I was sharing my story, “ My Dad’s a Dragon Catcher’ with a group of children today – I particularly enjoying telling this story in the lead up to Father’s Day. I’m not at all fond of the commercial hype surrounding these celebrations but I love it when reality and fiction overlap. If you don’t know the story here is a Batt Brief. Toby is a young boy with an excellent imagination. In response to his friends boasting about their Dads and their occupations, Toby claims his Dad’s a Dragon Catcher. His story grows more and more colourful until his teacher announces a special father’s day celebration at school and Toby’s story becomes his potential nemesis.
I’ve had the conversation with a couple of people about how this story is received by children who don’t have an ‘active Dad in their lives’ – the suggestion being that these children may feel some how marginalized by the story. It’s one of the regular story conundrums that adults throw up. Do we avoid the ‘uncomfortable realities of life’ in our story choices – death, loss, abandonment, striving for the impossible goal of universal inclusiveness. My experience is that stories make space for other stories. I tell a story about Dads – children talk to me about their experiences of ‘Dad’, which may include not having a Dad.
As a child I had my own ‘Dad’ story. I had two Dads. I still do. Apparently early on in my acquisition of Dad number two I would regularly divulge this information to anyone who would listen. My mother recounts the story of the five year old me hanging out the window of the car in a petrol station explaining to the bowser attendant that the Dad paying for the petrol wasn’t my real Dad. My real Dad lived a long way away.
My stepfather had to endure the discomfort of my brutal honesty many times over. Telling the story, I imagine, was my way of coming to terms with the situation.
At school Father’s Day craft activities always had to be completed double time – there were two cards to be drawn, two key holders to be made and in daily life there were double the emotional commitments. An abundance of ‘Dads’ proved to have its own set of challenges and having two Dads some how never filled the gap left by the absence of one.
As I grew older the Dad dilemma morphed from an issue of numbers into one of occupation. Adding to adult discomfort surrounding absent fathers, there’s the issue of gainful employment. I’ll never forget one child’s response to the story delivered in a very matter of a fact tone, “ My dad just lies around on the couch and drinks coke all day.’ Thank god this public admission only involved ‘drinking coke’. (I might add that the original seed for this story came from one such conversation I was party to amongst a group of children where a child did indeed claim that his Dad was a Dragon Catcher)
So again, what about all the unemployed Dads, the Dad’s who are in jail, deal drugs, sell marital aids or in my case, are gold diggers.
You see not only do I have two Dads’ but they also share a profession. As an adult I like to joke about this, “ My father’s have two things in common – my Mum and a love of inanimate objects.” They are both geologists. “My Dad’s a geologist.” – was not a problem as a child. If anything it was a bit exotic and generally speaking children have some fairly interesting if not entirely accurate accounts of what their parents gainful occupations involve. A friend’s child told me his father worked smashing buildings – he was in fact an accountant!
I can’t be too squeamish about this – geology more often than not translates into active service in the mining industry and it was the mining industry that put food in my mouth and dressed me as a child. I will have to live forever with this irony.
As an adult who lives on an eco- village, whose politics are somewhat luminously green and who is regularly mistaken for a ‘hippy’ – “My Dad(s) rape and pillage the earth,” does not sit that comfortably.
When visiting recently the small town where my Dad’ s current mining operation is under way the children identified me in a strangely affectionate way as “the gold diggers daughter.” The teacher politely corrected them ‘gold miner’ but the label gold digger stuck. They later proudly showed me how they had turned their entire sandpit into a goldmine – a large hole in the ground. I felt my character Toby’s discomfort and the guilty urge to recreate my Dad as a Dragon catcher. I can’t see my own story ending with the same uplifting line I penned in the book, “ When I grow up, I want to be a - replace ‘Dragon Catcher’ with ‘Gold Digger’ – just like my Dad.”
For me ‘My Dad’s a Dragon Catcher’ was primarily about the imaginative world of children and the nature of stories and truthfulness, not a literal tale about fathers and their occupations. I often talk with children about their own experiences of ‘making things up’. As any storyteller and child can tell you – some stories can get you into a whole heap of trouble. But then again maybe the storytellers function isn’t to play it safe – maybe our place is to bravely make space for other possibilities.
Maybe this funny little picture book is really about father/son relationships, absent mothers, self employment, arts as legitimate occupations, creative problem solving – that’s what I love about stories – their ambiguity. Long may it arise.
Here’s the final little twist in my ‘Dad story’ – my Dad’s were both great storytellers, each in their own way. I’m sure they imbued in me my love of stories – so perhaps I can use that final line in the book after all….” When I grew up, I became a storyteller, just like my Dads.”