Friday, July 12, 2013

#NAIDOC guest blog 3 - @Dalayva

Father and I

I remember distinctly in NAIDOC week 1992 when our teacher mentioned the word “Aboriginal”. All kids slowly turned their eyes to me. The seven-year-old Kodie proudly got up and marched to the top of the class. There I held a flag with the only other black kid in year two (hello Christopher  Kickett if you are out there) and told my seven year old peers the meaning of each colour presented on the Aboriginal flag. I had spent all night studying those three colours. Not because I wanted too, but because my father made me sit on his bed in our Geraldton house and continued to quiz me this information until I got it right. A week before I am sure he was quizzing me on the Aboriginal Legal Service importance but it went over this kid’s head.

But I think back to that first NAIDOC moment and it brings back that special moment of my Dad and I practicing my talk. Whenever I am made to write articles about myself, I usually talk about the women in my family. They constantly surround me and have strong personalities that you can’t ignore; from my mad Aunties; to my strong and staunch Grandmothers on both sides of my black and white family. I am proud of these women and the impact that they have had on my life.

It wasn’t until my Father rang me up the other day and complained that he didn’t get a mention some newsletter that profiled me and got back to him. Instead I mentioned my role models as my grand mothers and Michelle Obama (who wouldn’t).  He told me he would spend the rest of the morning being angry at me and wished me a good day.

“Rightio,” I said. “I’ll talk to you later Father.”

It’s not that he lacks attention, he is known all through Western Australia football circles as one of the best full forwards to play in Geraldton. To this day I have to hear those ‘when I was a footballer’ stories and see those old cherished memories of football photos and memorabilia branded through his house. But in a family of women, he is kind of put back in the shadows.

As the only child of John Bedford, I have quite a reputation due to that famous East Kimberley last name. No matter where I go in the country, someone always asks the same question. “Are you John Bedford’s daughter?” I kid you not, I was even in Tasmania, 4000kms and 40 degrees colder than Halls Creek (where my namesake come from) and a man came up to me and asked the question.

Sometimes they know him because of my family, sometimes because of the footy reputation, sometimes because they had run into him at the Court Wine Bar in East Perth where he often frequents.

But you see, being John Bedford’s daughter is not as easy as you think. Any of these people who run into him always relay to him what I am doing and who I am with. I call them his spies. This means I can never be caught ‘misbehaving’, not that I would (but a girl's got to let her hair down with vodka sometime).

 A father-child relationship is sadly non-existent in most black families I know. Those Aboriginal men, for reasons of historically, environmental and their own damn lack of responsibility issues, are yet to master the art. It’s sad when I see single mothers struggling to raise our boys into men, overcompensating at the lack of a real male role model. The sorry cycle continues and our men are locked up or just plain gone to face what they have left at home- even a child.

My relationship with my father, like everyone, is not all-smooth sailing. My parents divorced when I was ten, and my father moved back to the Kimberley. I was, as my mother says, unexpected when I was born. Young twenty-year-old parents, one on the verge of a bright football career, struggling to juggle their new responsibility.

But I will say one thing. My father did stick around for newborn me, maybe at the cost of the football career, he’s never really said. And with him there I was taught and raised to be proud of my identity as an Aboriginal girl; to the point I would stand up in class and preach to them about colours of a flag.

When he left, I was without a male role model and shipped off to black and white Aunties and grandmothers every holidays (I loved it). A father absent in a girl’s teenage years doesn’t bode well for the girl’s outlook on men when she is at that age of noticing boys. But in my older years, my father mellowed out in his old age, and I’ve realised life is too short for grudges. Oh yeah we fight, we both have a short fuse, I have to take a deep breath before I call him out for being, what I refer to, a typical black male. And then he rings me every now and then, usually every week or so, and even though our conversations never past two minutes, I can tell he is making an effort and showing his love in the ways he does. 

Those same spies relay to me that often talks about me like only a father could, my Aunties send me secret emails which show him talking me up to them and the family; and one day, amongst his football pictures, I found a photo of him and I hanging on the wall. Yes, my father is proud of me.

So this NAIDOC I am remembering that girl who was taught about the world from her Dad. From space, to history, to community life, to simply the colours of an Aboriginal flag (and lets not forget the ALS talk).

We talk about identity and people have even challenged mine. I am, after all, a product of a white and black relationship. But never have I not known who I was. It’s been instilled in me since the day I was born and I am reminded constantly. I am a Djaru woman whose family is hard working royalty in the Kimberley, I am a music lover who was taught piano from an early age by my white grandmother, I am a writer, I am West Coast Eagles supporter (much to my Father’s dismay), and yes, I am John Bedford’s daughter.

Boy’s beware.

Happy NAIDOC father.

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