to dear old Dad?

Now Erik has his hands full

Herald Sun - Switched On - - News - COLIN VICK­ERY

ON Packed to the Rafters, Dave and Julie Rafter have their hands full when el­dest daugh­ter Rachel, son Nathan and his wife Sammy, and Julie’s fa­ther Ted all re­turn to the fam­ily home.

In real life, Erik Thom­son, who plays Dave Rafter in the hit fam­ily se­ries, has his hands full with a much smaller pack­age— one-year-old daugh­ter, Eil­ish.

She is Thom­son and wife Caitlin McDougall’s first child and she is giv­ing the 41-year-old ac­tor a crash course in the joys of fa­ther­hood.

‘‘I’m home alone with my oneyear-old baby and she might wake up dur­ing the in­ter­view,’’ Thom­son says.

‘‘Though she’s 24 years younger than my on-screen daugh­ter, there are a lot of par­al­lels.’’

Packed to the Rafters is some­thing of an act­ing come­back for Thom­son, who won the 2003 Most Pop­u­lar Ac­tor Lo­gie for his role as Dr Mitch Evans in med­i­cal drama All Saints.

His stint as faded rock star Jack Jaf­fers in The Alice (which costarred McDougall) was short-lived and that was fol­lowed by a year as a re­porter on travel pro­gram Get­away.

Last year’s ac­claimed Aussie movie The Black Bal­loon, in which Thom­son played the fa­ther of a teenage autis­tic boy, re­minded every­one just how good an ac­tor he is. And the im­me­di­ate rat­ings suc­cess of Packed to the Rafters in­di­cates view­ers have al­ready warmed to the laid-back charm he brings to Dave.

Thom­son saw the first two scripts in draft form and was im­me­di­ately struck by how timely the show’s fam­ily con­cerns were.

‘‘I could see a lot of scope in the char­ac­ter of Dave but I made them prom­ise that he wasn’t go­ing to be writ­ten as a dad, but rather a man who has chil­dren,’’ he says.

‘‘Be­ing in my early 40s and a new dad, my life is my life. I con­tinue to have hopes and dreams for my­self. I don’t feel like I’ve sud­denly be­come a stereo­type be­cause I have a child.

‘‘When you be­come a dad, a lot of domi­nos start to fall into place as you un­der­stand a whole lot more about a side of your­self that you’ve never re­ally had be­fore.

‘‘In episode two, there is that scene with Jes­sica Mo­ray (daugh­ter Rachel Rafter) where I tell her that I’ll look out for her un­til the day I die. That emo­tion is very much at the fore­front for me at the mo­ment be­cause I have a very vul­ner­a­ble young baby.’’

Thom­son is still clearly hurt by The Alice ex­pe­ri­ence. He says it wasn’t given the time or sup­port by the Nine Net­work to pros­per.

The con­trast with Rafters couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent. Un­der cre­ator Be­van Lee (Al­ways Greener), the se­ries has had sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ment time and money.

‘‘Be­fore the cam­eras even rolled, I knew it was go­ing to be born into a sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ment. Re­becca (Gib­ney) and I met and we in­stantly clicked. She’s a sim­i­lar age to me and has a young child as well.

‘‘The ma­jor­ity of our cast is ex­cep­tion­ally fam­ily-ori­ented. Once they put us all to­gether it just fell into place and we felt in­stantly con­nected.’’

Thom­son de­scribes Dave as one of the new breed of fa­ther— a mod­ern, hands-on dad.

‘‘There’s the stereo­typ­i­cal dad who’s a lit­tle bit daggy, has is­sues ex­press­ing him­self, Mum runs the house and he just comes home, sits on the couch, drinks beer and doesn’t do any­thing,’’ he says.

‘‘That’s a huge stereo­type and I think it’s im­por­tant to break it down.

‘‘Fam­i­lies are at an in­ter­est­ing time be­cause there’s been the tran­si­tion from the post-war pe­riod through the women’s lib­er­a­tion of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. I was born in 1967 so I guess I’ve lived through a lot of that and now I’m in that po­si­tion my­self.’’

Thom­son says the birth of Eil­ish has brought he and McDougall re­newed hap­pi­ness af­ter the dis­ap­point­ment of The Alice.

‘‘A re­ally great Satur­day morn­ing for me is go­ing to the su­per­mar­ket with her, which sounds mun­dane but I find it fan­tas­tic,’’ he says. ‘‘Be­cause I’m more in­ter­ested in her well­be­ing I get on with things a lot more. I’m very now and in the mo­ment.’’

As we end the in­ter­view, Eil­ish stirs and Thom­son swings into action. There is a hushed pause.

‘‘I think she’s got some­thing in her nappy for me,’’ he fi­nally says.

‘‘Just as I was talk­ing she’s gone, ‘Yeah Dad, this will bring you back to Earth’.’’

Fa­ther dear Fa­ther:

Re­becca Gib­ney and Erik Thom­son in Packed to the Rafters,

and (be­low) Thom­son with baby daugh­ter Eil­ish.

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