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Family Factories and Nurturing Fathers

Recently the Weekend Australian Magazine did a story on Fred Hollow’s daughters and their visit to Nepal where their renowned father did much of his famous ophthalmology work amongst the poor.

Connecting it to Dad has been a lifelong challenge for the Hollows twins, the youngest of the five children of Fred and Gabi Hollows. They were conceived on Anzac Day 1989, when Hollows already knew he was dying from the cancer that had been diagnosed three months earlier. Hollows described their conception as a “strange twist of fate” and wrote the following year: “Ruth and Rosa may not remember me but then again they just might. Gabi has a ¬theory that I am stubborn enough to stick around long enough to make sure they do.” The twins were just shy of their third birthday when ¬Hollows died on February 10, 1993, aged 63.

Ruth and Rosa say they have not been raised with the expectation that they will eventually work full-time for the cause, although neither rules it out. Says Ruth: “I don’t feel pressure, but when mum was given an Order of Australia last year – so now we have parents with an AC and an OC – it’s like, ‘Well, OK, now do people expect us to also do great things? And what if I [can’t do] great things?’

PC-2013-04That pressure has never been put on us, thankfully. It has never been said that you have to do great things but you find ¬yourself wanting to contribute to something that has meaning.”

Peter Hillary, son of Sir Edmund Hillary, tells the story of being a rather reclusive child with strong interests in pressing flowers, writing poems and bird-watching. He tells how at the age of ten years his dad and Mingma, his Sherpa mountain guide, took him climbing on his first mountain. There Peter learned that his father would always look after him. He had learnt ‘a real lesson in trust and security’.

Peter Hillary points out that he was affected by his dad’s love for adventure and the great outdoors. Many have accused him of needing to compete or measure up in some way to his dad. But for Peter it is simpler than that.

‘I think that families are like factories: some manufacture lawyers, while others produce landscape gardeners. The Hillary family is a limited production mountaineering establishment.’

I think Peter Hillary’s viewpoint on this is both interesting and liberating for us all. The reality of our lives is that we have all been deeply affected by our parents and particularly by our fathers. My own father’s background of first violinist in an orchestra taught me to love good music. Although not classically trained, like my wife, I did become a reasonably serious rock / roots guitarist / songwriter and a very average, or should I say pathetic singer. The likes of Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler give me hope. They made it with less than perfect voices. Although I have given up waiting to be discovered, it was a dream for many years.

Now my own children all play and write music. My eldest son taught drums for many years. My third son plays saxophone and leads worship quite often at church. My second and fourth boys play gigs in Canberra and my youngest has almost finished her music degree in singing.

What am I saying? ‘Like father like son or daughter(s)’ is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but quite possibly embraced. One key is not for us as fathers to force our children, but allow them to find their own expression and level. Another key is to become better fathers ourselves, for the sake of our children.

Our children will always reflect us, but at the same time we must allow them the space to find out who they are as well, reflecting their own personalities.

Lovework

Think about your dad and how he has influenced you. Look at the positives and negatives. Accentuate the positives and reduce the negatives. Do a stock take this week on what sort of family factory you are running. Do you need to make some changes in yourself? How can you better yourself? Check out Neil Ryan’s ‘Dad Classification’ list in Special Feature. The affirming / nurturing father is the one I’m shooting for, how about you?

Yours for affirming, nurturing fathers
Warwick Marsh

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