Review of Things My Father Taught Me, edited by Claire Halliday
‘When his grandchildren are around, he is like the sun. He just sits there and all the kids get caught in his gravitational pull. They end up running in circles around him, laughing hysterically. He doesn’t need to do anything. Simply make funny faces or say silly, made-up words.’
– Danny Katz
Things My Father Taught Me is a perfect Father’s Day gift. It is a collection of reflections of many well-known Australians about how their fathers helped define them and shape their futures. Each writer in turn tackles the question: how much can a father shape the person you become?
For some, such as TV presenter David Koch, their father is the biggest influence on their entire life, learning from osmosis along the way. But for others, like journalist Joe Hildebrand, their father isn’t such a rosy portrait. ‘He was, as I’ve said, a very intelligent man and very worldly,’ Hildebrand writes. ‘but he was part of that generation of free-wheeling hippies who had all these ideological notions of selflessness and peace, love and understanding, but who, when you actually drilled down to it, were pretty narcissistic, hedonistic, commitment-less people who did whatever they wanted to do and called it freedom.’
Fathers can be intimidating, imposing figures in a child’s life. Sometimes they’re heroic. Deep thinkers. One thing is for sure: one way or another these men leave indelible prints on the people we become.
But among the stories that uplift are those who suffer the misfortune of neglectful, reckless parenting.
A real harrowing story is that of Father Bob Maguire, the Australian Roman Catholic priest and media personality more commonly known as Father Bob. His father was violent alcoholic man who was largely absent during Bob’s childhood, and those few memories they share are mostly tarnished by the grog. His father died from cancer right after the end of the Second World War, and Father Bob recalls ‘rolling cigarettes for him in the hospital ward. You used to be able to smoke in the cancer ward in those days.’
Comedian, writer, and singer Em Rusciano begins her reflections on fatherhood with the adorable observation that her dad is a ‘small Italian man who looks like Super Mario.’ She bares all with typical wit, portraying her father as generous, angry, impatient, loving, and ‘delightfully racist on occasions, as all immigrants are.’
Other highlights include bestselling action/adventure writer Matthew Reilly; Well-respected Christian advocate and writer Tim Costello; restaurateur and Masterchef host George Calombaris — and countless others.
Claire Halliday is an experienced journalist, copywriter, and author. She began her writing career doing features for The Sunday Age and, since then, has published more than 1000 articles in prominent magazines and newspapers. She has a strong interest in the lost art of listening and has honed interviewing skills that help her share powerful, compelling stories. Her books include Things My Father Taught Me (Echo) and Do You Want Sex With That? (Penguin).