Things My Father Taught Me

No parent is perfect.

But it’s true that some are better than others.

Whether your experience of your father was a negative one, or one filled with sweet memories of love, laughter and a sense of safety and security, what is undeniably true is the fact that your personal interactions with your father - or even the absence of your father in your life - all had an impact on the person you became.

For the daughter of politician, Andrew Peacock, that impact is one that continues as Ann Peacock’s relationship with her father evolves and deepens with age.

Ann - along with a diverse range of other interesting Australians - shares some of those memories with me in my new book, Things My Father Taught Me.

“He was a very strict father but I’ve got fantastic memories of him always being there for us. He’s got an incredible brain and is able to communicate on the most extraordinary, intellectual subjects. To be able to talk politics with him and go back over his time in New Guinea, Pakistan and America – it’s fascinating. It’s like reading a novel that’s come to life when you hear his stories. The experiences he’s had have been quite phenomenal and how lucky we are, as daughters, to have been able to learn some of that history from him.

If you’re born into something, that’s what you know. If someone asks you what that’s like, the answer is simply ‘home’.

I know nothing else. I can tell you what it’s like to be the daughter of a politician but, really, it’s just the story of what it’s like to be a daughter and full stop.

Dad can snap a little bit. I can snap a little bit too. Sometimes, I catch myself doing it and think, ‘Don’t be like that.’ Dad has a lot of patience and I don’t, so when I snap, I snap faster. But when I was a kid and he snapped, he could really snap.

The relationship naturally evolves as you get older together. But do you ever stop being a parent? My mum, down to her very last day, never stopped being a parent: she could still tell me what to do. Now I have a teenage son on the cusp of his life, and I’ve got to give him a bit more independence, but can I do that? I mean, my parents have always told me what to do – both of them – and I’m fifty-one years of age.”

When Sunrise host and businessman David Koch remembers his dad, his abiding love and respect is obvious.

“I didn’t argue a lot with Dad out of respect for him. Not to say I accepted everything he said – we would have big discussions and I would annoy the crap out of him, I’m sure. I think there was a bit of hero worship, really. He was so important and gave me such wise advice – always throughout my life – that I never really felt the urge to argue.

Here’s a great example of the type of guy he was. It’s muck-up night; I was finishing high school. I was a prefect and we were in a car with the boy and girl school captain and boy and girl vice-captain – five of us. It was an all-night scavenger hunt. Kids being kids, we got pulled over by the police. Largely because we had picked up one of those huge yellow and black road barriers because they were worth 200 points – we had it strapped to the roof of the car; not the brightest thing to do. The police went through the boot of the car and saw the other things we’d collected, and they took us back to the police station and locked us in a cell, can you believe it? They rang our parents and said, ‘Look, it’s muck-up night; we want to scare the crap out of them’, so they kept us there until about midnight. And of course the next morning was our big farewell event at school. Dad rang the other parents – I had no idea this was going on at the time – and said, ‘I’ll go collect them from the station, they can stay here, I’ll cook them a barbecue breakfast and I’ll make sure they get to school all okay.’ We were absolutely mortified and were absolutely shitting ourselves, so worried about the reactions of our parents – and the other parents were fuming – but Dad stepping in like that just helped everything calm down. He understood that everyone’s human and we all make mistakes sometimes – that there was no point in over-reacting. He was that sort of guy. He was a bit like the Pied Piper. He had the respect of my friends as well. It just came naturally to him. I didn’t appreciate it fully until I had my own kids.”

And in my own life? I grew up with two fathers. One who adopted me into a loving, kind family in suburban Adelaide. The second was my birth father, who I found later in life as a man who was was born and raised in Tasmania and who had lost me to the times - those heady days of the post-sexual revolution when adoption was a heavily promoted option to young lovers who didn’t feel ready to be parents.

Who I am - and who I continue to become - is made up of both of those men. And I’m very grateful. They both loved me in their own ways. One, enough to bring me into his family even though I wasn’t his biological child and the other who loved me enough to realise there might be a better life waiting for me somewhere else.

The things my father taught me? I don’t think the lessons ever stop and, as I raise my own four children with all the knowledge and experience of my life so far, I think those lessons will stretch beyond just my lifetime and leave a legacy that will last for generations.

- Claire Halliday Things My Father Taught Me

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