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