The Missing Dads of Spring Street

This is a piece I wrote for the Melbourne Herald-Sun nearly a decade ago. It was published on 4 September 2008 in time for Father’s Day. The editor cut it back a bit to fit the space he was allowing.

It’s a bit dated in the detail, as you will see, but the sentiment still holds true.

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THE following witticism is contrived, but has merit, particularly as Father’s Day is coming up.

When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.

But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.

Actually, Mark Twain’s father died when he was aged 11, at which point he left school and became the breadwinner “father” of his family.

What does a father really mean?

Love, protection, wisdom, role model, provider? Lots of good words spring to mind.

Hundreds of thousands of children… grew up in out-of-home “care”, mainly in orphanages, without a father.

A Catholic orphanage girl said she always thought a father was a priest because the only men she saw were called “father”.

Many orphanage children lost their fathers in wars, not necessarily by death.

A Care Leavers of Australia Network survey in 2006 (291 respondents) showed that more than four out of every 10 former inmates had a father in a war and there was a strong correlation between war service, post-traumatic stress and alcoholism.

Others lost their fathers in divorce courts. Many were simply abandoned by their fathers (and sometimes their mothers, too).

Many were taken from parents because of poverty, incapacity, violence – or worse. When children became wards, the state became father. But there was not much love and too much brutality and neglect.

In my day, I suppose premiers John Cain Sr and Albert Dunstan took it in turns to be my legal father, but Ian McFarlin, TT Hollaway and JRB McDonald had a go, too.

But whichever was my dad, none of them ever came to see me or their other children in the Ballarat Orphanage. I wonder if Premier John Brumby is a better father to the thousands of children who are his in “care” today?

Our CLAN Father’s Day card will remind him that those who were sexually abused while in the “care” of the state are still waiting for the sort of redress that Queensland, Tasmania, and Western Australia (and soon South Australia) are providing.

Some of us find Father’s Day difficult.

We try to think of a father we never knew. We never had a father who would teach us, by simple example, how to be a father when our turn came around.

We struggle to show our own children love because no one showed us love as a child. We are over-protective because of the nasty things that adults did to us as vulnerable children.

Some were harsh disciplinarians because canes and straps were the only way they knew.

On Father’s Day, we’re happy for happy fathers and those who have a happy father. But it’s not such a special day for us.

Frank Golding is author of An Orphan’s Escape: memories of a lost childhood

www.clan.org.au (http://www.clan.org.au)