The Dad Interview

It started as I’m the family blog expert. My sister wanted my Dad, Kevin Whalan to create a blog and record his memories.

So I took it on and found that the blog had been started. But there was no content. So I tidied it up and passed it on to Dad. And he added a couple of blog entries. But then there was a pause.

I was unsure how to encourage Dad to add more content. In passing, I mentioned my dilemma to a friend. Typically, she batted it back at me. Interview him, she said, it worked for her family: namely her brother and father.

So I took it on.  It just so happened that I was working a extremely short contract and was in Sydney Thursday and Friday the following week.  I thought if I rescheduled my flights to Sunday and visit my son for the weekend I could interview Dad Saturday.

I told my son and his partner of my plan. They were up for it. So I then invited them to come down and see Dad on the Saturday. I also told Dad what I was doing. He had no problem with it at all. I also bought a web cam and tried it out.

So on the Saturday, it all came together and we arrived. But then I was beset by technical problems. I set the laptop and camera up and nothing seemed to work. Laptop and Mouse

In the end, I managed to get a test video of Dad talking about his meeting Princess Diana. That story was both hilarious, inspirational and insightful.  My son and his partner were absolutely spellbound. Then everything stopped working again. I started to despair. I then thought that if I just get past this, something interesting might happen.

So I put on my desktop support hat. I diagnosed and fixed the problem despite having to borrow some batteries.

So I began again.  The video resumed. I audibly whooped for joy! It probably can’t be removed from the clip. Dad began  talking about how and where he was born. He was born at a small nursing hospital quite close to his parent’s home. I asked him about his parents and his childhood. He lightly touched on that so I didn’t delve.

Then I asked him how he got into being a journalist. I was astonished by his story. He said he was asked to write a story as no-one else would. “So what did you do?”, I prompted. “I just wrote it,” was the reply. Yes I thought, I know that one, no-one told me either. Once a writer, always a writer.

And Dad was away. He spoke about how he became a journalist. He more or less taught himself. He then spoke about how he leased the local paper, the Canowindra Star. It was running at a complete loss. In time after the interview, he ended up writing about it in his blog.

I prompted him again. I asked him why he took it on and how did he know it would work. His reply again just completely surprised me. He said, “he just knew it would.” He just went ahead and leased the paper. It as he writes was incredibly successful.

As the conversation continued, I tried to make myself as scarce as possible. I was amazed how much I remembered as a boy. I quite clearly remember how Dad knew everyone and would say “Gidday” to one and all. So did I and I made sure to drawl out the greeting just like everyone else. I also clearly remember going with Dad to Cowra, the nearest major town each Tuesdays when the paper was printed. I remember the linotype machines and the printing presses. All in all the noise was incredible. It was an oily grimy gritty place to work.  But it had an energy to it that I caught.

"Linotype-vorne-deutsches-museum-annotated" by Clemens PFEIFFER, Vienna; Paul Koning - Original photo (Image:Linotype-vorne-deutsches-museum.jpg by Clemens PFEIFFER, Vienna. Annotations by Paul Koning. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons -
“Linotype-vorne-deutsches-museum-annotated” by Clemens PFEIFFER, Vienna; Paul Koning – Original photo (Image:Linotype-vorne-deutsches-museum.jpg by Clemens PFEIFFER, Vienna. Annotations by Paul Koning. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons –

Every so often, the operators would assemble the molten type after dousing it with water into a metal print form. They would then smear it with ink. The would place newsprint over it and run a roller over it. My job was to read the proof. As I was six or seven I can’t be held responsible for the bloopers. But it helped my education.

In truth I didn’t realise how much it helped until I was a teenager. I and my brother were asked to help publish and print the school magazine. It was hard work but it was a job that we both just seemed to know. And the magazine was a success! Thanks to my Dad. It wasn’t until much later that I realised how much I remembered. Besides during the interview, I only touched lightly on these subjects. For you see, the silence was beginning to do its work.

So setting aside my musings and returning to Dad’s story, the Canowindra Star fell on hard times. Due to circumstances beyond his control, the paper was sold and Dad was retrenched.

Since that time, Dad had quite a few ups and downs. On two occasions, he went from finishing  a role on Friday to starting a new one on Monday. While that was not always his experience I began to discern a pattern. But I didn’t say anything.

For I could see and was surprised by the effect of the silence. As the interview continued I became quieter and quieter. In truth, I still think I speak too much and need to listen more. But I learnt much that day about interviewing and especially my Dad.

For Dad became more expansive as he relaxed. He too realised that there was a pattern in the stories he was telling. It was there the silence called it forth much as Anna Deveare-Smith described.

Each time he encountered ups and downs he prayed. He really thought that things would work out. And they did. Every single time.


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