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

Central Telegraph - - READ - WORDS: DENISE RAWARD

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 ...

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