November 26, 2007
The Canberra Times

Dad’s history, but I’ll miss him

So what happens now? The working week ended on Friday in the normal, old-fashioned way. John Howard was still daddy of the nation, and Peter Costello, the ever- patient obedient son, was still heir apparent.

Today they’re both history and a new era begins. Thankfully, it heralds generational change.

Saturday night’s vote count must have been the worst night of John Winston Howard’s life. His political life and legacy were being trashed right before his eyes. The result was a resounding ”go away, you’re finished”.

Given the murmurings of sympathy for the old bloke, it would seem that despite his and his Government’s many failings, Australians wish him well. He deserves a happy retirement and a joyful grandparenthood. But why didn’t it happen sooner?

Now that he is no longer our prime minister, I can admit to a rather personal and uncomfortably intimate problem I had with John Howard.

The fact is, while I’m a grown woman with a career spanning two decades, I can’t help but always look at John Howard as a daughter would a father.

Howard walks, talks, argues and gesticulates just like my own father. My dad is older, but nevertheless, very similar. Every time I listen to Howard, or watch him, I sense my dad. Howard whines the same way dad does. He thumps his fist the same way. He cocks one ear forward, because he’s a little deaf, just like dad does. He even cuts across someone else when they’re speaking, just like dad.

I adore my dad and I’m sure he does me. However, we are of two very different generations.

My father comes from an age, like Howard, where good manners were primary, and rules were clear cut and unquestioned. It was a time when women were mothers, men were breadwinners, and the local priest was a family friend.

Back then there seemed no need for discussion about diversity or social inequity, as everyone appeared to be the same: ”relaxed and comfortable”.

As he has aged, my dear dad has struggled with change and modernity. He’s tried hard – bless him – but some things have been difficult to come to terms with. Things like technology and computers; texting and mobile phones.

His brood of kids urge him along.

”It’s easy dad, just press this.”

Although it’s fair to say, his will to learn is a little tired.

But it’s the deeply entrenched things that are hard to shift. A man whose view of the world was formed and set around the 1940s and ’50s may need to be dragged into the 21st century. My dear dad has been – up to a point.

His four daughters have pushed and pulled.

But I don’t think embracing a fast-moving global world, with its inherent cultural, moral and social challenges, has been a comfortable thing for dad. But that’s okay.

Given he’s been retired for some years now, he hasn’t needed to keep on top of all that change.

It is a great shame that John Howard didn’t hear the call to step aside when it began in earnest two years ago.

Or perhaps he did, and like my dad, just turned his hearing aid down. Or off. Needless to say, I’ll miss the old man.

Virginia Haussegger is a Canberra journalist and director of the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation at the University of Canberra.

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