Friday, 31 August 2012

A Father’s Gift

Arthur is putting in the last couple of rows of chairs for a parent information night.

I like to get to my presentations early and often, I bump into someone like Arthur, the maintenance man at a boys’ school where I run the Time & Space programs. I wander in with 216 sheets of paper under my arm.

“What can I do for you mate?” asks Arthur.

Arthur has got that friendly mix – he greets this new person whilst he is also busy, doing his job (and proudly, I might add).

“I’m here to talk with the parents tonight.” I explain. “My name’s Bill, by the way.”

“No worries, I’m Arthur, good to meet you Bill. So what’s written on those papers?” he asks.

I reply, “I’ve just run a session with the whole Year 9 level and each boy was challenged to write to their dad (or mentor) a ‘thankyou’ note and then to give it to him when they next see him.”

Arthur has finished now and the room looks great. He’s curious and asks another question.

“Do you reckon that what the kids write, sticks? Or do they just think it in the session and then forget what they’ve written later?”

“I reckon that the kids who actually hand the note over are saying something. You know, we encourage them to hand the note to their dad... but we don’t actually make them do it.”

“Yeah – I just wonder,” muses Arthur, “I reckon some kids have got too much these days. My kids sometimes were disappointed when they saw their friends being given things... because I told them I’d never buy them a car. That’s something they’d have to earn.”

Arthur is starting to tell his remarkable story and in that sharing what he values.

He continues, “there are some things, I’m only too happy to give them. I’m past 65 now and should be retired. My youngest is 16, still in school and looks like she’ll being going through Uni. I might be working for a while yet.”

“How many kids Arthur?” I ask.

“Three... the oldest boy went here. He’s 27. The middle one’s – she’s 23, and the little one.”

“How have they gone?”

“They’ve done good,” a proud half-smile curls from the corner of Arthur’s mouth, “the oldest one has a double degree in Management and Engineering. The middle one has a Masters in Dietetics.” He goes on to say, “I’ve told them - I’ll look after their education. I want them to have what I never got.”

Arthur left school at 13. He explains to me that education is not the only thing he’s missed out on.

“As soon as I was born, my dad took off. I never met him. So I’ve had no role-model to work off,” Arthur explains. “Until I was 7 or 8 I lived in an orphanage in Bendigo because my mum couldn’t cope with me and my older brother on her own. Then later we moved back to live with her in St. Kilda where, it was pretty rough and ready and I kind of...”, Arthur pauses for a moment and looks at me, “well you kinda learnt to protect yerself, you know what I mean?”

In the midst of this extraordinary conversation, a couple of times I hear Arthur say things about himself as a person and specifically, himself as a dad like, “look I’m not perfect” and “I’m no angel.”

It is pleasing to let him know that a big theme in this Time & Space work is to reassure mums and dads that no parent is perfect,

“I reckon it’s all about ‘turning up’ Arthur and supporting our kids... you have done that in spades and, you’ve come from a lot further back than most. You know Arthur, I reckon if your kids had the chance to do the ‘thankyou’ activity the boys did today, you would have heard how grateful they are for your gift of education.”

“They’ve done that, in not so many words,” Arthur replies, “them doing well is thanks enough for me.”

As he speaks I am reminded of the pivotal message that Steve Biddulph penned in his best-seller, Manhood – an action plan for changing men’s lives.

Every father, however much he puts on a critical or indifferent exterior, will spend his life waiting at some deep level to know that his (children) love him and respect him. Make sure you absorb this point. He will spend his life waiting.
As I’m remembering that, Arthur is still thinking about my question about his kids ‘saying thanks’ and a special recent memory has sparked.

“There was this one time last year with the youngest one, she’s a bewdy... I reckon she’s got the best of me as a dad. You know, you sometimes work it out a bit better when they come around for the third time...”

I nod. I reckon he’s right.

“My brother-in-law turned 70. He’s up in Queensland. I couldn’t go up for the party but the young one travelled up with my wife” there’s a full smile on Arthur’s face now... “I went to ring my brother-in-law up to say ‘happy birthday’, his daughter was going to get him and I hear my young one in the background, say ‘I want to talk to dad’, and she jumped on the phone...”

Arthur’s voice quavers a bit now... and as he continues, his eyes well up.

“She just got on the phone, and straight away said, ‘I miss you dad!’”

He looks me straight in the eye saying, “That really got me.”

Arthur never knew his dad. If your dad is around this Father’s day, let him know, with your words, what you are thankful to him about. It will mean a bit more than the traditional pairs of socks and jocks!

Arthur’s young daughter’s spontaneous message on the phone showed that you don’t have to do much, to make even a lifetime’s effort, like her dad Arthur trying to be the best dad he can be, seem all worthwhile.

To all the dads reading this, Happy Fathers Day.
Bill Jennings