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.