Creative non-fiction piece by Meg Mikelson
Dad is already chewing his fingers before the game starts.
He spends a lot of the game flipping the rows of a Rubrik’s cube. It’s a pretty one that Mum bought, with sides that make pictures in pastel colours. Giving Dad the cube is a strategy Mum recently put in place. It means that Dad has some skin left on his fingers and the rest of us haven’t ripped our ears off over the rabbit-like nibbling of dead skin.
C’mon Cats! It invariably starts like this – with Dad’s words of encouragement. He always sits on the left side of the couch that’s closest to the TV (the glorious ‘prime position’). I always sit on the right. The couch has to be turned around to face the screen because Mum refuses to have the furniture pointed towards the TV. It’s unsociable and demonstrates bad priorities.
Dad bumps the remote, accidentally changing the channel. Oh, dodgyrama! These types of loud, made-up declarations burst out of his pent-up excitement.
I can’t believe we dropped Dahlhaus and kept that other muppet. He hears me typing and tells me he doesn’t want to hear me dingaling-ing throughout the game.
The starting siren blows as Dad stabs his chicken pie with his fork. He has already announced to the room that he does not like this chicken pie as much as the one we normally have. The ball has barely moved before he starts yelling.
In his back!
Look at Joel, he’s a beast!
These umpires – they’ve been given the pencil test!
I learn that this pencil test consists of sticking a pencil through one ear and out the other to ascertain that the recipient has no brain. If they pass, they’re allowed to umpire.
OH – FIFTY METRES, DOG!
My little brother, Jacob, seeing Menegola fumble the ball across the boundary line, shouts, “Pick it up!” Dad explains that he didn’t want to pick it up – he wanted it to look like he was trying, but he actually wanted the stoppage. This is what I call ‘player knowledge’. Dad never played professionally, but, when I was young, he played for the local club. I was so proud when he won Best and Fairest for his club in 2003. After he stopped playing, he still took us to some games. He watched the match and chatted to the men, while we circled around the field, rapping on people’s car windows to sell our charity Freddo Frogs for school.
Oh no, oh no, this is where the world collapses. It’s the one time when you want the rapture to work! Geelong’s Lachie Henderson has the ball for the first time. Theologically, we don’t believe in the rapture, but Dad’s meaning is clear: it would be better for Hendo to be zapped off the earth, than for him to kick the ball. Dad’s not a Hendo fan.
MIERS CAN’T KICK! GET RID OF HIM! Dad is also not a Miers fan.
Jacob calls out a player over something Dad doesn’t agree with. Ever wanting to please Dad, Jacob explains that he’s just stressed. If you’re gonna be stressed, put your hand over your mouth.
Dad tells us (the family) that he’d like us (the team) to kick the first nine goals.
My sister asks, “Not ten?”
No, that’s too many. That’s greedy.
Dad is quickly becoming stressed. He’s guzzling coke.
Bad camera work. What’s going on with the cameraman? He’s on the pencils as well. The pencil narrative seems to be falling apart, morphing from an intelligence test to something you can be ‘on’, like crack. Either way, the cameraman has been called out; no one is safe.
IT CLEARLY BOUNCED OUT! IT’S OOOUUUTTTT!!!
He should be sent home for having a haircut like that.
The dog, Ralph, licks the skateboarding wound on Dad’s elbow. Get out of it. Dad looks for his coke glass that’s rolled under the couch and takes a sticky tape dispenser out of Ralph’s mouth.
Here’s a guy that doesn’t know what he’s doing – look! (It’s Hendo again).
GO BOYS! GIDDY UP! GIDDY UP! GIDDY GIDDY GIDDY!!! (Accompanied by some flailing around on the couch, whipping an imaginary horse).
DUMB! (The ‘giddy-ing’ didn’t work – he pounds the couch as hard as he can).
That’s what happens when you have… (he pauses briefly to look at me – I’m about to get some words of wisdom) put that down: ‘inexperienced players on the field – put them on the bus!’
Dad is not impressed when Gary Rohan misses a shot at goal. His backside leaves the couch. He swipes at Rohan on the TV and stamps his foot hard on the floorboards. It’s the first of many emergences from the couch, frequently accompanied by foot-stomping and hand-jerking in anger and/or disbelief.
Mum rearranges couch cushions. Ali, what are you doing? He’s perturbed, but not mad – he doesn’t call Mum ‘Ali’ when he’s mad. You don’t come in the middle of stressful football and play cushion distribution games. He follows this up by asking Mum if she has any hidden football snacks that he doesn’t know about.
I ask him to please not shake the couch because he will spill my hot chocolate. Okay, well hurry up and drink it. I’ve got things to do.
The last thing I need during a game of football is to have my fingers licked. (Ralph again).
Mr. Can’t Kick.
Draw him a picture!
Zach Tuohy does something that impresses Dad. See that’s what you need! (Looks at me) Write down: ‘footballer’.
My sister laughs, “Footballer?”
Yeah, we’ve got a footballer!
He explains that the play they have just completed is what he advised earlier. Just write down: ‘Daddy genius, football predictor.
Impressively, t’s common for Dad to make a good call about what the team should be doing. The commentators often say exactly what he said, about ten seconds after he’s said when I was nine, I decided I wanted to be the first female AFL player. That dream lasted a few months since I have little to no athletic ability, but I did play one game – the girls from my class at school played against girls from a nearby school. Dad coached me, teaching me how to come over the ball and side-bump my opponent. I gave everything to that side-bump. The poor girl probably didn’t know what hit her.
Dad announces what we need to do and who needs to do it. My sisters and Jacob are talking, and Dad tells them to be quiet. Dad enforces very strict no-talking rules during the football. If it’s not about footy, it’s not appropriate to talk about. Even if it’s about footy, if it’s more than shouting something meaningful at the TV, you better save it for the ad breaks. Although, then you have to work it in around Dad declaring how much he hates ads and how much better it would be to have Pay TV (evidently, he hates the daylight robbery of having to pay for Pay TV, more than he hates the ads, because he refuses to upgrade). Now, I wait until it is appropriate to talk, call his name, point my thumb towards myself and say, “Good girl.” Yeah, you’re busy typing away gunky rubber. “I am not!”
My sister is still talking about a Facebook friend of hers that married someone that looks like her dad. Don’t you want to marry someone that looks like your dad? There’s a long pause. “Silence,” I say. We all laugh, Dad most of all.
He’s back into the game and amazed that Hendo has taken two good marks in a matter of minutes. Oh, Hendo! What’s going on here? There must be something in the Perth air!
Someone accidentally flicks off the light. Hey!
“Settle your Gretel,” Mum tells him.
I’m Gretl’n, I’m all over Gretel.
I roar and Dad’s up off the couch as a messy could-have-been-goal, by number 9, fumbles through for a point. Dad always wears number 9 in the yearly Charity Football Match he runs for our church. The first one, in 1997, raised money to pay for my Mum’s naturopathic medication while she had cancer. Dad donates the money to a different charity each year, most recently to the charity he founded himself, to help a small community in Vietnam.
When I was old enough, I became a water girl. Dad always prepares an esky of coke cans for the players, for after the game. If there’s any leftover, I get a can. I look forward to that can of coke for weeks beforehand. After the match each year, Dad makes a speech. Everyone thanks him and says how wonderful it is that he does this. He doesn’t know how proud this makes me – he’d think it is a weird thing to be proud about.
In an ad break, Dad looks at Jacob. How you going, Matey? Jacob says he is annoyed over his earlier uncontrollable laughing session. Next time, go outside and put your head in a bucket.
GOT HIM! THAT’S GOTTA BE HOLDING UMPIRE!
OH NO! WHAT ARE YOU DOING, YOU TURKEYS!?
He’s up and then down with a huge exhale as Hawkins marks outside the goal. We get the goal.
I don’t know if I can do this, year in, year out. This Geelong supporting. My Opa, Dad’s grandfather, in the later years of his life, recorded the games and found out the final score before watching them. His blood pressure couldn’t handle the stress. Dad compares himself to Opa now, saying he’ll have a stroke.
“Maybe you just need to chill,” my sister tells Dad.
No, you can’t chill! (A stupid idea). Once you’ve got it, you’ve got it. I’m not sure what ‘it’ is, but I think it’s hereditary.
GWS score again and Dad coaches the TV through what we need to do next – keep possession, no rushing. He flies to his feet again.
That’s high! They took his head off, umpire!
Oh, they’re just slaughtering us. They’re slicing us up.
Hawkins scores again.
Nice! Nice! I’m feeling better!
In the ad break, Dad says how much better it would be if we had Pay TV.
We all “Oooohhhhhh” and “Ooouucchhhh” at the replay of Zach Sproule’s (GWS ruckman) shoulder popping out of its socket.
TOMMMMAAHHAAAWWKKKKK! YYOOOUUUU BEEAAUUUTTYYYY!
By now, we seem to be sitting pretty.
The umpires…they were pencil tested and failed but they haven’t been a complete disaster. (A very rare compliment – Dad respects the role of umpire but seldom goes that far).
Dad tells Mum that she needs to get on board more and that the correct type of support is to say things like bash him, boop.
We win. We all saw it coming by the end, but we’re very happy just the same.
Mum asks the name of GWS’s number 19.
Why? Is he a spunk?
“He’s handsome,” Mum says.
That’s not the sort of support I was hoping you would offer.
Dad and I stay up to watch Chris Scott’s (Geelong coach) press conference. Everyone else goes to bed.
As I get ready for bed, I walk past Mum and Dad’s room and see Dad lying in bed, watching the highlights of the game on his phone.