WThe Hen Woman Weraguri and award-winning novelist Miles Franklin Tara John Winch Torres Straight Island writer and activist Thomas Mayor met at the Perth Book Festival last year, imploring the father of five to write about fatherhood.
With three adult children from his first marriage and two, aged 7 and 10, from his ongoing relationship, the 44-year-old mayor, while “thinking of all my flaws as a father and as a man,” had a hesitant start.
“I thought: ‘How do I do this?'” And I said [to Winch] I would have thought about it.”
Months later, while reading James Baldwin’s book A letter to my nephewMayor realized that the format adopted by the American writer and activist in his famous essay on the scourge of apartheid in twentieth-century America was exactly the literary tool he had to use to write about Aboriginal Australian parents.
At first he considered a short book in the style of an essay – one letter from him to his children.
Mayor says by phone from his home in Darwin, where he also works as an official for the Australian Maritime Federation.
“There were a lot of Aboriginal men I respected who I knew would write powerful letters to their sons – and it also became about fathers. Some of them write to their fathers but mostly to their sons.”
the result is His book, Dear Son: Letters and Reflections from the Fathers and Sons of First Nations. It is a brave, loving and generous anthological exploration of how colonial oppression and the traumas of subsequent generations affected Indigenous masculinity and fatherhood. Booked with Mayor’s letters to his eldest son and father, it also contains a bit of his witty poetry (which he’s at once proud – and reticent – about his show).
Featuring a foreword by Winch, the anthology features letters to sons and/or fathers from 13 notable Aboriginal men, including musician Troy Cassar Daly, visual artist Black Douglas, writer and journalist Jack Lattimore, Aboriginal health activist and worker Johnny Liddell, and journalist Stan Grant. and social justice advocate Joel Bayliss.
As Winch writes: “There is no shameful function here. These letters, written to both sons and fathers of sons, are always delicate, raw, honest, and loving.”
She wrote that the letters “dispel the stereotype about what masculinity is for First Nations men.”
“Defaming the Black Man is a colonial disgrace. Psychologically and emotionally harmful at best, harmful and life-threatening at worst.”
Mayor opened his introduction by mentioning that colonial legacy – The stigma Writing that when First Nations men love themselves, they are better able to love families and communities. “However, loving ourselves is an act of challenge.”
“From the beginning of the European conquest of our homes on the Australian continent and adjacent islands, the colonial establishments have been teaching my people to hate themselves.”
Mayor confirms this in his private letter to his 19-year-old son. It begins with this heartbreaking father asking his now-adult child: “Do you remember, when you were about nine years old, you tried to hold my hand like you always did, and you said you were too old to hold my hand in public?”
What follows is a round trip through the Mayors to the Thursday Island funnel in ‘Apartheid Queensland’, where his father grew up – distant, difficult and difficult for little Thomas.
In a letter to his father, Mayor wrote: “…from your point of view, it was necessary to be tough with me. You were preparing me for a world that did not love me like you. I thought a foot in my ass at home was better than me if I erred outside, where I might lead Make a bad decision to throw me in jail or maybe six feet underground.”
These are not considerations that parents of non-Indigenous children should take into account.
However, echoes of colonial oppression and violence, theft, institutionalization and abuse of Indigenous children, and the tireless struggle for better conditions and economies to escape poverty and create opportunities for subsequent generations of Indigenous children, are the common threads. As well as preserving culture by sharing knowledge of the deep indigenous history, living beyond land and sea, sustainability and respect for women.
“We were taught in school as boys…that our grandparents were savages and unintelligent, while non-Aboriginal children were taught that their grandparents were scholars, explorers, and rescuers,” Mayor says of the historical cartoon of Aboriginal men.
It is a harmful stereotype perpetuated by the politics of the white mainstream media. Mayor and others, including Liddell, have pointed out the enormous damage that Aboriginal men left to Aboriginal men 2007 Northern Territory Emergency Response – ‘Intervention’ – when then-Prime Minister John Howard deployed the military to remote Aboriginal communities in response Very dubious allegations of child sexual abuse and other child abuse.
In a letter to his sons John, Daniel, and Ryan, and grandson Tyrese, Johnny Liddell wrote: [Howard’s] The government portrayed us Aboriginal men as pedophiles – and dismissed us as evildoers…All Aboriginal men felt guilty. I remember standing at Coles… All these whites were looking at me. I felt like they were thinking I was a harasser. On the same day I saw a young man from Blak holding his child at the exit, and I could see the way they were looking at him, as if he was a harasser. “
Men’s need to respect women—and to confront and advocate for domestic violence—is not sugar-coated in Dear Son.
But as Mayor points out, domestic violence is a national – not Indigenous – disaster that spreads everywhere, including allegations Sexual violence in the federal parliament.
He says all men need to do better. This is why there is universality for my dear son.
“We all have fathers. Some of us have sons. We all have other men in our lives and we have to think about how we relate to them.”
If one of the last days in Australia illustrates the need for this book, it’s August 4, 2016 – National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day. That morning, as Joel Bayliss recounts in his letter to his son Ischia, the Australian posted a Bill Lake cartoon depicting a policeman bringing an Aboriginal child to what appears to be a drunk Aboriginal father.
The cartoon This came shortly after the horrific abuse of Aboriginal children at Don Dale Detention Center, Darwin, was exposed.
“This cartoon… said Aboriginal men were drunk. She said Aboriginal men didn’t know their children. Said we didn’t care. In one picture, the leak undermined my love for my children, diminished my relationship with my parents, and shifted blame from governments and guards in Don Dell to the families of the victims… This was a racist depiction of our people and it angered me.”
Bayliss posted on Twitter a picture of him with Isiah and his other child, Ava, with the simple message that he’s a proud Aboriginal father. This led to the viral hashtag #IndigenousDads.
The book is poignant, emotionally frank, and motivated by the need to tell the truth (in line with The mayor’s participation in the Uluru Statement from the heart).
It is characterized by the absence of anger. It lends an ironic feel to her family’s stories. Jack Lattimore, for example, writes poignantly about the urgent interstate drive to see his dying uncle. On his way he gathers his father and they get lost – only to enter the wrong house (to the surprise of the strangers who live there) in the darkness of the night.
Perhaps the biggest emotional bridge the mayor had to cross was writing about his father, who forbade him from doing so.
“I told him, ‘No, it’s my story – too bad. The way you raised me is my story now. You know I don’t think that’s a disrespectful thing – I just think it’s important.’ And I said, ‘Well, like I said, if you’re not going to read it on Anyway, I can write whatever I want about you!”
Dear Son: Letters and Meditations from First Nations Fathers and Sons by Thomas Mayor Now Released, Published by Hardy Grant, RRP $34.99