The saying goes that “timing is everything”. But I believe that when it comes to romance, that equation is not quite right. In my experience, true love can result when about 80% good timing is mixed with 20% good chemistry. Mutual attraction is important but if the timing is off – it ain’t going to work. So it was on December 8, 2001, at a Trailer Trash Christmas Party, that timing and chemistry converged for myself and the beautiful Bronwyn.
I had first met her a few years earlier, shortly after I had moved into my Bondi Beach bachelor pad. A mutual friend, Susan, had invited me to Sunday brunch along with a few of her (available) girlfriends, including Bronwyn. I don’t actually remember much about our first encounter. But at least I remember it. Bronwyn, on the other hand, has no recollection whatsoever of meeting me then. So obviously I didn’t make much of an impression. Not that it really mattered. At the time I was still wrapped up in a cloud of romantic delusion, obsessed with a woman I barely knew who resided on the other side of the globe and didn’t speak a word of English (okay – I exaggerate – she probably spoke seven or eight words of English). But throughout the following few years, I continued to be invited to various social gatherings by Susan and gradually saw more of Bronwyn. Although in some ways she wasn’t exactly my type, like being blonde instead of brunette, I did find her intriguing – though on at least one occasion a bit intimidating.
Rocking up in my army pants and flannel shirt to the Trailer Trash Christmas Party (for which Bronwyn featured on the invite), I was in a good head space. I had been working at SBS for a couple of months and was generally feeling right with the world. So was Bronwyn, as it turns out, and she was glowing despite (or perhaps because of) her crimped hair and flashing light Christmas earrings. She looked great. And, a bit to my surprise, she seemed keen on paying me special attention – buying me drinks and dancing with me. I think it was the dancing that finally sealed the deal. She is a fantastic dancer – as am I (no false modesty about that). And so, on the dance floor, dressed as a couple of white trash trailer dwellers, our chemistry mixed and ignited a coupling that is still going strong almost fifteen years later.
Though originally from Sutherland Shire (aka ‘The Shire’) in Sydney’s south, Bronwyn had also been living in Bondi for several years and had even managed to buy her own one-bedroom apartment. As someone whose own financial survival tended to be on a week to week basis, Bronwyn having her own place impressed me greatly. As did the fact that she was generally good company. Although quite different in many ways, we managed to click – our shared humour becoming the glue that still helps keeps us together. We also seemed to travel well as a couple, going on several little trips. And within a year we had moved into a two-bedroom flat about a block away from her place.
2002 saw us attend many parties – Bronwyn being part of a peer group that seemed to enjoy throwing fancy dress parties. This was also the year my sister turned 30 and had herself a Disco Diva party in Melbourne. Though I’m not nearly the social creature Bronwyn is, she managed to talk me into having a ‘Fancy Pants 40th’ in January 2003. It was quite the gathering but I knew at the time that it would also be my last big birthday bash.
Turning 40 didn’t end up being nearly as scary as I had once feared. This was no doubt due to finally no longer being on my own and having a steady creative job that I enjoyed. And three weeks after my birthday party, I was told something that I had started to believe I would never hear.
Bronwyn called me at home during her lunch break (not quite sure why I was home and not at SBS). She had just taken a pregnancy test in the public toilets at Chatswood’s Westfield shopping mall, put it in her handbag and then checked it while riding up an escalator. She was pregnant. I was going to be a Dad. Wow! So not how I ever imagined being told that news. But it didn’t matter. I was ecstatic – and in shock. But it was news we couldn’t really share – at least not for about 12 weeks, just in case. It was a strange sort of limbo, not knowing if your life was about to change forever or if you were going to have to deal with the disappointment of a miscarriage. But we were lucky – all was well and we got to tell the world. I thought we may as well make it a double whammy so I proposed to Bronwyn on her birthday (with a ring that really missed the mark and had to be replaced). We decided that we would focus on the nesting aspect – buy a place together (thanks to Bronwyn already owning a property) and then get around to actually having a wedding sometime down the track (which turned out to be six years later – a very long engagement).
Strangely, at a time when a new life was on the horizon, my focus was on death. Although producing promos was still my main gig at SBS, I had managed to persuade the executive producer of their current affairs program ‘Insight’ (before it became the forum based show it is now) to sign me up as a video journalist for a story on euthanasia. The main focus was on Australia’s very own ‘Dr. Death’ – Dr. Phillip Nitschke – the first doctor in the world to legally assist a suicide. Although the Northern Territory law that had allowed him to do so had since been squashed, he had moved on to holding workshops demonstrating numerous ways in which one could painlessly top oneself. Nitschke is a very odd and intense personality but intriguing. I also got to interview a wonderful Melbourne mother with a brain tumour who had acquired enough barbiturates to overdose should she decide to do so. The whole project took six months while I continued to produce promos and was both draining and rewarding. It was strange to watch 25 minutes of television that I had made. It did make me think however that I probably didn’t have enough of the ruthless tenacity required to be a journalist.
After much hunting, Bronwyn and I (who never call each other by our actual names – we are both mutually known as ‘Babe’), finally landed a fantastic two-bedroom apartment about three minutes walk to Bondi Beach and equally close to where we were living. So it wasn’t a huge drive for the removalists. Bronwyn, who was bursting at the seams by then, was forbidden to move a thing. Once moved in, we had two weeks to feather our nest before the arrival of the little guy.
We already knew that we were having a boy. As there is just so much that you don’t know about your impending offspring, we decided we wanted to at least find out the gender. Bronwyn was pretty sure it was a girl. I wanted to brace myself in case it was a boy – knowing what I had been like growing up. When the ultra sound operator announced it was a boy, Bronwyn asked “Are you sure?” The reply: “If that’s not a boy then I don’t know what is.”
After so many months of fretting over rushing to the hospital when Bronwyn went into labour, the actual trip proved a bit anti-climatic. We had already been there the evening before when Bronwyn’s water had leaked slightly. After much testing and one nurse’s patronising observation that maybe Bronwyn had merely wet herself, we were told to go home, wait for labour to kick in and if it hadn’t by the next morning, to come back in and they would induce it. So after an uneventful night, we calmly drove back to the hospital, had a cup of tea while they prepared the room and then went up to get induced.
In a society predominantly run by men, we are a pretty useless bunch when it comes to actually bringing babies into the world (male doctors being the obvious exception). I wanted to be helpful and did manage to figure out how to get the nitrous oxide working (which was fun) as well as suggesting a helpful position for Bronwyn that made it a bit easier for her to push. But as for the actual work of getting our son out into the world – that was all Bronwyn. And she was amazing. My respect for her and all women went through the roof on that October day in 2003 and I remember thinking that attending a birth should be compulsory for all men – whether they are the father or not. Maybe then our gender’s respect for women would rise closer to its rightful place.
I was also responsible for the music we had playing and the only thing that didn’t annoy Bronwyn and seemed to actually help was an album by the improvised jazz trio, ‘The Necks’, entitled, ironically enough, “Sex”. So it was to the sounds of “Sex” that our baby boy burst into the world, one arm pointing forward like Astro Boy. When the midwife held him towards me and asked if I’d like to cut the cord, I was confused. No one had bothered to mention during our many pre-natal classes that this was a ‘thing’ expected of fathers. So I declined, rather thrown by the whole amazing event I’d just witnessed. But I did agree to hold him while the midwife and nurse attended to Bronwyn. I held him in my arms, looked into his eyes, and was overwhelmed by a feeling I had never felt before. It wasn’t exactly love, at least not like I’d ever experienced. It was more of a sense that, without yet knowing what kind of person this baby boy would become, I knew that I was already prepared to give my life up for his. What I didn’t say to him during this special moment, which I now regret, is: “Luke – I am your father”.
Being a father – wow – what a game changer. What had once been a goal, then an ever increasing unlikelihood, was now a reality. And unlike my own parents, Bronwyn and I had waited until we were on the furthest end of the breeding spectrum. This proved to have its advantages (financial stability and having already experienced much of the world) and its disadvantages (less energy and a tendency to spoil our only child). And if you had asked me before I was a dad, I would have said that I was a relatively tolerant man (though I know of at least one person who would have scoffed at this notion). But as the reality of fatherhood took hold, I became increasingly aware of just how low my tolerance threshold actually is. Of course there were all the usual trials associated with having a baby (sleep deprivation being the biggie) but it was as Luke grew older and more vocal that my temperament was most tested. Having been a strong-willed boy, I had bred a strong-willed boy. Whether this is some sort of karmic payback or simply genetics, I don’t know. But there have been times when I have completely lost my shit. And when I have – it’s like looking in a mirror – the anger and rage reflected right back at me – only shorter. Fortunately, this is not always the case. For most of the time, especially as Luke has grown older and revealed more of his fascinating and wonderfully weird personality, he really is my best mate. I enjoy his company and look forward to our time together. And I do my very best not to lose my shit.
Late one Saturday night in 2005 I came home rather intoxicated but still keen to read a bit of the newspaper. In the ‘It’s a Weird World’ section I found a short paragraph announcing that David Lynch, master of the macabre on both the big and small screens, had established a foundation with the goal of raising seven billion dollars in order to introduce Transcendental Meditation into American schools and, by doing so, help to bring about world peace. It was a beautifully bizarre concept – an artist so brilliant at portraying the darkness of the human psyche wanting to deliver peace on earth by getting kids to meditate. It really captured my imagination. So much so that I pitched the idea to SBS’s international current affairs program ‘Dateline’ as a story idea. They said they would support it if I got access to Lynch. Amazingly, I managed to do so – his TM people willing to have me travel with him on a lecture tour of American colleges. I was so excited. Until the pricks at Dateline changed their minds two days before I was to get on a plane to LA. I was devastated and disillusioned. I left my promotions gig at Dateline in protest. But a few weeks later I had an idea – maybe I could still do the story but as a self- funded documentary. Lynch’s people were still keen to have me join him on the next tour. So I increased my credit card limit, got a $2000 advance from the cable movie channel ‘Showtime’ in exchange for access to some of the interview footage and headed off to meet one of my heroes.
The subsequent adventure will most definitely be told in more detail in a later installment. But here is the abridged version. I went to Detroit first to shoot some kids (not literally) meditating thanks to Lynch’s foundation. Then went LA to meet and interviewed the man himself. He seemed to glow when I first met him – radiating charisma. Then I joined him and his beige-attired Maharishi worshipping entourage for a tour of several cities on the west coast – videoing the whole experience. Then I returned and took about a year to cut a 25 minute shortened version of the doco in an attempt to get some actual funding and support. I managed to get Michael Cordell, one of Australia’s most prolific producers, interested in being executive producer. In 2007, he gave me enough of his frequent flyer points and camera gear to return to the US to shoot footage of the David Lynch weekend that was held in Iowa, also now featuring the 60’s singer Donovan. I then returned, only for the project to die a slow death as we were unable to secure enough interest for a full documentary. But I learned a lot, got to meet one of my heroes and found aspects of it the most creatively satisfying project I have ever done.
In late January 2009 Luke had his first day of school. He had already been fairly institutionalised by then, having attended day care since he was one for at least four days a week. But, not surprisingly, there were tears (mostly his). We had assumed that it was just first day nerves and he seemed more settled after a couple of days. However, on the following Tuesday morning, he marched into our room to announce: “Okay – here’s the deal. I’m going to school one day a week and that day was yesterday.” Ah Luke – always believing that he’s the guy calling the shots. In that respect, he hasn’t changed a bit.
A few months later our very long engagement finally came to an end with a wedding at the Bondi Surf Life Savers Club, overlooking the beach. It was quite the event and, despite a bit of juggling thanks to the venue being double-booked, everything went well. All the planning was a bit stressful but, unlike many couples, we were able to call our own shots and didn’t have to meet the expectations of others. Bronwyn looked amazing. Luke was also very fetching in his little suit. But the several hundred dollars we had spent learning to dance to a swing version of “I Walk the Line” were pretty much wasted. Not wanting Luke to feel left out after our dance, Bronwyn and I invited him up to dance with us to his favourite song at the time: “Splish Splash I Was Taking a Bath”. Needless to say, he upstaged us. No one mentioned a single word was about our attempt to swing to The Line. But everybody loved Luke’s Splishing and Splashing.
2010 was to be a globetrotting year for our little family, with two big trips. The first was to Thailand to visit my dad and his wife Goy. Before seeing them, we headed south to spend time with my uncle in Phuket. There was no evidence whatsoever of the tsunami that had swept away much of the town in 2004. My uncle took us to a newly rebuilt resort in Kao Lak, which had been especially devastated. On the way we stopped at an orphanage that he and his club had helped established after the tsunami. After a very relaxing few days in Kao Lak, it was back to Bangkok and north east to where my dad lives. What normally would have been about an hour and a half journey took us nearly six hours. It seemed our trip coincided with ‘Songran’ – the Thai new year festival – and a time when everyone leaves the city, hits the road and heads home. On the plus side, it was the most interesting and colourful traffic jam I had ever experienced – families packed into the back of pickups with washing machines and fridges. It was a relief though to finally reach my dad’s. We were certainly well fed, by my talented and hilarious ‘step-mother’ Goy and numerous yummy restaurants. Even Luke managed to handle a bit of spice. Not bad for a seven-year old.
Our second adventure was towards the end of the year and was thanks to Bronwyn’s bridesmaid Helen inviting her friends to celebrate her fiftieth birthday in New York City. It was the one place on earth I had always wanted to see and it didn’t disappoint. On the way we celebrated Thanksgiving with my Californian cousins and their wonderful families. I love the concept of having a day dedicated to gathering with your family and friends to give thanks for your blessings and believe it’s one of the finest things about American culture. New York itself was mind-blowing: from the obvious like visiting the Statue of Liberty and seeing the Radio City Rockettes (hubba hubba!) to the little things like having the world’s best cannoli in Little Italy or ice skating in Central Park. We also managed to squeeze in both a football and hockey game, where we were blown away by the enthusiasm displayed over a goal or a fight. Then it was onto Denver to stay with good friends Lorna and Alex who took Luke and I to my birthplace – Boulder Colorado. Once again I came away thinking what a cool place to be born. Then we headed south to see my New Mexican cousins – the highlights being them serving some of the best Mexican food ever made and my extremely talented cousin Jessica doing a photo shoot for our family in the desert. Then we headed back north to spend Christmas with my Aunt Sue (who’s only 18 months older than me) and her family in Boise Idaho, where we were blessed with their generous hospitality and a white Christmas. Then south once more but this time to the original Mexico – specifically Mexico City to see Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s amazing Blue House, followed by a tour of where Trotsky was murdered (Luke was especially impressed with the bullet holes in the walls). All up it was an amazing and exhausting trip – made more so by a certain seven-year old boy who, unfortunately, displayed moments of being a total and utter little brat.
It was back to reality when we returned in early 2011 and for me that meant a new gig at Seven Mate – Network Seven’s bloke’s channel that had launched a few months previously. We were encouraged to be a bit cheeky with the programs, which ranged from action movies to reality shows with toothless crocodile hunting hillbillies to out-there animations like “Family Guy”. I really enjoyed it at first, especially during the year I got to work from home and come into the office just a couple of days a week. Even the office days were fun – so much so that I almost wet myself one day as two crazy colleagues and I came up with numerous sexually loaded innuendos to promote a game show (including ‘beating your noodle’ and ‘tea bagging’). The other producers at Mate and Channel Seven were great and I really enjoyed their company. Plus the location was magic – right on the harbour in Pyrmont – perfect for taking script-inspiring walks. But there were downsides – including a corporate culture that continually underestimates the intelligence of its audience and the value of its employees having lives outside of work. After three years I decided to leave, returning briefly months later only to depart again after about six weeks, deciding that the work environment had become too toxic for me.
Another upside to my gig at Mate was that I got promote the AFL (Aussie Rules Football – where giants leap and fleet-footed shorties scramble beneath them). This happened to coincide with Luke starting to play the game, for which he seems to have a natural talent, and me becoming a member of the Sydney Swans and attending numerous matches. Up until then, I had only had a passing interest in AFL since coming to Australia but definitely preferred it to both rugby codes – where neckless gorillas smash into each other while throwing a ball backwards. Over the past few years I have turned into a footy tragic – spending much of my winter watching games on tv, at the SCG or on the sidelines of Luke’s matches all over Sydney. I’m so far gone that I am even obsessed with ‘Fantasy Footy’ – doing my best to win games that don’t even exist. But, apart from seeing Luke’s under 12 team win their Grand Final, the definite high point of my love affair with this Aussie spawn sport was going to the 2012 AFL Grand Final with Luke in Melbourne and seeing our underdog Sydney Swans upset the seemingly unbeatable Hawthorn Hawks. And the low point? Going with Luke to the 2014 Grand Final to see the favoured Swans get hammered by the underdog Hawks. Yeah yeah – it’s just a game and shouldn’t matter. But it does. Very much so.
Approaching my next significant birthday, I wasn’t nearly as chilled about the prospect as I had been a decade earlier. Frankly, the concept of turning 50 was a mind fuck. It didn’t matter that I often felt like a teenager and pretty much dressed like one – there’s no way around the fact that hitting the other side of half a century means that your life is ebbing away and you are now well into your ‘back nine’. So I wasn’t in a great head space for much of my 49th year – especially towards the end when Bronwyn started asking me what I wanted to do. “Nothing.” “But you have to do something. A party?” “I’d rather eat razor blades.” “Ok – how about a trip somewhere. Bali?” “No thanks.” “Somewhere else?” “Alright – I want to go to Japan and go skiing on my 50th birthday.” “Really?” “Yep.” “Ok – then that’s what we’ll do.” Ahhh – I love that woman.
So, shortly after Christmas 2012, we headed for Tokyo via Beijing airport – the only building inside of which I have ever seen and tasted pollution. Tokyo was amazing – it really was like landing on another planet – exactly what I hoped for – but a planet where everyone was is polite (though with an undercurrent of perversion and deviance displayed through things like subway signs warning against up-skirting and gropers) and where zen-like ancient tradition happily co-exists with a crazy pop culture (I LOVE Japanese tv). We had a fantastic New Year’s Eve at a Sega electronic amusement park – perfect for a nine-year old. After Tokyo it was onto Kyoto where I had a very moving spiritual experience on the last day of my 40’s at a beautiful estate once owned by a silent movie star. Then up north to Nozawa Onsen where, as I had wished, I went skiing on my 50th birthday. I felt wonderful and happy to be alive – ‘back nine’ or not. Afterwards Luke and I soaked in a steaming ‘onsen’ (hot spring bath) and then joined Bronwyn for a magnificent 8 course Japanese meal. And there was no birthday cake – no ‘Happy Birthday to You’. Perfect.
In March of 2014 our little family got a bit bigger. After a steady campaign which began shortly after he learned to talk, Luke finally wore us down enough to get him a puppy. ‘Nitro’ the Cavoodle was already named by Luke – even before he was chosen from an online photo. He looked like the embodiment of cuteness – with his two toned black and tan woolly coat. He was bred on a farm near Canberra but was delivered to Wollongong for us to pick up. He wasn’t very happy about being taken away from all his brothers and kept us up for the first few nights – reminding Bronwyn and I of what it was like to have a screaming baby in a block of flats. “Not my idea” became Bronwyn’s mantra about our newest family member. But, as dogs do, he soon wormed his way into all of our hearts. Luke’s pleading promises to walk him everyday eventually turned empty, as we expected and as any other parent who has ever bought their kids a dog has no doubt experienced. But maybe the true beneficiary of having a little fluff ball has been me. I am now going for at least two long walks a day and especially enjoy our nightly romp along Bondi Beach. And, for a guy who doesn’t really pursue friendships, I now have a ‘bestie’ – a woolly little mate who absolutely worships me. And the feeling is mutual – I love his excitable buoyant nature, his desire to be everyone’s friend (except bulldogs), his weird leg-lifting, butt-sniffing doggie behaviour and, of course, the fact that he can’t say a word. I don’t think we’d get on nearly as well if he was jabbering all the time.
Earlier this year we had another milestone – Luke’s first day of high school. The previous year had not been the best in terms of school. He had some issues with a couple of dickheads which resulted in a one-day suspension. And it seemed like everyone was just going through the motions in anticipation of changing schools the next year. Despite Luke’s desire to join most of his mates at the local high school, Bronwyn and I had decided years earlier that he would be better off at a private school. After investigating a few, we decided on one in the city. Luke was not enthusiastic but at least knew a few students from his footy team. So early one morning in late January, the three of us boarded a train into the city, Luke looking like an office worker in his blazer and tie. It felt weird to see him heading into the building with his footy mates, all of them a bit nervous. But in the following few months, we have all been very pleasantly surprised. Luke seems to genuinely like going there and has expanded his social network considerably. We are also impressed with the school so far. No doubt there will be speed bumps on the way but hopefully our son is somewhere that will help him flourish into a good-hearted, hard-working young man. And as I’ve pointed out to him, at least he doesn’t have to paddle a canoe for weeks at a time at his high school (interestingly – we both went on a little canoe trip recently and Luke refused to believe that, when I was just two years older than he is, I had to go on canoe trips that were over 1000 kilometres – pity it no longer exists so that we could threaten him with the prospect of going to Canadian Concentration School.)
And so we arrive at the present day. Work wise – I am continuing to promote tv shows but am doing so mostly from home. My main gig is with the ABC’s overseas service ‘Australia Plus’. I supplement this sometimes with a bit of SBS work. I love the freedom of working from home and hope I can continue to do so. I have a few grand ideas of how to perhaps make some money from the internet but, of course, in my typical underachieving lazy ass fashion, have so far done bugger all to try to make that a reality. But you never know…
Finally – to anyone who has managed to get through the entirety of this epic post without skipping bits – well done. And to the few of you who have read all the posts so far and now have a better understanding of my 50 plus years on the planet, thanks for your persistence. For myself, it’s been a fascinating process. Of course what I’ve written is little more than a connect the dots map of my life, giving brief glimpses into the moments I’ve been willing to share, often without any great emotional insight. Perhaps such insights will come in future posts, where I hope to focus more on individual episodes. I also hope to write some brief little ‘snap shots’ of my current life. That is assuming, of course, there are any future posts at all. It has taken me months to slog my way through this one – largely I suspect because it is now footy season and much of my spare time is sucked up by watching games on the weekend and then watching experts crap on about those games during the week. And then there’s Netflix – offering endless distractions for this dedicated, but relatively happy, underachiever.
Charles, what a great story. Loved reading it and recalling the bits we have shared and your tribute to your family is just lovely to read. I’m keen to read more if your writing. Keep it coming