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.


He Will Brighten Someone Else’s Day

I hear a small voice behind me on the train.
It belongs to a little boy. He wants to sit next to his mum.
I hear her offering him a window seat opposite me next to their friend. Which he takes and his mother sits next to me.
He has eyes that look straight at me.
“What’s your name?”, he asks.
I tell him.
His mother says that he has an uncle with the same name too.
Then he asks me, “Can you see out the window?”
I say “Yes“. That makes me laugh and smile.
Then there’s a pause while its explained what he’s been doing all day.
He looks tired from it all. His mother is offering him a choice : read a book, nap or food.
He sure-footedly declines the book, considers the nap and accepts a handful of sultanas from his mother.
Who asks him if he wants an apple. Still chewing his sultanas he nods.
I do my best not to laugh but am smiling now.
He finishes and starts skinning the apple with his teeth. Then he checks his progress and offers the apple it to his mother, her friend and in a shy quiet way to me.
His mother by now is telling him to look out for their stop.
Which prompts him to ask me where I live.
I tell him.
His mother asks him if he knows anyone who lives there.
A swift reply, “Nan”.
I said, “He’s quick.”
And too soon his stop arrives and he departs. He leaves and says goodbye.
I say,”Thank you for brightening up my day.”
I can’t hear his reply. It sounds like he said, “I will do that again”. He will!

Mothers Day is for Everyone

It was Mothers Day. That Sunday we (my then second wife Tracey and I) were with my youngest sons for their access visit and sleepover.
English: Mother's Day card

English: Mother’s Day card (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That Sunday morning, I quizzed my sons.
Did you give your mother a card for Mothers Day? Yes, they chorused.
Did you want to phone her? Yes!
A quick hello to their Mum on the phone and that’s that. Mothers Day is over. Better remember to call my Mum that evening though.
So far so good.

But then something odd happened.
Eliot, my second eldest son walked up to Tracey. And he had something for her. And he handed her what looked like a folded piece of paper.
By now I was intrigued. This was unusual. His brothers often drew pictures and gave them to us. But rarely Eliot, if at all.
Tracey opened up the hand made card. She was speechless and more than a little moved. My son had given her a Mothers Day card! And his brothers gave her the cards they had made.
She had asked me previously what to do and how to act to my children. I advised her just to be yourself. I had no idea if that was any help at all. I literally said the first thing that came into my head. After all, I didn’t know what to do or act either.
She got her answer that Mothers Day. And never any argument from me about how she treated the children.
Later I took Eliot aside into the study. For a second, he probably thought he was going to get into trouble. Only for a moment. I asked him whose idea was it to give Mothers Day cards to my second wife. He admitted it was him.
I told him that I had never been more proud of him. Ever.
He knew that Mothers Day is for everyone. And that anyone can be a mother.

Dining With Strangers (Eat With Me Melbourne)

It’s not speed dating! And it’s not dinner for five! It’s Eat With Me’s Dining With Strangers! Eat With Me

For a small cost, I received one drink, two meal courses and way more than three introductions. All at The Sharing House South Wharf Melbourne.

As it turned out, I almost turned up sopping wet. But I made it. Upon entering the restaurant I was ushered to   the Eat With Me group. A drink was handed to me. Then I was welcomed by Bethany and Liisa (the organisers of Eat With Me) who to their eternal credit remembered me from the July 2011 event! Dining with strangers indeed!!

Lego took the original lego brick and magnifie...

To find our place at the table, we were all given a present. The present unwrapped turned out to be a piece of Lego which matched our seat at the table. After almost mixing lime green and dark green I found my place (amongst the writers’ section).

First course was chickpea chips and tomato sauce which was unique and tasty! The conversation continued. On my leftwas a public relations consultant who worked in tourism, television and film. From her I received some sage advice about my love life! Opposite her a magician and comedian. Next to me was Chelsea who also was a writer, blogger and involved in Eat With Me. When she said she was from British Columbia I said Victoria instead of Vancouver!! And got it right!!

What I forgot to mention was the centrepiece or conversation starter in the middle of the table! Two Duplo and one normal Lego bricks, photo ta...

Duplo shapes with words stuck on them to encourage the writers in us. Funnily enough the writers corner stuck with the words and tried to create something rather than dismantling the shape and creating something completely new!

The next course was Beef Wellington and a beautiful beetroot and walnut salad. No one to the left or right or opposite me had had it before except me (and it was a bucks’ night so my memory wasn’t sound). Beautiful!

As the conversation continued, I met a fabric designer and an intern.

Then came the negotiation part of the evening! Dessert! Strawberries, meringue, cream or chocolate mousse, ice cream, salted caramel. It was all divided equally and there was much left over. And now I know I will eat through chocolate to reach salted caramel!!

And the conversation continued! It was relaxed just like a laid back dinner party with friends and friends of friends! Thoroughly recommended and commended!!

Pickles Is Dead (A Children’s Imaginary Friend)

The phone is buzzing. In my state of near-sleep, I don’t know if it is the alarm or a phone call. (Mental note: Change phone alarm tone). I scrabble at the phone on the bedside table and just grab it before it falls. I realise it’s a phone call, press the green phone button, and…


It’s my seven year old who has just discovered how much fun it is to phone Dad anytime of the day or night.

“What..Oh Hi Josh, how are you?”, I drawl in a tired undertone.

Pickles is Dead”. It’s said in that mixture of certainty, surprise and awe that children use to describe death.

“I’m sorry to hear that Pickles is dead…Are you alright?”

“I’m alright”. Now he has a different tone : why would you think otherwise? As my mind clicks into wakefulness, I start to wonder that children are perhaps more mature than their parents. Or at least their father anyway.

“What happened?”

“Oh. We were outside playing. And Pickles is Dead.”

“Okay, I’m so sorry, What happened again?”

“Oh. A man came along. He stared at Pickles and now Pickles is dead.”

Now I’m awake. I’m rapidly working through my incomplete list of pets, friends and toys. But to no avail.  Pickles isn’t on any of them. Maybe I should keep some form of shortlist.

Time for a sidestep. His mother should know who Pickles is. But I don’t want to ask for obvious reasons. So I ask Josh what his mother knows. Then maybe he will tell me who Pickles really is. But I’m not ready for the answer I do get.

“Have you told Mummy?”

Yes, she was there.”

“She saw Pickles die.”

“Yes, we both saw him.”

“Did anyone else, like your brothers see him?”

“No, only Mummy and I can see him.”

I’m stunned. This does not make any sense at all. I pause and regroup my thoughts. To gain more time, I rephrase his reply back to him, to keep him talking.

“So, you mean no-one else can see Pickles but you and Mummy.”


Now I don’t know what to make of this at all. I do know that children have vivid imaginations. I know I had one as a child.  And Josh has never lied to me. So I can only trust what he is telling me.

I also know that children see things that adults don’t. But a child that sees something that only he and his mother can see makes no sense at all.

Deep breath now. Time to deal with something more confronting that dealing with Pickle’s demise and my son’s yet to be experienced grief.

“Josh, can I speak to your mother, please”

“Okay”. Pause. “Muuuuuum, Daddy’s on the phone”. I hold the phone out at arm’s length and shield my ears. I wait as the footsteps get closer and closer. I think now it looks like I made the early morning phone call. This has to go well. It doesn’t.

“Hello”. There is no inflection to the voice at all.

Friendly and warm, just like my customer service classes. “Hi, how are you?” Now I’m trying to sell my ex-wife eternal life.


Lightly, like dealing with a difficult customer. “Josh was telling me that Pickles is dead. Sorry to hear that.”

Nothing, no response at all, but a sharp intake of breath. She doesn’t know that Pickles is dead. But she knows who Pickles is. Otherwise she would have told me off. And then the phone goes dead. Which leaves me to add failed detective to my role of failed father, husband, etc, etc.

The mystery still remains. So I try my second son. I text Josh’s brother. He should know something.

“Hey Johnno, how are you? It’s Dad. Josh told me Pickles is dead. Who is Pickles?”

Even at this time of morning, he is always on the phone. So the reply comes back almost instantly.

“LOL Dad. No Pickles there is.” So he doesn’t know. But he does know Yoda from Star Wars. I would definitely like some of his wisdom now.

The next week, the same thing repeats itself. The phone rings, I scrabble to answer it and it’s Josh. Again.

“Pickles is dead.”

He is my son, it is early am and I try to stifle my annoyance. But still I say.

“I’m really sorry but he died last week.”

“Oh no, he died yesterday.”

“What are you talking about?” I realise my annoyance is coming through. So I stop and start more slowly. ”What happened?”

“Oh Pickles came back.”

“How did he die this time?” Now I’m really thinking that this is made up despite his Mum knowing who Pickles is. But his answer completely stuns me into silence.

“I saw a big yellow man look at Pickles and then talk to him and then Pickles died.”

“Maybe he went away this time.”

“No he died.” How can children be so certain?

“This is what I think. I think you should tell Pickles to go away and not come back. And tell him to stay away from Mummy.”

And then the conclusion pops into my head. Pickles is her imaginary friend. And Josh can see Pickles. But who is protecting Josh?