My Journey, Jimmy Stynes’ autobiography is, as you would expect, an extraordinary read.

A few years ago, it was a privilege to watch Jim Stynes work with groups of kids in two of the schools where I used to teach. His charisma was something to behold. He was gifted. He could establish trust with a group of students so quickly. One time at an all boys’ school, I saw him set the mood in the college theatre… he got the lighting right… fired up some loud music and the students created their own mosh pit for a few minutes. They bashed and crashed into each other with testosterone fuelled abandon. This was chaotic ‘boy’ energy, given permission to be released.

In the ‘calming down’ that followed, Jim shifted the focus to the issues in the group. What was not being said. With a kind of magic, he invited individuals to step forward to say anything they wanted to. He asked the boys to agree that whatever was said would be received with no judgement. These 14-15 year olds poured out their hearts. Some spoke, and got out of their system, the burden of hurt that had built up because of the names others called them in the school yard. Permission was there in that moment to really say, and not hide, the impact that bullying had had on them. Some of these things had gone on for years.

The boys who had been the bullies also stood up and said that they were sorry directly to the person they had offended. Again, Jim reinforced the pact of ‘no judgement’.

Jim would ask, each time, the young bloke how he felt. The common response was ‘relieved’. Some of these boys, tough-looking exteriors, sobbed their hearts out.

This post started with the declaration that Jim’s autobiography is extraordinary. Why?

Yes, he covers off on all of the infamous and glorious moments of his sporting life… running across the mark in the 1987 prelim’, his freakish 244 consecutive AFL games and his fairy-tale Brownlow medal of 1991. The latter he shared with his dad as his guest. But, this is not why My Journey is extraordinary…

In his book he applies the same process to himself that he offered to those kids at school. He shares the everyday stuff that he struggled with, as a dad and a husband. It is all laid bare in his book (written with the support of his good friend, Warwick Green). In the chapter called ‘Fatherhood’, he explains,

Whether it was because of stress, exhaustion, medication or my brain tumours I could not be sure, but there were times when I was terribly short-tempered with the kids. It felt like there were days when I was seeking confrontation with them. I would find myself shouting, sometimes in such a ferocious way that it scared them. Afterwards, I would feel ashamed. It was something I’d always said I would never do as a parent, and here I was making my own kids cry.

From both a dad’s and a bloke’s perspective, I find myself grateful to Jim Stynes as I read these words. Here he is still giving beyond the grave.

Jim Stynes died earlier this year on March 20th. Seven days later, Melbournians turned out to his funeral in their tens of thousands to honour a man who, in 1984 had arrived in that city as an eighteen year old. A young Irish Gaelic footballer, picked out by Ron Barassi to play Aussie Rules for the Melbourne footy club. The twenty seven and a half years that ensued were filled with a generous life. His funeral is one of the biggest ever seen and it fittingly sealed his legend… he will be eternally part of the pantheon of his adopted city.

But what gets me is the ordinariness of his struggle as a dad. Have you ever lost your rag with your kids? I have for sure (and I am fit and well – he had a good excuse). For fellas, often emotions find their way out through the funnel of anger and that’s what is liberating about Jim Stynes sharing his tough moments as a dad. Here is a bloke who will be remembered by two countries for near on forever, for his greatness, persistence, positive attitude and leadership. Yet, in his own life experience, he puts it out there that he had shortcomings. Just like those kids who shared their tough stuff, reading that Jim was human, makes me feel what the kids said they felt back in those school sessions – relief. Someone who has become a giant figure in the mythology of two nations sometimes got grumpy with his kids. It’s good news for those of us mere mortals who are around this Christmas.

Christmas’ original story is set over two thousand years ago, in a stable at the back of an inn in a small town that now is part of modern Palestine. There is humanity, ordinary humanity weaved right through that story. I reckon the story tellers who wrote it down, were very mindful of making sure that that scene was set. Out of that humble beginning, emerged a great story.

Jim Stynes’ story is like that. He embraced his humanity and lived a life that was extraordinary.

He gives us all hope.

If you’ve got some time over Christmas, I commend his story My Journey to you.