A FEW GREAT MEN
DADS DON’T ALWAYS GET THE SAME PRESS AS MUMS BUT WE MEET SOME WHO GO ABOVE AND BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY
When it comes to fatherhood, Mark Cummins has a few runs on the board. The single father of eight won the Queensland Father of the Year title in 2012, well before one of his boys, Nick, aka The Honey Badger, started popping up on TV and bus-stop advertising – usually in his undies.
But Nick is just another kid who likes to give things a crack in the Cummins clan. “They’re all like that,” Mark says. “They all just wanted to have a go at things.”
Mark reckons that’s probably how Nick wound up as the main man on Channel 10’s reality TV program The Bachelor.
“I’m not sure he’d ever watched it,” Mark says.
“When he got the offer, he asked me what I thought and I said I’ve got no idea.
“So he went to a higher authority on it, his sisters. He spoke a lot to the girls about it.
“I think he’d see it as a challenge and he’ll go well at it. Whatever he takes on, he goes pretty hard.”
But The Bachelor isn’t a major topic in the Cummins’ new Gold Coast home, where Mark and his two youngest sons have just moved after selling up the family acreage on the outskirts of Brisbane.
Mark was diagnosed with stage-four terminal prostate cancer five years ago and just had some malignant melanomas cut out.
“I went to see the doctor because my knee was playing up and there was a skin place next door,” he says.
“I thought I should go for a check and next thing, they’re saying come in right now, we’ve got to get them out.”
There must be someone keeping an eye on him. In his own words, he’s not supposed to be here. He’s had 75 blasts of radiation in the past five-and-a-half years, with secondary cancers showing up in his hip and spine.
“I’m still doing the things I used to be doing,” he says.
“I don’t really understand it. I said to the doctor I must be one in 1000 and he said, no, you’re one in a million.”
Two of Mark’s kids have the genetic condition cystic fibrosis, affecting the lungs and digestive system. The youngest, Joe, is hospitalised for what amounts to months every year and has reduced lung capacity.
“When they told me I had terminal cancer, I had a five o’clock appointment and at six o’clock I was still sitting in the waiting room,” he says.
“I finally went in and the doctor just broke down in tears. I patted him on the shoulder and said it’ll be OK. You know I almost laughed. I thought I might be due a bit of a break. What do you do?”
It was in the car on the way home Mark wrestled with how he was going to tell the kids.
“When I got home, I said I’ve been here for you all these years and now I need you to help me,” he says.
“Let’s get through this together and they were good.”
They’ve been getting through it ever since. Sitting on the front deck of their new home, overlooking a wide expanse of water and sipping a cuppa at his mum’s hardy childhood kitchen table, it’s clear to see where Nick has picked up his gift for artful use of language.
Mark is a natural philosopher, employing the odd turn of phrase that Nick has put on steroids. He’s a thinker, a writer and knows how to tell a good story.
Mark has been co-author of the two Honey Badger books to date, the hot-selling Tales of the Honey Badger and Adventures of the Honey Badger.
But Mark launched his writing sideline many years earlier when he was a schoolteacher in the ’80s, penning a book of plays for upper primary and lower middle school children.
“I was a teacher for 10 years and I majored in drama and creative writing at college,” he says.
“One year there, there were five kids at the time and I needed to buy them bikes for Christmas.
“I thought there weren’t a lot of good plays for kids to be putting on at school in those days. They’d either have five or six main characters so the rest of the class didn’t get a look in or the plays were boring.
“So I sat down and wrote some. I made them fun. People need a laugh.”
The book sold like hot cakes and Santa came up with bikes that year.
Mark has just finished writing another book with Nick, as yet untitled, but he says it’s quite different to the other two.
“This one’s a bit more philosophical,” he says.
“It’s about life experiences and there’s a few lessons in there.”
Mark is proud that Nick uses his platform for charity and community work. He does quite a bit of speaking on mental illness, particularly encouraging men to speak out and ask for help when things aren’t OK.
But Mark is proud of all his kids. Nick’s Wallaby jersey is just another exhibit in the family sporting hall of fame.
There’s Bernadette, the eldest, who was captain of the Thai national netball team while she lived there, and Luke, number two, who married a Swedish girl and played rugby for Sweden. Nathan, number three, lives in Norway after marrying a Norwegian girl and has played in their national rugby side. He’s switched to league and is doing his best to qualify Norway for the next Rugby League World Cup.
Nick is number four, then there’s Alicia, Lizzie, Jake (pictured above with Mark) and Joe.
“They were all sporty and excellent touch footy players,” Mark says.
“I think if kids are tied up with something, it keeps them busy and it teaches them a lot too. All the kids like to give things a good go.”
When it comes to being a father, Mark says there needs to be a line between being a parent and a mate.
“You follow your gut and do your best but first you are a parent and second you are a friend,” he says.
“That’s where you can balls things up and there’s a certain amount of respect that gets lost. I get on extremely well with all my kids and some of them are going through things now with their own kids and they realise why decisions were made and why advice was given.” JONATHAN SHORTER
A single father raising two teenage daughters has all the makings of a challenge but Jonathan Shorter has loved all of it.
For 10 years, Jonathan has been a hands-on dad to his girls Natalie, 18, and Ally, 16 – his first priority, his pride and joy and his most brilliant achievements.
“It’s been wonderful,” he says of fatherhood.
“I don’t want to sound as though I’m blowing my own trumpet and everything’s perfect but I feel like I’ve been blessed.”
Jonathan took on the weekday parenting of his girls after an amicable split with their mum, who lives in Northern NSW and has them at weekends. It’s an arrangement that’s served the family well for a decade.
In his years as a single parent, Jonathan has chosen to be self-employed so he’s had the flexibility to be there for school runs and events like sports days and school concerts.
“I made a conscious decision to get involved in their school life and they’ve appreciated that I’ve been able to be a hands-on dad,” he says.
He joined their school’s Parents and Friends Association 10 years ago and has served seven years as its president.
“That’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” he says.
“I’ve met some outstanding staff and students and some great parents.
“It’s been a big part of my life. I feel like I’ve got a lot more out of it than I’ve put in.”
Natalie completed Year 12 last year and is taking a gap year, working at a burger restaurant before studying nursing at university in 2019. Ally is in Year 10.
“We get on fantastically,” he says.
“I literally haven’t had to raise my voice to them in years. When I tell people that, I don’t know if they believe me. When the three of us are home, there’s a lot of laughing over silly things. We love each other’s company. It’s just not in our dynamics to fight. They love to tease me though. We’re very close.”
Twelve months ago, Jonathan re-entered the corporate world as a management rights broker for the RAAS property group and has enjoyed his first year.
“I hope to be doing that for the next 20 years, all going well,” he says.
“But I wouldn’t change anything. I love my relationship with them and I’m very proud of the young ladies they’ve become.”
YOU FOLLOW YOUR GUT AND DO YOUR BEST BUT FIRST YOU ARE A PARENT AND SECOND YOU ARE A FRIEND. THAT’S WHERE YOU CAN BALLS THINGS UP ...