Dadinating the Country Side

The Trials and Tribulations of Living the Dream


Faces riveted into frowns. Rivets fixing sinews, skin, muscles and bone. Rivets that form a scowl, a tightening, a darkening  of the face that was unbidden, unasked for and undeserved. I spy so many of these riveted faces among the kids I see. The rivets were set before I knew these faces. The holes were drilled, rivets inserted and set with a piercing “SNAP” as the rivet gun fixed them in there.

There are lots of names for these rivets. Poverty, abuse, neglect, disability, depression, trauma… Some are placed by human hands, many are not. Some are placed by accident, some on purpose. Some of them are set in place when a child is born, but through nurturing and love they are removed by carers and parents.

I hear the stories. I inhale sharply. Sometimes there is a lump in my throat. Sometimes tears prickle my eyes. Sometimes I shake my head and look at the ground.

I see the frowns. I see the chests puff out in defiance. I see the teeth bared in anger. I see the eyes open wide with fear. I see the blind panic. I hear the breath rapid, shallow and out of control.

I imagine them in their real lives. Pathways etched into their brain which bypass control, reason and thought and run straight into the survival mechanisms. To fight and flight. To panic. Super-highways which were cleared, levelled and tarred when the brain was young, plastic, malleable and vulnerable.

I imagine my own children. My children who live in my heart and who occupy my head. My children who I love, squeeze, cuddle and rock. My children who hear the words “I love you” a hundred times a day. My children who are lucky. My children, for whom I strain every fibre of my being so that they can remain lucky. Please please let them stay lucky.

Some days I want to scream. But it wouldn’t help. Screams don’t help. Screams are what set the rivets in place. Screams and fists. Sometimes faces don’t know how to smile. Voices don’t know how to be kind, and you can’t teach them by screaming.

So we don’t scream. We don’t sharpen our tones. We don’t scold. We don’t show anger.

We do what we can. We keep them safe. From the world, from themselves and from each other. We talk to them in mild and quiet tones. We praise them, oh how we praise them. We make them feel worthy of praise, we give them choices and control and we listen to them when they need to speak. We try to teach them. Not just English, Maths and all the other subjects, but we try to teach them about the world. About empathy, about how their life choices matter. About how they matter.

And then we hope like hell that it will help. Some days we see a smile. A straining against the rivets. A grin, a sense of fun, enjoyment and self-worth. An achievement. We hope we can pull those rivets out, in our 6 and a half hours a day. Or better yet, we hope we teach them to pull them out themselves; to understand that what has happened isn’t their fault, but that it will impact them forever. And

And some we cannot help. Sometimes they are too deeply set and too thick to break.

There are more of those than we would like. There will always be more of those than we would like.

And we go home to our own kids and hug them just a little tighter than we might otherwise.


In my mothers courtyard stands an old snail. It’s not a real snail, it’s a kind or metal rocking-horse snail. It’s sheet metal beaten into a snail shape over a solid iron frame. Springs allow it to rock back on forth, more of a tilt than a rock really.

I remember it.

I remember sitting on it and riding it when I was smaller. Much much smaller. I remember the paint that covered it, although it’s cracked and faded these days. I remember the saddle. The vinyl has disintegrated. I remember the creak-come-groan it would make as I wobbled back and forth on it and springs strained under load and motion.

I don’t remember much of the man who made it. I say made, I think he found it and fixed it rather than made it. He was that kind of man. Hated to throw things out and always tinkering and repairing things.

He painted. I remember a huge canvas that stood in the hall of the house. It was in Brunswick. I remember the garden, dappled green from a canopy of grape leaves grown on a trellis over the yard. The shed full of mysteries. The toys there for the sake of the little people like me.

I remember a day in kinder. It was a normal day, with games and painting and stories. It was during the story. I can’t remember what the story was, but that isn’t important.

I remember seeing mum. It was early. She seemed tense and uneasy, but I didn’t know those words. I just though she was moving faster than usual.

She came to get me “Seamus, Pappous has died”….
“Oh. Can I stay and finish the story?” Said my 4 year old self.

I remember that moment quite clearly; more clearly than I can recall the an himself. He went too early. For me and for his own kids. He was 57, and it was sudden. A man who had become a grandfather only 5 years ago was gone.

I know he was a man of his time and culture. Old fashioned. Closed off. Hard working, and hard in other ways at times, as life was hard on him. He brought his family over great seas, from Cyprus to Australia, worked his fingers to the bone.

What would he have thought of me growing up? A Philhellene. A drama nerd. A terrible sportsman. A teacher. Now a father himself. Different man of a different time and place. Yet, they say I look like him. Photos show it too.

Would we have gotten along? Would we talk? Would would would….

All leading to the main would….

Would he be proud?

30 years ago, to the day.

Σ’αγαπω, παππού μου. (I love you my Pappous)

And thanks for the snail. My kids love it too.


Tears in my eyes I glance up at my son. I’ve been doubled over, hacking my lungs out. My cough isn’t a wheeze or a wet cough. It isn’t hacking, no, my cough rattles in my chest. I’ve had phlegm  for the past couple of days now. My eyes are hot and aching in my head as my throat scratches itself an ever deeper shade of red. Everything is bulging in my head as my ribs heave to squeeze my lungs like they are a pair of almost exhausted toothpaste tubes. I attempt to breathe. Breath brings it all on again.

He looks at me, paused to regard my unusual posture and probably listening to the strange noises coming forth from my mouth. I wonder what must be flashing through his mind as he sees his dad struggling and in pain. Am I traumatising him be being sick? Have I been short with him? Have I failed as a dad? It’s not my fault, a cold is a cold, but surely fatherhood comes with a beefed up immune system so that this doesn’t happen. You know, along with that capacity to run of less sleep, the extra 3 hours in the day and all those extra limbs and eyes you need to be an effective dad.

It passes, I swallow something that feels too solid to be mucous. It feels like it has corners and I grit my teeth and steady my head. I breathe. Shallower this time, but the breath goes in and comes out without provoking a further cough. Through vision that is bleary and straining to make sense of the world I look on the face of my son. He is looking down at me. Is he shocked? Is he concerned? Is he worried? Poor boy. I imagine his little heart breaking. I imagine him about to start crying any second, run to me for cuddles as he sobs and tells me his sorry.

Oh no, I hope he doesn’t blame himself.

After a short pause he finally speaks. “Daaaaad….. Can I watch TV?”




Actually, I feel like a 4 week old piece of roadkill.

Yes, you can watch TV. Just leave me alone.

“Dad, can I have some water please?”

Days pass.

His cheeks are flaring red and he sits quietly. Too quietly. He has been out of sorts, floppy and moody. It’s time to use the great diagnostic tool that all parents learn about early. I get the equipment ready, pull my sleeve up and out of the way and let my had rest on his forehead for a moment.


Cuddles in bed are good though…

“You’re a bit warm Lad” I say, and I turn a concerned pair of eyes to The Mamanator who gives me a knowing nod.

I mentally reorganise my day. I had flirted with the idea of heading out this afternoon, but that’s got to be called off. I was going to get some house work done. Now it’s on hold. Possible I was going to read a book or get some planning done for next week’s classes. Not any more. I was about to go get a glass of water, but I don’t. Instead I pick up my son and hold him, preparing myself, and my back, to lug him around for the next little while as I whisper in his ears and tell him that everything is going to be okay.

I quickly lose count of how many times I ask him if he wants anything. I keep on throwing suggestions at him. Things I wouldn’t dream of offering him usually just spill out of my mouth. TV? Sweet things (which are entirely fruit in this house)? Juice? Milk? Frozen berries? Extra paracetamol or ibuprofen?

Would it help if I cut off a finger and gave it to him as a play thing?

Nothing is too much, no sacrifice too great. My child is sick and I must serve him.

Or I could put a movie on.

Yeah I’ll put a movie on….

Sickness multiplies and amplifies all the little struggles you experience when you have kids. When you’re sick your kids still expect you to do everything you usually do. And however many times you state through croaky throat, runny nose or painful headache “Daddy/Mummy’s sick, so he/she can’t do that right now.” the little sods just don’t get it. It’s as though they don’t appreciate you or something. They just don’t understand that all you want to do is stand still. You gave up on the idea of lying down a few hours ago, and thinking of it just makes you want to cry.

It sucks.

When your kids are sick the situation is reversed, tough the outcome often remains the same. They get needy, less patient (or more impatient, perhaps) and every annoying habit they have is increased. And as the parent a primal alarm bell rings in your brain, that you cannot blocked out. It just goes on with flashing lights and a siren that repeats the phrase “Check they’re okay!” Over and over and over again. Sometimes it’s replaced with a voice that says “oh my god what if they are dying?!?”

When my daughter is sick it’s even worse.

It sucks.

Bit it’s not their fault, and it’s not your fault either.

Remember: you’ll get better. They’ll get better and live will go back to normal. In the meantime the cuddles aren’t a bad price to pay.

# dadtag Episode 5 – me!

I was recently tagged in a video series by fellow dad, fellow blogger and fellow daddyblogger James from # Dadtag is a series of videos by us folk from Aussie Daddy Bloggers to ask each other questions about fatherhood, blogging and other miscellany out there in the cosmos. So, after getting over myself, getting a camera and accessing an online video editor (Running of a Chromebook at home no Mac or PC editing software to be seen), here’s what I’ve put together.

The question I was given was about writing and blogging. I manage to discuss hyperemesis, childhood morality, teenage emails about politics and even do the dishes while answering the questions.


And if you like the video, let me know and I might make more. (If you hate it, keep it to yourself. I have feelings you know.)


Story 1

Once upon a time 4 cars were driving along when suddenly they ran out of fuel. They all ran out of fuel at once, so their engines whent “Put put put put thrrrrrrrp”.

“Oh no, what will we do?” said the cars to each other. Then along came a satellite which squirted fuel into the cars, refilling their tanks. They drove on happily.

Story 2

Once upon a time 4 cars were driving along when suddenly all their tyres popped. Yes all popped. At once. (?) They also all flipped over for reasons I don’t understand. As they flipped they said “AAAAAAAAH!” in a high-pitched voice.

“Oh no, what will we do?” said the cars to each other. Then along came a satellite, which had a tractor beam on it to help flip the cars back over. WHUM WHUM WHUM went the tractor beam as it picked up the cars one by one and fixed their tires somehow. They drove on happily.

Story 3

Once upon a time 4. No wait, 5 cars (we found the blue one) were driving along when they fell into the water, probably due to gross driver error. “AAAAAARGH SPLASH!” they went as they fell down the steep cliff into the depths below.

“BLUB BBLBLBLB BLRRRR?” said the cars to each other (which is “Oh no, what will we do?” underwater). Then along came a satellite, which had a tractor beam on it. WHUM WHUM WHUM went the tractor beam, and it lifted the cars out of the water one by one and put them back on the road.

Story 4

Once upon a time 5 cars somehow had all their wheels fall off at once.

Satellite. Tractor boom.

Story 5

Once upon a time 5 cars got stuck in the mud. No wait, it was 3 kinds of mind. What? Brown and Green and Blue mud? What does that even mean? Does this happen all at the same time or is it going to be 3 stories in a row?


Right I’m pulling the plug. No I won’t use the satellite tractor beam to pull the plug.

Come on.

Get out of the bath.


Occasionally my son has particular narrative obsessions. I always feel proud of them because somehow I introduce him to them. I first introduce the plot device of the satellite with a tractor beam to him. It’s been a recurring motif in our stories in the bath for the past couple of weeks. Needles to say I am over it.

The basic pattern is:

Improvise new interesting twist to a story.
Bring joy to your child that makes you feel like you are an amazing parent.
Repeat the next day
Repeat the day after that
Repeat twice the day after the day after that
Repeat at least every 4 hours from that point on.
Repeat 2-3 times in a row.
Repeat without stopping.
Stop suddenly. Until you….
Improvise new and interesting twist to a story
Repeat the whole cycle.

The worst thing about it is that it’s happened before….

Actually the worst thing about it is that I know (for a fact) it will happen again.

The best thing about it is that I know I’m not the only one.

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