They say you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your relatives.
My Dad and I are among the lucky few who could.
Being the product of my Mum’s first marriage, the man I grew up with as “Dad” and I had the rare, priceless opportunity to buck that trend. I prefer to think of it as “you can choose your friends, and if you’re fortunate enough to get to choose your relatives, make the most of it.”
If infant Joel hadn’t taken much of a shine to young, bearded (old photos never forgive nor forget) Arthur, or if that intelligent, driven, principled beard owner hadn’t seen a pre-existing little fellow in his future, it’s pretty much certain that I wouldn’t be writing this post in this way right now.
Over the last couple of years I’ve had a reflection on the things I’ve learned from my Dad bubbling away on a slow boil, and I think I’ve got it down to a nice reduction. Plain and simple, my Dad’s taught me to think. And as a guy who’s come to define himself personally, professionally and creatively by exactly that dimension, I’m incredibly grateful that I’m the relative he chose. I’m grateful that my adolescent eye-rolling was taken with good grace, and I’m especially grateful now for those conversations that made my eyes roll in the first place.
I’m in the business of learning. I learn particularly well under the guidance of a mentor. Either through Dad’s astuteness when I was still young enough to crap my pants at the beach collecting shells, cigarette butts and god only knows what else, or through sheer happy coincidence that doesn’t lead me to reveal embarrassing episodes about my past, he taught me a great many things, big and small, through participation. How to do stuff. Anyone who’s worked with me recently will know how much I love those two words in bold text. Sometimes it led to an epic mess being made. One time it led to one of his jumpers getting covered in gelato after I threw care for semantics to the wind. Another time it led to me copping a soldering iron in the kneecap when I was crouching in the wrong spot & we were earthing an antenna. (Best served cold. Well played.) It’s definitely led to my habit of swearing under my breath when I’m working on something difficult & uncooperative. But the biggest thing it’s led to is probably the earliest-planted, longest lasting, and most useful thing my Dad has equipped me with. He set the tone for what a mentor is. He set the tone for what counts as a person I can learn from. My Dad showed me how it is that I learn.
When I take a step back and look at the contents of my character, and the things that I value in my interactions with my fellow human beings, I can trace every single one of them back to a juvenile or adolescent conversation with my Dad. Some of them have taken a step further and evolved through my own philosophical tinkerings. Give if you want to take, and do it sincerely. If you commit to something, you follow through. Know who your audience are, and if you don’t know, play it safe enough that you won’t look like a dickhead. Credibility is everything. Consistency begets credibility. If you’re inconsistent and don’t care too much about being credible, you’re probably a dickhead. If something isn’t working, change it. If something’s working but could probably work better and nothing’s going to get buggered up as a result of it, have a crack at changing it.
Add to that my early knowledge of the classics, in film (that conversation in my childhood about the qualitatively different kinds of bad guy Darth Vader, Jabba the Hutt and the Emperor were was particularly eye opening), literature (as much as it used to annoy me that you’d acknowledge Roger Hargreaves every time we read Mr Men, but here I am, insisting daily that folks acknowledge creators of creative works), and in architecture & engineering. Yes, I’m talking about space Lego.