Life can be tough for kids with a FIFO parent. Time together always seems to speed by as fast as the plane that takes their Daddy or Mummy away, and as their tiny hands press up against the windows of the boarding gate, they prepare for another week or two, or longer, without their parent. While the wonders of technology help the FIFO situation by allowing video calling, texting and photo sharing at the click of a button, some creative mums have put pen to paper and penned a bedtime story for those nights Dad won’t be home to tuck them into bed.
Mother-of-six Sally Murphy has lived most her life in rural Western Australia. Working as a teacher, in marketing and tourism, and as a university tutor, the published author of 37 books says her first love has always been writing kids books. Sally talks about her latest children’s book, Fly-In Fly-Out Dad.
HOW DID WRITING FLY-IN FLY OUT DAD COME ABOUT?
I grew up in a mining town (Collie, WA) and have had lots of friends who have had FIFO spouses. I have always admired their ability to run households, be sole parents, hold down jobs, and maintain marriages. I’ve also admired the spouses who live away from home, but still work hard at maintaining relationships and being involved in their children’s lives.
But, in spite of my admiration, I always thought it was something I wouldn’t do. It just seemed too hard. Then, although my husband isn’t in mining, we found ourselves living in a town which didn’t have high school beyond year 10, and we decided the best solution for us all was for the kids and I to live elsewhere, and my husband to stay put. We became a DIDO family.
As I adapted to the altered family setup and the changes it meant for all of us, I realised that there was a need for stories about these kind of situations. I could use my own experiences, plus those I’d observed in other families, to write a story for young children, who are probably the ones who find it hardest to understand.
WHAT IS FLY-IN FLY-OUT DAD ABOUT?
The main character is a young boy (his Dad calls him Tiger), who tells what it’s like when Dad comes home from the mines. It follows the family through the week that he is home and the boy’s feelings about the thought of him leaving again. Through Dad, we also see what life is like on the mine site, with images of dongas and trucks and so on. While Dad does leave again, we see that the family is working hard to make the best of time together, and time apart.
I didn’t really set out to write it for my children, though certainly the emotions that Tiger and his family feel are very much based on how we feel as a family. I set out to write it because I saw a need and because I felt I could draw on my experiences to meet that need. I am amazed how well it has been received.
WHAT DO YOU THINK THE BENEFITS OF THE BOOK IS FOR CHILDREN?
I think it can help in a practical sense of understanding what life is like on a mine site, and how swings or shift rotations work, and just where it is Dad (or Mum) goes on that plane. It illustrates the coming and going part of the job. But I think it can also show that it is okay to miss Dad, and even to feel sad about him leaving. The book allows families an opportunity to have conversations about how FIFO affects them. It is also useful in classrooms and childcare settings for the same reason.
Just like adults miss people, kids do too. And everything Dad or Mum is missing out on (milestones, sport, school concerts, birthdays, bedtime) the child is missing out on sharing with the parent, too. And of course there are the changes which happen every swing – homes operate differently when Dad/Mum is away than when they are home.
The good news is that the impact isn’t all negative – just different from what society sees as ‘normal’. So for some families, for example, the time when everyone is together is a time when they really make the most of being together. And when they are apart they work hard to keep in contact, and to be included in different ways. And, of course, families choose this lifestyle because they want to make a living, which in turn provides financial security for the family.
DO YOU THINK FLY-IN FLY-OUT DAD HELPS KIDS COPE WITH THEIR PARENT BEING AWAY AT WORK?
I hope that the book does help young children understand what happens on mine sites, where Dad goes when he is away and so on, as well as helping them understand that it is okay to miss their parent and even to feel sad sometimes. I do think it’s important that we find ways to help children understand things that are happening in their lives. Books can do this in a special way.
WHAT IS THE MAIN MESSAGE YOU WANT TO GET OUT?
That the relationship between parents and kids can be special, no matter how much time they spend apart.
Fly-In Fly-Out Dad is a hardcover picture book, with illustrations by the amazing Janine Dawson, who has drawn Dad as a superhero in the child’s imagination, which is apt given that Dad flies to and from work. It is available in all good bookstores.
Jo Emery is a mother to Sahskia, 8, Ahnika, 4, and Grayson, 20 months, and is a FIFO wife. After taking some time off as a primary school teacher to raise her family, Jo was inspired to write My Dad is a FIFO Dad after a particularly difficult airport drop-off.
TELL ME ABOUT MY DAD IS A FIFO DAD?
The book is about a young girl and the wonderful connection she has with her Dad. Like most kids they have a beautiful bond with their father and that is generally built from all of the fun experiences they share together. Doing simple things like reading stories and playing imaginary games.
The little girl goes on to explain that her Dad is often not at home. Her mother explains to her in detail, what it is that he does when he flies away to work and the importance of his role within the Australian Resource Industry.
The child talks about how she feels connected to her absent parent while he is at work and gives some tips as to how she keeps strong, resilient and united with her ‘away’ father.
I believe that the book broaches an often sensitive topic on an emotional level. It is pitched at children aged between two and 10 and uses language appropriate to kids within this age bracket.
For the little ones, conversation and scaffolding their understanding is important, so the messages are not lost. Children can use our family story to base their own on, within their specific family contexts. Like my daughter did, kids can illustrate their own understanding of FIFO. Sahskia was stoked to have her work of art published as a part of our book.
HOW DID THE IDEA COME ABOUT TO WRITE MY DAD IS A FIFO DAD?
My Dad is a FIFO Dad was born out of the raw emotion of our last drop-off of Daddy to the airport – he was flying back to work. We were late for the plane and had to leave my husband Steve in the ‘drop-off zone’, rather than park the car. The children were devastated that Daddy was heading back to work and it was the first time that Ahnika, two at the time, had realized that Daddy was going away for a long time.
My eldest daughter Sahskia, was incredibly sad as she felt the angst of her sister also (Needless to say this was our last drop off and my husband caught the shuttle bus from then on). It was incredibly heartbreaking to see and to feel and so, as I have often done in many situations, that night I went home and put pen to paper to debrief. The initial draft of my story was penned some 16 months before its release. The story is told through the eyes of Sahskia. I tried to capture what I knew she and her sister were feeling on that day and mix it with what I hoped they would be strong enough to feel in times to come.
I CAN IMAGINE THE BOOK BEGAN AS A SIMPLE IDEA FOR YOUR OWN CHILDREN – HOW FAST HAS IT GROWN FROM THERE?
Yes, my story began as a way of communicating with my kids about what our life was all about. Giving them the words to express their feelings and to truly understand what their Daddy does for work seemed important. To be honest I never imagined that I would publish it. Once finished however, I read the story to Sahskia and with tears in her eyes and pride in her face she said “WOW Mum, that is about Daddy and me”.
From that point on I felt passionate about sharing our family story and connecting other children and families with an absent parent. I wanted kids across the country to feel pride in who they are and where they come from and know and understand what it is that their Dad or in many cases Mum does when they get on that plane. While it is a story about a little girl and her dad, through conversation it can easily be adapted to a mother and child, grandparent and child relationship.
My readers’ responses have been nothing short of overwhelming. I feel privileged to have my words held in the hands and hearts of kids and their families and hope that they bring a sense of security and confidence to them in this FIFO life. I have had many messages confirming that the story is making a difference, which is what I had hoped to achieve.
WHAT DO YOU THINK THE BENEFITS OF MY DAD IS A FIFO DAD TO CHILDREN?
Firstly, they can put themselves into the main character’s shoes and feel united as a family despite the geographical distance that may be in between them and the one who is away. Children can reflect on all of the fabulous things they do with an absent parent that builds the foundations of their strong bond. Kids can look to their absent parent for advice and guidance even when they are away. Most importantly I feel that my book gives children the opportunity to develop resilience and confidence in knowing that they are a part of a FIFO Family and that they are OK.
DO YOU THINK IT HELPS THEM TO COPE WITH THEIR PARENT BEING AWAY AT WORK?
Absolutely! I think that the book is a great means of communication about what the child’s parent may do. It opens up opportunities for families to discuss the intricacies of the away person’s job and location. I think this knowledge and understanding helps kids to cope. It provides many opportunities to learn coping strategies, like the child uses in the story. As well as this, it gives children the chance to see that they are not alone, many families are in similar situations.
I hope the story reassures children that despite distance, fathers and mothers can be present in heart, mind and spirit in many situations and that families can work towards building and maintaining strength, resilience and unity. Kids need reassurance that in difficult life situations, they will be OK. While the platform for this story is FIFO I really think that anyone who believes in the unity of family will enjoy it and take some important messages from it.
“I feel that I am achieving my lifelong goal, which is to make a difference in the lives of children and families, providing the tools to develop and maintain strength, resilience and unity.”
NOT ONLY HAVE YOU WRITTEN A BOOK, YOU HAVE ALSO CREATED A RANGE OF RESOURCES TO HELP FIFO CHILDREN COPE. WHAT ARE THESE PRODUCTS?
The second part in my Keeping FIFO/DIDO Families Connected Suite of Resources is a set of activity cards for kids and families. They are entitled ‘I’m OK When You’re Away’. Developed in conjunction with Gryphon Psychology these fabulous resources address the four areas of positive mental health and aims to help kids build skills for resilience, regulating emotions, being flexible and taking responsibility.
The activities are fun and engaging and help kids and the at home parent cope with the separation of FIFO/DIDO Life. The suite of activities include board games, problem solving activities, community engagement activities and so on.
My Dad is a FIFO Dad is no longer just a children’s picture book but a series of resources to support children and families who live a FIFO/DIDO lifestyle. I have had much enthusiasm from companies asking for my engagement as a consultant in this area. I feel that I am achieving my lifelong goal, which is to make a difference in the lives of children and families, providing the tools to develop and maintain strength, resilience and unity.
My Dad is a FIFO Dad is illustrated by Ann Maree Finn, and includes one special drawing by the author’s daughter. The book and other resources are available at www.mydadisafifodad.com.