22,224 Days

30 years ago, I lost my dad. He was at home with mum after a long day at work, when someone came to the front door and shot him. Just like that. He died several hours later in St George hospital from blood loss due to ballistic trauma.

It was an agonising experience for our whole family. We all eventually came to terms with what happened, although I think we all dealt with it in very different ways. Dad was a completely innocent victim in what turned out to be a ghastly case of mistaken identity. To cut a very long story, a hitman by the name of Paul Thomas Crofts had been paid to shoot a underworld gangland figure named Danny Karam, as a warning for some shady stuff he was doing. Of course, there is a whole story behind it and how it came to happen, and the investigations into his murder went on for several years through several court cases and mistrials, but in the end the investigations exposed some pretty big time drug and crime syndicates that were operating around Kings Cross.

Of course, this was not obvious at the start, and it took a long time to work out the details of what happened and who was responsible. And why. We asked why a lot. Those years of not having an explanation for what happened were very difficult for everyone. After it happened, nobody really understood why, and everyone was under suspicion including our own family. As the investigation proceeded, the detectives started to piece together a complex puzzle that eventually led to the truth. There were many layers in the investigation that I won’t go into here, but in the end, getting the full story and being able to put the pieces together and understand what happened was at least some consolation.

Sydney Morning Herald February 25, 1993

At the time, I was 30 and dad was 60. I used to think 60 was old, but now that I’m also 60, I realise just how young 60 really is.

I wanted to note this on my blog today because I worked out that from April 20 1932, the day my dad was born in Lviv Poland, to February 23 1993, the day he died in Sydney, he had been alive for exactly 22,224 days.

Today, December 3, 2023, is 22,224 days since I was born on January 28 1963. Today, I have been alive for the same amount of time that my father was alive. I still feel young. And I’m sure my dad felt young at this age too, but tomorrow I get to wake up and live my 22,225th day, something he did not get the chance to do.

We feel so invincible most of the time, and most of us live as though we have all the time in the world. But life is so fragile. You never know what’s around the corner, be it a serious illness, an unfortunate accident , or some idiot who gets an address wrong and shoots you by mistake. Don’t take life for granted. Spend it doing things you love with people you care about.

Live every day as though it is your last, because one day it will be. And as cliche as that might sound, stop and think how you’re spending your time. How did you spend your day today? Because if you don’t get to wake up tomorrow morning, I truly hope you get to say you spent yesterday living like it was your last.

Introducing Storyville

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.”— Dr. Seuss – I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

Watching a child learn to read is a fascinating thing. I remember watching my own two kids acquiring the skill of reading for themselves, and seeing what a remarkable difference it made once they were able to pick up any book they wanted, on any topic, and read it. I remember the joy of watching my kids devour literally hundreds and hundreds of books as they got older. It really is quite amazing. And that ability to read – not just for functional understanding of words, but with a fluent and genuine love of literature – opened up vast worlds of learning and imagination and curiosity for them.

I think most educated people understand the value, and importance of reading.

There is a substantial body of evidence to support the idea that reading TO children when they are young has a positive, long term effect on their development, not just in helping them develop as readers themselves, but in even more substantive ways across a whole lot of cognitive domains.

In fact, studies using fMRI have proven that children who are read to when young show a big difference even at the neurological level. One study by Dr John Hutton concluded that “Results showed that greater home reading exposure was strongly associated with activation of specific brain areas supporting semantic processing (the extraction of meaning from language). These areas are critical for oral language and later for reading.” 

There is a lot of research that all comes to basically the same conclusion – reading to your children when they are young is hugely important and the effects of it can be seen well into their teenage years. The effects can be seen on language acquisition, vocabulary development, imagination and inquisitiveness, reading fluency, listening skills, pronunciation, and so on.

The Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research concluded that “Children four to five years old who are read to three to five times a week have the same reading ability as children six months older (who are read to only twice or less a week). Reading to children six to seven days a week puts them almost a year ahead of those who are not being read to. It was also found that reading to small children has a positive effect on the development of numeracy skills.”

Unfortunately, even though the benefits of reading to young children are so well documented (and it is such a simple and enjoyable thing to do with your kids!) there seems to be a obvious divide based on socioeconomics. Lower income families tend not to do it nearly as much as higher income families. Which is kind of sad, because if they did, the research suggests it could be the single most effective thing those families could do to help break the poverty cycle and give their children greater opportunities in the long term.

In fact, a 2012 a study titled Reading to young children: a head-start in life,  by G. Kalb and J.C. van Ours noted that children who get read to more frequently at age 4-5 achieve higher scores on the NAPLAN tests for both Reading and Numeracy in Year 3 (age 8 to 9).  These differences in reading and cognitive skills are not related to the child’s family background or home environment but are the direct result of how frequently they have been read to prior to starting school.” In short, reading to your kids makes a big difference, no matter what background they come from.

The good news is that reading to your kids when they are young is a pretty simple thing to do, and it seems there are more parents than ever making the time to read to their children. That’s awesome. The bad news is that even with the overwhelming evidence that reading to your child might be the single most important thing you can be doing to help them, still only about a half of all parents are actually doing it. (Depending on the study you look at, the figure varies from about 40% to 55%)

So parents, you want to do the best for your kids? Read to them! It’s that simple.

Meet Storyville

Knowing that reading to kids is incredibly important, and acknowledging that for many kids it does not happen nearly enough, let me introduce you to Storyville. Storyville is a project by the Equity Foundation, the professional development arm of Actors Equity, representing Australian actors. Their idea is brilliant and simple. Storyville aims to connect trained actors – many of whom have spare time during school hours – with classrooms around Australia, providing talented readers for children. These actors voluntarily go into schools and read to kids. That’s it. Simple. Brilliant.

Some of the things that trained actors learn to do really well is to play different characters, use their voice effectively, tell stories that engage an audience, and act! So who better to read to children than an actor?

I think it’s a brilliant idea. If you’d like your school to be part of it, and have a talented trained actor come and read to your kids, just fill out this form.

Hat tip to my daughter Kate, a trained actor herself and a graduate from WAAPA, for telling me about this project.

The Ron in Toronto

I’m in Toronto, Canada, at the moment, which is somewhat of a second home for me. My lovely partner Linda is a born and bred Torontonian, and although we both now live in Sydney, Australia, we try to travel back here at least once a year to visit friends and family.  Our current visit was unplanned and not for the usual reasons we like to be here though… Linda’s father Ron passed away a few days ago. He’d had a number of health challenges for quite a while, and although he always maintained a positive outlook and a cheery disposition, things had been getting increasingly difficult for him over the last few months. Early on Wednesday morning Toronto time, the day before his 82nd birthday, Ron decided enough was enough and passed away quietly in his sleep. May he rest in peace.

Although I never got to spend as much time with Ron as I would have liked, he was a lovely gentle man, and every time I met him he was always smiling, always taking an interest in those around him. He was always curious and interested in the world around him – I used to say to Linda he was like an excited little kid trapped in an older person’s body. We spoke on the phone every so often, and apart from always asking about the weather (he was, after all, a Canadian!) he always took a great interest in what was going on with Linda and I, where we were travelling to and what was happening in our world. As we Aussies would say, he was a genuinely good bloke.

I found this timelapse video of Toronto called Toronto Tempo, and I think it’s rather beautiful. I’m posting it here as a bit of a tribute to Ron.  We’ll miss you mate.

Toronto Tempo from Ryan Emond on Vimeo.