There’s no family equaliser quite like sport
"Swans getting absolutely PUMPED haha."
That was the last text message I sent to my dad that had nothing to do with his grandkids, a broken washing machine, or an airbag safety audit that he felt absolutely compelled to take.
I've sent him 34 more text messages since the Sydney Swans were beaten by cross-town rivals GWS Giants in a qualifying final on September 8, 2018. That doesn't seem like much, but it's the footy off-season and our relationship becomes a little less active and a lot less emotive in the months in between.
"I just got a call from a furniture shop in Oakleigh. Assume it's for you?"
"Key on kitchen counter & car in driveway - have a good day."
"We are at the terminal waiting."
Those are some of the businesslike exchanges I've had with my dad since September last year.
When our beloved Hawks kick off their 2019 campaign this weekend, there'll be emojis, there'll be passion, there'll be expletives. Our relationship goes up an extra notch and we start connecting on a level beyond, "Have you consolidated your super accounts like I told you to in 2003?"
My dad and I are close, but not in a conventional way. We communicate mostly through Mum, who for some reason has her phone synched up to Dad's, so I'm never really sure who's responding anyway. Perhaps I've been having these text conversations with Mum this whole time. Like those weirdly co-dependent couples with joint Facebook accounts, it really is quite odd how chill they are with their phones - and by extension their entire lives - being synched.
Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that sport is the thing that enables us to cross that line between dad and friend. And I'm pretty comfortable with a seasonal friendship with a 63-year-old man who watches golf on his phone, buys jeans from Costco and gets tipsy from half a glass of shandy. Never change Dad!
When our eldest daughter was born it wasn't long before we indoctrinated her into this weekly family ritual.
At first the lure of hot chips and an afternoon spent mostly on Grandma's iPhone was enough to get her down to a game. But now she knows the numbers of even the fringe players, reels off stats about forward entries and contested possessions and has a raging pack-a-day habit when it comes to footy cards.
I'm not sure how comfortable I would have been taking her down to Waverley Park back when my parents and I used to go in the early-1990s. But thankfully footy's a different experience these days.
Players don't actively set out to give each other concussions anymore and you don't really hear the same filth in the stands - except when our arch rival Essendon plays.
There was no Pride Game in support of the LGBT community, or a round celebrating the indigenous community's immense contribution to the game. The women's league has been an overdue and welcome addition and I'm looking forward to the day when our Hawks get into the main competition and our daughter has a whole new set of heroes to look up to - ones that look like her.
There's still a lot of work to be done, but the AFL should be applauded for its efforts in making footy a more inclusive space for all families. Because ultimately that's what it's about.
This weekly excuse to get together, rejuvenate our connections and unite against one common enemy: the umpires.