Saturday, 31 December 2011

Two Highlights from 2011

Two personal highlights from 2011. They even contradict each other depending on the world perspective we take but there you go... this is the world we live in, going into 2012. I hope it is a good one for you and thanks for reading the blog this year. As always, feel free to comment, email or tweet a response.

Number 1 - Minority World Highlight

Flying back to Melbourne from Sydney having attended a two day seminar learning some great content but also witnessing the presentation magic of the brilliant Allan Parker .

Have you ever had one of those moments where all was calm? You felt real peace? You're inspired and quiet inside? I love getting a window seat in a plane. My head is leaning up against the perspex and this magnificent sunset starting to break out over the sky. I took this photo.
I had the earphones on, looked up and saw something on the in-flight TV Channel. Something of beauty (and relevant as this post goes up on New Year's Eve). The subject of this video always gets a pretty good view of the fireworks on Sydney Harbour. I reckon you'll enjoy this (especially if you're a Nick Cave fan).

(n.b.... What I saw on the plane was this ... the half hour documentary on the making of the clip).

Number 2 - Majority World Highlight

A response to last week's post came in from the 'majority' world. It is an extraordinary world we live in when you consider a friend (and mentor) of mine opened up the blog in Vietnam. She emailed back...

Hi Bill,

Merry Xmas. Sitting in Saigon having early Brekky. It's 6.30am here. Just
read your beautiful story. What a lovely way to start my Xmas day...

Saigon at Xmas is amazing. I have never seen so many crowds in the streets
last night... motorbike mayhem! Seems the Buddhists and Taoists are embracing part of the Christmas traditions.

... yesterday rode around on Cyclo - well I sat there while a man who was at least 101 years old peddled! This country is truly unbelievable. Asia and Australia are poles apart and I wonder who is the happier... we have way too much... convinced of that... that is way too much of what has no real value.

Love to you and your family on this Christmas day 2011.

My friend's story evoked straight away, a memory of incredible generosity... received like her, as a visitor from the minority world to the majority world.

Go Back to Where You Came From aired on SBS in June. The ratings back up that it was a television highlight of 2011. The first episode trended as the number 1 discussion in the world that night on Twitter. We are a country divided on the issue of asylum seekers. The documentary was brilliant, it put six Aussies, all with views across the spectrum of the issue, into the shoes of the asylum seeker. They lived their story, only in reverse. Starting from the place of final settlement these people traveled back through detention centres, made a dangerous journey on a leaky boat, lived in transit countries and refugee camps before having the choice to go right back to the war zones from which people have actually fled. One resettled African family (on the link above, you'll see a photo of the Masudi family in Wodonga) welcomed the participants in their home with a customary ritual. This sparked a personal memory.

When I saw this ritual, seven years fell away and in an instant I was transported back to the most humbling experience of my life. Below you see my two kids in 2004 in a village outside of Kampala. Now let's list the ambiguities... I was on Long Service Leave and heading to visit the 'in-laws' in the UK (where they don't have LSL). Dad was working in Uganda as a consultant, so I took the kids to visit him on the way. Dad's work colleagues had the services of a driver, John.

There is John standing next to me. His two girls are in the school uniforms. They showed their perfect copperplate handwriting in their school books to my kids' astonishment. Down below in the bottom corner you can see a plastic basin and a water container.

Just like the Masudi's did for their guests in Wodonga, John's daughter, Joan, later places my hands over the bowl, pours water from that container over my hands and then dries them with a towel. A practical way to prepare for a shared meal.

A most profound ritual of welcome that remains the most gracious hospitality I have ever received. We shared an incredible meal of beautiful spicy pork pieces. John even bought in some soft drink for the kids, conscious how their stomachs might go with the drinking water. Dad explained that John would have spent a week's wages on the feast. It was embarrassing but dad said to just 'go with it' as refusing would greatly offend. John and his family welcomed their guests by washing our hands, they gave all they had to a group of people from the other side of the world who by comparison, had everything.

Happy New Year. Thanks for reading in 2011.

Bill Jennings

Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Man Who Never Forgot

The major block of colour is maroon. Boys in school blazers, in their hundreds, are crossing the street, streaming from trams and buses towards the requiem mass for Father John Carnie. Appreciate that the boys have been given the day off and the choice, by their school, to attend this funeral. Father John had been their chaplain at Marcellin College - a post he held for 25 years. I first met John just prior to him starting in this defining ‘work of his life’, when I was a young bloke in 1984, in Year 12 myself at another school. We became fellow team members of a youth community that ran Stranger Camps for young people. The essence of the experience was that the Year 12 students came from many different schools (hence the name ‘Stranger’) and had the opportunity to share their own story and hear the precious stories of others. A friendship started from there, despite our age difference. It lasted down the years even though we hadn’t managed to catch up much in recent times.

Whenever we caught up though, the little quips would start flowing like we’d seen each other yesterday… I could remember his old jokes and would get them in there, before he could say them, to his delight. John always laughed and said “you are like the Borbons” (his paraphrased reference to an old European royal house), “they didn’t know much but they never forgot”. As this Time & Space work grew, Marcellin embraced these experiences for their boys and parent community. That meant that I could catch up a bit more with John on his home turf. The last time I saw him was at a Time & Space for Stepping Up night at Marcellin in 2011. We stood together looking out across the 160+ Year 8 boys and their dads and mentors. John marvelled at how they were deeply engaged in one to one conversations, encountering things they might not have known in each others’ story. The shining faces reminded us of what we used to see over a quarter of a century ago on those Stranger camps. Here’s the last photo I took of John at a Stepping Up night.

This is a classic John Carnie shot because it shows him (in his beloved Marcellin jacket) doing something he did brilliantly – ‘turning up’. He was famous for turning up or ‘gate-crashing’ as he liked to call it. The trust and rapport he had built was so high, that Year 12 students would enquire expectantly with him saying he was welcome to gatecrash their eighteenth birthday party on an upcoming Saturday night. Back in the 80’s when John was in his mid-fifties, I can assure you, he was gate-crashing back then. We loved him turning up to our parties. The mums and dads loved it. With his repartee the man was an ageless rock star!

The stories I have heard told by Marcellin boys, families and staff affirm the fact that he never lost his capacity to connect with people of all ages. A brilliant, quick wit... he had the ability to have the surliest teenager in fits of laughter. John's swag of qualities was extensive and whilst he had that timeless capacity to connect with the current crop of students, it was his 'old school' traits, the way he went about what he did, that tell just as much about his commitment and care. Without fail - every year, I would get a phone call or a card on my birthday. A mutual friend got a phone call early in the morning every year for the last seven years on the anniversary of his mum’s passing. John used to joke I was the ‘Borbon’. I am telling you… he was the one who never forgot!

At Marcellin, John got into the rhythm of doing the same, ‘never forgetting’ for every boy at the school. There would be a knock at the classroom door. A student is called out and there's Father John wishing many happy returns to that young man. He did this faithfully for 25 years. He interviewed every boy when he arrived in Year 7 and on the birthday classroom visit in Year 12, the young man would receive a card from John as well. He never forgot that the simple things are precious to people. As new technologies evolved, John embraced some that he could help him in his mission. He spoke with wonderment about the electronic timetable program that he could look up, to find where a student was at any given period, so he could go and make those birthday visits. The ‘remembering’ and John’s trademark effect of making each person feel special, had some replete ‘old technology’ methods underpinning it.

After he died in August this year, the College Principal, Mark Murphy and a colleague went to respectfully clear out his office. They found a filing card system so organised that the honour and care sang off every record. Little notes about the first interview with a Year 7 would describe a joke that was shared or particular dimension of the conversation that helped John to remember that special detail the next time they met. If a young fella was going through a tough time, a card might have an annotation like, "make contact in two months” and sure enough that card was filed with that date. The cards had lines through them when a new birthday greeting had been honoured. New notes were made for each meeting. In chatting to Mark Murphy, I got the sense of his appreciation of the incredible commitment and sheer hard work that was evident in John’s system.

So this master of remembering, of ‘turning up’ and old technology caused the most amazing crowd to gather at and pack out St Pat’s cathedral. The maroon blazers filled the vast sides in their hundreds. There were other young men, a bit older in their suits, all around where I was sitting and I noticed something in common that, like John’s birthday system, could not have just happened by chance. Each of them were wearing an Old Collegian’s tie. To a man, each had his ‘old boys’ tie on. How did they do it? I learned that one of them had utilised the technology of their generation, Facebook. On the Father John tribute page, one young old boy had put it out there to wear their Old Collegian’s tie. It had got hundreds of ‘likes’. They all turned up in their old school ties to honour the man who had turned up for them every day they were at school.

Priests, young people and Facebook all get their share of bad press. Obviously some of it is deserved (I would never minimize that) but surely sometimes the criticisms block out the good.

This post is being sent out at Christmas time. I can’t think of a better story to tell this year about a man who lived a sense of what Christmas is all about... every day.

As the story goes, a baby was born in a manger and in that moment humanity and divinity were combined. This was Father John’s life work, his delight, his vocation – he sought out the divine spark in every person he encountered.

Happy Christmas everyone… feel free to share your thoughts below.

Bill Jennings

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Road Trip

The two of us loaded our overnight gear into the boot at the front of the old 'Volksy'.

Just the two of us.

That meant that the little red headed kid got the prime front seat propped up right next to dad. In 1973, dad took me on a journey up the old Hume Highway to Glenrowan in North East Victoria. We were going to visit his old mate Tony, who had been best man at mum and dad’s wedding in 1966. I must have been all of five or six years old. It is funny hearing dad tell the story – it is a vivid memory for him too.

It was deep into summer and the day we left, was a scorcher. Dad’s account is that five minutes after leaving the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, we had to stop for a cold can of cola at our local servo. I was asking for lunch by the time we got to Broadmeadows.

It is my earliest memory of having time one-on-one time with dad.

Tony ran a farm. Big tractors and machines, fields of wheat and old corrugated iron buildings. Dad and I stayed in the old ‘sleep-out’. There were louvre windows with rectangles of thick glass. I remember the sound of the cicadas well beyond dark. The mosquitoes were more the size of dragon flies and buzzed around us all night. I rang dad to get his memory of this. He reckons a cool breeze floated through for few minutes around 4am and then it was hot again. But you know what? I was loving it. This was my time with dad.

I reckon Dad did something else by taking me on that trip, he embedded the value of one-on-one, parent-child time. That six year old boy from 1973 is now a dad himself. And just because he runs programs for young people and their parents/mentors doesn’t give him any special claims on perfection (just ask my two teenage kids). No parent is perfect. In making the time, however, Dad made me feel special, a feeling that lasts through time. No-one can take that away from him, from us. It is something that he taught me to do with my own daughter and son. The warmth of the memory is offered as evidence to support the idea that one-on-one time strengthens a child’s resilience.

The lesson from dad has come in handy this year. My son, now fifteen years old is well in the depths of rampant adolescence. He asked if we could repeat an overnight bike ride we had done a few years before. To be invited by him, at this stage of his life, was an opportunity not to be missed. So in the second term holidays we rode the Warburton trail… stayed in a room at the pub, had a counter meal and rode back the next day.

It’s the little things, I’m sure, that will stick through the years. We had taken a footy with us on the ride and a hell of a game of kick-to-kick evolved… nothing unusual there, only that we played it in our room in the pub. We were seeing how many marks we can take in a row without dropping one. It was so much fun. Sometimes in raising kids through the adolescent years, it is hard to believe there is anything remotely funny about that task. We laughed on this trip… saying stupid things and just laughing. It was an oasis.

Then, in the third term holidays Jack and I headed off on a road trip. My brother lives in Queensland and my wife and I agreed that it might be a good thing to give his older sister some quality quiet time in preparation for her Year 12 exams. The Mighty Lisa would stay with Amber and the two fellas headed off on an old fashioned road trip… we packed the car… and headed north.

We stopped in motels… bought Chinese take away in Narrabri… stayed with my brother and old friends over ten days and nights on this road trip up and down south eastern Australia. They were big drives.

Much of the time we were quiet… then one of us would ask a question, we would talk for a few minutes then go quiet again. I wonder how Jack might remember our adventures down the track. A few clues have already been picked up. I know he really valued those quiet times and rhythms. I know because he told his grandfather about the trip on the phone and how much he had loved the time together – just the two of us. His grandfather then told me.

Can you see the story turning full circle here? My dad taught me something by taking me on that road trip. Have I ever let him know how much I cherish the memory? I have now.

Thanks for reading. Do you have a road trip memory? Feel free to share yours in the space below.

Bill Jennings

P.S. You can find this article, called just the Two of Us, in the Parenting Ideas e-Magazine Christmas Edition amongst a whole bunch of other great articles by clicking here

Thursday, 1 December 2011

The First Pill

If you don't come from Brisbane, how often do you look up the BOM website to get a weather forecast? For this blogger it is at least once a year and a comforting traditional prediction is there for today... showers and thundery rain. Huey has not disappointed. Mother Nature's roulette wheel is spun around this time of the year, every year on the first day of the Brisbane Test.

If you are not a cricket fan, please endure this indulgence (the point is expanded soon). This day has memories flooding back through 40+ years of trying to find a way to see or at least hear live, the first ball of the First Test match of the Australian cricket season. Today's first ball of the first day of the First Test (affectionately dubbed the first pill by cricket tragics) happens to coincide this year with the first official day of summer.

I've got memories down through the years of the long summer days watching a Test up at my grandparents' house where they had an orchard in the Yarra Valley. All of the cousins had their special time to stay at Grandma and Grandpa's place. Mine was the long school holidays for two weeks some time in December or January. Back then, cricket was on ABC TV and there was only a budget for one straight-on camera down the pitch. So you saw the batman face-on one over and then the next over was from behind the wicket, so you would see the bowler coming in and the batsman's back. The first day of a season was often when we were still in school. One year the first pill happened at recess and the radio broadcast was piped out onto our playground on the loud speaker. I think by lunchtime Australia was nearly all out and Rodney Hogg (a fast bowler, not a recognised batsman) was our top scorer with 36 runs. As a teacher for 20 or so years, if the timetable had me scheduled for class when the first ball was bowled, my kids would see me frantically enter the room with a coat hanger. Shoved into the back of the telly that coat hanger became a makeshift aerial and together we'd watch a grainy picture of another opening to the international cricket season.

So, thanks for hanging in there - my expanded point is? Well, here's some questions for you. Think of the patterns in your year. What are the things that punctuate your year, that when they happen, great memories burst open? Is it the Myer Christmas windows? Is it an annual holiday place that even when you say its name quietly to yourself, you are taken back there?

At the heart of this, is that intangible feeling of warmth and security. I don't take it for granted. I can see a little kid sitting on a wooden bench seat in the old Southern Stand at the MCG for the Ashes Boxing Day Test of 1974. I was really grown up - seven years old (and like, nearly eight) there next to my dad. I don't even have to close my eyes to transport back to that time. What memories do you have from your childhood days that make you feel warm? Dad took me to my first day at the cricket and a life time obsession with today was born, of wanting to see the first pill flung in anger for the long summer ahead.

You're a young person reading this? Can you guess what special things you do right now, every year, that will be the memories that make you smile when you are forty, fifty or ninety-seven years old?

People who layer our memory, with good experiences, are giving us a gift that may help us to feel secure for perhaps even, a lifetime. We can give back by doing that for our kids now and in the future. At 11am today, Melbourne time, guess what I'll be doing?

What are the memories that make you feel warm when those times and places come back around? Who made them happen for you? What are the funny little details you remember?

Feel free to share your own thoughts and memories in the space below.

Bill Jennings

Friday, 11 November 2011

The Things We Can Control

It is now ten years and two months since September 11 2001. As a global community we felt helpless for a while. In the last post, I described a paralysis of fear that struck me. A distinct moment snapped me out of that feeling and I promised more details...

I wasn't directly affected by the terrorist attacks on the USA but I do recall feeling real fear. Irrational evaluations of risk became part of my decision making. My team, Essendon were playing off against Brisbane on the last day in September at the MCG. Should I take my kids to the AFL Grand Final? Will the terrorists strike there next? Images flashed through my mind, of jumbo jets ploughing into the Great Southern Stand.

Such thoughts were real to me... thoughts I felt a bit embarrassed about, so I was reluctant to share them. Since then, I've discovered that many others felt the same way. For a period of time, I reckon a huge proportion of humanity felt lonely in the midst of unspoken fear.

On the first day of fourth term, 2001, my daughter was in Grade 2, eight years old and loving life. Heidi, the school receptionist called me at work to say that Amber had had an accident during sport. She had been looking the other way, turned for a moment and as she turned back her forehead crashed, at running pace, into a thick, hard steel basketball pole.

"We've called the ambulance Bill... I think she's OK... how quickly can you get over here?"

It took a quarter of an hour to get to Amber's school, to only discover that the ambulance had just left. Not sure what the statute of limitations is on minor offences but I must confess to driving pretty quickly for another fifteen minutes on to the hospital. So fast that I actually caught up to the ambulance and arrived to see my daughter as the doors opened out. She was in a bad way and we learnt a new word that day Cephalohematoma. A huge swelling, like a big bag of fluid, had bulged out on Amber's forehead. It was scary. Those 30 minutes of driving were intensely frightening. On reflection the fear was because of the unknown.

A few minutes later in the emergency room, Amber said "I'm scared daddy, please hold my hand".

"Of course sweetheart". She gripped tight.

Amber was physically sick a few times as we waited for the specialist. The doctor finally arrived on a day when minutes felt like hours. He calmly said that things actually looked much worse than they really were. She was going to be groggy and nauseous for a day or two yet but so importantly, she was going to be OK. Ten years on, Amber is 18 and sitting her VCE exams.

There is still a little trophy bump on her forehead. When she asked me to hold her hand, I wasn't frightened about all the bad things that had happened in the world, any more.

There was a footy coach in that time who had a favourite saying that now has become sporting cliché... "we only worry about the things we can control". That was hard to do, post-September 11. Holding Amber's hand was something within my sphere of control... I could help her when she was frightened.

I often wonder now, when we are frightened in some way, if the best way out is borne in the effort to help another. All the best with your exams Amber. It is so special that you are able to do them.

Feel free to write your thoughts and responses in the space below.

Monday, 12 September 2011

The Tenth Anniversary of September 12

Today's post is released on the tenth anniversary of many of us going to work or turning up at school, the morning after the night before. The terrorist attacks in the USA of Tuesday morning September 11, 2001 were beamed into Australia in the evening. Here in Melbourne we are fourteen hours ahead of New York.

On that frightening night, because of where we live in the world, Lisa and I had some hours to work out how we would give our daughter (then eight) and son (five) the terrible news. What were we going to say the next morning? Many who read this blog may well have had the same challenge. Some of the young people who read this, only know the world as 'post-September 11'.

What did you say to your kids?

How was it explained to you?

We knew our daughter had a classmate, a Moslem girl. We wanted to prepare her in case there was unkindness directed at her friend. News was already emerging about a group called Al Qaeda.

So on the morning of September 12, our kids woke up to a world that had changed. We elected to be very general with the young fella - he had not started school at that time. For our eight year old girl, we offered what we knew at that point.

1. A very bad thing had happened to some people in America and many people had died.
2. The people who did it might be the same religion as her friend but that didn't mean that her friend's religion or her family were bad. Some people from all walks of life do bad things but most people try to be good.

I remember going to work and feeling as if, in a fog. The World Trade Centre renown as a 'global' workplace, hit home. We became aware that a colleague's brother-in-law was among the missing. He was never found.

What was to happen next? The uncertainty was so frightening. In fact, I had never felt so frightenend and I was 34. That fear permeated for a few more weeks, I did snap out of it, on the first day of Term 4. (I'll let you know how that happened in another post.)

If I was that frightened, it prompts a wondering about what the world has been like to live in, for our kids, these last ten years.

One year later in September 2002 the transcripts and recordings of the last phone messages of those trapped in the buildings were coming to light. At the time a dear friend was getting married. The celebrant noted that the messages had a commonality - all were expressions of love, nothing trivial and certainly nothing about tax returns or what furniture to buy next. Many people in the buildings left messages aware that they might be speaking their last words to the people they were calling.

In our private moments of sadness, what is truly important, becomes obvious. If anything good can come from this tragedy, it is that we all had the opportunity to stop, to consider what is truly important.

On this anniversary of 'the first day after' let your important people know what they mean to you. And if they are nearby give them a hug.

Bill Jennings

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Census Night - counting the unpaid hours

It is Census night in Australia. Much has changed over the years and perhaps, many things have stayed the same. Families come in all shapes and sizes in 2011. So for that reason and because of a specific experience earlier this year, I found Question 48 on the 'Household Form', to be of particular interest...

In the last week, did the person spend time doing unpaid domestic work in their household?

[ ] No, did not do any unpaid domestic work in the last week
[ ] Yes, less than five hours
[ ] Yes, 5 to 14 hours.
[ ] Yes, 15 to 29 hours
[ ] Yes, 30 hours or more
Census night gives the perfect opportunity to make good on a promise to 'Jacqui' who, earlier this year, wrote a request in the comments section of Always Check Pockets. The blog that day included an instructional video from 'The Mighty Lisa' recorded for my benefit (in fact you see that video being used in the video below). Embarrassingly, your blogger had not learnt how to use the front loader, a washing machine that had been in the household almost a year. Lisa was heading overseas with four girlfriends on the trip of a lifetime to Europe.

Well Jacqui, the systems you can see I adopted were not as smooth as those of 'The Mighty Lisa'. In all seriousness, the seven weeks Lisa was away brought home to me all of the invisible work that she does. I say invisible, because the laundry never looked like this...

If the census was happening back in that seven week period, when I was a temporary single dad, I would have comfortably ticked the '15 to 29 hours' box. Tonight, I'll have to go through the past week and calculate. The reality is that with us back as a two parent set up, 'The Mighty Lisa' has racked up more hours than me. For sure. The statistics say that this is still the norm in most 'mum-dad' households. Simply, most mums do more. What I do know is that because of that seven week experience, we are getting closer to a balance, the work is appreciated and no longer invisible. I commend an experience like this to any dad... maybe the government could arrange to give all mums a holiday to bring home this reality!

Of course, as stated, families come in all shapes and sizes and in May this year, your blogger was chatting to Penny, at a Mother and Son night. Penny is a teacher with a year level leadership role. She kindly came along to assist at this Time & Space event at her school. It was in the time that I was a temporary single dad (my own dad was looking after my kids). Penny is a permanent single mum. She explained how she had dropped off her child at her mum and dad's place, a back up she explained she couldn't do without in her busy job. It was humbling as we swapped notes... a temporary single dad chatting with a full-time single mum.

Penny remarked, "When you're a single parent, there's no role-reversal... you have to do it all. It's me who goes out to the back yard to shovel up the dog poo!"

So as you are filling out your form tonight, think about all the people who are bringing up kids in lots of different situations. People doing what they have to do to help the next generation.

Respect goes out to all of you who do unpaid domestic work.

Whose work do you appreciate? Do you need to lift your own work rate? Who is someone you admire who is juggling heaps of roles and getting on with it?

Feel free to write your thoughts in the space below.

Bill Jennings

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Eighteen Quick Years

A momentous day in this household. Started this post at 5.37am and your blogger had been up for a while even then, searching through and finding some old, packed away journals.

Found what I was looking for... a record of my daughter Amber's arrival on the planet eighteen years ago today... 8.47am on 15 June 1993, the Countess Hospital, Chester, UK.

The journal entries give a minute by minute account of the details of Amber's very dramatic entry into the world. Her mum and dad, as first time parents had it all planned. Water birth. Minimal intervention. All this went out the window when the baby chose 'sideways' as her pathway into the outside world.

Looking through the journal - it has a list of times and factual records. I gave Amber her first bath sometime between 10.00am and 1.00pm. I washed her mother's hair. I remember ringing home to Australia and my Great Great Auntie Flo' was staying with my mum and dad... Amber's birth had created five living generations in our tribe.

Between then and now - time has flown. Here's some of the memories that have flashed up in my mind today (with the birthday girl's, in fact birthday woman's permission).

1995 - We had been back in Melbourne over a year. Renting in Richmond, no car. I used to ride Amber to crèche in a baby seat on the back of my bike. Down Lennox Street to Collingwood where I worked. There was a park in front of the high rise flats, always blanketed with seagulls... 'Birdy, Birdy, Birdy' was the daily shout of delight from the little girl on the back of the bike. And dad would join in.

Then there was the day, as a toddler on my hip in the supermarket queue, when Amber showed her zest for learning. The Mighty Lisa and me had thought it important to teach Amber the proper names for the human reproductive parts. The queue was long. Amber looked down the line and saw a man, a woman, a man, two women and a man, in front of us. Leaning out from your blogger's hip and pointing in a confident fashion she tested her biological knowledge... in Safeway... in full voice.

"PENIS, VAGINA, PENIS, VAGINA, VAGINA, PENIS and daddy then there's you and you have a PENIS!" Triumphantly she smiled and stretched out her arms, having proudly declared her knowledge to the world.

Great parenting idea we had there. There was simply nowhere to hide. Thankfully the people of the queue found it hilarious.

Saturday 18 September, 1999 - MCG. Preliminary Final Day. A bloke named Anthony Koutoufides put in an individual performance that was to steal our beloved team's destiny. Amber, six years old, was asleep on my lap from late in the third quarter... hard to argue against Amber being the most relaxed bomber fan out of the 80,519 people there that day. She woke up just in time to learn that Essendon went down to Carlton by a point. The following year, we shared premiership joy trouncing the Demons.

One time, she had to deal with some stuff with one of her friends. Amber was the shortest in this group of girls - five friends (still all mates today) who've been affectionately dubbed the 'rat pack'. I remember telling her that it is better to take things head on - talk direct to the person you have a problem with, not about them, behind their back. Let them know how you feel (an important technique for anyone). She did it. Spoke her mind with her friend and sorted out the problem. I haven't forgotten it, nor how proud I was of her.

This morning her brother presented a funny and touching note in the birthday card he gave her... he noted that in his life, he had 'learnt a few things' about his sister. Three actually.

#1 Don't bother you in the mornings'; #2 Don't go into your room; #3 You are a very lovely, beautiful, loyal, fun, caring and passionate person and that I am lucky to be your brother.

That's a pretty cool affirmation from a nearly 15 year old boy.

It is past 9am now as I write. Therefore, right now, that one time 8 Pound 6 Ounce baby (like the old measurements) is sitting her VCE Year 12 Psychology mid-year exam, here in Melbourne, some 10,542 miles from where she took her first breath.

A call came in from her Nana in Chester - her grand-daughter had already headed off to get ready for the exam. She'll ring again later today.

Tonight, we will share a meal at Amber's favourite Indian restaurant - family tradition. First birthday dinner with her boyfriend along (yep, nothing prepares you for that moment either dads... there is no handbook). The time simply has flown. Our daughter is officially an adult. The Mighty Lisa commissioned me with the card writing duties for today...

Dearest Amber.

Officially an adult. We are so proud of the young woman you have become. You are blessed with so much. May you have an adult life that is stunning... that makes a difference.

We love you. Mum & Dad.

We don't take this occasion for granted. We know we are fortunate. It is not a given that every kid makes it to 18. I hope you have some memories of your own to savour as you read this... the funny ones, the moments that make you proud - enjoy them (and feel free to share them in the space below).

The time goes quick.

Bill Jennings

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Managing Alien Abductions

My grandparents’ house is still on the farm. Grandpa worked his orchard for decades. After he retired, my uncle took over, building his own place there. We’re lucky, our tribe has got an actual place – ‘Gruyere’, in Victoria’s Yarra Valley. As kids, each of my brothers, sister and cousins used to get their turn in the school holidays up at Grandma and Grandpa’s.

Both lived into their nineties. So my kids (daughter, 17 and son, 14) have their own special memories of their great grandparents. When my kids were little, we used to drive up from the city, buy a big family pie on the way and take it up for lunch with Grandma - a little tradition we’d forged.

As a dad, a treasured Gruyere memory happened not long after Grandma died. My then, 11 year-old son and I embarked on an overnight bike journey from the farm to a town called Warburton. We stayed first night at my uncle’s place. We didn’t visit the old house. We were still both a bit sad.

On the bike trail, my son talked happily as we rode 40km to our destination. We stayed in the caravan park, had a counter meal in the pub. He felt so grown up, soaking up some dad time.

That’s only three years ago but it does feel like a much longer time. Why? Because I reckon that little bike rider was recently abducted by aliens. They left a replacement… similar but slightly hairier, sleepier and mono-syllabic in his utterances. This new version of my son (scientific name - ‘adolescent’) believes that those same aliens, stole his dad’s sense of humour.

We have stepped quickly into role. His peer group’s influence has increased exponentially. Concerts, parties, girls… everything’s happened quickly. I’m the boundary setter: phone calls to other kids’ parents, the checking of plans, the curfews have turned me into possibly the most embarrassing dad ever known. We can get very grumpy with each other.

So where’s the hope? Is it just a slog until a healthy adult emerges from his teenage cocoon?

The hope lies in a recent visit back to the farm. Life’s busy… hadn’t been up for a while. Neither of us had actually been back in the old house. We went inside – together - sat at the kitchen table where we’d shared those pies with Grandma. We found some old newspapers and just sat and quietly read through them - together. We were visited by a feeling of calm and appreciation of a time past, when things were a little simpler.

Then from that ‘calm’, my son expressed a wish…

“Hey Dad, I reckon it’d be good if we went on another bike ride.”

Here’s three tips to help you help your adolescent.

1. Keep them connected in your family tribe - it has a story that’s older than their peer group.

2. Return to their happy childhood memory places. Revisiting helps them revisit what really matters.

3. If they invite you to spend time with them. Accept. Make the time.

Bill Jennings

You can also see this article feature as the closing story of the newly launched Parentingideas Magazine

Monday, 11 April 2011

Celebrating the Champions in Our Schools

Say the name of your favorite teacher.

There is simple beauty in this exercise because it does not matter how old you are. If you’re in Year Six, you probably know the name of the teacher who has been the greatest influence on you to this point. You could be 90 years old and still gifted with a memory like a steel trap (I’m 44 and my wife says if get Alzheimer’s she won’t notice). Does the good teacher of your day… their name, their face come flooding back to you? Mum, Dad or Carer? I hope somebody comes to mind, that someone who has seen a spark and made a difference in your child’s journey. Does your own memory produce the picture of that great person for whom teaching was so much more than a job?

Sal Valentino is one of these people. He has been at Simonds College, in inner city Melbourne for over twenty years. He champions the cause for each student at his school to find and know their great possibility. How does he do this? In so many ways… but as Paul Kelly (a contemporary Australian bard) once wrote – let the part tell the whole.

The Simonds boys have just this week, come off some ‘My PB days’ (personal best). The program culminates with a testosterone fuelled moment - the boys get to seal a ‘Good Man Goal’, identify an action, a change they want to make and they write it on to a piece of wood. Then they are trained to muster their energy and with a ‘Mr. Miagi style karate chop’, they set their goal by smashing the piece of wood in two. Ask most teenage boys in school… “And now we want you to break something”, and it is OK… they will think it is Christmas!

But what about the young bloke who is a little tentative?

Here’s the Sal Valentino gold… one such young fella had missed breaking the wood on his first couple of goes… other boys are starting to watch and this is not helping. Intuitively Sal whisks the student to a spot where he can try away from the gaze of his peers. With Sal’s encouragement and imagination, the boy manages to break that piece of wood… he returns to the group with it now in two pieces. Another boy, who also had missed the first couple of times, comes straight up and congratulates his classmate. Sal notices and celebrates publically the compassion and empathy shown in this other boy’s expression of support.

This was a replete piece of education… it took five minutes. There must literally be tens of thousands of these stories over Sal’s career. But this was all in a day’s work for Sal Valentino.

He is a true champion.

So here’s an idea. Write a note of thanks to your champion teacher. Tell them why you think they are a champion… give them back a moment where they taught you something. If they are long gone thank them in your heart.

A letter headed out from this desk on the weekend to the great Chuck Thompson – my Year 7 homeroom teacher. He’s still plying his craft – I reckon an ‘out of the blue’ thank-you will give these champions a spur.

Who was or is your favourite teacher? Feel free to write your story in the space below.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Always Check Pockets

It's been almost two years in the planning now... (the mighty) Lisa, Robyn, Clare, Moy and Mahony are heading off to the UK, France and Italy this Friday night. Half the fun has been the planning and dreaming about the trip.

An unusual crew, we are, underneath the West Preston skies... the five women, off on this global adventure, are all still with the original person they married. We certainly don't take that for granted. I am in awe of those of you who are doing the job of being mum, dad or mentor on your own.

That said, there have been some moments of pure gold in this final week lead up. Robyn was doing her packing in what could best be described as a 'first draft'. Her un-better half 'Big Ray' noticed she was struggling with how to lighten her luggage. It was seriously overweight. Big Ray is your classic unrevised Aussie bloke. Big fella, big beard, chippie, bikie. He offered some abrupt advice to his wife in the form of a question.

"Do you need all of your cosmetics?"

Robyn had conveniently packed her toiletries into one smaller bag inside the case. On removal, the case was 4kg lighter.

Moy rang this morning... she is trying to find an easy way to teach her husband, Ken, how to do internet banking.

And then there is this blogger's household. Lisa is the star of this post and I am under strict instructions to emphasise this but... I do want to get in, in my defence, that I do, do the ironing (sporadically) and the bathrooms every Friday. However, I must confess that our one-year-old front loader is still something of a mystery to me. Therefore, Lisa has this morning, given some final instructions on how to operate our washing machine. I'm reminded of that old toothbrush ad... 'Rob is a dentist, so we can't show you his face on TV.' The Mighty Lisa is not a dentist... she simply has an aversion to her face being on camera but as you can see in this video, she was happy for her hands to be seen in this instructional piece. Granted, I am biased but I think she could be hand model - she would put George Costanza to shame. This video may also be of use to any bloke who is unfamiliar with the working of his laundry and is about to enter any period of temporary (even permanent) bachelor-hood ... enjoy too the unintentional bloopers at the end as I try to turn the phone camera off.

Just because it's called a 'smart phone', it doesn't necessarily follow that it has a smart owner.

So can we extract any deeper meaning out of this story? Let's have crack at it.

The next seven weeks are going to bring home a deep appreciation of all the wonderful things Lisa does that keep our busy household ticking over. I get it and see it now but suspect that we are going to see things so much more deeply.

The next seven weeks also provide an opportunity to have a go, on my own at a couple of things, parenting-wise with my own kids. Case in point, already this week, the young bloke has started making his own sandwiches. This could be a welcome, embedded routine by the end of May. I'll keep you posted and if my kids aren't happy, they know this blog has an open feedback space below. So if I am not up to scratch, I will probably cop it.

Feel free to leave your comments and stories below as well. What do you appreciate about your significant other? How is running the household if you are on your own? And by the way, if you are interested in following the journey of The Mighty Lisa and her four travelling companions... here is their travel blog.

Bill Jennings

Friday, 18 March 2011

Japan... as seen by a 14 year old boy

Talked with a friend on the phone yesterday. A mentor really. He asked what I was thinking and feeling about the multiple disasters in Japan. My answer was immediate.

"I'm watching it through the eyes of my son."

Teenage boys are prone to absent mindedness. Sometimes they will even leave their Facebook page open on your laptop. We've got a 'we can ask to look at your Facebook page anytime' policy in our place anyway (it kind of works). I saw something he had written on his 'chat'... 'the world is ending'. The mighty Lisa (aka 'better half') is an astute observer and mentioned that we should keep an eye on the young bloke.

"He's frightened". Lisa spots things as they are.

When I was my son's age, I recall that period of time between, first becoming aware of the exponential number of times Earth could destroy itself with its own nuclear weapons and later, managing to rationalise that such an event is unlikely and that if it did happen, we wouldn't know about it for too long. In that gap of time (which was a few of my early teenage years) I thought every time a plane went overhead that that was the bomb on its way to hit the GPO. Did you ever wonder why those graphs showed nuclear fallout extending from the General Post Office? That only fuelled my fear further... 'how can they be so accurate?'

During that gap in time, quite simply, I was frightened. I felt silly about that because after all, I was growing up. I had too much and not enough information all at the same time.

A few years later, as an older teenager, I told someone I had held these fears. She explained that when she was a girl, every time a plane went over her house, she thought it was the communists. So, back in the 1950’s, in orchard country outside Melbourne, the 'reds under the bed' were scaring a teenage girl who later on, became my mum.

I told that story to my good friend and mentor yesterday. He had the same fears growing up that the commies were going to get him.

Maybe every generation of teenagers experience large world moments in ways that render feelings of powerlessness. If you are twenty-something, how does September 11 house itself in your memory?

What do we do?

If you are a parent of a teenager - tell your kids if and when you were frightened of stuff when you were growing up. What made you get over that? Tell them.

If you are a teenager reading this, ask your mum or dad if they were frightened by stuff when they were younger. And don't in any way feel silly about feeling scared - even show them this post if it can help get the conversation going. You know how I just said I had too much information when I was a kid... well, now you're a kid and you've got access to that thing they call the internet.

We are all watching it together. Sometimes we don't check with each other how it’s being taken in. Those little acts of concern, of love really, are the ways that we can deal with the terrible tragedy that is beaming into our homes. There are people doing amazing things to help each other in Japan... we can help further away by just checking in with each other - face to face.

Step away from the screens for a few moments everyone.

Talk. Listen.

In checking this out with the young bloke, it was evident he had consumed a fair number of media stories and angles on the topic. I explained that his mum thought he might be frightened, he said he was mostly just ‘sad’. He then went into a whole bunch of things he had been learning from reading about the Japan crisis. He had taken a lot in.

“I’m okay dad, I just hope that they get serious about different ways to make energy after this. But I don't think they will... that's why I said 'the world is ending'.”

The young bloke's assessment is direct - there is no way to pretty that up. However, I do appreciate he told me a bit of what was going on in his head and heart.

Feel free to write add your thoughts below.

Bill Jennings

Saturday, 19 February 2011

The Grandparent Factor

The 14 year old addresses the ball... first tee at Yarra Bend.

Just as he starts his swing, his dad stops him and says,

"Before you tee off, did you know that your feet are pointing out towards the ninth fairway?"

"I know what I'm doing dad!" The young man's reply has more than a hint of an agitated tone.

"OK, do what you like" says his dad and the young bloke hits off...

... at a 45 degree angle into the rough on the side of the ninth fairway.

Despite his dad's prediction being correct, this fails to instill awe and respect within the son for his father's knowledge of the game, ability to forecast the future or his life-lived acquired wisdom. In fact for the next nine holes or so, every bad shot is his dad's fault for putting him off on the first tee.

If you are raising a teenager as you read this, or recall doing so, you may well resonate with the experience of not having to do much to be 'booked' by your kids. He morphed into a less grumpy version of himself by the back nine and much of the credit for that goes to his Grandad, the other golfer in this three generation grouping.

Grandad Viv sidled up for a couple of little 'alongside' chats up and down those fairways... arm on his shoulder, some well chosen moments to get a point across more sternly, all of these were well received by the same 14 year old who was so unhappy with his dad. Grandad provided the circuit breaker... he could get away with a few more things than his son-in-law who got 'booked' way back on the first tee.

It is important to say here, not every kid has a grandparent... some are not as lucky as the young subject of this story - he has all four still alive and well. If the latter is your situation, consider the elders you trust who could play a role in your teenager's world. They are so important.

So what was happening here? Firstly there's an old classic in there - can you see it? How hard is it to hold back when you can see that the direction your kid might be going in, might be the wrong one? Isn't it difficult to bite your tongue when you have made the same mistake yourself? The father here didn't even wait for his son to play his first shot before he was giving him advice. There's a fairly obvious metaphor in there that, if it is safe, isn't it a good thing to be near by as they make the odd mistake?

It's far better to wait to respond gently to the question, "what am I doing wrong", than to go head long into a lecture about what will go wrong.

And the other great aspect is that Grandad was there. In the cut and thrust of everyday life, having back up... someone who can offer their advice and play a role in a young person's world does them and their parents, so much good.

Of course you have probably worked out that the dad in this story is your blogger. Good thing that when he started this parent-child program work full time, he had two things he was sure he wanted to say to the world.

1. No parent is perfect (even though the media subtly pressures parents to be super-people).
2. Half the battle is being there... being there alongside your kids even when you are not getting it right and...

... being there with people like my father-in-law, my son's Grandad, who is such a great help to me and the mighty Lisa as we raise our two teenage kids.

Feel free to write your thoughts below and consider... who are the elders that help you along the way?

Friday, 11 February 2011

A Life's Work... of Art

Life can be so fast. Don't you think that a funeral, in a strange way, is an oasis in the post-modern world? The ritual has its own pace. If you decide to go, you cancel your appointments and clear some time well beyond the expected finish. You are there to honour the deceased.

Yesterday, Joe Valentino was buried in the Rye Cemetery on the Mornington Peninsula some distance from Melbourne. His son Sal, gave his eulogy. Joe's daughter Mary read from an autobiography her father had written. He had requested that the family didn't read this until after he passed away. Joe died on February 4 - just last week after a short battle with cancer. Despite the 90 minute drive from the CBD of Melbourne, the church was packed. 'Why?'

Maybe part of the answer is in the title of Joe's autobiography... A Life Well Lived. Joe emigrated from Italy to Australia in the 1950's. He met his Lucy. Every morning, in his final months, Joe would see his bride of 47 years and say the same words, "Here is my angel". When his kids were born, he considered these the two greatest days of his life. He quietly resolved to be the best father he could be.

Sal explained many things about his dad's life. The stories confirmed that Joe's was indeed, 'a life well lived’. Joe was a hairdresser. He built up his business in the city, responded to opportunities... set up in Melbourne's premier hotel when the chance came. Joe built up a loyal clientele over 40 years. Sal would go in and see his dad at work. 'Regulars' sitting in the chair would ask after Sal’s wife and kids by name and laud their latest achievements. Sal thought that sometimes his dad's clients knew more about his own life than he did himself.

Joe retired when he turned 70 but kept working one day a week - even in the final months. The doctors would try to set a treatment appointment. Often in terrible pain, Joe would tell the staff in the Royal Melbourne Hospital...

"Sorry, that’s Wednesday… we will have to find another time, I'm cutting a client's hair." Sal described Joe as gentle and strong at the same time. Quiet assertion. Apparently, there was little point in the medical staff arguing. They would have to work around Joe’s commitments to his long term clients.

So why tell you this story?

Because it is reasonable to claim that Joe really was an artist. He saw no delineation, no need to create some professional gap between him and his clients. When his kids were born, he made a simple promise that helped grow two fine people because he chose to be the best dad he could be.

You don't have to have the most original idea or do extraordinary things to contribute your art to the world. You can just do your work with passion and intent. You can make simple promises and live up to them and change a corner of the world. Six days after he died, Joe was still doing that for the hundreds of people at his funeral.

Who is an artist you know who is currently working on a life well lived?

Here’s an idea – let that person know that you are a fan of their life’s work. Let them know you’re grateful. You could even send them this post and say…

“I think you’re a lot like Joe because…

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

3.5 Billion Fellas - honourable mentions#2

Ok - this is now a series by your blogger's definition - more than one (although England and Australia's women cricketers just played a one Test series).

If you saw #1 in this series, you will know that it is tradition to check this World Population Clock at the time of first drafting the post. So, the planet's population was... 6,901,229,322. (Multiply by 50.3% for the ratio of males to females and you get Three Billion, Four Hundred and Seventy-One Million Three Hundred and Eighteen Thousand and Three Hundred and Forty-Nine Blokes - that is 3,471,318,349 ). Only 28 million or so more fellas for the title to be spot on accurate.

Today we celebrate two of that number who deserve an honourable mention... a couple of blokes who have made big personal comebacks, health-wise.

They are known as Skippy and Dave.


Not the kangaroo, Geoff Heugill. His triumph is here (please forgive the embedded ad at the start).

Don't you just love that call by the commentator, "What's twenty metres when you've conquered forty kilos?" Skippy inspired a nation by making some personal decisions and he is building a brand around his determination to come back from being morbidly obese.


This man, not necessarily as well known to the world, is still making a difference in his circle of influence. Prior to his lifestyle change, just like Skippy, Dave explained that he was' drinking for Australia'.

A father of two pre-school aged kids, married, Dave retired from his beloved De La Salle Warriors Aussie Rules team a few years ago now. He was the captain, through his twenties and thirties, of a loyal group of his old school mates. I know that his reputation was all about his honest commitment to the contest. Where others may have more natural ability no one surpassed Dave's courage on the field and commitment to the team. He inspired others on the field.

I've recently heard him describe how unfit he became. I don't know for certain but I imagine leaving a team environment and that regular physical hit out of amateur footy probably left a gap. Now Dave explains that 'my addiction is running, the cure is running.' And just like in his footy days, he is bringing people with him. Where Geoff Heugill has no doubt inspired many to shed the kilo's, Dave tells stories of how his old team-mates are setting their own goals.

Last year, Dave and his mate Seb ran from Burwood in metropolitan Melbourne to Safety Beach on the Mornington Peninsula. They ran 80 kilometres. That's massive compared to the number of beers he was racking up each week. As he says, he's moved from being proud of his one alcohol free day a week to almost feeling guilty on the one day he now has a beer.

What makes Dave's story even more special is that he has been prepared to share those facts about his post footy lifestyle with the world. He now blogs regularly about his running but not just his running... the people he is bringing with him, the thoughts he has on the long roads about being a better dad, husband... about being a better man.

On that 80k run a huge crew joined him and ran with him and Seb... some 50k (Gully), others 20k... my own 14 year old son ran 10k that day without stopping and beat his old man (I had to take a break). What's important is that Dave has had the personal inspiration to share his inner thoughts and show how running is effecting change in his life far beyond the health credits he is racking up.

I am proud that Dave is my brother and today, February 1, is his 40th birthday.

Here's celebrating you Dave, Skippy and all the fellas on the planet who act on their will to change for the better. Who do you know who have made personal triumphs by applying their self-will? Feel free to share your inspirations in the space below.

(Here is Dave Jennings' inspiring blog 'Run Free' - enjoy!)

Happy Birthday Dave.

Bill Jennings

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Can I Play?

Enjoying the beach at Apollo Bay on a morning walk with the mighty Lisa earlier today. Beaches powerfully trigger the memory I reckon.

We walked on the water's edge past some energetic boys on their boogie boards and through an eternal game of cricket... beach chair for a wicket, unfolded and wedged into the sand... dad with the bat generously hitting up catches - two girls go for it and let it fall between them. Much laughter... not just the players but other families watching... Lisa and your blogger walking past. Another ball and another skied stroke... this time to the off side away from the water... mum gets under it and catches it, only to over-act a clumsy dropping of the ball. Dad survives. More laughter!

There is simple, sheer enjoyment of fun being made and shared with those around.

This blogger is transported back thirty plus years to a beach connected to this coast line a thousand miles away at Port Macquarie, NSW. Bill, the little ten year old stands sheepishly near a game so similar to this one watching the dads organise the various beach cricketers in their charge.

Tentatively I recall (with my dad's encouragement) moving up to the dad in charge.

"Can I play?"

"Of course you can mate... what's your name?"


"You're batting next Bill!"

This morning I remembered how good that welcome felt... thirty three years ago.

Feel free to share your summer memories in the space below.

Bill Jennings

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

What's Occurrin'?

Michael Grose has posted a set of 25 tips for parents whilst we're in New Years Resolution mode. Tip #9 stood out... the internal monologue went "Yep, Tick, We're getting better at that... Love that tip".

Don't be a family that's always on the go!

Really like this challenge. Fully conceded that families can be in all sorts of stress around this time of the year, and we are not perfect by any stretch, but here's what's happened in the Jennings household over the last week...

My son Jack got a grouse pressie which enabled us to bring to life, one of my daughter's favourite phrases... Just Chillin'. Jack received the full DVD set of all three Gavin & Stacey series (and the Christmas special).

So what have we done in the last week or so? Settled in and watched the lot... as a family. Just chillin' on the couches in the lounge room... as a family. Laughing, talking about what will happen next... as a family. Loving the characters... if you know Nessa (above), the hilarious best mate of Stacey, she's got a catchphrase that has entered the family lexicon, What's Occurrin'? This has now become my standard SMS/e-mail greeting to my daughter in recent days. It is actually making her laugh! There's a scoop... teenage girl laughs at her dad's (repeated) joke! How much value can we put on a bit of collective downtime?

So, hoping this post finds you in a bit of a chilled mode. And if you could be bothered, feel free to write back telling us all what's occurin'?

Bill Jennings

PS - due to the 'chillin' that's been occurrin' in the household... those 'Honourable Mentions' from amongst the 3.5 (approx) Billion Fellas on the planet are being extended through this month and into February. If you are on holidays (in the Southern Hemisphere)- enjoy!