At first glance, it’s just an old tin can. It sits where it has for the past forty or so years, on my father’s desk. But more than just a piece of recycling gone astray, this empty can represents the pinnacle of my career as an artist. Of course, he was not to know that this would be as good as it would get. I can’t recall naming it, but if I were to do so, it would be called, ‘Empty Tin Can Pencil Holder With Random Pictures Stuck On.’ As the artist, it was incumbent on me to sign it but I failed to do so. It was, I think, an oversight on my part.
The tin can is decorated with pictures that I chose, reflecting the things that were most important to me at that time of my life. Eric Estrada’s on there. He played ‘Ponch’ on the television show, ‘CHiPs’ about the California Highway Patrol. Whilst Eric and his co-star Larry Wilcox were important figures to me, I doubt very much that my father felt the same way. Despite this, he thought no less of my work. In fact, I think the piece generally positioned with the ‘Ponch’ side facing out.
Fonzie may also be on there. For people of a certain age, there was a time when Arthur Fonzarelli from ‘Happy Days’ was the epitome of what it was to be a cool adult. A role model, if you will. As a stage of development, though, the ‘Fonzie’ stage is somewhat fleeting. The older you get, the more you realize that having the men’s toilets as your ‘office’ really isn’t that flash. To say nothing of living above the garage of the parents of your best friend who has, himself, long since moved out of home seasons earlier to work at the Milwaukee Journal before totally going off the rails and directing ‘Far and Away’.
There’s probably a football on there. Maybe even an Essendon player. This was clearly before I was officially declared a ‘lost cause’ on the football front. He must have had such high hopes for me. As I grew up, there was a succession of Essendon Football Club jumpers, always several sizes too big, that my father purchased. Either he was being thrifty and knew we’d grow into them or, as was probably the case, he had only a loose idea of how tall we were and simply erred on the side both of caution and larger sizing.
Those jumpers sat on our tiny frames like tents, billowing in the wind. When the breeze was particularly strong, the jumpers were like a sailboat spinnaker and would become bloated with air before capsizing the occupant. We often wore them when playing ‘kick to kick’ in the backyard, along with our gumboots. It must be said that the task of kicking a football is made all the more difficult by the wearing of gumboots. In fact, gumboots are only one notch up from clogs, in this regard. Our father, however, was relentless. Not for him, the gentle drop kick in our general direction so that we’d have some hope of marking the ball. Rather, he’d dispatch a wild torpedo punt that was not kicked to you so much as it was launched into orbit. My brother and I would spend ages running (to the extent that running is possible in gumboots) after the ball before returning it, inadequately, to the other side of the yard.
His approach to cricket was equally punishing. Rather than a tennis ball, he favoured something called a ‘composite’ ball. It was something akin to a miniature cannonball that he’d fire down the pitch with all the speed he could muster. They produced the most spectacular bruises imaginable. I, for one, have nearly given up hope that the bruising will, in fact, ever subside. It’s no surprise to anyone that I failed as a cricketer. This is despite the fact that my bedroom had wallpaper decorated with cricketers. What an exercise in optimism that was. Although it’s been thirty years since I left that house, the cricketers remain in place.
If my father was disappointed to receive an empty tin can pencil holder for Father’s Day, he didn’t show it. Nor did he hesitate to give it pride of place on his desk. I wonder whether he thought to himself that he’d keep it there until I invariably produced something better the following year when I was more proficient, only to realize as each year rolled by, that this was my artistic high-water mark. To make things worse, my brothers and sisters created their own father’s day projects that were so obviously superior to mine.
It’s hard, I think, when you have a younger sibling who’s been blessed with every creative skill you lack. The year I produced a tin can with pictures stuck on it was probably the year my younger brother produced as twelve foot bird cage that played ‘Sink the Bismarck’ whenever you opened the door.
Like a lot of people, I won’t see my father on Father’s Day this year. I wish I could be in Tyabb. I wish I could step into that study and see all the gifts of Father’s Days’ past littered around the room. Instead, I’ll wait. And when the time comes (as it surely will), I’ll ask him to pencil in a time in his diary for us to catch up. At least he knows where to find his pencils. Until then, I’ll be making his gift. It’s a tin can decorated with things that are important to me. There’s no Eric Estrada, no Fonzie either; just pictures of my family. Because that’s what’s important to me now.