Fantastical Fathering

“Dad, we have a question.”

Whenever I hear these words from my daughters, I try to stop whatever I’m doing and pay full attention. Active listening is a must in our family. Besides, this could be an excellent opportunity to impress them with my (quite limited) knowledge of an important topic, such as World War 2 history or the complicated geopolitics of the Middle East‽

Bright-eyed, they continued: “You know the handwash pump bottle in building B at church, the one with the green paint on it?” The girls were referring to a well-used, old-as-the-hills liquid hand wash soap dispenser that lived near a dank sink at our church. “Yes, what about it?” I inquired, wondering where all this was going.

All five of them still bright-eyed: “Well, we want to know why it never seems to run out‽”

Smiling gently, but laughing on the inside, I explained that when it was getting low on liquid, I or one of my church colleagues would just refill it from the refill bottle that lived in a cupboard over in building A (shout-out to the amazing Anne who looks after everything admin at our church!)

At this seeming revelation, they were visibly relieved and continued to go their merry ways.

However, I was reminded of my daughters’ innate curiosity and the important role I can play in fostering their precious imaginations, even if it is totally accidental at times. As John Mayer so poignantly sings about fathers in his timeless song Daughters, “You are the guide and the weight of her world.”

Duck Eggs

This fantastical exchange with my beloved daughters reminds me of a story I read several years ago. In a profile on one of Australia’s most famous female racehorse owners, Gai Waterhouse, award-winning journalist and international bestselling author Trent Dalton offers a beautiful insight into Miss Gai’s very own fantastical father:

“She recalls cold winter dawns at Randwick back when 63-year-old Gai Waterhouse was five-year-old Gai Smith wrapped in the warm arms of her legendary trainer father Tommy J. Smith, and they were sitting on a cream-coloured pony named Cornflakes riding out to the centre of the track to watch the horses work circles.

She’d watch her father watching those horses, and every morning, she’d come closer to understanding what Tommy was trying to find in all those sprinters and stayers. After enough cold mornings, she realised that, more than a horse’s speed and power and rhythm, he was trying to find a horse’s essence.

That mysterious element found deep within it that would reveal to Tommy why and how it would be first past the post on any given track; what the horse would need from Tommy in order for it to be the best that it could be. And Gai watched her father watching those horses long enough that she ­eventually realised the elusive essence could not actually be seen to be found; it had to be felt.

On their way home, Tommy and Gai would cut through Centennial Park, and each morning, they’d inspect the duck nests fringing the park pond. Every morning, without fail, young Gai would somehow manage to find a duck egg that they’d take home and cook for breakfast. Tommy would beam so wide with these miraculous ­morning discoveries, and Gai would laugh with joy because she knew — she felt it deep inside her heart — exactly what Tommy J. Smith needed from her, his only child, to be the best that he could be. She had found her father’s essence.

One morning beside the banks of the ­Centennial Park pond, Gai — by then a little older — discovered the secret behind her uncanny knack of finding all those delicious duck eggs. She accidentally bumped into her dad and an egg cracked in the pocket of his coat. And the truth was even more beautiful than the fantasy.

Every single morning, before he thought about the horses or the weather or the track, Tommy J. Smith thought about ­pocketing an egg from the kitchen fridge for his daughter.

She never found another duck egg after that. She never needed to.”


Be like Gai’s fantastical father, Tommy J. Smith. If you’ve got younger kids and need inspiration, read some positively bonkers Dr Seuss books, and make sure you employ some crazy voices when reading to them. If your kids are older, Roald Dahl is absolutely brilliant. Danny the Champion of the World is especially good; the book’s blurb says it all: ‘A stodgy parent is no fun at all. What a child wants and deserves is a parent who is sparky.’

So, dads, spark your children’s imaginations! Stoke their curiosity! Be the man who fires up their brain synapses and inspires them to find their place in the world. You won’t regret it.

Yours for fantastical fathering,
Nathaniel Marsh

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Republished with thanks to The Daily Dad. Image courtesy of Ketut Subiyanto.

By |2024-06-06T19:49:27+10:00June 10th, 2024|Children, Dads|0 Comments

About the Author:

Operations Manager and Qualified Trainer for Dads4Kids, Nathaniel is passionate to see hearts turn to the Father. As a professional filmmaker, Nat worked in advertising and television for 20 years and has been helping Dads4Kids behind the scenes since 2002. Nat has been married to Jodi since 2004, and they have five daughters.

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