I find myself feeling increasingly isolated by the groupthink I see everywhere these days.
Am I the only person who is uncomfortable with the spirit of the times which divides people and judges them on the basis of what they believe or how they vote?
(Photo of a memorial to prisoners of war killed building the Thai-Burma railway in World War 2.
Hellfire Pass, Thailand)
How sad it would be
If I believed in tolerance so strongly,
I could show no tolerance
to those who saw things differently.
If I praised diversity in all things
except opinion.
If I defended human rights
with personal abuse,
foul language
or violence.
If I believed those who thought differently
were stupid,
or evil.
If I my belief in a cause
stopped me reaching out in friendship.
If I believed I held the truth and it were mine alone.
How sad it would be.

So long. Thanks for the Memories.

(Banks of the Murray River, Riverland, South Australia)
This week I attended an old man’s funeral. He was once my father-in-law. I guess that title becomes redundant after divorce. I don’t know . . . Whatever the label, I was sad he had died.
Ray was not a highly educated man. He was proud of his lack of education, dismissive of those he saw as pretentious, and was also mercilessly dismissive of religion and believers. Given those things, I didn’t have a lot going for me. He gave me a hard time as nobody could be good enough for his daughter, least of all me. From my point of view he was opinionated and difficult to talk to, yet he was a gentle man to those close to him, and a loyal one.
All that was over thirty years ago. I’m not sure why I missed him and continued to do so. I had seen him only a few times since his daughter and I divorced. We shared a common interest in his grandchildren (my children) and many common memories. Our meetings were always cordial and even gently respectful; not something I would have expected given the history.
I visited him in hospital a while ago when he was entering his final stage of bad health. He couldn’t speak and needed to use a letter board to communicate. I told him that despite everything he was the closest thing I had had to a father and he gripped my hand. His face showed he was pleased.
Yesterday his funeral was, as expected, conducted without the trappings of any church. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass provided a slightly discordant, yet entirely appropriate, backdrop to the procedings. Ray left this life in the style he would have wanted, irreverent and unapologetic. His daughter and son showed the love they shared as a family in their eulogy.
I held his newest great grandson, whom he didn’t ever meet, and tightly held tears escaped from me as I sprinkled some sand on his coffin.
This morning I continue to think about death and dying; about the past and the future. Memories erupt unbidden and settle gently again as I think of how powerful is forgiveness; and how grateful I am for the grace, the many gifts, and the people who have come my way.

One Way to measure a Life


So far I have lived 22538 days (give or take a few);

had around 2,531 million heart beats,
and taken 288 million breaths.

Slept for 169000 hours.
Dreamed 14000 dreams.

I have spent at least 15000 hours reading all sorts of things;
over 20000 hours at school or studying at university;
and 10000 hours on a computer keyboard.

I have driven 1,500,000 km.
Owned maybe 15 different vehicles,
and driven to work about 10000 times.

Enjoyed maybe 3200 weekends,
and experienced a handful that were miserable.
Mowed the lawn about 1200 times.

My working life?
I have delivered newspapers by bicycle;

Worked night shift on newspaper production
(while my friends partied);

Grease Trap cleaner
(learned that some jobs are very humbling);

Drive-in Bottle shop attendant
(learned to read people and stay out of trouble);

Commissioned Officer in Army Reserve
(learned that to lead is to serve, and that I was not a natural fit for the army);

Secondary school science teacher;
I stood and sat for 17500 hours in front of classes;
and influenced 2600 students for good or ill
(learned that interest and curiosity don't always accompany discipline and application);

School Principal
(re-discovered that to lead is to serve,
and learned that trying to keep everyone happy satisfies nobody).

(free . . . just to be)

Blog Writer
(possibly the most satisfying thing I have ever done . . . but maybe that is overreach)

World Traveller
(Travel writer in my own mind . . . our next trip begins tomorrow!! Stay tuned for a few travel blogs)

And more recently . . .
Volunteer at a local palliative care hospice
(Also a very satisfying place to be; where people are real; where falseness and pretension evaporate)

Milestones along the way:

I have seen the sun rise maybe 500 times,
and the moon rise 180 times.
I've made embarassing social gaffes, about 100 times;
Submitted more than 20 unsuccessful job applications;
Lived in 12 different dwellings;
Had about 10 different hobbies.

Have 6 grandchildren (so far);
Had maybe 5 close friends;
Survived 4 traffic accidents;
Fallen in love 3 times;
Held new born daughters in my arms twice;
Acted irresponsibly and selfishly in leaving a marriage . . . once.

Did things I now regret, . . . many times.
Spoke before thinking, . . . many times.
Drank too many bottles of wine . . . many times.

I find myself married for the past two decades to a person who overlooks my blemishes, loves me,
and has faith and trust in me;
a person I love and would give my life for.

After all that –
Finally . . .

I've learned there is nothing stronger than love,
and that love has many forms;
that forgiveness is the breath of life,
and that I matter no less (and no more) than anybody else.

This with times of inner peace that I cannot predict, control or explain.

To have found my place in the order of things. . . . So wonderful.

Slow Learner!

The Spirit of Japan in Six Photographs

Ok. make that Eight Photographs.

My recent short visit to Japan was a rich experience on a number of levels. It left me marvelling at a country that has adapted so well to western culture while keeping its own traditions and heritage intact. Not many countries have managed to do that anywhere near as well.

It seems to me as if the Japanese might have beaten us at our own game. They have borrowed what they want from us, adapted it, turned it on its head, pushed it to the limits, and sent it back to us sometimes only barely recognisable. Manga culture is a case in point.
The neon garishness and hi-tech extravaganza of Tokyo and other larger cities is part of modern Japan, but it is not its soul. There is a much more subtle and noble spirit in Japanese culture that has nothing at all to do with brashness and materialism. It is that spirit which continues to pervade Japanese culture; a spirit the West has largely lost, and is now sadly utterly alien to mainstream western minds. It is that spirit that has left a deep impression on me and, I hope, a life changing one.
Unlike the culture of most western countries, especially my own, Japanese culture is a deeply religious one. Shinto-Buddhism and its variants remains very much part of life in modern Japan. Family ties seem to be stronger than they are in the West. I haven't consulted any research on that but it seems obviously true to me, even after a short visit. From what I saw, older people are shown respect and children are nurtured lovingly while being trained in courtesy and responsibility.
In my country, we worship youth and have thrown away our traditions. Older people are not looked to for advice, but are treated as nuisances. We think it is a regretful, even shameful, thing to be growing old, and we try all manner of strategies to avoid the reality of ageing, not to mention the inevitability of death.
The denialism we cling to in such matters is sad, even pathetic when looked at from the outside. We have middle aged and older men dressing like boys on skateboards, and middle aged and older women dressing as if they were in the bloom of maidenhood. Neither group fools anyone except themselves. Both groups embrace the lie that tells them their value is tied up with their appearance and diminishes with age. Wrinkles and saggy muscles are the ultimate taboo in western culture.
I sensed a very different attitude and outlook among Japanese people. I am not sure I've got this absolutely correct but it seemed to me their value was tied in to their family, traditions and religious beliefs. These things do not change with the ageing process. An old person has just as valid a place in Japanese society as a young person. It might be a different place, because biology dictates what we can and cannot do physically, but it is nevertheless a place of honour.
I found myself thinking about death as a Japanese might. Or perhaps I should say, I found myself thinking about ageing and death from a very different perspective from that which surrounds me in my own country. Here, we avoid mentioning death. When we can no longer avoid it, we talk about 'passing away' or some such ridiculous euphemism.
I read somewhere that someone described people in western culture as 'living as if we will never die, and when we come to the point of dying, dying as if we have never lived'. Not an edifying image? Maybe I should google that to check its source, but I can't be bothered. You get the point I hope. The contrast between our western attitudes to ageing and death and those in Japanese culture, cannot be starker.
Theirs is a gentler accepting approach, knowing they are in the bosom of family, in synch with ancestors, and in harmony with nature. Ours is an adolescent approach out of synch with our companions and with nature, where it's all about us and we are never going to die; except of course, we do.
The superficial materialistic way we live our lives in the West seems to me beneath contempt. It is just sad. My visit to Japan confirmed this for me, if I needed reminding.
The Japanese way of dealing with grief also left a strong impression on me. My visit to the Hiroshima atomic bomb site and Peace Park taught me a lasting lesson in the space of an hour or so. Initially I felt anger and sadness at what had happened here seventy years ago. As I've said earlier in another blog entry, I understand why the bomb needed to be dropped. I am just so relieved I wasn't in the position of having to decide to do it. I do not think I could have carried that responsibility.
I'm not sure where I read it, but apparently people who were in Hiroshima on that day said the explosion sounded like the low, deep, resonant gong of a temple bell. Ever since then I have not been able to hear one rung without imagining myself on the ground in Hirishima in 1945, hearing that sound and looking up.
Anyway, the sense of peace and acceptance together with undaunted optism for the future that was evident everywhere in and around the Peace Park in Hirishima will, I hope remain with me as long as I live. Not for Hiroshima a grief that is held close and left unresolved to simmer. I did not sense any residual resentment. Yes, there was sadness, but I saw serenity and a preparedness to go forward in hope. Surely this is a lesson to all of us, if we want to hear it.
I left Japan with a profound sense of well being and calm. I am not a Buddhist and have no plan to change to become one, but I have learned some things from that tradition. If anything, the Japan experience is working within me to help me become a gentler, more accepting Christian; a Christian more aware of, and at ease with the transitory nature of life and the inevitability of death.
For that I am grateful.


I want to write about this, but it will be difficult. It has to stand by itself and not be sandwiched between accounts of experiences on what was otherwise a wonderfully uplifting day.
I have heard about this place since I was a boy. I had always known that the first atomic bomb had a terrible effect on the people of Hiroshima.
Knowing with the head is not knowing at all.
I was expecting to take a few photos and wander around the Peace Park. Nothing new here. A long history of images of this place had made Hiroshima something of a cliché, or so I thought. My experience was quite different.
It wasn't the skeletal domed roof of a ruined building. Everybody has seen that image. Neither was it the tiny monument marking the hypocentre of the explosion, tucked away on a side street, dwarfed by bigger monuments to Japan's post war economic recovery, although both are sobering.
It was the monument to children killed by the blast and, a while later, the remains of a child's tricycle in the museum that worked to unravel me.

The children's monument was inspired by Sadako, the girl who died from Leukemia in 1955, having been in the city at the time of the explosion as a two year old. Sadako's class mates took up the challenge of making the tiny paper cranes duplicated in their hundreds of thousands around the world since then.

On the side of the monument are a boy and a girl, mouths open as if in a silent scream, reaching for the sky. At the top is Sadako, I guess, holding her paper crane.

Other people in my group had made their own paper cranes and left them at the memorial. I am an uncoordinated slow learner when it comes to paper folding and stood to the side, watching.

Underneath the monument is a Peace Bell. I don't normally go for empty gestures, but I needed to walk over to it. I bowed formally and rang it.

Just as unwanted tears began to flow I was surrounded by a group of Japanese school children who wanted to ask me some questions for their school assignment. I was embarassed about my tears and tried hard to smile. It was as if they appeared beside me to make that day in 1945 all the more present to me. Full of life, they underlined what the bomb had torn out of this city.

The remains of the child's tricycle in the nearby Peace Museum completed what the children's monument had begun. I am unable, or maybe just unwilling, to express the emotions I experienced standing in front of it. I saw a long gone child laughing and scooting around, and a mother and father whose dreams were never to be.

I think I ought to finish now as I will likely embarass myself yet again as I sit writing this on the Shinkansen (bullet train).
I realise this was just one stain among many, many in the sorry history of human beings. I do not mean to make an ethical call on the use of an atomic weapon on Hiroshima. I can understand why it was done. I know far worse things have happened. But I stood there in the presence of something that reached to the depths of me.
One final observation for what it is worth. A couple of years ago Sue and I visited Yad Veshem, the holocaust museum in Jerusalem. It was similarly powerful and emotionally confronting. The atmosphere was one of anger and rage at evil, and it was absolutely justified. However, sadly, a sense of resolution was not prominent. Grief had triumphed. I didn't see hope.
Here in Hiroshima the atmosphere could not have been more different. There was no rage. People were not looking back in anger. The atmosphere was one of gentleness and a wish for a better future, and was all the more confronting because of that.

Grace for a Father and Son

Townsville Beach
I went to visit Dad and he smiled when he saw me, but he couldn't remember my name. He was sitting straight backed at a table in the common room. Ten minutes early for his lunch, he was waiting.
A friendly nurse had found me wandering, par for the course in this place I guess. She knew Dad by name: Ah yes. He's in the Sky Unit. Locked doors. Key code entry. People seeming not to care about fashion or colour coordination shuffling around with no apparent aim. Except for Dad. He was waiting for lunch.
I could sense he didn't know who I was. Although it seems strange to say it, he was very clever in covering that up. Smiling and responding with small talk learned years ago, he batted the conversation back to me. All of it nonsense of course, but well meant. He knew I was someone he should remember.
It would have been unkind to point out his slip ups. It was only going to be a short visit. Somehow the essence of Dad was still there, but so much of him was gone. The strong, adventurous, funny man who could fill a room with his charm (and who could impress me with his practical intellect and scare me with his capriciousness) was now sitting waiting for his lunch without complaint; a well behaved child.
He wanted to show me his room. I followed him for the short walk. A single bed, neatly made. A bedside table. A chair. An empty bookshelf. Well almost empty. There was a framed photo from one of my sisters. The words on the frame said he was the world's best Grandad. I could see it was special to him. He explained how the little girl in the photo wanted him to be her Grandad. He couldn't stop smiling.
Eventually I told him my name. He dropped his eyes as he admitted he had forgotten. I think he was a little ashamed.
It was only ever going to be a short visit. I told him he was a good Dad and put my arms around him. The pain and sadness of decades melted in that hug.
He walked with me to the locked door. When the nurse opened it I looked back and he had already turned away.
Dad lives in Townsville, about 1300 km by road north of where I live. He is 86 years old. I flew up to see him for the first time in his nursing home and flew back the same day.
Dad left the family when I was thirteen: A long time ago.
We reconciled years ago before his dementia took over. I am very very grateful for that.
I suspect I will not see him again.



Big, strong, safe and kind. That is my earliest memory of him. Hugs and cuddles were generous whenever he arrived home, but it seemed to a five year old that he would always quickly move on to more pressing things. I don’t have a memory of him sitting with me and listening or talking to me. Not that I remember being particularly bothered. That was just the way things were.

It seemed he was away a lot. Even when he was present, it seemed he was available to me only on his terms. It’s not that he was gruff or forbidding: not at all. It was as if there was nothing there to give. To outsiders he was entertaining and outgoing; everybody’s friend; always ready with a harmless practical joke or a song. The centre of attention. That’s how I remember looking up at him from five year old eyes. Nobody disliked Chas. well maybe somebody did, but it was not evident to me. But when it came to his children, and I guess, his wife, he was not really at home in any real sense.

In a sense, I think he might have viewed his children something like household pets: there to be petted, fed and housed; and to have a place in his affections; but peripheral. I realise now he really had no clue how to be a father. I don’t say that with any sense of hurt, or desire to hurt. It just helps me understand him a little.

He was a big bear, but he was gentle with us kids, on the occasions we intersected his orbit. My mother was the disciplinarian. Dad was the one who bought treats and played jokes or told funny stories for a few minutes before he had to do more important things. Only once can I remember him being directly involved in disciplining me. I was about eight and I had discovered the location of his petty cash tin. I had removed some of the coins and notes, not because I wanted to do anything with them, but because they fascinated me. Innocently I told the next door neighbour what I had done, who of course told my parents.

Dad’s response was to take me aside and talk gently to me. He decided that from that time forward I would receive a small amount of regular pocket money, to teach me how to manage money. I still have a strong memory of the shame I felt. In retrospect, the incident had a strong and lasting effect on me. It was not said, but my intuition also told me that my mother was far from pleased with his choice of intervention. I guess she would much rather some short sharp justice had been administered. Dad never hit us. At least I don’t remember him doing so.

He would never talk about his upbringing when we were kids, and I now appreciate why. The biographical details are stark and tell a story causing strong emotion to rise in me, as it plays through an adult mind:

Dad was the second of six children. His father, according to Dad, ran a struggling small business, had a disabled foot and was the butt of jokes. Perhaps as a response to this, he was a cruel man to his family. His mother, again according to Dad, was a delicate woman who could not cope with the pressures of six young children. She would doubtless have received little help from her husband, suffered a breakdown and was admitted to a mental hospital when Dad was eight years old. She died twenty years later, never having left the hospital. Dad saw her only once in that time at a strictly supervised family visit. I guess that was what happened to people who suffered debilitating depression in the 1930s. Dad’s father’s unmarried sister moved into the family home to care for six children under the age of ten. He told me much, much later, how he used to hide under a railway bridge rather than go home from school. One piece of graffiti he left under that bridge was “I hate Auntie Beetroot”. Beatrice was the name of the aunt who was drafted to look after the children. In his late seventies, he told me he didn’t hate her. She was a good person, but she was not his mother.

Dad was clever at school, particularly at Mathematics, but received little help or encouragement from home, and left school at twelve to work in the local brickworks as a labourer. In what was to become a recurring and predictable pattern in his life he soon quarelled with his boss and walked away from the job, and left home, catching a train 2000 km to the North Queensland town of Ayr, to cut sugar cane at the age of 13! He told me that this was a very hard time as the other cutters were grown men and they used to bully him, until one of them pulled him aside and taught him how to fight back.

Dad’s stories to me became repetitive as the years went on. They had a common theme that I soon picked up. He had been treated unfairly or cheated by employers or business partners. Dad was the eternal victim. His life, according to him, was an unbroken series of bad breaks. Even the younger me could see he had to have contributed to that, and at about that point I began to avoid him. I cetainly never tried to talk to him about issues affecting me. If he couldn’t control his own life, how could he have anything sensible to say about mine?

His habit of impulsiveness, even to the point of recklessness, led to my feeling uneasy around him as I was never sure what he would come out with or decide to do at the spur of the moment. All of this growing alienation was aggravated by his departure from the family home when I was 13. After that, for many years, I didn’t want to know him, more than anything because he was a threat to my equilibrium. A person trying to grow into a young man with few if any role models did not need a father figure like Dad. Nevertheless it became obvious that somehow I had inherited his strange sense of humour and his ability to charm.

Years at a time went by without any contact.

Thankfully that wasn’t the end of the story. Dad and I learned to accept each other for who we were, even if it took us nearly 50 years. Late in life we began to realise we enjoyed each other’s company. I’ve never met a person with whom I share so identical a sense of humour. We shared an easy companionship that we had not been able to all those years ago. He learned that I loved him because I eventually told him so. I learned that he loved me, as best as he knew how, because I could see it in his face. Better late than never I guess.

Dad is now in his late eighties and lives about 1500 km away. I see him rarely.

I hear that he has settled happily into his new Nursing Home and is ‘charming’ all and sundry on the staff. With Dad, some things will never change.

I feel the sadness of the ages when I think of him in that Nursing Home. A man who was so very talented and with so much potential and who never realised a fraction of it. A man who was so badly treated as a child that he never grew up, and most significantly for me, never learned how to be a father. A man who had so many opportunities to feel the love that surrounded him and who failed to accept those opportunities.

Now it seems like he is at home finally and maybe he feels like he belongs. No one would know as he is now dealing with dementia, but I would like to think so. Who says there are some stories without a good ending?

The Father

I thought I would have another try at writing fiction. A short, short story that is more of a pen picture of a few moments. It’s not autobiographical, or even biographical, but I don’t think it’s possible to avoid writing a part of yourself when you do stuff like this.

The three of them came running up to him. The oldest turning and grabbing the hand of the youngest, the girl in between them. All giggling and competing to tell him who knew what. The name ‘Daddy’ shrieked with pleasure and expectation. No holding back; no caution; no disappointment. Loving and life-giving. He had only to stand there and they would collide with him in a joyous bundle. Could this be? Oh God, oh please God.

In an instant the inner wastelands no longer trapped and squeezed the life out of him. Three running children dissolved the crust of decades. The wilderness years disappeared in a magician’s flash, losing all their corrosive bile in the process. Three children. Loving children. His children, long abandoned. The great betrayal. Five wasted decades. Opportunities lost and connections left untended. Love left unspoken. His children as they once were . . . not the distant strangers they grew to be . . . bringing him what he hadn’t known he needed most . . . forgiveness.
He smiled uncertainly and opened his arms to receive them. There were no words. None possible, none needed.

Two men and one woman, the elder man in his sixties and the other two not far behind him in age and proximity, stood beside a hospital bed and looked at its occupant, his papery body barely holding up the sheets. His breaths needing to fight their way out and his eyes closed. Could he hear? Did he know they were there?
Look he’s smiling, see?
Each noticed the room had become a little lighter and brighter. Turning to each other they felt . . . they weren’t sure what. Not knowing what to say to each other they turned away, back to the head on the pillow, which having settled into stillness, seemed no longer so wrinkled and, eyes closed, still smiling a gentle smile.
They had wanted him to know they hadn’t come out of a sense of duty. They had wanted him to know they loved him in their own ways, despite all the shit. Some hurts lay deep buried, there was no hiding that. But he was their Dad . . . a flawed Dad, but their Dad.

Too late for all that now.

After a short while, as the men didn’t know what to do, the woman went to find a staff member.

A Successful Life and other Myths

We are back home again. The luggage is unpacked, the body clocks reset, and the photo processing has begun. The holiday won’t be forgotten any time soon. Time for a change of direction on the blog though.

I’m feeling a little philosophical this afternoon. A shared morsel of wisdom then from one who is getting steadily richer in years, and in the process has discovered he is a slow learner.
It’s something of a wonder to have finally realised that the deepest satisfaction in life is found in relationships. I don’t mean the sort of relationships where one is ‘in’ or ‘out’ of; the stuff of Facebook; celebrity magazines; agony columns and the like. I mean the unconditional love shared with my wife Sue, and with children and grandchildren; the comfortable acceptance of relatives and friends; and the gentle caring chats I experience with colleagues and a range of sometimes unlikely other people I encounter from time to time.


Memories are made of these things. Life has substance through them.

I swallowed so many myths earlier in my life that kept me from seeing the important things. Fluff and bubbles, mostly. That’s not to say there was no truth in any of them. I wouldn’t recommend totally disregarding them either. Its more a matter of balance and of assigning priorities.
Here are a few that have lost some of their shine:

1. Be cautious, follow the rules, don’t take risks, be good, stay safe (in the process fail to grow).
2. Take yourself seriously (and fail to realise it’s not all about you).
3. Compensate for feelings of inadequacy by chasing achievements and goals you hope will impress others (they aren’t looking – they are too concerned about themselves).
4. Keep others at a safe distance (they might see who you really are and like what they see).
5. Devalue the power of grace and forgiveness (thinking instead you must earn acceptance by being someone you are not).

I carry the scars of experience. I realise I have wasted much time and effort in life chasing the wrong things and respecting the wrong rules. Finally I have arrived at a calm certainty that the point of life lies in relationships and in love given and received. Looking back, the rest seems, at best, to have been a distraction; a waste of time.

I can’t help being thankful to God for persevering with me in the meantime and not giving up in exasperation. Not that it can be said I’ve arrived at any point of final enlightenment yet either. Something tells me there are one or more lessons still to learn.

I’m a slow learner I guess and some of you will have tumbled to all of this long since. Anyway, as I said earlier, I am feeling a little philosophical this afternoon.

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