An overdue ode to fathers

I realised recently that in 107 blogs over nearly six years, I’ve written very little about my father.

I was a little embarrassed at this because, you know, he’s been my Dad for 45 years now so surely I should have devoted more words to him than I have?

It’s not that I haven’t written about him during my 40 years as a writer, but these past few years not so much.

I sat with that and then I had an epiphany – of sorts.

You see, my Dad has always been there for me in a calm, kind, and stable manner. Yet, he also has a wondrous capacity for joy, as I do, too.

No massive emotional upheavals have ever been a part of our relationship – perhaps because I’m more like him than I’m not.

But since we haven’t lived in the same country for more than half my life now, our relationship has mostly been over the phone.

In fact, Dad says I should write a book called “Conversations with my Father” because of the thousands of hours we’ve spent talking about everything and “solving the world’s problems”.

I know I was lucky to have been born to parents who taught us that we could achieve anything we wanted.

He’s always had my back and I know he’s proud of what I’ve achieved.

Although I’m not sure he enjoyed reading my book called Shag Buddies – but I did try to warn him…

Not that he listened because he can also be a “little” stubborn from time to time, too. He actually sounds like someone I know who might be writing this story.

I’m no saint and nor is my father but he has always loved me for who I am, regardless of whether he approved of some of my questionable decisions in my misspent youth – and adulthood, too.

I can’t recall him ever raising his voice with me, even when I clearly deserved it, and I can’t recall him ever being anything but upfront and honest with me. A child (and an adult) like me always needed that.

My boyfriend (yes, I do have one of those now and maybe I’ll write about him one day) has two daughters with one now reaching those tricky teenage years where she doesn’t want to hang with her Dad as much as she once did.

Of course, he is bereft, and while I can’t help with any parental advice, I do remember being a teenage girl of a divorced father.

I try to placate him with the knowledge that girls will always need their Dads, even if temporarily it appears they don’t, because I know I still do and I’m now, gulp, middle aged.

My best friend’s Dad died earlier this year and he, like my father, was a very gentle man. Unlike my Dad, who loves a good chat, he was a man of few words but those words were always golden.

We all miss him very much.

But his passing made me realise what a blessing it is, and was for her, too, to be born to fathers who were calm and authentic, and who choose kindness over aggression.

These past few years, as you know, my emotional heartbeat was focused on losing Mum to Alzheimer’s, which I guess is why I haven’t written about Dad much now I think about it.

Writers write about things that make their hearts sing or cry after all. Not so much the people in the background who quietly keep them on the straight and narrow without them knowing it.

All the while, though, he was there to take my tearful, and sometimes drunk, phone calls when I struggled in the beginning to accept what was happening to my mother.

When Mum was finally diagnosed, it was him that I called – even though they have been divorced for decades.

He silently listened to my snot-infused ramblings and has continued to be my regular sounding board as her illness continues year after year.

I know that even though their time together was almost a lifetime ago, he has also grieved for the woman who is the mother of his three children.

And he has remembered, through long-lost photos now found, a beautiful young woman who entered his life as a teenager and who didn’t deserve the ending that life has handed her.

In fact, the past few years have made me admire my father anew, hence this long overdue ode.

He’s always been a good man and he married a woman who became the World’s Best Stepmother.

A daughter can’t ask for anything more than that.

We need to talk about Harvey

When I was 19, someone yelled “show me ya tits” at me while I was at work.

I worked at a tertiary education campus, in the engineering section no less, and didn’t have to wear corporate clothes – so I guess they thought I was just another student as I strolled along the corridor and that it was therefore “OK”.


That event was 25 years ago – not long after sexual harassment legislation came into force. Not that it made much difference back then. Generations of bad workplace behaviour takes more than a new law to turn it around.

But I was one of the lucky ones.

My boss at the time was a man of many principles. He was probably the same age that I am now and was the father of two teenage sons.

As I rushed back to my office reeling from the type of language that I’d regularly encountered simply walking down the street, but never at work, I came across my boss and he could see straight away that something was up.

If our paths hadn’t crossed, I’m not sure I would have said anything because, well, men had often made sexual comments to me (and all my female friends) – perhaps because they believed they had a right to do so and we were just sexual objects, right?

It was a very “blokey” work environment but my boss was a softly-spoken, academic type of guy and when I outlined what had taken place he became something different entirely.

He was outraged and appalled.

Within two hours, he had identified the culprits and hauled them into his office where they were threatened with expulsion from their degrees unless they made amends to me in a number of ways – including a formal, and sincere, apology.

My boss gave me the option of hearing the apologies in person or by letter – I choose the latter because I didn’t really want to ever see them again.

In the past few weeks, with the Harvey Weinstein scandal, I’ve thought about that experience many times.

And it’s not as if it was the worst thing that has happened to me in my life as a female because it’s not even close.

What was so memorable about that was that my boss – a white successful male – acted immediately when he became aware of sexual harassment on his turf.

It’s quite sad to realise that was quarter of a century ago and it appears that in some industries not much has changed since such abhorrent workplace behaviour became illegal.

Of course, Weinstein’s behaviour was all about power and using his position to satisfy his creepy desires.

I read recently that the only way that a woman can truly protect herself from “getting into such a situation” – apart from some men simply acting like decent human beings – is to have power herself and that usually means having money.

While there is a supposed push to redress the gender imbalance in business and the arts, one only needs to look at the continued poor representation of women in board rooms and that out of the 18 Emmy nominations this year for drama or comedy writing two were women – and they were part of male writing teams.

In fact, a blind screenwriting competition I recently entered resulted in one female finalist and five males.

It seems that even when you don’t have your name attached to a film, the bias still skews to male stories rather than female ones.

The woman won, which I’d like to think was purely on merit, but does seem a little like tokenism to some degree.

I’ve tried to get better at not watching purely male stories lately and have been known to walk out of cinemas if the female characters are non-existent or their only dialogue is a vehicle to progress a male story arc. If there is less demand, surely one day there will be less supply?

Ditto why I haven’t watched such wonderful new TV series such as The Deuce, which is  “a look at life in New York City during the 1970s and 80s when porn and prostitution were rampant in Manhattan” or the delightfully titled “SMILF”.

One thing I’ve always struggled with is the huge number of TV show and movies that feature prostitutes or business meetings that conveniently happen in strip clubs.

I mean, really? How many people do you know that go to a strip club to talk about a new start-up business?

But we all know it’s about tits and arse because revolting men like Harvey Weinstein commissioned the story in the first place.

But I digress, what my reminiscing over the past few weeks has taught me is that I wish there were – and will be – more men in the world like my old boss.

The type of man who not only doesn’t partake in inappropriate behaviour because he has all the power, but the type of man who takes action when he witnesses sexual harassment of any kind anywhere.

Only then, I believe, will things truly start to change.


Somebody that I used to know

This time last year I left Sri Lanka after learning how to surf and thinking that I had fallen in love.

As it turned out, only the waves stayed with me because that was the real love story.

The man that I met, and the man I’ve written about only fleetingly since, never kept his promise to make contact after our month spent together, which clearly I thought was something that ultimately he did not.

As a journalist, and therefore a deadline person, we’d set a date of two weeks hence for contact to be made after I left. I couldn’t contact him because he was “off the grid”, which at the time I thought was revolutionary. Now I just think he’s a lost little boy.

The two weeks came and went and unsurprisingly (in hindsight) no phone call, text message or email was forthcoming. It was like the whole thing was a mirage or, yes, a holiday romance that was never supposed to leave the island on which it was made.

Over that fortnight I drank too much wine and talked too much about him. I cried sometimes, too.

I couldn’t understand why someone who I thought I knew could be so cavalier with the feelings of someone he’d said had “brought him back to life”.

After the deadline passed, I did move forward slightly, but it’s embarrassing to admit I was a bit loony for a few more months still. I surfed obsessively, which helped me to sleep at night, but I also have to disclose that in the beginning I just wanted to get better so that I could proudly show him the next time I saw him. Delusional, maybe. As it turned out, peri-menopausal, definitely.

By the start of this year, I had created closure because I’d received none from him. Sometimes, when feeling especially hormonal, I’d fantasise about all manner of atrocities that may have befallen him, which thus had prevented him from contacting me. The most repetitive fantasy, however, was that he was just an arsehole.

Fast forward a few months and one of my best friends was going back to the place where it all started and asked me to come along, but I couldn’t. I didn’t want to relive anything of last year because, I told myself, I’d moved on from all of that.

Then a few weeks later, I changed my mind. If I truly had closure, I thought, then I should return on my own terms and enjoy its wondrous remoteness, and waves, and create new memories. So that’s what I did.

Within two hours of arriving, my friend sheepishly informed me that my former paramour was there, too. Had been for a few weeks, he said. My friend hadn’t told me because he didn’t want me to get too anxious or axe a trip that he knew I really needed to make. He made the right call.

I think part of me knew my ex-lover would be there – he certainly knew we were supposed to return at that time – but that wasn’t the reason I went. Still, the news shook me to the core and I drank many beers after a 27-hour journey there. Surely a phone call would have been cheaper than flying to Sri Lanka to apologise I thought drunkenly?

Over the next two days, as we walked the single street of that small surfing village, I scanned as I strolled, but I don’t know whether I was hopeful or fearful of seeing him.

The first meeting happened by chance in a cafe and I’m proud to say that I didn’t punch him on the nose or slap his handsome face. I just said “hello” and politely joined the group conversation when necessary.

He sat opposite me and couldn’t look at me for a time. I liked watching him squirm. But strangely, what I had found so alluring the year before, had vanished. He still looked good, but not in the way that I remembered or in the way that I had dreamed about during those 12 long months of silence.

Later that night, at the local beachside bar, he arrived and was soon sitting next to me. My friends made excuses about being tired and left, knowing that I needed to hear what he had to say.

Without too much prompting he said “sorry” again and again. And that was about it. He never was the greatest conversationalist. Not that I’d noticed that last year.

I prompted him for more information and he started to list a whole bunch of reasons to justify his behaviour and then I realised I had stopped listening. I just didn’t care.

But before he started talking about himself a bit more, I said, “Look. There’s something I have to say.”

He waited and probably wondered whether that punch on the nose was imminent but I just said: “It wasn’t about the contents of the phone call. It was the phone call. A promise is a promise. If you had no intention of contacting me you should’ve just said so. It hurt me very much. I was upset for a long time,” I told him, “and I didn’t deserve it.”

He apologised profusely and sincerely again and then I told him that I’d actually forgiven him a long time ago. I also thanked him for the gift of surfing because it had given me something that I didn’t know I was missing – peace and a profound connection with the ocean, whether I actually catch a wave or not.

And that was it. The moment that I’d dreamed about was nothing like I’d thought it would be because I no longer wanted it to be that way. I’d finally moved on, but perhaps he hadn’t. I’ll never know because a few days later he disappeared from town like a thief in the night.

Maybe our paths will cross again one day or maybe they won’t.  It doesn’t really matter because now he’s just somebody that I used to know.