Friday, 31 August 2012

Kiniffees and gunommees

It's Father's Day on Sunday, and I would encourage you to honour your Dad - but maybe not in the way you would have expected...

Let me explain where I'm coming from.

I've lost count of how many times I've heard the story about some guy who's on his deathbed, and pronounces his regret that if only he hadn't spent so much time at work, and had instead done far more worthwhile things, like (insert here whatever cause it is the speaker wants you to support).

It's not inspiring, it's a guilt trip!

And then there's the one about the prison padre who couldn't meet the inmates' demand for Mother's Day cards, but later in the year couldn't get rid of a single Father's Day card.

Well, let me let you into a little secret - All the Dad's I know (and that's more than just a few) do their best, they love their kids and invariably have the best interests of their family at heart. And for all the stories you read about "bad" Dads, like the 17 year-old who broke his own baby's legs, there are a thousand more top blokes who on a daily basis sacrifice their own time and money, and so often forsake their own dreams, for the benefit of their kids.

And sure, they make mistakes, and yes, life as a kid can suck... "It's not fair," I would whine at my Dad. "Nor's a dark horse," was his standard reply....

But my Dad left me a heritage, and he had fun with us. We played cards, and we went to the park. We messed with the English language (knives became kiniffees and gnomes became gunommees). He took us to shows, we went to the beach, and we played games together. I still play the same games with my kids, and I can't wait to have grandkids so I can play them again!

The longer I'm a Dad, the more I understand mine. It wasn't until I was in my twenties that I started to learn some of the details about Dad's past and appreciate how it would have affected him - that's just one the reasons I tell my kids my stories. It's my choice what events I focus on, and whether I judge him or respect him. If I was real honest I'd tell you I'm a lousy son, and not much of a brother.

One of the saddest things about Father's Day is the number of kids who don't live with both parents. I know some kids who never see their Dad, and others who spend three days with one parent then four days with the other. Call me an idealist, but no wonder they're mixed up.

And speaking from experience, I don't think kids will ever understand why their parents split up. But I do know as an adult that there's no benefit in judging either party.

There are so many kids in our community who don't have a resident Dad for whatever reason, whether it's due to a broken marriage, or he works out of town or he's in prison or he died. There are so many women in our midst who bring up their kids alone - and it's not always a choice.

I would encourage you to get involved, even if it's just for this one day. Paul teaches that "Pure and undefiled religion ... is ... to visit orphans and widows in their trouble..."

My own life has been marked by men other than my Dad who gave me work, fed me, mentored me, forgave me, entertained me, taught me and, most importantly, gave me opportunities to succeed or fail, to try new things, to stretch my horizons. They believed in me.

That's not to diminish the efforts of my own Dad. He did all the above, plus he worked two, sometimes three jobs and he cared for one wife and five kids. He took us on annual holidays and he taught me practical skills. He took me to church and he introduced me to Jesus. He coached my soccer team and he fixed my motorbike when I crashed it. He picked me up when I ran out of petrol and and and and and...

Paul also writes that we should "honour our father and mother", which many take to mean that we should show them respect. However, because of past bad experiences such respect can be difficult, and can sometimes come grudgingly, if at all...

It makes sense to me - and it could be easier to achieve - if, as according to Shane Willard, we also apply Paul's instruction by acting in such a way as to make our parents proud of us - to bring them honour...

And that choice Dads, is solely up to us.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Give me strength

Why am I so intense? Why do I get so angry? In asking the hard questions, sometimes I think I know the answer, and other times just asking the questions helps me come to the conclusion. And more often than I'd like, I have to let the issue lie until some random occasion gives me the answer I was looking for...

Often I'll find something in the Bible that I don't understand, so I'll scribble a question in the margin and hope to come back to it. Or I'll go take a shower (hoping for a Eureka moment) or I go and do the dishes. I need some head-space, some thinking-space....

Sometimes I get angry because of unmet expectations. I expect to be respected. I expect to be appreciated. Seems reasonable don't you think? I get frustrated when I don't get time by myself, or when I'm not allowed to use my initiative. Or when you don't talk, or worse, you won't listen. Or when you hold a carrot out in front of me, and I don't even get to sniff it. Proverbs says, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick..." and I know what that feels like.

Other times I get angry because of the injustice. I'm accused of lying just cos they don't like the truth. Or I'm put in a no-win situation then blamed for the less-than-ideal result. Or they hold out Brownie Points and then fail to deliver - and I'm still expected to keep my side of the bargain. "It's not fair!" when there are certain rules for you and different rules for me.

And yes, in some instances I could have legal redress, but not in others.... It's been said that stress is "the confusion caused when ones mind overrides the body’s natural desire to choke the (life) out of some (person) that so desperately needs it!" Yup, been there...

I know I get angry more easily when I'm tired and my defences are down. But here's the problem: Anger unchecked is destructive!

Emotionally it can lock you up with bitterness until you become irrational and un-relatable, which in turn can lead to physical illness (such as arthritis) and death. Externally it leads to criticism, hatred, violence, and to murder (or at least character assassination.) One day I'll have to explain those skid marks and that hole in the wall....

Paul teaches that we can be angry but we shouldn't sin. Huh? Jesus compared it to murder:
"But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgement..."
Note the proviso - without a cause. Got a cause? it's okay to be angry!

Paul went on to say that we shouldn't let the sun go down on our wrath. In a naughty moment, I wonder if that means I can get angry after sundown and keep it up until the following evening...

Even Jesus got angry at times - when he saw religious people who were more concerned about keeping the rules than they were about helping people. And he took (violent) action when he saw the rip-off artists working their markets in the place of worship - a righteous cause...

But he didn't get angry when they criticised him, betrayed him, plotted against him, attacked him, tortured him, falsely accused him in a mockery of a trial and  cruelly executed him. Some of his final words were "Father, forgive them..."

I think I hear the shower calling...

Friday, 17 August 2012

It matters!

When you marvel at the vastness and order in the universe...
When you discover the intricacy of a flower, or the incredible design of DNA...
How can you explain emotions? or the concept of value?

If we're just an amoeba waiting to be reabsorbed, why do we care so much about animals, rare species or children?
If we are only the product of a Big Bang, and have no eternity, what do we care about abuse or violence?

Where does creativity come from?
How do you explain compassion?
Why do we expect logic?

If love is only a feeling, and not a force, why do we cry at the climax of a movie?
If we were not born to subdue and conquer, why do we celebrate sporting success?

If we were not designed to live forever, why do we try so hard to "save" accident victims?
Why do we bother to prolong life with stents and drugs and laser surgery?

Why do we care if some inanimate possession is taken from us?
Where does our sense of injustice come from?
Why do we get those feelings when we look into the eyes of our new-born baby?

If matter is just matter, why does it matter?

Friday, 10 August 2012

Little fish, big passion!

Weather-permitting, next Wednesday will see Hawke's Bay's little-fish anglers take to the rivers in their annual search for the elusive whitebait. A delectable delicacy to some, or just a hint of yuk for others, there's no denying they bring out the passion!

And it must be catching - I was sent out to get a one-off picture feature, and came back after four shoots, one at dawn (!) with a net-full of pictures, and an unexpected feature story on A Day in the Life of Jim.
 [ All images are Copyright © and can be purchased from Hawke's Bay Today. ]
[ Also see the Department of Conservation's The Whitebaiter's Guide to Whitebait ]

There was once this whitebaiter...
Thursday September 04, 2008

Ask Jim Hartley of Hastings if he likes eating fish, and he'll give you a resounding "Yes!" - but only if it's whitebait - he's mad passionate about them.

This month saw the start of the annual whitebait season, and Jim's been up most mornings at 4am to make sure he gets his favourite possy on the Tukituki River at Haumoana.

Competition is mostly friendly but fierce, and the rule on the shingle is "first in, first served, and if you're here early enough, you can go anywhere..."

  Jim's been a seasonal worker most of his 59 years, and started whitebaiting when he was 15.

"I was walking home from school in Waitara, Taranaki, and I saw a scoop net someone had left on the riverbank, so I gave it a go... I scooped it up, and got heaps, they were all pouring out the holes, and that was it... whitebaiting's for me!"

 He started mowing lawns to buy his first scoop net, and then it was down to the river every day after school - he even admits to wagging school for the sake of the delicacy.

And delicacy it is...

"There's no taste like it, mate... You can't beat whitebait cooked in eggs, and just a little bit of flour to hold them together... and fresh bread, its gotta be fresh, there's nothing better..."

He just laughs at the people who tell him he should take off the heads and tails. "It's the flavour, mate."

He's a bit of a purist, though. "I was giving some whitebait to a mate once, and asked him how he cooked them, and he said with herbs. 'Well, mate' I said, 'you won't be getting them off me...' "

He doesn't mind so much if some people add a bit of beer, but don't even think about tomato sauce.

Like most fishermen, Jim's got a heap of stories, like the time he lifted a bucket and a half of whitebait under the bridge in Waitara. But unlike most fishermen, there's no bragging about the one that got away, though he did get pretty excited when he said he caught a trout last week.

"It was this long! (about 700mm) When I first saw it, it had gone through the trap, and I could only see the tail. It was thrashing about, I thought it was an eel, and I was going 'No, No!' You aren't getting my whitebait..."

He's been a scooper for most of his life, and only discovered set nets when he came to Hawke's Bay. " I used to get a sore back, and soaking wet... Now it's just set the net, time for a sleep or a cup of tea - and they're still going in your net."

In between cups of tea and sleeping in the car, Jim checks his nets - but never while anyone is watching.

"You don't do a lift in front of anyone. If you get a big one, the next day they'll be in front of you. Last year I got real excited, and told a mate I had a big catch. Next day, I got down here, and there were 5 stands in front of me..."

Jim's a social kind of guy, and knows everyone on the river, their names, where they're from and when they started on the river.

"You couldn't get a friendlier bunch down here, a lot are in their 60's and 70's. It's very social, there's rarely an argument."

I got to meet Shirley, who comes from Haumoana in her campervan. If she heads into Clive for supplies, often she'll come back with a pie for the boys.

And then there's 57 year-old Dulcie from Hastings, who helped Jim set his nets the morning I was there. She'd been up since 2am and got down to the river at 3-30am. "I got excited", she enthused.

When I asked why she does it, she said, "It's the adrenaline... It's like hopping in your car and going down the road at 150km/h... It's like when I was young."

(That's not to say whitebaiting's for everyone. On Sunday Jim took along his 10 year-old daughter, Harmony. She just sat in the car, and ran the battery flat, listening to the radio full-bore.)

So why does Jim do it?

One, he's got the whitebaiting bug, and two, it's cheaper. A license costs him just $50 a year, and he can catch as many as he can carry. But go to the supermarket and, on last years prices, they'll charge him between $100 to $135 per kg.

Jim's only got till November to get his share and fill his freezer, but he'll be back... "I love it'", he says, "every year when the season finishes, I count down the months... 3 months to go... 2 months to go..."

3 Months in the Life of Jim

4am     have a cup of tea
            load up the car and head for Haumoana

 Dawn   set the net
            have a cup of tea
            check the net
            wander down the river and have a yack
            have a cup of tea
            check the net
            have a sleep in the car
            check the net
            have a cup of tea
            read the racing page

Dusk    pack up the net, wash the screen
            head home
            clean whitebait
            clean net and waders on washing line
            have a cup of tea
            have a sleep


Sunday, 5 August 2012

Humour - it's a serious business

Clowns and I have got a lot in common - it's both our jobs to make people smile. Not for me though an arena where people come to forget their reality and enjoy a moment of hilarity and silliness. My subjects often don't want the attention, or they participate reluctantly, or they want the photo but they've had a bad experience or three...

It's my job to help them smile - to reach beyond the black box between them and me, to connect with the real person, to break down their un-natural inhibition and help them reveal what I truly believe is their truly beautiful smile.

I use humour.

Humour is essential to life. And just like fire and water, and maybe even religion, it's an incredible blessing, in the right time and place. Imagine working in an office where humour is discouraged. It would be soul-destroying! (though I try and avoid the sleaze and smut of the sewer variety...)

Humour can be clever, like the Tui billboards (not all agree) or like Emmerson who has the amazing knack of taking a totally unrelated story to comment on an issue of the day. It can be corny: Did you hear about the man who was tap-dancing? He broke his ankle when he fell into the sink!

It's often just silly - slapstick masters Laurel and Hardy brought hours of laughter to this young and not-so-young child's day... And Charlie Chaplin, who had an incredible ability to connect with an audience before the TV industry gave us canned laughter (so we'd know when the funny bits were). Applying logic just kills the joke.

And it can be subtle, like the cartoon of Father arriving at the neighbour's door with a flagon of beer under each arm. "I've come to complain about the noise", he says! Or as simple as one of my foreign friends' recent Facebook post: "The awkward moment afterwards when someone tells you that, during a hongi, you're supposed to touch noses not bang foreheads." Anyone Kiwi would just laugh. Been there.

Some humour never grows old, the delights of cartoons never fail - Bugs Bunny yet again outwitting Elmer Fudd, or Disney's Uncle Scrooge throwing a tantrum or two. Or Garfield or Charlie Brown in Peanuts. And often it's used to convey a message or an attitude - like Dilbert or Calvin and Hobbes.

I used to tell my kids that "When I grow up, I'm gonna be an adult..." and now I'm starting to realise why. It was only when I got older that I discovered that Get Smart was a spoof of James Bond. It was only in trying to explain Hogan's Heroes to my kids that I realised it was propaganda. As a child, it was just a funny programme.

It can be cruel - sarcasm is destructive at its best, though according to my kids, "It's funny Dad, get a life will ya!" The comedian John Cleese says "Comedy always works best when it is mean-spirited." And I've heard it said that 'humour is just violence in another form.' Remember Tom and Jerry? Admit it, you laughed...

The problem is that humour is so easily misunderstood, particularly when it's in writing. I've had two online conversations recently where comments could easily have been taken the wrong way. You can't hear their tone of voice! You can't hear their attitude!

This last week there was online "outrage" at a campaign by Hakanoa and The Little Grocer where ginger-haired kids could be swapped for a six-pack of ginger beer. It could have been funny, if it wasn't for the message in the accompanying press release:
"... no one really wants a ginger"
"... children are a blessing, but it’s fair to say no parent sets out wanting a ginger child."
"... parents unfortunate enough to be cursed with ginger children..."
"... From the ... smirks to the feelings of shame, there’s a lot for them to bear."
To quote myself,
"Got 3 gingas in my house, and it suits me just fine, wouldn't ask for different, don't understand the negativity, can only assume it's a rather poor attempt at humour.
Maybe the 'organic fair trade ingredients" have addled her brain (he says, with his tongue stuck firmly in his cheek...)"
Cos actually, I love gingas - and blondes - and brunettes - and those blessed with just a touch of grey...

It just goes to show that a joke explained is never as funny. Hakanoa followed up three days later with a press release to explain their motivation - it wasn't them, it was the marketing folks who had had problems with their kids being bullied, and this was their way of raising the issue - [by adding to it??]

The problem is, hardly anyone saw the Real Story! Of the 15 online media/blogs/forums that ran with either story, only one ran the explanation.

I should probably admit this post has been a while in the writing. I started thinking about humour a couple of months ago when I accidentally hit a very raw nerve in a colleague with a one-off throwaway comment. And like The Little Grocer,
"If I had a time machine, I would go back..."
"I am truly deeply sorry for all (the) hurt this has caused. That was not my ... intent."
Hakanoa said they were just trying to raise an issue and maybe we should give them the benefit of the doubt.

Maybe they were a bit like the young man who bowled up to his girlfriend's house to deliver her a birthday present, and to his dismay, her father showed up as she unwrapped it - a sexy see-through negligee. "It's not the gift", the young man stuttered, "it's the thought that counts!!"  J

PS: It's a serious business. Here's why I think the ginger beer ad back-fired:
  • It raised the issue, but hardly anyone heard the Real Story. Of the 15 online media/blogs/forums that ran with either story, only one ran the explanation.
  • NZ Herald, who got more than 10,000 votes on their poll on the first story, then wrote an opinion piece and quoted just two lines from the Real Story, immediately followed by three quotes from the first press release to justify their disbelief in the sincerity of the second.
  • Even an organisation who endorsed Hakanoa's founder as a very worthy fellow committee member withheld their opinion on the campaign itself.
  • At least 4200 people were offended, and will tell their friends.
In terms of humour, I think the campaign was a fail. Only time will tell whether it succeeded or failed in marketing. I really hope it works out for them.
Update 20 October, 2012: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has now ruled the ad was likely to cause serious and widespread offence. It said the ad went beyond the acceptable use of stereotypes and satire, and encouraged the discrimination and ridicule of red-headed people.