Earlier this year, on a crisp September evening, Amber my 21 year old daughter and I were off to the movies in town. We had bought tickets to a Melbourne première of a special documentary film. Amber is a budding doco maker herself, so it was a great thing to share as father and daughter.
After a couple of laps of the block, a parking spot popped up. It was right opposite the cinema. I don’t know if you subscribe to the existence of parking gods but I have had too many coincidences not to believe that we get looked after – especially when on face value, we are engaged in something that is layered with good intent.
In fact there are many layers of goodness folded through this story. I know it’s a pretty saccharin metaphor but hey, it’s Christmas and a lot of people are going to be tucking into trifle in the next few days… trifle has a lot of layers that connect and ooze into each other (this may not make the final edit of this post!)
Here’s the next layer of goodness. The film we saw, is called Legends of the Knight. Brett Culp’s passion project turned the camera onto people who are inspired by the Batman story The film piqued my interest (next layer arriving now)… because as I struggled with personal conflicts, of feeling fraudulent – too much like an ‘expert’ – for a keynote I developed last year, Surviving the Ride on the Adolescent Rollercoaster; the teaching moment that flipped my own perspective and changed the trajectory of the message was delivered to me, in a way, by Batman… more on that later.
Brett Culp and his team crowd sourced funds through Kickstarter to make the film.
The vision was that the final product be made available to groups doing fundraisers around the world. We were at the Australian première (you can see its listing here) for a group called Eddie’s Backpack’s … (which brings us to the next layer)…
The last school I worked at, before going full-time with Time & Space, was Parade College in Bundoora. Over my years there, I noticed a colleague, Darrell Cruse, getting himself more and more involved in the Red Cross Community Action Program that sent boys from Year 10 out to serve in places like special schools and nursing homes. The boys volunteered one afternoon a week for a term. I remember, as a colleague, I was impressed with Darrell’s commitment. His contribution always had that feel of being ‘above and beyond’. He always seemed to have an upbeat positive spirit. Darrell had a great way of involving the students too. He commandeered the students who, like him, had got in deeper with the community projects and found themselves giving more than the hours required by the school. He got those lads front and square and made sure that they were the heroes.
The next layer connects through the fact that Darrell married Mary-Jo Fish. One of my formative experiences during my university years, in the 1980’s, was volunteering for a youth team I’d got connected with that ran weekend retreats for senior secondary students. I left the team in 1988 and lived for some years interstate and overseas. I got back to Melbourne in the 1994 having started my own family with Lisa and I rejoined the team for a couple of years in a leadership role. Lisa and Amber, as a little toddler, were also welcome members of the team. Mary-Jo Fish was a young tertiary student on the team. She made Amber especially welcome. I reckon of all the young adults on the team, MJ was definitely Amber’s favourite. They played make-believe games together. In fact, they created their own super-hero persona’s. At any given moment on a retreat, from say, underneath a table in the dining room… you would hear this full throated, funny sounding roar… “Raaaaa!” from MJ and then… shrieks of laughter from Amber…
When her laughter subsided, she would find her own voice and “Raaaaa!” back at Mary-Jo. Therein are the origins of admittedly, a less famous pair of super-heroes imagined circa 1994-5 at the Macedon retreat centre. Raaa Woman and Raaa Girl. Amber was about 2 years old back then. We moved on from the team at the end of 1996. Some eighteen years later they were reunited in the cinema watching a doco about one of their super-hero colleagues, this guy called Batman. See what I mean about layers oozing into each other?
A community action all of their own… something Mary-Jo and Darrell have taken on as their three sons and their daughter have grown up, inspired Eddie’s Backpacks. You see, Mary-Jo and Darrell have been committed foster carers for many years now. In a background phone call to Darrell last week, I learnt that they have provided short term foster care to 32 kids. The stints have ranged from one night of respite for the children’s families to three month stays. It is great hearing Darrell’s motivation to do this and how it impacts on his own four children.
He explains that for his own kids, it is something they have grown up doing. He says “it’s like kids having a sleepover” and it works for his young sons and daughter. Because they have always done this, it isn’t hugely disruptive.
At a deeper layer Darrell reflects as a dad musing, “having my own kids, you always want people around who you know are going to stand up for others”.
He continued that perhaps “people feel calm and relaxed knowing that someone in society is prepared to help.”
On that score, Mary-Jo and Darrell decided that they would respond in the world of short term foster care. He calls it practical giving and that there is a lot to gain. When she was a kid, there were periods when one member of Mary-Jo’s family experienced ongoing illness. It meant that she and her siblings often stayed with extended family. Darrell’s dad grew up in care – he was an orphan (just like Bruce Wayne). I can’t help thinking that MJ and her husband have layered their own sons and daughter’s memories indelibly with values Darrell named as “Fairness, equity and justice.” Hmm, that sounds super-hero-esque don’t ya reckon?
And so the efforts of Brett Culp collided with this little group of students Darrell was animating at Parade. In fact it was a mate of Darrell’s, Dan Mackey – whose passion for social justice and all things Batman, moved him to mention how this film was being shown by charities around the world. It was perfect for Eddie’s Backpacks. That boutique theatre in the city was sold out for the fundraiser.
All the best ‘fund’ raising in turn effects ‘awareness’ raising. And foster care is not a prominent social issue. Amber and I learnt so much and absorbed the key point that unless you are a foster carer, then for people even closely connected, it is very easy to be caught up in the pace of everyday living and by extension, not to care about foster care. We learned that when kids are doing the rounds of short term foster care, they may not have brought their things with them from the last place to their new foster home. That’s where the simple, indeed brilliant idea of Eddie’s Backpacks germinated. A backpack with practical items like tooth brushes and, exercize book and pens, for school is filled by the team of student volunteers at Parade College.
On the night, the people up front are mostly the student organisers. This is Darrell’s style – he makes the efforts of the students the heroic element of the story. I think Amber is planning for Rohan and Baratha and their fellow student leaders to be the central figures in a documentary she wants to make about their volunteering for Eddie’s Backpacks. What struck me was that the boys who had put their hand up to help this little project team and who spoke before the film was shown, were all young people whose family originated from South Asia.
Rohan, who emigrated to Australia from India, three years ago simply observed that he was motivated to get involved because he had seen so many orphans in his home country. He wanted to help kids like them in his new home in Australia.
Let’s take you back to one of those first layers – that talk I put together last year about surviving as a parent on the Adolescent Rollercoaster. The instructive moment came, the answer really, that helped me transcend that feeling like I was a bit of a fraud. I’d recalled that my own teenage son was enamoured with super heroes as a little kid. He was always kitted up – his Superman, Spiderman costumes.
I asked him though, “Jack, am I correct in recalling that Batman was your favourite?”
“That’s right Dad,” Jack replied.
“Why was that?”, I asked.
“Well dad, when you think about it, Superman came from another planet and could fly, Spiderman could spin webs but Batman Dad, what I loved about him is that he didn’t have any superpowers,” Jack so wisely observed to me.
He provided the kicker that enabled me to reassure mums and dads in that seminar, that there are a whole range of abilities that are available to any parent to help them raise their teenager. We don’t have to be perfect or possess some power to be there for our kids.
And that theme runs all the way through Legends of the Knight. Darrell and Mary-Jo don’t have super powers. Rohan, Baratha and their team don’t. They combined their intent with practical action and are doing good.
You can do that too.
Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.