Reviewed by Gerald Healy
A great collection of letters from a diverse group of Australians to their dads. In the vast majority of cases these are positive tributes to the man who inspired and nurtured them while growing up. In some cases, these dads have provided the role model for their own parenting attempts.
The book is replete with stories of men who devoted the time and had the skill to guide their off-spring in the right direction. Hilde Hinton (5) wrote about her dad’s sage advice to wait 24 hours before replying to emotive messages (and if that doesn’t work- wait another 24!). Kurt Fearnley, the champion Para-Olympian, cited his dad’s admission to be true to your word (13). This sentiment is echoed by several others including Jeremy Lachlan (139) and Neil Croker (153). Neil tells of the cut-throat world of entertainment and his encounters with the less honest. In the end, he thinks he’s better off, “with loyalty, being able to look people in the eye… and being able to sleep easily at night.”
Trent Dalton, author of ‘Boy Swallows Universe’, pays tribute to his late father in a wonderful way (1). He treasures the last note he received from him which simply said, “You have done all the right things.” A deep mutual respect seems to lie at the heart of their relationship.
Conversely, a couple of the stand-out letters come from the opposite end of the respect scale. Catherine Deveny (70) tears into her late father with a long simmering anger over his perceived failings and Nikki Moyes (96) recounts her childhood under the thundercloud of a violent father. Both women remind us that not all fathers are good men.
Of course, fathers come in all shapes and sizes and whether they are biological or adoptive they can have an influence outside the immediate family. Greg Champion (142) tells of an uncle and two neighbouring dads who stepped in when his own dad left his mum with three young boys. Another writer was slightly resentful of his dad’s support for the other teenagers in his footie team, until he realised that they needed him more than he did.
The contributors, who all volunteered their efforts freely for charity, are evenly split on gender lines and come mainly from writing, musical or acting backgrounds. There are a handful from sport (e.g. Steve Waugh 7) and academia but only a few from a non-Anglo heritage: Michelle Law (127) and Airi Ingram (102) who is from PNG.
The editor on the cover is listed as Samuel Johnson OAM, a well-known actor, but in his own acknowledgements on page 165 he tells us it was actually Jacquie Brown. His earlier book, ‘Dear Santa’ provided the impetus for this collection. Mention must be made of Shaun Tan’s drawings throughout the book- they add a strong visual coda to many of the letters.
I would thoroughly recommend this book to readers. There’s something here for everyone and it prompts a reflection on your own dad’s role in your life.
The Editor, Samuel Johnson OAM, is a much-loved Australian actor, who has appeared in ‘The Secret Life of Us’, ‘Crackerjack’ and ‘Molly’- for which he won the Gold Logie in 2017.
Edited by Samuel Johnson
180 pp; $22.99