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I can remember getting off the boat at Circular Quay, Sydney. I was 8 years old and my brother was 6 years old. My mother had ‘taken’ us away to Scotland because of marital disharmony and we had lived with our grandmother for two years in Edinburgh. This was the second time.
When I was young I thought all children lived with their grandmother and apart from their father. Normality is not necessarily normality; it is just what you have to put up with. It is so important for fathers to create the right ‘normality’ for their children and family. But on with the story …
My dad hadn’t seen us for two years and he was so excited he had bought a good supply of firecrackers to let off in broad daylight at Circular Quay. The loud explosions delighted my brother and I but my mum was less than enthusiastic. In fact, she was horrified, but we won’t go there.
It was the tuppenny bungers that we really got excited about because they sounded like a small stick of gelignite. They were legal in 1963 but now they are illegal. If you made the mistake of holding one in your hand it could blow of your hand or fingers. This of course all added to the excitement and was the beginning of my long love affair with fireworks and explosives of any kind.
When I was about 13 years old, with the help of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and my dad’s encouragement, my brother and I made gunpowder and started to create and make our own fireworks. After reading up on the formula for nitro-glycerine in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, I decided I wanted to make nitro-glycerine, a highly unstable mixture of sulphuric and nitric acid with glycerine. I was able to acquire sulphuric acid and glycerine but I spent a number of years trying to make nitric acid, but it proved to be beyond my reach, of which I am now glad. Alfred Nobel, the man who invented dynamite lost his younger brother in 1864 in a explosion at his explosives factory in Sweden. I might have become a statistic if I had succeeded.
Being who I am, I succeeded in sharing my love of fireworks and explosives with my children, much to my wife’s consternation. She did in fact have a very expensive Tupperware tray that suffered a premature death when the gunpowder we were making accidentally caught on fire after it had dried out too quickly in the oven. She also found a Tupperware celery keeper outside somewhere after it too had melted from a failed experiment.
Fast forward to when I got the call from the School Principal.
“Mr Marsh,” he said. “Can I have a few words with you?”
“No problems,” I replied. “How can I help?”
“Your son has just blown up one of the ceramic toilets in the amenities block.”
I was finding it hard not to laugh considering the gravity of the situation. You see, my son was in Year 12 and he was the School Captain. He had done this terrible deed while conducting a scientific experiment on the displacement of water in the toilet bowl in the company of a couple of young impressionable Year 10 students who, like him, were budding scientists following in the footsteps of their master.
I quickly assured the Principal that I was deeply saddened by such behaviour and told him that I would support the school in whatever disciplinary measures they should wish to impose. When my son came home he explained that he was seeing how many waterproof bungers were required to displace the water in the toilet bowl, when the cistern itself shattered under the unforseen energy of the pent up explosion.
I could easily have ‘hit the roof’ but I told him firmly that he would have to pay for the repairs out of his own money and submit to the discipline the school required. Every action causes an equal and opposite reaction. To shield him from the consequences would have been unwise but to come down heavily on him would have made me the hypocrite of all hypocrites. Homer was right to say, “It behoves a father to be blameless if he expects his child to be”, or as Robert Fulghum said, “Don’t worry that your children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you”.
My son had simply and dutifully reproduced his grandfather’s love of fireworks and his father’s passion for explosions and taken that passion to the next level. The scripture that says, ‘The sins of the fathers will be visited to the third and fourth generation’ was now living in technicolour. The good news is that no one was hurt and the head teacher could also see the funny side of the situation.
When my son was presented with the Year 12 Dux of the Year Award, he was also presented with a broken piece of toilet porcelain, set in timber, with an inscription to remind him of his explosive DNA.
Look for the good things you can pass on to your children and avoid the bad. When your past comes back to bite you, don’t be afraid to smile at your mistakes.
Yours for keeping a sense of humour
PS If you would like to put in a comment in the Online Opinion article I wrote to support fathers and men in the public square please read and comment here: here.