“So… do you want me to come in with you?” I ask.

The young bloke (aka YB), our #2 child, and #1 son, and I sit this morning in the car park of his new senior high school. He is starting in Year 10 today.

There is a typical pause. It could be his own considered thinking which has always been fairly deliberate or the combination of 15 year-old vagueness mixed with the general vague state he has inherited from his dad.

There is still more think time. Then…

“Nah, I’ll be right.”

More silence and we sit there looking at the school building.

“So what happens now… I just go to Reception?”, YB asks.

“Yeah, I think there will be people there waiting for you like they did on your orientation day, giving out timetables and showing you where to put your stuff.”

“OK, see ya dad.” A considered handshake is exchanged. I let him know that I am proud to be his dad and he waves without looking back as he takes a heavy, first-day-bag into his new school. The earliest year level at this senior high is his year, so he is starting on an even footing with all the other kids. I sit here wondering how he is going. A lot of people are having first days this week…

Father Bob Maguire had his first full day at his new address yesterday after 38 years at his old one. For the benefit of those in Australia who live in a media black-out, and readers overseas, here is what happened at his last Sunday morning mass as Parish Priest at St Peter and St Paul’s in South Melbourne this past weekend.

Father Bob at 77, ‘orthodox but unconventional’ as he likes to describe himself, has moved on from his parish… the base from which he carried out many services, not just as a traditional parish priest but as the leader of an army of volunteers who serve people who have fallen on hard times. The disenfranchised, the homeless, the prostitutes, the mentally ill, the elderly and disadvantaged young people of South Melbourne, Port Melbourne and St Kilda, rely on the practical outreach of The Father Bob Maguire Foundation. Many of you will know that the controversy of his move, stems from the wish that he did not want to leave his home, his base from which he was able to exercise his ministry. Bob’s parish gave him identity. Being a parish priest enabled him to have some handle, a good kind of authority that auspiced his public role and outreach.

Where the hypocrisy of attention by the hierarchy, on Bob’s forced retirement, has been widely reported, I have watched from a perspective of concerned comrade, with an awareness that for Bob, he was being symbolically and perhaps psychologically orphaned by his current day ‘family’, the institutional church – something that had happened to him as a kid. F-Bob’s (as this comrade calls him) dad and mum passed away when he was 12 and 13. He fended forward with the help of his older brother and friends and that tough, unconventional perspective must have been formed in that adversity. An endearing resilience that has shown in the last couple of years may well have been borne in those days when a young teenager had to use his wits to make his way in the world, without the security of even one parent being around.

Change is tough and in the lead up to the young bloke’s first day at a new school, there’s been a bit of moodiness. Unlike Father Bob, he chose to move to a new place. We asked him to have a think about what was the right place for him. He liked his old school (and so did his mum and me) but he felt, on balance the new place offers a number of good opportunities. That doesn’t mean the decision wasn’t tough. It doesn’t mean his imperfect dad hasn’t had a few flare ups as the young bloke has dealt with the decision to change in the last couple of months. We could be in the middle of a heated argument and then I’m struck by the notion – ‘he’s worried about the move’. Similarly, I heard Father Bob interviewed on the ABC Conversation Hour before Christmas. The anger, near bitterness, that was in his voice was palpable. It was raw and tough to listen to. Other friends’ heard it and we shared similar reflections. That’s the key though, people have responded and shown their care. Bob has rawly expressed his feelings, his ‘truth’ throughout, and on Sunday over 1000 people turned up and showed support. They are part of the big family that F-Bob’s unique perspective on life, has brought together. I reckon his own kindness, heart for the underdog, has come back at him in spades. Good people have fuelled his resilience to move on to the next chapter.

I’m mindful, as dad to my daughter and son… that they gain fuel for accepting change through life as people who love them, and care about what happens to them, wish them well as they take on the next challenge – some harder than others. We can’t take away the challenges they face but we can turn up in their lives – especially at the important moments.

At his final mass on Sunday, the shift was palpable in Father Bob – he had accepted the change, and was moving on. The service had a bit of everything… Bob’s irreverent humour, a beautiful song by war victim and refugee, Emmanuel Kelly – an inspiring young man, a Scottish bagpipe band that led Bob out after the final song ‘Glory, Glory Hallelujah’ that contains the words… ‘the truth goes marching on’.

And what is that ‘truth’ for this story? Change, difficult shifts, will always happen to us. They will always happen to the people we care about. When they enter their new buildings like Father Bob and the young bloke have this week… that’s when they need us to be there for them.

Who has been there for you in a moment of change? Who are you looking after right now? As always, feel free to write your own thoughts below. Thanks for reading.

Bill Jennings