Joe is a mate of mine. “Mate” hardly describes our connection, yet the sporadic contact belies a relationship that holds strong meaning for me. Joe is pretty much anonymous to most, but that is of his own making. He is humble at a time when indulgence and opulence seemed to be currency. For a long time, he struggled as an artisan. Other carpentry shops that ran slave labour gazumped the hand-crafted individuality of his table and chairs.

Rising to Challenges

Joe is a nice bloke to look at. There is a serenity in his light smile which disguises his tendency to serious thought. He grew out his beard from the moment his wispy down first sprouted and long before hipsters made them trendy. Wind could blow a chill right off the lake, and his beard was an environmentally-friendly alternative to an animal pelt. He gave an indifferent shrug to those who sneered at his profession, and his rugged shoulders (evidence of a lifetime of lifting weighty timber from drying racks) made his detractors think twice about giving him a hard time.

I admire Joe. He toiled on when the wealthy demanded identical matching sets of chairs and those that wanted an eclectic mix would rather pick through the local tip shop before they would travel ten kilometres down a dusty, rutted track to check out Joe’s simple workshop.

Joe went pretty quiet when his partner fell pregnant. Joe was an upright bloke in his upright community. Upright meant that babies out of wedlock were bad form. Upright converted readily to uptight when anyone dared to break convention with the conservative surroundings. There were tales of him wanting to disappear. Shame ran hard through his community. Running away was a valid option, when the alternative was being shunned, then isolated by the small-minded gossip which ran like a fury on stories of unmarried parents. Joe was young, scared and about to be a single parent. I can relate, except for the young bit.

Role Model

When I thought of Joe, I saw his well worn-tools, rustic saws, oiled chisels and heard the ancient adze make rhythmic, clouting sounds. My soft hands would be an easy target for splinters hidden in the handles of his implements. Joe, however, had hands that were as tough as the timber he carved. His tools were a meagre inheritance from his old man. Joe’s dad died without any cash to set up his son, however, he left Joe a treasury of gifts that couldn’t be bought.

Joe had been bequeathed a sense that hard work was an earnest part of making a living. Joe lived by the inherited conviction of his old man’s demonstrations that effort combined with patience and practice could craft furniture that would survive generations. When visitors fell off during winter, he had been gifted with resilience and resourcefulness. And when Joe’s son was born and proved to be a handful, Joe just marvelled at being blessed.

Joe’s humble upbringing, owning a craft workshop and being a dad had honed his full repertoire of life skills, making him wise. I appreciate Joe’s character, so nowadays I try to model Joe’s values to my daughters.

Message Obscured

Two thousand-odd years on, the celebration of the birth of Joe’s son has been overrun by merchandising, frenetic shopping and mind-numbing advertising.

I am disappointed that Joe’s dedicated parenting example has been lost to yuletide pampering. I am niggled by the insidious presence of Christmas marketing that speaks loudly to my girls of extravagant spending and looking cool.

Consequently, I was peeved when I saw an Advent calendar pitched to girls (it was mostly pink) with bold lettering imploring kids to look stylish for Christmas. The Advent calendar was rounded off with lipstick and other makeup to complete ‘the look’ for primary-age girls. I go to so much effort to care for my children’s hearts and self-worth, and get narky at having to compete with glitzy, shallow trinkets. I believe that my two girls — in fact, all girls and boys — deserve more than to be hoaxed into believing that cool comes in cheap cosmetics.

My children will be ushered well clear of such gifts. Instead, I am looking for a peaceful, stable Christmas of wonder and the delightful joy of my daughters.

At the same time, I think of what Joe might say about the ‘townies’ spruiking adult-style makeup to children.

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Painting: Georges de La Tour, “Joseph the Carpenter”

About the Author: Greg McInerney

Greg is the father of two daughters.

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