Here’s to all you top dads


BACK in the 1970s, dads of my gen­er­a­tion sported lux­u­ri­ant mous­taches, King Gee shorts and beer guts. They’d pose on the yel­low­ing front lawn in their sa­fari suits and walk socks in front of the Kingswood.

When we were young they’d let us “help” them drive sit­ting on their knee, sip the froth from their beer and teach us to dou­ble-dink on our bikes.

Dads from the 1970s al­ways thought they were cool and so did we — un­til we grew up and re­alised they were more daggy than dash­ing.

My dad Mick turns 75 this week and to­day I want to pay trib­ute to him and all the great dads out there.

Back then, dads were ex­pected to work, hang with the kids on the week­end, watch footy on the TV and not much else.

I can’t imag­ine my dad car jam­ming, putting love notes in my lunch box or wor­ry­ing about the lack of su­per­foods on my din­ner plate like some fa­thers to­day.

Like many men of his gen­er­a­tion, Mick was quiet and unas­sum­ing un­til he’d get be­hind the wheel. Then he’d let it rip.

“Bloody id­iot,” he’d say, if some­one was three sec­onds late pulling out from the traf­fic lights. “Has she got her eyes painted on?”

But he was also the kind of guy who would queue up pa­tiently to get an old lady he didn’t even know a cof­fee at an air­port.

Dad’s frus­tra­tion with other driv­ers didn’t stop him from spend­ing end­less week­ends fer­ry­ing us to friends’ houses, sport­ing games and school re­hearsals.

Like many other dads, he taught me to drive, de­cid­ing it wasn’t nec­es­sary for me to learn to han­dle a man­ual car once he saw me be­hind the wheel.

Dad also fan­cied him­self as a bit of a hu­morist back then.

“Hope you got a dis­count for that top,” he’d say, when I’d ap­pear in a tiny top in my teenage years. “Looks like they only made half of it.”

Dad loves mak­ing things and over the years has made more car­ports, ve­ran­das and brick bar­be­cues than any­one I know. If it is ce­mented to­gether, bolted to the ground and guar­an­teed to last 100 years, it’s prob­a­bly been made by Mick.

My fa­ther hates shop­ping (un­less it’s a hard­ware store), dresses for com­fort rather than fash­ion and didn’t buy a Euro­pean car un­til he was 65.

As a fa­ther, he wasn’t all that hands-on when we were young, but did let my sis­ter and me plait his hair when we were lit­tle and style his ’70s side­burns.

He also rarely ap­peared in pho­tos be­cause he was al­ways be­hind the cam­era. That changed when he got a cam­era with a timer de­lay but­ton. He was of­ten on the right of the shot and slightly out of step with the group be­cause he’d run to get in the photo as the cam­era beeped its count down.

Back then, dads had jobs for life and mine went on long ser­vice from his job as a min­ing en­gi­neer in the mid-1980s. While on leave he grew a very fetch­ing full pi­rate beard, which he shaved off grad­u­ally, go­ing to Fred­die Mer­cury han­dle­bar and then to Hitler mous­tache.

My sis­ter and I thought it was hi­lar­i­ous — more so than my mum, I seem to re­mem­ber.

Like many hard­work­ing dads, my fa­ther saw his home as his cas­tle and didn’t like it be­ing in­vaded by other peo­ple’s noisy kids.

As I’ve writ­ten be­fore, that meant he was of­ten in his Speedos and noth­ing much else when they came over, ly­ing in the sun on a flow­ered mat­tress lis­ten­ing to the cricket in the sun. It’s not Homer Simp­son on the couch in his Y-fronts, but it’s close enough.

Many of my friends’ dads are now in their mid to late 70s and early 80s, and a few are very sick. It’s amaz­ing how much you value peo­ple even more when you re­alise they won’t be around for­ever.

Last Tues­day, I went with my kids to the fu­neral of a fam­ily friend who was in his mid-80s when he passed away. His son de­liv­ered a heart­felt eu­logy, pay­ing trib­ute to his fa­ther’s work ethos, lead­er­ship and com­mit­ment to his fam­ily.

The only line he choked on was the last one: “I only hope I can be half the fa­ther to my boys that you were to us,” he said.

Happy Birthday, Dad. I only hope I can be half the par­ent to my kids you are to me and my sis­ter.

A very young Susie O’Brien with her fa­ther, Mick.

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