Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Are we just showing off?

As a small child, I thought my Dad was the smartest person alive. This despite the fact he never finished school, lasted only days at some sort of tertiary facility (not even sure what it was, just remember sitting in the car while Daddy went to 'school') and readily told us that the only way he passed his last exams at school (equivalent year ten) was by scamming notes off my mother.

When he was feeling 'well', he was a font of useful information. And I when I say information, I mean detailed information. His answers would usually always start with, "Well get me a pencil and a piece of paper!" He never waved us off with an, "I don't know," - if he wasn't sure, he would take us to the library to look up answers to our questions. He was someone who started impossible projects, who taught himself to do so many new things (even if his backyard mechanics usually ended up with him putting a paper bag full of unknown parts in the boot, with the promise to work out where they went 'later').

Here we are in happy times, circa 1986. I'm the one chasing my sister with a spud gun!

My Dad was the one who taught me the importance of proportion and perspective. "Draw what you see, Sam!" was the catch-phrase of the time. And I tried my best. I would have done almost anything to make him proud, despite the fact what I really wanted to do was get out of the hot sun, away from the too-hard-to-draw gum tree and play with my Barbie.

Until I hit double figures, I also thought my Dad was the world's greatest driver - probably due to the fact he used to tell us what a great driver he was all the time. Looking back, I'm quite sure he wasn't the most fabulous driver - he didn't believe in seatbelts (lots of our cars didn't even have them), he thought nothing of a lot of drinks before driving us home from the pub. He smoked heavily while he drove - almost as though the whole driving thing was a bit of a yawn, really. Yet, he continued to spruik his driving prowess.

While for a lot of years after his death, I tried very hard not to think about him at all, lately I've been thinking about why it was so important for my Dad to have us believe he was a great driver when clearly he was not.

Yesterday, when I took a wrong turn and ended up 40ish kilometres up the wrong highway it all became a little bit clearer. After my initial swear-fest, a short bout of crying (I was tired, I was running out of petrol and my iPhone didn't know where we were) I started my positive self-talk. Although it wasn't self-talk at all...

In my rearview, I had seen Small Boy's bottom lip trembling as he saw his mother looking stressed and frightened. I started telling him, "It's OK. Mummy's a good driver! I've been lost before but I always find my way." I'm not sure what else I said, but before I knew it, the Mr Z and Miss Piggy were chiming in with, "Yeah, Mummy is a great driver. She always gets us where we need to go, even when the road is new and we don't have a map!"

All this smiling and 'showing off' was serving a purpose. Consoling three very tired little people who were hundreds of kilometres from home.

Is that what my father had been doing all those years ago? Masking his own anxieties with positive talk? Were we just hearing the positive side of all that inner-talk he had going on?

Having worked with kids for so many years, I'm always amazed at the faith little people have in their parents. As we grow, we begin recognise their flaws and become bewildered by their 'weird' behaviours. And I wonder... as we get older and have our own kids, do we start to understand them? Are our thirties a cathartic period of forgiveness?


  1. I know people tell you that you won't really understand your parents until you become one... but in the beginning when I had my kids I still thought that wasn't all that true. It is not until my kids have started to get older have I really begun to wonder if perhaps how I thought my parents were was a reflection of how I saw them as a child and as well as how my childhood shaped who they were...

  2. Great post, heart warming and true x


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