Wednesday, January 03, 2018

The Stephening Standard - 2017

The major event of the 2017 year was that Zach, my little boy, simply disappeared. And in his place, a tall, fit, funny (some times) and charming (most times), young man arrived.

(You can still hear the little boy's voice on his telephone voicemail!)

The transition started with him doing a long solo paddle up Jerusalem Creek in late 2016 just before his 14th birthday.

In April of 2017, he and I participated in a week-long camp for sons and fathers (or mentors) called The Making of Men. The highlight of this camp for me was the "return to community". The men - older and younger - walked back to Durrumbul hall at the back of Mullumbimby. There they were greeted by waiting friends and family. I was delighted to see Zach's Mum and sister there for him. And Zach's mum was blown away when the mothers were gathered together in the centre, and then addressed and acknowledged by Zach and the other young men. And her smile was incandescent when all the men sang to the mothers as a choir.

Zach grew taller than me in about June.

In July, he accompanied me to a conference in the south of France, impressed and befriended some of my academic colleagues, and then stayed on by himself with our dear French friends near to Toulouse while I attended another conference in the US for a week. He managed magnificently.

In August, his braces were removed.

In September of 2017, Zach's mum gave him an ultimatum in which he had to choose between living with her most of the time and spending every second weekend with me, OR to spend all of his time with me and no time with his mother. It was probably around this time that Zach grew taller than his mother as well. I wonder if that was connected in some way?


In September, Zach and I travelled to WA. There his grandfather gave him a chainsaw to use. Trees were cut, wood was hauled, fires were started, masculine poses were pulled ... and there was much laughter.
In October 2017, Zach began flying - literally.

That's one whole bunch of growing up.

And me, I'm still growing - admittedly, mostly outward at this point. And still learning too - there's such a lot to learn!

I'm trying to work less, or at least, to focus on work that I really enjoy doing whether paid or not, and to reject the allure of mighty materialism. A work in progress!

Perhaps the best fun work I did in this last year was my tour of south Pacific islands in order to evaluate whether Australian-funded sports programs are successful in promoting social inclusion among those with disabilities.

And the best party was my sister-in-law's 50th birthday party. Glitz and glam was the theme - and me and my bros went all out...

Have a great 2018, and maybe see you there.


Tuesday, October 03, 2017

South Pacific tour



One of my jobs this year was to evaluate the impact of sports programs (and especially table tennis) being delivered in the south Pacific. The sports program is specifically designed to engage people with disabilities. Table tennis is ideal as it tends to encourage and support play between persons with disabilities and able-bodied people.

The research took me to Fiji, Tonga and Kiribati.

Fiji has a rocking table tennis organisation and is super-well developed. Partly due to the population size, partly due to the well-developed facilities and much due to the energies of the President of the Fiji Table Tennis Association, and now President of the International Table Tennis Federation Oceania.

The work took me to see the Fiji many miss when they stick to the resort-style islands off Nadi (pronounced Nandi). I was in Suva which tends not to be on the tourist route. However, it was a good city in my opinion - as far as cities go. In general, I prefer the wilder areas outside Suva and outside Nadi.


Tonga is my kind of place. This is a low-lying archipelago known as the Friendly Isles after Captain Cook visited there back in 1773.

Sadly, some days before I visited, the Queen Mother Halaevalu Mata’aho died aged 90. Much loved, the whole kingdom observed a period of ten days of mourning and events to commemorate her life.

Part of this memorial included decorating the buildings in black and purple, the official mourning colours.

From the few interviews I was able to conduct, it was clear that the Queen Mother will be sadly missed. She was a well-known patron supporting various institutions caring for persons with disabilities.

And finally Kiribati which is pronounced, kiri-bass. The name Kiribati is local word based on an earlier name for the islands, namely the Gilberts. It is unclear why or how, but in Kiribati, the letter 't' is pronounced as 's'.

Kiribati is a paradise.

The single road from the airport passes along a chain of islands (South Tarawa) passing very simple, rustic homes. People live in local communities and extended family groups. They often live subsistence lifestyles growing and eating bananas, coconuts, taro, mangoes, etc., and LOTS of fish.

The drawbacks are numerous of course. The northern islands in the south Tarawa group feature old military installations, the population is relatively poor (but apparently fairly happy), the major source of income appears to be fishing rights granted to foreign fishing vessels, and the highest point in Kiribati is 1.3m above sea-level - which is why Kiribati often comes up when people are talking about global warming and rising sea-levels.

Kiribati is reportedly one the least visited places on the planet.

But please don't go there. Just leave them be - and maybe try to adopt some of their strengths. It seems that their world can teach us about the strength of smaller, tighter communities catering for their own needs and rejecting rampant materialism.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The low-way or the high-way

What do you do if your mum says to you:
You can live with me and see your father every second weekend, or you can go and live with your father full-time, no planned time with me.
Which way to go, eh? My way or the highway? The high road or the low road? The path less travelled? Or is it simply about the journey, and not the destination?

Early in 2015, Zach's mum suggested to me that Zach come and live with me full-time and spend just every second weekend with her.

I talked her out of that - or at least, talked her into talking with Zach about the idea. Talking with Zach, she discovered he liked things just as they were, that is, 50:50.

Then in 2016, Zach's mum suggested Zach come and live with me for nine days each fortnight, and be with her for the remaining five days/nights. She was challenged by a lack of child-free nights.

I talked with Zach about this change. He had some rather funny observations about her reasoning, and learned some important lessons about dealing with his mother as discussed in a post last year.

And so since sometime in 2016, Zach has been with me for nine days & nights, and with his mum for five.

Around mid-2017, Zach's mum started bumping into the young man that Zach was becoming.

She thought that we (meaning she and I) needed to haul him into line.

To be clear, the problem was not I objected to her trying to get Zach to toe her line. What I objected to was that she wanted me to toe her line as well!

I liked some of the intentions, but I baulked at making my household line up with her requirements. Zach's mum stopped talking to me at about this time and we left it at that.

However, absence of complaints does not constitute evidence of no complaints.

In late September, Zach and his mother a meeting of minds and a separation of ways.

She offered him a choice:
Zach, you can live with me and see your father every second weekend, or you can go and live with your father full-time, no planned time with me.
Offered "my way or the highway?", Zach chose "my way" -- by which I mean he chose his way. 

Zach and his mum broke up!

I feared that Zach might feel abandoned - but nup. That didn't seem to be the case. 

It put me in mind of when I was 14. I would have happily have left home given the option!

Zach simply chose "dadoption" and he now lives with me full time.

My observation is that the right way is not always super clear. The clean, cutting edges of the road of reason do not always seem to line up very well with the torn and ragged edges of the path of passion.

I'm not sure whether the current road is the right one, but it is the one we're on right now!

It's challenging being a single-parent! However, I am seeing a little backtracking between Zach and his mum which is encouraging. 

Regardless of the track we're on in the three dimensions of space, the fourth dimension, time marches - even motors - forward relentlessly. 

Stay the course, and let's just see where it goes from here. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Zach takes off

So Zach has some thoughts about what he'd like to do when he grows up. And becoming a pilot seems to be the top choice at the moment.

So, he started looking at Air Cadets (too many marching drills I think), then Air League (first hour of air theory was great, but second hour of games with fairly young kids seemed to be of less interest).

Saturday 16 September 2017

Zach has an air initiation flight in a Cessna 172 down at our local airport (2km from home).

He had a blast and arrived back with a big grin on his face.

Sunday 17 September 2017

However, gliding the next day was even better even if much further away (1 hour and 45 minutes from home).

On his first flight, Zach was shown how to turn the sailplane and then told to have a go. He promptly put it into a steep bank and enjoyed the thrill of the diving turn until the instructor said "OK, let's back that off a little."

Maybe those steep turns affected him because Zach blew chunks as they flew the downwind leg prior to landing.

However, Zach was not discouraged - even if the instructors were a little more wary and made sure he knew where the airsick bag was located!

In his second flight the same day, he learned how to turn to catch a thermal, and they ended up right up under a cloud and then flying into a cloud. The instructor told Zach to exit the cloud. Zach didn't hear. The instructor repeated the instruction. Zach complied by putting the glider into a dive and popped out of the bottom of the cloud doing 120kts (240k/h).

Some more instructions, more chances for Zach to have a go, and then Zach heard a chuckle from the back seat (the instructor).

"What are you laughing about?" asked Zach

"You're flying really well for someone who has never flown before."

I have been repeatedly told to brace myself: "Your son will learn a lot faster than you!"

We'll see.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Mother's day

Zach (blue), Grandma (magenta), Mum (pink)
For mother's day this year, I was asked to deliver Zach to the creek where the clan were gathered for honouring mothers and grandmothers.

When Zach and I got there, Grandma was surrounded by grandchildren and others, but mum was not there yet.

I wished Grandma a happy mother's day, gave her a hug and communicated my good wishes to her.

Looking a little frazzled, Grandma said "Thanks, but no-one is doing what I have asked them to do."

"That ain't right," I responded. "It's mother's day. So therefore, they should be doing what you ask. Or at least, until Zach's mum gets here"

Grandma laughed but one of the cousins eyeballed me and nodded behind me saying "Zach's mum has just arrived, she is right behind you."

Oops. Time to get out of here.

Later that day, when Zach was delivered back to me in the afternoon, I felt that I ought to acknowledge Zach's mum - and maybe try to efface the guilt for my faux pas of this morning.

I stepped out of the garden where I had been working, dusty and sweaty, I strode up to her with a big smile, wished her "Happy mother's day", and gave her a big (dirty, dusty) hug.

She squealed and laughed and turned side-on to me as I hugged.

Zach stood to the side just shaking his head. I could hear his unspoken words: "This isn't going to end well."

He confirmed his thoughts with me after she had gone: "She'll be back home complaining to everyone about how you hugged her all dirty like that."

I laughed: "Yes, she will. But she enjoyed the hug and acknowledgement, didn't she."

He acknowledged what I said was true.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

The Stephening Standard - 2016



Goodbye 2016!

Here's some of the gems out of 2016 for Zach and me.


Click on the links to see more about anything that interests you.


Or not!

Out of the mouths of adolescents

Zach is beginning to show his age! 


Some of his observations are both funny and perceptive.


Sailing in Shark Bay - a short history


October 25 1616, Dirk Hartog landed at a remote western point of Western Australia 
and left an inscribed pewter plate

October 25 2016, I visited this still remote point in a small (4.5m) open sailing dinghy.


Here's my short history of the various visitors (including my own visit) to this location.


A walk on the wilderness side (Hong Kong)


Going to Hong Kong and want to get away from it all? 


For a predominantly urban landscape, it has a surprising amount of wilderness to explore. Here's a few that I discovered that I think are simply awesome.

Thai sailas exploring the Andaman Sea


In July, Zach and I and six others chartered a 40' catamaran and sailed the Andaman sea in Thailand.


Here are just four highlights.


Zoey's Last Wander


Zoey our pet dog was an inveterate escape artist. In June, she wandered away for the last time. This is the story of Zoey's last wander.


Indian Pacific Train Experience


In January after a family gathering in WA to celebrate a bunch of birthdays, Zach and I returned to the east by train.


It was a most excellent experience.


Shared parenting and Star Wars


Zach now spends nine days out of every 14 with me and has done so for about a year or so now. 


The process by which this came about is interesting and gives Zach an opportunity make yet another funny and perceptive observation, this time drawing on a Star Wars metaphor to illustrate his point.



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Okay, that's all folks!


Hello 2017.

See you there.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Out of the mouths of adolescents

"Out of the mouths of babes..." we like to say.

(Here's one of Zach's from many years ago.)

However, whatever wisdom is expressed by children typically comes from their complete innocence.

That is, the wisdom does not reside in the child speaking, but rather in the adult who hears the speaking.

(Corollary: if a child utters some astute observation and no-one hears it, it probably ain't a wisdom!)

The wisdom of an adolescent is a bit different. It is a quirky blend of innocence and emergent wisdom. Here's some examples from Zach.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Up the creek

A solo journey up the creek becomes a test of Zach's resolve - and he passes. Just!

On our annual dads and kids camp in December, I set off with another bloke, Josh, for a hike along a trail that runs on the ocean side of Jerusalem Creek for about four kilometres. The creek runs from Blackrocks campgrounds parallel to the shore to an exit to the ocean some four or more kilometres to the north. The hike is along a wide tongue of land with creek to the left and ocean to the right.

I left Zach with the other dads and a bunch of kids jumping off trees, swinging from a rope, and paddling around in the on surfboards and kayaks.

Josh and I eventually reached the end of the trail at the point where the creek met the ocean. There was a wide sandbar preventing the creek from flowing out into the ocean. After exploring around the creek mouth, we walked back along the through the "black rocks" (more like coffee in both colour and in consistency as it is a soft, sedimentary rock).

Back at the campground, everyone was back. 

Well, everyone except Zach.

I was told that Zach had tried to round up someone to paddle the two-man kayak with him down the creek to ocean - a journey of over 4kms.

No-one had expressed any interest, and undeterred, Zach set off paddling a two-man kayak on his own down the winding creek.

No-one had seen him since.

Josh and I had been gone for about two hours and Zach for most of that time also. So I set off on a run retracing the trail alongside the creek. As I could not see the creek from the trail, I yelled "coo-ee" repeatedly as I ran.

A little belatedly, I realised that I had not re-applied any sunscreen, I had no t-shirt or top. I stopped at a point where the creek came alongside the trail and covered myself in mud to protect my already sun-exposed skin.

I ran on, coo-ee-ing every 50 metres or so.

Eventually, I heard a response, a solid cooee from beyond some trees and rushes to my left where I knew the creek to be. But the voice was more bass than Zach's. On yelling, I heard a man yell that they had him with them. I crashed through the bush and rushes to arrive at the creek. 

I then walked along the creek edge around a corner beckoned by more calls to find a family group: two men, two women and a couple of kids distributed across two kayaks who were towing a kayak bearing a rather forlorn looking Zach.

He was crushed. And he told me the reason why as we (okay I) paddled us back to the campground.

He had paddled the length of the creek. On arriving at the same sandbar that Josh and I had seen, he had dragged the kayak out of the creek and some 50m over to the ocean.

He had it in mind to return to the campground by the ocean.

As he paddled out a little, he had to negotiate the waves crashing on the shore.

Then he realised the wind was strong - and blowing off shore. He tried to paddle back to the beach, but the wind was opposing the return. He leapt into the water and swam towing the kayak back to shore.

As he approached the shore, a wave took the kayak and capsized it losing his hat and/or sunscreen.

Once ashore, he towed the kayak back up the beach to the creek.

And then proceeded to paddle the over 4kms back to the launch point in Jerusalem Creek - against the wind.

The family group passed him and asked if he was okay. Stoically, Zach said 'yes' and they paddled on.

After they had passed one of the many bends in the creek, Zach decided he was not okay. He gave a final burst of energy to pursue them and on rounding the bend, called them back.

They tied his kayak to one of theirs, covered him with an umbrella as he was becoming increasingly exposed, gave him some water although he refused food.

They began their meandering back up the creek towards the campground.

I arrived about five minutes later apparently - so Zach had done most of this journey on his own.

I was so proud of Zach. He set himself a BIG task. It proved to be bigger than he expected. He tried some different ideas, but above all, he kept on going.

Epictetus remarks that "the greater the difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests." 

The journey to manhood is a long way, but this was a solid first step.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Sailing in Shark Bay - a short history


In October 2016, I sailed around Shark Bay in a small open dinghy with my long-time sailing buddy, Peter.

Here is an abbreviated history of visitors to this remote but very scenic area including our own recent visit. (For a more pictoral and less historical view, go to this version)

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A walk on the wilderness side (Hong Kong)

Hong Kong wilderness? Sounds like an oxymoron, but it really isn't. 

When an offer came up to visit Hong Kong to teach a two-weekend course in the psychology of consumers and consumption ("Consumer Behavior"), I said "Yes".

This affirms one of the key principles of "manipulating" consumer behavior: just give customers want they want. It's a lot easier than trying to push them towards that which they don't want.

The course was then cancelled, but they agreed to pay for my non-refundable airline tickets, and so I went anyway.

Hong Kong is of course a major city (population 7m), and nearby mainland China features a set of massive megatropolises including Guangzhou (population 13m) and Shenzhen (population 11m).

Despite that, Hong Kong features some fascinating wilderness spots. Here's the ones I explored and highly recommend.