Ben & Brendan Portrait

My Dad probably isn’t aware of this, but he is the Dad that I want to be.

I will be a Dad very soon and to be honest: I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve read a few chapters, listened attentively at the birthing classes and nodded along to the detailed and disconcerting advice from colleagues, friends and well-meaning strangers. Nothing helps.

My Dad, Brendan, is the only one that ever told me the truth.

“You’ll have no idea, but that’s ok, you’ll learn”.

Brendan will claim he never had any idea what he was doing, he just taught himself. Our relationship is defined by learning.

One of 12, my Dad lost his own father when he was a teenager, leaving the 12 siblings to run a petrol station and general store to support their mother. A modest man, the smartest thing he will ever lay claim to is asking my Mum to marry him. They have five kids. I’m the second last.

Dad taught me about what’s important. As a self-made architect, he kept his business alive during the recession of the 1990’s. He denied himself a wage during this time to keep the business alive and his staff employed. Even at the worst moments of those years, he did everything possible to feed, clothe and educate his children.

He found time to be a great Dad. Not a lover of sport in any of its forms, he attended each of the 100+ games I played for Mount Martha JFC. He noted, doted, learned and shared the pain of each of the 2 -3 touches I averaged as a diminutive half back flank standing in the rain.

He became an expert on many things. Especially cars. The 1979 Toyota Corolla appeared, to him, as the perfect opportunity to educate his second son on the wonders of Japanese mechanics. He tried, through several break changes, engine explosions and minor fires, to teach me. I failed. All three of his sons tried to learn, but I was the worst. Today, I fix engine faults with stereo volume.

Undeterred by disappointment, Dad’s passion for engine mechanics has led to the restoration of a classic Italian Vespa, a BSA Bantam motorcycle and a bright red Model T Ford. We all call it Catholic Man’s Porn. His kids give him a lot of shit. Consuming much of his pre-retirement renaissance, that car symbolises a lot of great things to his kids and a few to him, even greater, that he probably won’t express. Every inch of that beautiful car has his fingerprint on it. He taught himself how to turn and re-craft its original wooden wheels for Pete’s sake.

He even figured out life coaching. My ‘phone a friend’ before I proposed to my wife, on speed dial, he abided all of my anxiety and meticulous planning with some very patient advice: ‘Hurry up and ask her’.

When we found a potential house - another of his talents - Dad called back within the hour to tell me he had already snuck into the block. He had been underneath the house and could report that the foundations were sound. Another valuable lesson from Dad; solid foundations are a positive thing.

My Dad is a learner. It’s probably why I’m a teacher. There is always something new to learn, understand and one day, master.

As a son I am turning into my Dad. By chance or by design we share so many qualities: A passion to learn, debate and understand. We are both readers and observers. We both have the ability to find the best and most suitable car park in any street anywhere and most importantly, neither of us would ever let the truth get in the way of a good story.

It took me a long time to fully appreciate the man my Dad is. I’ve spent most of my life in awe of him. Waiting for my own child to arrive, more and more of his light bulbs keep coming to life.

I’ve never really told him, but I should.

My Dad is my mate.

—Ben 
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