It’s Spring Racing Carnival in Melbourne! The sun is shining (in intervals), the shops are full of fascinators and fancy frocks, and the bookies are gearing up for the biggest race of the year.
A topical movie has been launched just in time for racing season. The Cup documents an emotional time in the life of jockey Damien Oliver. One week out from the 2002 Melbourne Cup, his brother and fellow jockey, Jason is crushed in an horrific racing accident. Reminiscent of the fateful ride that caused their father’s death 27 years before, it leaves the family broken and weighing the toll of two family deaths resultant of a sport they love. Counselling Damien through his decision to race the following week, raw with emotion, family opinions are split. The Oliver family considers racing is in the blood: “it’s what we do” is Damien’s stance. Jenny, Jason’s widow, cannot tolerate the prospect of losing another family member to the sport, and appeals to the mother to call enough’s enough.
As a parent, this scene really struck me. What do you do when your children have an ambition that could ultimately lead to their death? We spend our parenting years encouraging, rewarding and embracing our children’s talents. We enthusiastically cheer them to follow their dreams, leap for the sky, and pursue a career they love.
When the decision they make goes against the ingrained instinct to protect and nurture, where does that leave the parent?
After her husband died, Mrs Oliver could have reasonably strayed from the racing world and encouraged her children to follow other, safer ambitions. But would she have been doing them a disservice? Would they have lost a part of their father by avoiding the sport he was truly obsessed with, even though it was his ultimate demise?
The thunderous sound of hooves belting down the track was enough to deter my desire to ever mount a horse but for the Olivers, it was the adrenaline rush that fuelled their life’s passion. As much as the risk of death was ever-present, a life without racing was an equivalent death of their soul.
As a mum, I would have wanted Damien to seize that opportunity to fulfil his dream of winning the Melbourne Cup. As a parent who had raised two children alone, after losing a husband to a racing accident, and then one of those children to a similar death, I would have equally wanted my only living child to give up the sport. A dichotomy with an impossible reconciliation.
Damien was an adult and difficult as it was, it was his decision to make.
I’m not quite at the stage where my children are evaluating careers and I don’t think there’s anything so powerful dominating our lives as racing was for the Oliver family. Unless you count food. Chocolate, specifically.
My eight year old loves kicking a footy around and believes he’ll play for Carlton one day. I can’t say I love AFL, but at this point I’m more than happy to foster a team spirit, and a healthy passion for exercise. What if he shows real promise and eventually gets drafted? Would I discourage it because he may end up with a brain injury from a sporting incident? Do I steer him towards the less-inclined-to-do-yourself-a-permanent-injury-sport of tennis?
If my six year old’s current obsession with couch diving is anything to go by, he’ll end up a stunt man. Perhaps an introduction to competitive pool diving would be worthwhile.
My three year old is enamoured with fire trucks. Next week he’ll probably want to be a carrot, so I’m not too concerned about his dangerous ambitions.
The baby can maintain a deadpan expression that would have her winning poker games internationally. I’m sure there’re hidden dangers in that career too.
When they are so young, the prospect of limiting their interests and passions seems ludicrous.
This is where the struggle lies, as a parent. Protecting them and setting them free are two conflicting skills we must eventually conquer. Tougher than winning the Melbourne Cup!
Have you limited your children’s choices to maintain their safety in the long term? Do you worry about the passions you’ve allowed them to follow?