Take Your Children with You
By Andrew McColl, 2/2/2021
When He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him (Mat.8:23).
Even though my father died in 1970 when I was fifteen, and I was away at boarding school for about 75% of his last four years, I have retained a lot of positive recollections of him. Now that I’m a father and a grandfather, these recollections are important to me.
This shows us that we need to give our children plenty of positive recollections of childhood. This is not hard to do, and these will be important to them, later on. Furthermore, we want to ensure we are not Absentee Parents, preferring to make excuses to avoid being with our children. It would be difficult to think of something more short-sighted, selfish or stupid, for a parent to engage in.
Growing up on a farm, work was never far away. The prospect of working on a farm doesn’t seem to be strange for me, and there was so much to do on the farm, as a child. In my case, farm went with family. We had a house-cow that needed milking daily, dogs and chickens to be fed, and horses that could be ridden, when moving cows or sheep. Sometimes we’d have pet lambs or calves to feed, that had lost their mother. And we had lots on machinery to use, too.
When we were shearing, someone needed to be on task in the shearing shed, to fill the shearers’ pens, so they didn’t run out of sheep to shear. All of these tasks could be dealt with by a child around 12 years old. Some would say, much younger.
We butchered our own sheep on the farm, and I watched my Dad do this, from start to finish. It was pretty earthy, but that’s how many farm people get their meat. Many years later, when I spent 7 years working in a sheep abattoir, it was neither new nor ugly to me.
Dad and Mum went on a trip to England in 1963, to visit Mum’s family. Dad had met her in England, late in 1944, marrying her the following year, immediately after the war. I stayed with my Aunt and Uncle for 6-8 weeks. When they got back, there was discussion about the new planes they’d travelled in, and all they’d done. Jet aeroplanes were now available, and I listened to family discussions of the merits of the Douglas DC-8, verses the Boeing 707. (The Boeing was supposed to be better).
All this was interesting to me, firstly, because Dad had been a World War II pilot. He’d been shot down and ditched in a Norwegian fjord in February 1945, but survived. Secondly, it was a whole new world of masculine discussion to engage in, though I was only 8. I understood some of it.
We were not big cattle farmers, but our cows were part of what we did for a living on what’s called a “mixed farm,” where we bred our own cows. When I was about 10, my Dad stopped in at the end of the school day to pick me up in our truck, with what was called a “cattle-float” on the back. This was a strong, steel structure, to enclose cows safely for travel. He took me to buy a new bull, from the Freudenstein brothers, who bred Short-Horn cattle, maybe 30 minutes from home.
We looked at a number of young bulls in their cattle yards, and Dad settled on one, then they negotiated the price. It was to be “three and a half,” which was a kind of code for 350 guineas. (This was before Australia changed to decimal currency in 1966). The new bull (“Freudy”) went on the back of the truck, and we went home.
On the one hand, there was nothing novel or unusual about this, but on the other hand, it was quite special. I observed Dad’s judgment, his negotiations, and got to have a ride with my Dad in the truck with the new bull, home after school. That was unusual!
Every year we would holiday at Manly (a sea-side suburb of Sydney) for 3 weeks in January. This was the highlight of the year, and our family would meet up on the beach with cousins, aunts/uncles, and lots of locals from where we lived. Being in Sydney was a different world from the farm. Lots of people, traffic, swimming in salt water, fish and chips and ice-creams!
While we were at Manly, Dad arranged over the years for each of us to have swimming lessons in a big, deep saltwater pool, with a male coach he knew. He’d be there, too. I remember having a little cylindrical steel tank strapped to my back, to keep me afloat. That was tough, but good for each of us.
My Dad was a keen shooter, and around 1965, he went half shares with a cousin in a new 303-25: quite a classy gun in those times. I witnessed him hit a fox with it one night, at perhaps 250 metres, resting the rifle on the bonnet of the utility, while one of my brothers held the spot-light.
Great shooting! And I still have an interest in aeroplanes and firearms. I wonder why?
Then in 1969, in the winter, he heard that a neighbor had arranged for the veterinarian to conduct a Caesarian section operation on a cow, as the calf had died inside her. One morning, he took me over to watch this take place.
That was earthy, and very informative! That cow lived, but if you were downwind, the smell of that rotting calf which had been inside her was… But, this was an essential process. If there’d been no operation, that cow would have died painfully.
Dad was a keen sportsman: cricket, table tennis and tennis. We all learned to play fairly competently, and competitively, and we had a table tennis table and a tennis court at home, which certainly helped, and he participated. He was making a statement.
At about 8-9, he taught me to drive a car, because he needed me to drive for him, feeding oats to sheep from the back of the utility, one dry winter. It was pretty easy, after a couple of mistakes!
When I was around 9-10, I had the task of driving our Ferguson 35 tractor home, alone. Part way down a hill, there was a gate to open, first. I hadn’t quite mastered how to use the parking brake on that tractor, and I wasn’t really strong enough to do so. That led to a drama!
I couldn’t get the handbrake to operate, so got off the tractor to close the gate, then turned around to see the tractor, rolling away! It went into a fence, and it was this that finally stopped it, when fencing wire was finally wound around one of the rear tyres a few times.
This looked worse than what it was, and it really scared me. I ran all the way back to where I’d left me Dad, got back to him all out of breath, and blurted out what had happened to him. He just smiled and was very gracious about it.
I was very relieved. I learned about a loving Father who has compassion on His sometimes erring children.
The Beatles were becoming a huge phenomena by 1964, when they came to Australia. They (and others) were mesmerizing teenagers, and some parents were plainly unimpressed. But what could they do about it? Born in 1918, at the end of the First World War, Dad was living in a radically different era. They flew in biplanes then.
Only fairly recently, I discovered that Dad struggled for some years to relate comfortably with my 3 older brothers, and my older sister. In 1970, aged 16-17, she had a boyfriend, and what were parents supposed to do about that? It seems that Dad and Mum felt way out of their depth, on that one.
There was tension there, and some inter-generational friction, but I was away from home at boarding school, so I knew nothing about this, at the time. Culture was rapidly changing, and this was a bit much for the older generation, knowing quite how to handle it.
A whole new world of challenge for parents to understand, along with the associated rebellion against authority in general, and the whole drug thing was just kicking into gear. The Viet Nam War (which Australia was involved in) was both divisive and controversial, and people were marching in the streets and throwing things, and you could witness things on TV of incidents around the world, that were bizarre, deeply disturbing and hard to fathom.
My eldest brother was conscripted, went to Viet Nam, and had only been there briefly when Dad suddenly died.
But what had taken place?
I felt my Dad was interested in me, and my development. In his own imperfect way, he hadn’t neglected me. And at the time, I thought he loved me. For him, loving me meant spending time with me; there would have to be a close association.
I think he was right, because today, I appreciate all he did with and for me, deeply. I also want to replicate him, with our sons and our grandchildren. If you really want to disciple your children, take them with you, just like our Master did. They’ll observe and hear, a lot.
Why would any godly father or grandfather, want to do anything else?