Lesson #03 – “When the old way meets the new way”

by | Jun 2, 2022

I am old enough to remember the year 1971, but not much.

Some hazy recollections of Mrs Cleave’s Grade Two at Essex Heights Primary School and a little crush on a girl named Karen Kottek, who almost certainly didn’t know I was in her class.

My most enduring 1971 memory is a sense of disappointment when St Kilda beat Richmond in the Preliminary Final. The Tigers missed the opportunity to play-off against Hawthorn, who would beat the Saints in a storied Grand Final to win their second Premiership.

When I think about it, my first thought when recalling any year is the performance of the team I was supporting or working for, which I understand sounds very one-dimensional.

Therefore, 1971 was my first experience of non-reciprocated love and losing Preliminary Finals. The feeling never changes.

The significance of 1971 in terms of world-changing events and the creativity it spawned had passed me by until I recently came across the outstanding Apple TV series “1971 – The year that music changed everything”.

It speaks to the importance of musicians/artists/creatives/thinkers in changing and redefining culture, particularly in response to their desperation and exasperation with leadership and authority. In 1971, the context was the biggest issues: racial and gender equality and identity, war, decency, greed, power, free speech, long hair, the wearing of such given as justification for a father shooting and killing his son in the US.

All of this is laid bare. A wedge driven between the old and new way, and those caught in between. A crossing of cultures, and for the brave artists of this era, it became the grist for the music of their time, to be rediscovered by every generation for the next half-century, songs and albums that would speak to them as it did the class of 1971.

By definition, the courageous conversation is the one we don’t want to have. These artists had spent their young lives giving expected answers to questions other people wanted, only to learn that both question and answer bore no resemblance to the changing world they lived in, and were seeking to make sense of.

They gave up on these questions and started a different dialogue that survives to this day, taking the conversation forward often amid intense, sometimes violent opposition from people who disagreed with the freedoms and ideals of this generation, seen by a conservative majority as the moral degradation of society, and they were going to fight for it.

Young people were jailed, some even died, caught in the culture crossfire.

Now septuagenarians, this generation built a platform, a new point of departure, for the next cohort of courageous individuals and groups to continue the conversation they started, the forging of a new way.

My daughter Evie, is transgender. She transitioned at age seventeen. She is now twenty-three. I am so proud of her. Who she is, and who she is becoming, aligned for the first time in her life. She has been incredibly brave, but also understands she stands on the shoulders of the people who started this ball rolling, including those who asked better questions way back in 1971, almost three decades before she was born.

Evie is the name she chose for herself after learning it would have been hers had she been born a girl. It means a lot. As parents, we put so much thought into our children’s names, and their identity becomes ours. When she transitioned, part of me, unsaid, grieved this loss, but her decision to be Evie changed this.

She is such an Evie, and I am Evie’s Dad.

I was recently part of a panel of speakers at the Daylesford Football and Netball Club for their Pride Game, matches played across the country to celebrate inclusivity and diversity thanks to the courage and foresight of Jason Ball, the first openly gay Australian footballer. I now live in Daylesford, a town with reason to be proud of its culture of inclusivity, forged over many decades.

There was a ceremony before the event known as Raising Rainbows. The rainbow flag is raised on the flagpoles of sporting clubs and secondary schools in support of the often marginalised LGBTIQ+ community. These ceremonies have not always gone well, with children heckled and bullied, but it has now gained wonderful momentum and is a powerful symbol of the new way.

As the ceremony took place, the reserves game was being played only a few metres away. Daylesford is playing Beaufort. You can hear the classic sounds of football, a universal Australian language and noise that could be any football ground in the country, from the MCG to Manangatang. Players demand the ball with the same nicknames, Macca, Boofa, Moose, Rocket. They swear and admonish themselves and each other for their errors. The thump of the leather, as the Sherrin hits body and boot, the sound of air escaping lungs as players tackle or fitness gives out.

The two events are juxtaposed, worlds coming together in a way no one ever dreamt was possible. Until recent times, the language and sounds of the game were exclusively male, with homophobia, sexism and bigotry not only tolerated, but an expectation, a way of fitting in and belonging, connecting via the worst parts of us.

It was the football world I grew up in and desperately wanted to be a part of, never challenging and now sometimes wondering why I didn’t. But I know the answer. It was ‘the way’, and it would take individuals who could see another way, stronger and more visionary, courageous and willing than I was. It needed to be personal to start the conversation, a response to the pain of their lived experience. People like Jason Ball, and with a force they created, a catalyst for change, and change the game did.

The game is at its best when it leads, when it has the collective courage to forge a new way, and at its worst when it lags, as it did when it betrayed Adam Goodes.

Raising Rainbows was also my two worlds coming together. My life in the game, and being a Dad.

I am always careful not to tell Evie’s story. That is for her to tell. I speak with her permission, as a father, who, at the time of his child’s transition, wasn’t sure how to parent anymore.

As I spoke about the time of her transition, I started to tear up, as I am now as I write this. As parents, there is a big part of us hoping and wanting the journey for our children is free of hardship and pain, but really, we understand their growth will come from the challenges they face, as it does for all of us. We do have to take the training-wheels off the bike, but we also feel the bruises and grazes that will inevitably occur.

Many years ago, I read a quote: “We build the child for the path, not the path for the child”, and I dearly hoped that Evie was built for the path she was taking.

In the first few months of her transition, we were together in the Melbourne CBD, stopping for a coffee at Brunetti’s Cafe. Evie went up to place our order, in itself an important step. She came back to our table with our coffees and it was then that we noticed the barista had written a note on her cup.

“I LOOOVE your makeup Evie!!!!”, signed by Mia, with a few hearts, kisses, stars and a smiley face.

Evie is very creative and artistic, and her makeup bore evidence of this. I could see how much this small act meant to Evie, how her energy changed, the joy, and connection. She looked towards the counter, seeking out Mia, and there was a little wave between them.

Not long after, a mother with her two young sons, noisy and rambunctious, sat down at the next table. She smiled as she saw us. Soon they were joined by their father with a tray of drinks. He noticed us, saw Evie, stared, and then stood up with a “come on boys, we’re moving”. The kids dutifully and quietly followed their father, but the mother stayed, leaned over and touched Evie’s arm and said, “You look beautiful”, and smiled at me before going in search of her family.

In just a few minutes, ‘the path’ Evie would be required to negotiate was just a little clearer, as it was for me, the level of love and type of support she would need. This might be a daily occurrence, unpredictable, with the potential to inflict hurt at any moment.

As I reflected, it seemed like only weeks earlier that Evie was one of those little boys. Life seemed so predictable then, almost pro-forma, pre-planned with one clearly understood step after the other.

I have learned that discomfort marks the place where the old way meets the new way. The need to push through. It is a place of vulnerability and courage. If it doesn’t challenge you, it will not change you. Evie was following her own voice, seeking to answer the questions that lived inside her, no longer constructing answers to other people’s questions.

I look at her now, having found her voice, remaking herself, and forging her own path, and as much as the future is unknown and unknowable, she is built for it.

I couldn’t be prouder.

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