Bruce Robinson’s fatherly advice

Article by Rodney Chester of the Courier Mail.

You speak to enough smart people and smart words eventually stick in your head. That’s the theory, anyway.

An astronaut once told me about the beauty of going to the Moon, of exploring because places are there to explore. A Hiroshima victim once told me about the need for peace, because the alternative was too horrible to imagine.

And then there was the conversation I had with a doctor, who had too many dealings with dying men who regretted not spending enough time with their kids. That doctor, Bruce Robinson, learnt from those conversations.

Robinson is the professor of medicine at the University of Western Australia, where he runs a lung cancer research centre. That explains why he deals with so many dying men. But he decided to branch out from focusing on fixing bodies to helping people to fix themselves.

He’s the leader of the university’s Fathering Project, and in 2008 released his book Daughters and their Dads. To write it, he sat down with 400 dads and daughters in 15 countries, from politicians to pig farmers, who between them had more than 17,000 years of experience of being a father, father figure or a daughter.

Robinson is solution-focused. Women like to share their problems. Men want to fix things. Robinson doesn’t claim to be the perfect father, and says he struggles with the same things many of the fathers he spoke to struggle with: finding that life balance between work and family; being the sort of father you want to be as you stay on the never-ending treadmill of life.

The book has insights into the importance of dads in a woman’s life, and the link between the father-daughter relationship and a young woman’s self-esteem.

Just as the many conversations Robinson had with fathers influence him, the conversation I had with Robinson when his book was released influenced me. It was an interview just like any other. We spoke for about 20 minutes. I wrote down what he said, turned it into a story and moved on.

Well, I did all that except for the moving on bit. There are times when that conversation comes to front of mind. Times like when I catch my daughter’s eyes from across a room and point to my chest, in “our symbol” that goes back to when I met her mother as a 19-year-old and wanted to let her know I loved her for the person she was inside.

Robinson might be a professor of medicine but you don’t need to be a brain surgeon to get his tips.

Talk to your kids. Listen to your kids. Spend time with your kids.

One of the things Robinson urges fathers to do is take their daughters away one-on-one. They’re supposed to be adventures. Usually, with us, they’re more like disasters.

There was the time we went camping at the Bunya Mountains and I locked the keys inside the car.

There was the time we went camping, in winter, at Bald Rock National Park, near Tenterfield, and we woke up to a refreshing -5C.

There was the time the tent leaked, and she nearly floated away in the flood that had joined us for the night.

There was the time, at the Christmas holidays, when she displayed the talent of vomiting in her sleep. I woke up feeling disoriented and perplexed as to why my face was wet. Discovering a puddle of vomit on the mattress and, after a moment of self-reflection, having dismissed it as my own, I woke up the only other person in the tent with a query as to whether she felt ill. “I don’t know, I’m asleep. Oh, I don’t feel well.” Really, I would never have guessed.

But with each disaster is the memory that remains long after the feeling of distress, or nauseousness, has gone.

At the Bunya Mountains, aside from being locked out of the car, we first looked through a telescope at another planet.

At Bald Rock, we ignored the cold and the demanding appeal of gravity to hike up the granite boulder and tick off a peak together.

When our tent leaked, we bonded by gate crashing a friend’s caravan.

The upside of vomiting inside a tent? We’ll always remember the rest of the night, sleeping out under a tarp with her on the one dry mattress and me enjoying the lumbar support that only a beach towel on top of a concrete slab can offer.

One day she won’t want to come on our adventures any more. It makes me sad just to think about that day. Until then, the disasters will continue.

While you’re reading this, we’re camping at Binna Burra (hopefully without the rain, cold, or vomit) and tackling the 17.5km Coomera Circuit.

For many people, it’s one of the special walks of Lamington National Park because of the beauty of the rainforest and the creek you cross again and again. For me, it’s that and more. Nearly 25 years ago, when I first walked the track, I spent the 17.5km being hypnotised by the sway of a young woman’s hips in a manner that had quite an effect on me.

So, today I’ll be doing that walk with my daughter. We’ll be negotiating, and renegotiating, the rate of M&Ms for each kilometre of walking and I’ll be telling her about that time that her hip-swinging mother and I first walked the track.

And I’ll probably be doing one more thing. I’ll spare a thought for Bruce Robinson, the man I spoke to back in 2008, and be glad that I bothered to listen.



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