“I look at my son and I look at my relationship with my father – it’s different. I ask myself, all the time now: ‘Am I a good enough father?’ ‘Have I done it well enough?’
“I question my abilities – professionally and personally – every single day.
“It’s interesting when you see your dad as a grandfather. Your dad’s your dad and you listen to him – he’s always got pearls of wisdom – but there comes a time when you stand on your own two feet as an adult and the relationship shifts a bit. Before, I might just have shut up and said nothing, but now I’m a father and I’ve got my own kids I’m prepared to disagree – that’s just the way it is.
“Seeing him fight bowel cancer twice was an incredible thing. The first time he had it, I was very young, so I didn’t really understand everything that was happening, but the second time I was a teenager and that’s when I went, ‘Jeez, he’s strong.’ Many people would just lie down flat and let it get to them, but his attitude was, ‘I don’t know what everyone’s getting so worked up about – let’s just get through it.’ He’s a fighter.
“Dad never said much. He always said, ‘You don’t learn anything when you’re talking.’ He preferred to watch and listen. I was always someone who just wanted to shoot from the hip – there’s a lot of my mum in me, as far as that goes. Dad will listen, then say, ‘Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.’
“It used to frustrate me when I was younger because I’d be saying, ‘Dad – why can’t we do that?’ One thing I’ve learned from his example is that sleeping on things, rather than making a decision on the spot, helps you clarify what you should do next. Of course, there are times when you need to make a snap decision, but I think I’ve got a better balance of both my parents now. I can see both of their strengths.
“Dad was super-strict when I was growing up. Among our cousins, we talk about it, and all our parents were the same. You’d do something stupid as a kid – like jump off the roof of the house, fall down, end up in tears – and then you’d still cop a back-hander. And you’d be like, ‘But I’m already in pain’, and he’d say, ‘But I told you not to do that.’ He didn’t lead with an iron fist but he let you think about it for yourself – he made it clear there were consequences.
“Dad was a boxer when he was younger. Three bouts, semi-professionally. From what I know, he won one, drew one and in the final one got the shit beaten out of him; then my grandmother got all his boxing stuff and burnt it and he was never allowed to box again. You have to be so mentally tough to box – I can’t imagine. I can barely kill an ant.
“I’m sure Dad has done some very colourful things in his life. He can tell me if he wants to tell me, but I’d never go and probe. I think there’s a lot I don’t know about Dad and I like it that way.
“I kiss my son and tell him I love him every day. I say to him, ‘Look me in the eyes – I love you.’ I think that’s powerful. That’s a difference between me and the way Dad was with me. I can’t remember Dad saying it to me. But I haven’t said it to him either. Maybe I never will. Who knows? It’s a different dynamic.
“I’m not sure what happened with that generation of men; all I know is that Dad’s given me a lesson in how I want to be different when it comes to showing affection to my children – and that ability to tell them when I’m proud of them.”
Things My Father Taught Me, by Claire Halliday, features interviews with a collection of Australian identities talking about the impact their relationship with their dad had on their lives. Buy a copy here