The sometimes unintentional lessons my father taught me
I didn’t get enough time with my father. However, I know I am incredibly fortunate to have as much as I did.
ABC TV recently announced they were making a documentary about him (airing tonight, February 23 at 8pm). It would cover his early years, his business life and what has happened since he died. I wasn’t the least bit interested in the extra coverage of the family post his death, and I hope there is very little of me in it.
However, I recognise that the producers wanted to study the impact of his life - which of course didn’t stop when his heart did. So I agreed I agreed to participate. I am doing this because I believe that the best way for me to honour my father is to help others understand him. So, with greatest respect to my father, (Michael) Robert Hamilton Holmes a Court, 1937-1990, I share some of the things he taught me.
My father said often that we kids should strive to be excellent in whatever we chose to do, regardless of the field. He would say “be the best truckdriver, the best carpenter, the best doctor, whatever you want to do, but just try to be the best.” I wanted to be a jockey at 14, he sent me to a straight talking horse trainer who, (given that I was just under 6 foot) told me I would never make it.
How to raise your kids?
He wasn’t exactly a hands-on Dad. But he wasn’t the only one of his generation to not change a nappy. But he had other strengths. I guess I learned to praise often, and share with my kids the things I am passionate about. I try to show that I value people who work hard. I learned to judge infrequently, condemn none.
My favourite story told at his funeral was about an incident where he was trying in vain to change the channel on the TV. He passed the clicker to a friend who told him he would have little success as he was trying to use a calculator.
I recently set up a Facebook page for him and while he wouldn’t have been able to even update his own status, he never ceased being impressed by technological change. Personally he was a luddite, but he knew it was the future.
How to be good investor:
He helped me trade shares at a very early age, and I was fortunate for the lessons. But it was not at all sophisticated. He died before I could really learn how he was able to identify value in the stockmarket where others could not.
He helped me borrrow money at an early age to invest. I recently saw my first bank statement that showed the rate was 22%. He helped me learn the hard way, by letting me make my own mistakes.
Undocumented Immigrants who arrive by boat:
My dad came to Australia as an immigrant, talked his way into University and worked his way to the top of the business community. Needless to say he was pro-immigration. The current debate on the subject is more complex as the world has changed and we do city and town planning pretty poorly in Australia. He also held a deep respect for the first Australians and
He didn’t vote down party lines. He spoke highly of people on both sides of politics. He certainly believed in the market economy, but was very keen to ensure the system allowed others to have the opportunities that he had. Access to great education being the key.
How to cook:
Empty can into pot. Leave. Return when you smell burning.
Fortunately for my family I didn’t follow this advice.
Any sport, done at the top level, is a joy to watch.
We once watched the British TT motorcycle race for 6 hours together transfixed on the duel between the two leaders. It was about the only thing I ever did with him for that long.
Louis Armstrong was the only jazz musician; Back to the Future is a great film. He taught me all he knew and I am not sure I did badly.
How NOT to take care of your health:
By dying at the age of 53, he taught me about the deleterious effects of smoking cheap cigars like cigarettes, the harmful results of a sedentary lifestyle, and the impact of insufficient green vegetable consumption. I think his method was a bit extreme, but I got his point.
The goal is to teach children to think. A child’s mind is not a vessel to be filled up, but a fire to be lit. Not his quote, but he would agree with it.
We need thinkers, we need people prepared to take a different path. He would have said.
I think about how he would have done these days. He was independent, open minded, deep thinking, and rigorous. And bloody hard working. He didn’t do especially well at school, didn’t get any tutoring nor do many after school activities. He explored a lot and took a lot of small risks. Which sounds like a perfect education to me.
The episode of Family Confidential on our family is a tribute to him - after 21 years, people are still interested in his life.
Miss you Dad.
Family Confidential screens every Thursday on ABC1 at 8pm. The Holmes a Court episode screens this Thursday February 23.
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