Here let me read it to you. Best to listen straight off Spotify though, the browser version is buggy.
Words are inadequate
Our Adelaide business partner, Nick, was with me in a Sydney hotel lobby bar having a quiet beer after a trade show a few years back. Two drinks in he got a call to say his dad’s cancer was terminal.
Nick’s dad, Breck, was a well-known liquor merchant in Adelaide. The stores bearing the family name were well-known and respected. Breck taught his son a lot about wine, and business. Though Nick had joined us as an audiovisual technician, his powerful business brain and unstoppable energy marked him as equity partner material. And that’s what he became in quick time.
Six months after buying into the business, the news about his dad was a brutal blow. What can you say in these situations? Words seem so inadequate. I’d lost my own dad earlier that year, but he was much older than Breck.
“Tell me everything I need to know Dad.”
Nick and I talked through it as the news sunk in. It wasn’t totally out of the blue. The cancer had been diagnosed a month previous, but the family had high hopes for treatment. Now it was beyond all doubt, the only uncertainty the amount of time they had left with their husband and dad.
I suggested to Nick:
“There’s nothing I can say that’ll make this less fucked. But putting my dad hat on: if I died, I wouldn’t be delighted, but in a way I’d be OK with it. Because my daughter is fully raised, and I know I was able to teach her some handy stuff and give her some sort of code of ethics to get through life. I’m happy with that.
“And your dad will be pretty proud that you’re now a business owner, so now you can do all the things he showed you. This might be the time to ask him: what else do I need to know, Dad? Tell me everything I need to know.”
It was still fucked. Breck passed away seven weeks after the first diagnosis.
But by the end, Nick told me he and his dad were in a good place. Nothing had been left unsaid. There was joking in the hospital room. The baton had been passed on.
They both shared a lifetime of deep-sea fishing. Nick’s forearm has a tattoo of a compass with the co-ordinates of their favourite fishing spot.
Breck would be so proud of what Nick has become.
So am I, he’s an amazing human being. Everyone loves him, and spending time with the guy never fails to lift my spirits.
Dads have got your back
In almost every case, dads have got your back. Even if it’s in strange, embarrassing ways.
It can be tough to talk to dads beyond the usual topics. Habits of other drivers that annoy them. Distant bottleshops with the best deal on slabs of XXXX Gold. Where did all the talented musicians go? It’s not the heat it’s the humidity that gets you. And so on.
And Google has stolen many core dad skills, like estimating drive times, being the boss of the thermostat, and being the source of all World War II information.
It can be awkward, but dig a bit deeper down the dad knowledge mines and you’ll both be better off. You’ll be smarter and your dad will secretly love it.
The inner drive you think is all your own work probably came from one or both of your parents. The personal skills that make you good to work with? Yes, you put some work in, but it all tracks back to parents.
People who made this country better
Two of my business partners, Vicken and John, had parents who had to flee conflicts, in an Armenian French protectorate and Vietnam respectively. I feel like Australia was a better place then, valuing the energy of people with the drive to sacrifice everything and move to a strange place to build a new life.
Interesting detail. Vicken’s dad, Aram, was one of five kids. They’d lost their dad when Aram was six. Then, when trouble loomed, the family had to make a break for Syria. With no notice and what possessions they could carry.
What brought them here? After building a new life in Aleppo, Aram’s eldest brother read about Australia in the Readers Digest, and thought it sounded cool.
So he wrote a letter to the Australian Foreign Minister asking if he could migrate to Australia. The minister wrote back to him in Syria and said: come on down.
That Foreign Minister? Harold Holt. Iconic stuff.
(This is my second shout-out to Harold, he’s in my book for when he was Prime Minister and binned the long-standing law that women in the public service had to be sacked the moment they got married. 1966, a moment of true what-the-fuck history.)
Both Vicken and John’s parents married here, raised kids, took risks and worked their arses off. We are all better off for people like them.
Vicken and John have energy, skills and wisdom that just look natural, like they were born to do it. It doesn’t diminish their own efforts to point out that their parents made them that.
Happy Fathers Day
I started this story on dads because Fathers Day is near* and it seemed like a theme. And I’m not going back to rewrite the dad material.
But at this point I can’t separate out these champion mums from the larger point. I feel John’s mum, in particular, could come in and run our whole company.
I could list lots more people here. All around me are the products of tremendous parents. And by tremendous, I mean regular hard-working, imperfect, modest, normal parents just building a life for their families, and passing on lessons and values that will outlive them.
You can see their legacy every day in the quality way their children carry out their adult lives. Our entire business is built on the efforts of others from long ago.
Thanks, all you parents.
No matter how accomplished or qualified you are, you sometimes feel adrift or confused. As you wonder what the hell you should do, I think it’s a fair thing to ask: what would your parents do?
You might not do exactly that, because parents can also be a bit mad and annoying. But there’ll be a hint there, and your compass will be pointed roughly in the right direction. And that’s enough.
*Where I live, at least.
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