My own father was 46 when I was born, the second and last of his two children. Perhaps that is why I felt no urgency to become a father myself. When I hit 40, however, I suggested to my wife, Nicole, who was only in her late 20s, that it was probably time we expanded the family.
Our first daughter, Violet, was born in November 1995, by which time I had just cracked my 42nd year. Three years later our second daughter, Venice, forced her way into the household. With an obvious sense of dramatic timing, she has just displayed her first tooth as I write this article.
Without any deliberate attempt therefore, I have so far managed to emulate my own Dad by being a mature father of two. The similarities don’t end there. My Mum did not work outside the house from the time she was married. The Warner family was the most traditional of suburban households of the 1950s and ’60s with Dad being the sole breadwinner and Mum the home-maker. Unlike my Mum, Nicole had worked up until the imminent birth of Violet. Nicole is a model and was still on the catwalk while six months pregnant -not in maternity wear, either! Since then, however, she has pretty much been full-time Mum and I have assumed the mantle of sole bread-winner.
When we were considering having children, the fact that the family would be financially dependent on me alone was a concern for us. Virtually all my working life I’ve been a musician or writer. Neither of these occupations offers anything in the way of security – and as for sick leave, superannuation or holiday pay, well, they are just things we hear spoken about by others. Neither of us has ever had any personal contact with these marvellous yet strange phenomena – a bit like life on other planets.
Given that Nicole too had always been self-employed, we were keenly aware that we would be bringing children into the world with a very tiny economic safety net. The choice to have children was therefore taken with the knowledge that I may have to sacrifice the thing that defines me – being a writer – and take on work for which I had neither aptitude nor liking. The first few months were indeed an horrendous financial stretch for us, and in fact I could not have persisted as a writer were it not for support from both NSW Film and Television Office, and ScreenWest, its WA equivalent.
They funded me to develop some film scripts, but they did a lot more than just provide some much needed cash. They enabled me to become a better writer. As career saving as those grants were, however, the money soon dried up. I had become a more skilled writer, but not a financially self-sufficient one. And then, almost out of nowhere, things turned around. My novels were published, and I was offered TV scripts, and feature film work as well. In fact, one could almost say that my career has taken off since having children. Even if things had not worked out for me as a writer, however, I would have been richly rewarded, for there is nothing like the wonderful feeling of loving my daughters and being loved in return. And in fact, no matter what had happened, compared to my Dad I was on easy street.
My father was a butcher with his own shop. He would rise at 4.30am to get to work and get the shop ready, and get home about 7pm, Monday to Friday. On Saturday he was home by about 4pm. They were long, hard hours and he would consistently fall asleep as he lay on my bed trying to battle through some Donald Duck comic. Like many kids, one of my greatest regrets was that I didn’t get to spend much time with my Dad in those early years. This was no fault of his. He wasn’t riding about in a speedboat, or even off to the footy. He was stuck in a back room of bloody sawdust from dawn ’til dark.
Unlike him, I am fortunate in having an occupation where I can work from home. Many times this is difficult, but overall I feel enormously privileged that I have been able to see nearly every day of my daughters’ lives. And yes, it is hard to break stride in the middle of a novel and go and play shop with Violet or help bathe Venice, but it is also the most precious of experiences. Based on those experiences, I have to say to anybody contemplating children but scared of the financial burden: don’t let the dollar determine your choice, somehow things will work out. Certainly, I’m pleased that we took the plunge for children when we did. If we were waiting for absolute security, we’d still be childless, and I am sure a lot less happy.
There are occasions when I envy my single friends their dilemma about whether to dine out or take in a movie. In fact, I even envy our married friends who have relatives who can baby-sit for them. All our relatives are 3,000km away. But whatever the lifestyle sacrifices we have made for parenthood, in my opinion it has been an easy ask.
As a child, I can recall how each day was special and bursting with possibility. Even the sensation of dew on cold feet was a cause for serious pleasure. My daughters have brought some of that back for me. For with them, each day is special and unrepeatable. In my younger days, I wanted to be a great writer. I still do. I am still inspired by great literary works like Moby Dick, Gravity’s Rainbow and The Tin Drum. In Fatherhood, though, I can honestly say I have discovered the greatest un-put-downable novel of them all.
Article copyright © Dave Warner, 2000