now has a new customer and I am a better person for experiencing his willingness to go beyond the call. He is a very good businessman but more importantly, he is a very good man.

Thanks for reading.

Bill Jennings from Time & Space

And if you want to get Mick's contact details... e-mail me