First Nations fathers have dedicated letters about life, masculinity and fatherhood to their sons in a soon-to-be-released anthology titled Dear Son.
Dear Son was the brainchild of Torres Strait Islander activist and author Thomas Mayor.
Mayor says the idea was sparked by a conversation with award-winning Wiradjuri author Tara June Winch whilst the pair were at Perth Writers’ Festival in 2020.
Winch encouraged Mayor to write about his journey of fatherhood and deconstruct stereotypes against Indigenous men.
“I didn’t think I would do it because of my own flaws as a father and man,” said Mayor.
“But I read James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, one of the essays is styled as a letter to his nephew. That sparked me to think this would be perfect about fatherhood.”
Dear Son opens with Mayor’s letter to his 20-year-old son Tinoi; it touches on toxic masculinity, relationships and all the “things that I think a man should be”.
“It was healing,” Mayor said.
“Writing this caused me to explore my own behaviour in greater depth but then also to teach my son about having an open mind, having empathy and understanding others.”
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Dear Son concludes with a letter from Mayor to his father.
“He was that first generation that was free from the Protection Act … he was the first generation of Torres Strait Islander men to really go to the mainland and find work — a really hard worker,” he said.
“When I wrote to my father, I wanted to keep it short and really positive.
“I say [to him] that while you were harsh, I understand that you knew that the world would not love me like you do.”
Dear Son also includes contributions from Stan Grant, Troy Cassar-Daley, Yessie Mosby, Charlie King, Blak Douglas, Daniel Morrison, Jack Latimore, Joel Bayliss, Johnny Liddle, Daniel James, Tim Sculthorpe and Joe Williams.
“I’m getting a real sense of who I am as a dad … I have been a father for 16 years but a dad for six months,” said Wiradjuri/Wolgalu man Joe Williams.
“All the times as a father, I had never been quite present in the early years of their lives. But what COVID did was force me to stop … it taught me how to be a dad.”
Williams wrote his letter to his eldest son, 16-year-old Brodi.
“It’s a book for people to read but it’s also a book that I contributed to that helped me to do a heap of self-analysis on who I am and who I was as a dad,” he said.
Founder of mental health not-for-profit, The Enemy Within, Williams works in the wellbeing space, with particular focus on the impact of trauma — something he included within his letter.
“I put things in the letter around trauma, around ways to heal. We talk so much about generational trauma and intergenerational trauma, but we don’t quite understand what it is,” he said.
Like Mayor, Dear Son made Williams reflect on the way in which he was fathered.
“I had conversations with my Dad, which led to us being in tears as well. All that was triggered on the back of having to write some words down to my boy and really owning some of the stuff that I have,” he said.
“It is a whole, heartfelt message to my boy but it also has some lessons.”
Taking on big conversations, at its core Dear Son is a dedication to First Nations men.
The book opens with a dedication penned by Mayor.
Dear First Nations men,
Together we will unlearn what we were taught in the coloniser’s missions, slave camps, prisons, ghettos, and in the Australian media. We will sing out culture, healing the earth as our grandfathers did for more than 60 millennia. We will love ourselves and our families, and we will return to our rightful place in Australia.
We will celebrate who we are, as we have always deserved to do.
“This is ultimately about First Nations men,” said Mayor.
“It is also about our families and our communities — it’s about men, what we can do and what we can celebrate about ourselves also.”
“At the end of the day, no matter who we are and what we do, we are just men,” added Williams.
“It’s a book about healing, it’s about First Nations men being open and raw, and there is real strength in showing vulnerability.”
Dear Son will hit the shelves in September 2021.
By Rachael Knowles