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Recently Mum told me some stories about when Dad had a bathroom renovation business in the eighties. Things had escalated pretty quickly, and Dad went from managing it himself to having ten guys working for him at once. He was designing the bathrooms, dealing with clients, running the whole show and there'd always be more to do.
"Dad would come home with a shirt and tie, change into his work clothes, then go back out the door to fix all the guy’s mistakes before finally coming home for dinner".
When the recession hit the business hit hard times. Clients wouldn't pay bills and things got tough. Mum and Dad had to sell the house and also bail out Grandpa’s plumbing business. I didn't really know all this stuff ‘til recently.
At about the same time I had an accident on my pushbike. I was four years old and I ran into a car without a helmet on. I burst the wall between my inner and middle ears. On both sides. Unheard of. This meant I lost about half my hearing, leaving me with hearing aids for the rest of my life. I can't imagine employing ten people and running a business; let alone employing ten people, the economy hitting a recession and having a son losing his hearing. I almost cried when Mum shared all this. When I went through one of the most traumatic experiences of my life all I remember is two parents holding me and loving me, even though their world was turning upside down.
My old man is one of those rare people who is highly intelligent but also insanely good with his hands. One of my favorite memories of Dad is the smell of his sweat when he was working. Something of a combination of sawdust, metal and manliness. It was so masculine and made me want to be a man too. I remember calling Dad a perfectionist when I was young and he said "no, it just has to be done properly". I've really held onto that. You can't spend your life faffing around trying to get everything exactly perfect but you do have to make sure things are done properly.
When I was young Dad would always play guitar to me and I can safely say I owe being obsessed with guitars to him. I remember once when I was 15 I found a white Fender Stratocaster in the Trading Post for $500 in Hurstville, 1 ½ hours away on the other side of Sydney. Not only did he drive me there and bargain with the guy, he let me pay it off with pocket money for who knows how long. I was so proud of that guitar and I thought I was the coolest kid in school. I still got picked on but as far as I was concerned they could piss off, I had a Fender Strat! It doesn’t look much like it did in 1996 but it sounds better and it’s one of my favorite guitars. I still play it all the time. Thanks Dad.
Dad and I have had our ups and downs. We had some recurring blues years ago which finally came to a head. We didn't talk for a few months but then sorted it out. Since then our relationship has been the best it's ever been. When my marriage broke up a few years back Dad was the one I could always go to. Mum and Dad live in the country just out of Sydney and every time I'd fly home it felt like returning to a safe haven away from my world of shit. Dad and I would go out building and fixing things and I'd bleed my heart out; he'd listen and tell me everything was going to be alright. And sure enough it was.
Since all that went down my professional career as a photographer has hit levels I couldn’t have dreamed of, which is something else I owe to the old man. When I was a teenager I commandeered Dad’s Canon Ftb 35mm camera. I was obsessed with taking pictures and must have shot hundreds of rolls of film in that thing. Mum and Dad went on holidays to America last year and I gave Dad my first pro digital camera, an old Canon EOS 5D, to take with him. It felt really good to be able to do that. He was stoked. He keeps on saying he needs to learn how to use it properly but I say “Dad! You’re the one who taught me how to do this with the camera I nicked off you twenty years ago!”.
Dad told me recently that he absolutely loves bragging about his successful son. At the time I just laughed but the more I think about it, it staggers me that the man I've been in awe of my whole life is proud of me. I can't believe it. When I was young I always tried to outdo Dad until one day when I think we were rumbling or doing something physical I said something like “imagine if I were bigger and stronger than you!”. Dad said to me "Kris, nothing would please me more than for you to be stronger than me!” He was referring to what we were doing but I realised he meant in all parts of life. I realised that my father wasn't my competition but instead my biggest fan. I thought all Dads said that to their sons but apparently they don't. I feel pretty lucky that mine did.—Kris