The Dad Book

The Dad Book FULL COVER DRAFT.10.6.2016

For the last couple of years Phil has been collecting stories and reflections from dads from various walks of life and this is the end result.

I’ve read most of it (as well as contributing to it) and I can say its well worth getting hold of. Its an easy read for the most part with moments where you chuckle and moments where you have to stop and ponder. I loved Steve McKinnon’s account of his first date and Stu Wesley’s stories of family discipline… and I’m sure there are many more.

Phil says:

These stories of being a father come from around the world – Cuba, India, the USA, Australia, England, Switzerland, Sweden and elsewhere, but they have in common an honesty about the gift and work of being a father. The Dad Book is not about how to be a better Dad. It’s about being a Dad – the struggles, the regrets, the things we got wrong, and the things we get right. The moments of joy and wonder, the things we learn along the way and the things we’d rather forget. And the things we want to remember.

You can buy it here  or it will also be available at Wipf and Stock publishers in a few weeks. Amazon to follow.

If Not For the Snake









I wrote this a few years back, and then a mate referred to it last week and I used it one of my brekky spots on this morning. It tries to reflect some of the challenges of living in suburbia. I thought it was worth a re-run.

If Not For the Snake 

Yeah we like to keep to ourselves
And that was the end of that…

One lazy afternoon
As the winter sun warms the couch
And the buzz of the builder’s saw penetrates the silence
There is a new noise
A car horn blasts
And again
Almost enough to cause me to move
And see what’s happening in our sleepy street
But the couch is comfortable and the sun is warm
Its’ none of my business anyway

Unfamiliar and unexpected footsteps clink up the wooden steps
A woman I am guessing (or a bloke in stilettos…)
The shadow at the door becomes a knock
As I open
I am rifling through the mental filing cabinet
To place who this is
In my mind’s eye
I see a dog and it clicks
She is the ‘dalmatian lady’
Because when you don’t know your neighbour’s names
It’s easier to name them by association
The bloke in the old green Landrover
The lady from the purple house
I have seen her walking the dog
She is the dalmatian lady

I’m your neighbour…
From across the street…
I think there’s a snake on my driveway…
I have been beeping my horn…
But it won’t move…
She needs my help
The dalmatian lady
Who likes to keep to herself
So I go and poke the sleepy snake
With a length of pipe
Like an angry drunk
He rears his head and tries to look threatening
Before sliding off into the bush










Thank you.
We’re moving house
Back to Queensland
This piece of information
Hangs clumsily in the air
I feel like I should care
But I don’t
The snake is gone
The crisis is averted
I can return to my side of the street
The dalmatian lady can move house
And keep to herself again


Today the house appears empty
The cars have not come and gone
The lights have not flickered
A shipping container has been to visit
A handyman’s van spent a day there
Fixing things
As you do before inspection
The grass is mowed
The yard is tidy
The carport is empty
I’m guessing the dalmatian lady (and the dalmatian man) have gone
But we won’t know
Until some new faces appear

There has been no goodbye
Because there was no hello
And it would seem odd to farewell
The ‘snake poker man’
Who has lived opposite for two years
If not for the snake
We may never have met
We would have lived close but separate
Together but distant
Dante’s hell
Proximity without intimacy

And so I pray for more snakes
Or maybe just for people
Who don’t like to keep to themselves

And the flip side of this is that the people who live there now don’t ‘keep to themselves’ and we have loved getting to know them!



It was the holiday that was constantly in danger of being remembered as ‘that holiday’… Exmouth 2016… probably the last time we venture there in July. Rain, wind and jam packed caravan parks made for an unpleasant 10 days so it may be time to consider other options.

By day 3 I found myself saying to Danelle, ‘maybe we aren’t caravanners any more?’ Driving rain and obnoxious neighbours (yes the people I was trying to think the best of in a previous post…) were taking their toll and I was becoming a little grumpy. Maybe more than a little…

I like to remember the holidays we have had so this is nothing more than a collection of random reflections – read on if you are up for a brain dump.


Friday lunch time we hit the road – new van yet again and towed by the Colorado and ready for some fun. We rolled into Dongara mid afternoon and had barely unhitched before Sam and I hit the water for some good waves. A warm sunny afternoon and glassy conditions were a great way to start. The Wesleys were on their way but wouldn’t get there till 7 so we kicked back and relaxed. We had checked Exmouth weather but couldn’t really believe what we were reading – heavy rain for 3 days at least – one day up to 270ml they were predicting.


We had a fun first night in Dongara and hit the road for Carnarvon. Well, when I say hit the road… we made it to the S bend for fuel, then stopped in Geraldton for coffee and shortly after for a wee break, so it was a while before we were rolling at full tilt.

Neither Stu nor I like to do the grey nomad thing of sitting on 85kph to save fuel, so we hit cruise control and drove and drove at 100kph for most of the way. The fuel economy took a hit, but when we worked it out, it seems we may have paid an extra $15 for fuel and saved 3 hours of travel time. No brainer really… And driving in cruise control in so much easier than trying to keep the pedal to the floor.

Carnarvon was chilly and wet. We got there in time for a run and some late dinner before hitting the sack. The next day we drove to Exmouth and by the Minilya turn off the clouds were forming. By Waroora turn off the rain was smashing down and we were wondering what was happening. Not what you hope for…


We arrived and set up the van in the rain. Even with a minimal set up I got soaked. Stu & Carolyn had a nightmare set up with the power, gas and water not working on their hire van initially. The gas and water were an easy fix but there was no power until the next day. Still not sure what went wrong, but it righted itself and was good.

And it rained… and rained… and rained… We now know for sure our van is watertight.


On day two we decided to put the annexe up. I’m not an annexe fan, but every time we opened the door we got wet and cold so this gave us some shelter and a place to gather. I almost left it at home, but so glad we brought it.

And it rained…

Then our neighbours arrived on day 2. Sadly they weren’t warm friendly people, like most of the rest of the campsite. They had booked 3 adjacent sites – sites we needed to walk thru to get to the ablutions, but early in the piece it became clear they weren’t happy about that. The kids got told off several times and then as I walked across for a shower I heard them comment, ‘there they go again… walking across our site’. I walked another few steps and then stopped, turned around and decided to ‘hear’ the passing comment. In the end the reason they didn’t want us walking on their site was because it was ‘theirs’… hmmm… I couldn’t argue with that so I left. We met as families and agreed that it wasn’t worth causing a fight over and we’d walk 30m up the road a bit to cross thru someone else’s site.

Unfortunately that set the tone for the rest of the week as they yelled and screamed at one another descending into full frontal arguments at times and making the whole vibe pretty unpleasant for anyone who happened to be around. I could go on, but I won’t…


We got out of camp as much as we could to escape their yelling, but with the weather what it was there were only so many things to do. We had a couple of lame surfs, went fishing to no avail a few times and splashed the cars around in the mud, not remembering how difficult it would be to clean them later.

I had started ‘running’ again, well, ‘intervals’ is what we were calling it – walking and slow jogging, which felt so pathetic, but even with that low impact work my knees were arcing up. I pressed on hoping they would get better. They didn’t, so I began popping anti inflammatories instead!


After 7 days in camping purgatory we escaped and went to the National Park where we had 3 nights booked at Osprey campground – well we thought we had three nights, but in reality it was two, as I had stuffed up the booking. Even in a busy campground it felt peaceful as we weren’t listening to people bicker all day. The rain had stopped, but in its place were strong winds for most of the day. Osprey is a beautiful area and the campground is great, but on the 3rd day when the campground host came to ask why we hadn’t packed up I think we weren’t that bothered because the winds were forecast to get stronger and we were ready for a change. So in the space of half an hour we cleared out and began the trip back to Carnarvon for the night before planning to land in Dongara for 3 nights. (We had heard our previous neighbours plans to go to Kalbarri so we ruled that out as an option.)

We headed south and into a strong headwind. At 100kph the Colorado got 23l/100 with the van in tow – not pretty at all, but we weren’t going to sit on 80 to save a few $$. With a tailwind a few days later it got 15-16 at 100kph, but usually its around 18l/100. I guess you spend time or money and we will choose money.

We enjoyed another cool night in Carnarvon, people had showers and then in the morning headed for Dongara. Along the way the coffee machine had died and the chemical toilet opening mechanism had failed. No coffee wasn’t an option so we picked up a new machine in Geraldton and also got the toilet part. Sanity restored.


It was a really nice few days in Dongara, relaxing, surfing, reading, and chatting. The surf was still pretty average, the fishing was lousy but we had fun as two families together. As a holiday it could well enter the realms of the forgettable, if not for friends.

With lousy weather, bad surf, no fish, wacky neighbours and a collection of breakdowns you could lose your cool. Or, as we did, you could just be glad to be in another space for a period free of responsibility and work.

We cruised back into home on Saturday morning hoping the rain that was predicted would soften the mud on the car prior to washing. But for once the rain didn’t come and we drove home dry. The only event of the drive home was watching the caravan window cartwheel back up the road near Wedge Island. We were fortunate it didn’t hit anyone or even get damaged in the dust up. It had wiggled open as we drove and then the force of the side wind had snapped the rivets and dislodged it. I fixed it this morning and its all good – which is nice because as I reviewed online prices for parts and repair it was ugly.

So here we are back in Perth in mid-July… all thanks to our kids now having a regular edukation. I haven’t spent this much of a winter in Perth for quite a while so it will be an interesting change. Normally I come back from holidays and hit the ground running as the retic season kicks off, but being mid winter I’m not sure what to expect. It seems I already have nearly 3 weeks of work booked up and I’m not sure how that happened. But maybe its a good thing as we need to generate a bit of income again.

Next year’s mid year break won’t be in Exmouth though…






Post Holidays Car Conversation


So we just got back from a great two weeks of holidays and driving to church today I asked the family – so what was the highlight of the last two weeks of holidays?

Ellie – ‘hmmm hanging with our friends’

Sam – ‘yep – fun with the Wesleys’

Danelle ‘same’

Me – ‘haha – yeah that was it for me too’

Then Sam asks ‘what about your low points dad? Got any?’

Me ‘the never ending rain, the dipstick neighbours, the wind that came once the rain ended, the lack of surf, the coffee machine dying, the toilet breaking, our crap fishing efforts, my (other) knee giving me pain, stuffing up the campsite bookings…’ I stopped there.

I’m sure there was more, but the point was made. When you hang out with good people you can have a great time even if the weather, surf, fish and everything else conspire against you.

We won’t be heading back to Exmouth again in July, but it was a fun holiday anyway!


Murky Boundaries

I have it on good authority that a previous generation of pastoral leaders were advised often not to become friends with their congregations, to keep them at a (professional?) distance and maintain the relational boundaries – the pastor / congregant divide. So when ‘the pastor’ came to visit everyone was on their best behaviour as they sat in the ‘good room’ and drank tea together. I think we know such talk is utter nonsense now. In a world where authenticity is our greatest currency who wants to be a number on a church roll?

My generation heard another rather binary message. Maybe it wasn’t intended as so, but the essence of it was that you needed one day off / week where nothing of church entered your realm and when you took holidays you allowed no church business to be part of what you did. It was intended to allow clear boundaries between work and rest and to ensure recharge actually happened. Good in principle but maybe not so much in practice, especially if your church community are your friends and you want to go on holidays with some of them, or if you are able to live in such a way that life is not a desperate 6 day sprint followed by a brief window of collapse and exhaustion.

For the last 15 years or so we have allowed the boundaries in our lives to become increasingly blurred, to mix work and fun, rest and engagement and we haven’t come close to burn out or to disillusionment. My hunch is it’s partly a maturity/identity thing where we feel at ease in who we are and don’t feel a need to attend to every request the moment it comes in, but it probably a result of a more peaceful approach to life in general. Rarely do we have nothing to do and rarely are we bordering on exhaustion.

So as we trundle off for two weeks of holidays I know I will answer the phone to people, I will respond to emails and I will think about work both in its pastoral form and my business. But the boundary I have is that I do it when I choose to. I ignore what I don’t wish to deal with and I engage with that which I do.

This morning an inspiring email came in from one of our church community offering their service to help others.

‘What are your thoughts Andrew?’

I don’t use an autoresponder these days – because I generally like to respond – and I wrote back straight away. It was good – a great idea and one we can discuss more when I get home. That didn’t hurt – I wasn’t offended that he had emailed me while I was on leave. I enjoyed the energy the idea brought to me.

We’ve been thinking thru a new venture as a church community. It feels like a great idea that we are pursuing, but I don’t have the time to be the primary driver in it. Conversation with our friends while in holidays has helped me see what my role needs to be. It wasn’t hard to have those conversations. It’s just who we are and what we do and it would be weird not to talk about one aspect of our lives because it was holidays. And the outcome was clarity and peace – a win.

Perhaps you need the distinction of the ‘day off’ or the uninterrupted holiday. That’s fine – I don’t think there is a one size fits all approach to Christian leadership, but if you’ve only been sold the one binary model then maybe you should (intentionally) experiment with a different way – ‘intentionally’ because then you won’t feel guilty and see if there are other ways to live that work better for you.

I get the sense that frustration is inevitable when we try to make that which is fluid and complex into something solid, defined and clear, because it just won’t play out like that. So when a day off gets interrupted or a boundary breached we get gnarly rather than just rolling with it.

We are very much at home now in the murkiness of indistinct boundaries and a fluid work, family, play schedule. Occasionally we may just turn everything off and disconnect but now that’s the exception rather than the rule. It is a way of being that fits the life we have chosen and the rhythms we live by. But I wouldn’t want to make it a rule…

Then we’d be back to square one 

The Other

As the Exmouth rain teems another 3 carload of travellers arrive to the site behind us. An old 80 series Cruiser pulls up on the grass, along with a couple of other old fourbies and a tribe of people tumble out.
Raucous laughter and rough Aussie accents fill the site behind us and we cringe and roll our eyes as we look at each other, just waiting for the Acca Dacca to crank up.
We are coping with the rain, but now we have the bogan neighbours to contend with. They erect their tents, squabbling, shouting, laughing and making light of the fact they are getting drenched. Their ability to keep positive is a feat in itself.
When they have finished there are so many tents it’s like a small city has appeared in our backyard. Are you really allowed that many people on a site we wonder…The cartons of Emu export get dragged into the kitchen gazebo and they have all the outward appearances of being difficult neighbours, the ones you hope you wouldn’t be stuck next to for a week.
And while we sit in our van listening to them and passing judgements I realise that they will be those people. While we stand at a distance we will make them into people to despise, to avoid and to treat differently.
And as we demonise and fear those we are unfamiliar with, I am reminded that we simply replicate what our nation does on a larger scale. Inwardly I am chastised by my own foolishness and darkness and yet for some reason I want to be right. 
Maybe if I’m ‘right’ it means I don’t have to engage with them… Maybe if I’m ‘right’ I can fob them off as losers and disregard them. I can see them as an imposition – as a disruption to my desire for peace and quiet. I can call them ‘stupid bogans’ and chuckle with superiority at them.
There is only one solution – to move sites… 
Or… to walk over and open a conversation, to get to know ‘the other’ and in so doing they will cease to be ‘other’ and become people – real people…
And so we chat, and they are folks on holiday from the city, seeking the same things we are, but just expressing themselves a little differently. They don’t seem to be much for conversation and I could take that as confirmation that they really are knobs, or I could accept that they are busy trying to dismantle a gazebo that has been damaged in the night and don’t really have time for me. I can choose offense or I can choose common sense.
I can choose to despise those who are other or I can accept that at heart they are just like us… and their difference is not a cause for treating them poorly. The fact that I ‘should know better’ is no deterrent to my prejudices kicking in. My double standards are justified (I tell myself), but perhaps small steps in the other direction will negate my natural hypocrisy and help me become the person I think we should all become.