My Dad is a FIFO Dad, an uplifting story that has already touched the hearts of many families, has beautifully encapsulated the highs and lows of the life of a child with a father who ‘flies in and flies out’ for work. (See Review here). But let’s not forget the strength, courage, commitment and perseverance of the mother who wrote the book, who is raising three children on her own for three weeks in every month. Today we talk with author, Jo Emery, about her moments of heartbreak and joy, her achievements, family life and plans for the future.
Congratulations on the success of your book, ‘My Dad is a FIFO Dad’, already sold out on the first print run!
THANK YOU, it’s been a very busy and exciting introduction to the world of children’s books J
Can you please tell me a bit about your career background, writing history and family?
I have been employed by the Department of Education and Training Queensland for the past 17 years and most recently held the position of Principal at one of the Sunshine Coast’s Primary Schools. I have been on leave for some time (3years) however, to raise my family. I have 3 children, Sahskia who is almost 7, Ahnika 3 and Grayson 11 months. My husband Steve and I have been married for almost 10 years and have been living a FIFO lifestyle for almost 4 years. I’m not quite sure when I signed up for the FIFO commitment but for now; we are making it work as best we can, for our family.
I have written in poem, song and story for as long as I can remember. It is something I have always enjoyed and felt the need to do. It has given me respite and relief, enthusiasm and enjoyment and in this case an opportunity to help others stay connected to the ones they love the most.
Why you were inspired to write ‘My Dad is a FIFO Dad’?
The story, My Dad is a FIFO Dad was born out of the raw emotion of our last drop off of Daddy to the airport. We were late for the plane and had to leave Steve in the ‘drop off zone’, rather than park the car. The children were devastated that Daddy was heading back to work and it was the first time that Ahnika, two at the time, had realized that Daddy was going away for a long time. My eldest daughter Sahskia, was incredibly sad as she felt the angst of her sister also. (Needless to say this was our last drop off and my husband now catches the shuttle bus J) It was incredibly heartbreaking to see and to feel and so, as I have often done in many situations, that night I went home and put pen to paper to debrief. The initial draft of my story was penned some 18 months ago. The story is told through the eyes of Sahskia. I tried to capture what I knew she was feeling on that day and mix it with what I hoped she would be strong enough to feel in times to come.
How has the change in lifestyle affected you and your family?
Firstly, we are separated physically … Steve and I had never been apart longer than 48 hours so weeks on end has been a very big change for us. Our family is apart 3 weeks of every month and together for one. But what we have learned is that our life style is not about the amount of time spent apart, rather the quality of time we have together. Our mantra is ‘To Make Everything Count’. We are a very open family, when we are sad we cry, when we are angry we get angry, when we are happy we laugh loudly and so the openness and respect we have for each other’s feelings helps us to deal with issues and move on. Our kids are very connected with both Steve and me but that is because we work on it. The difficult times we experience because of FIFO, is on those special occasions that arise when we are apart… birthdays, weddings, funerals, Easter, holidays and so on.
On the opening page of ‘My Dad is a FIFO Dad’ there is a child’s beautiful drawing and statement about her dad being the greatest. Can you tell us about that? Who drew the picture?
This picture was drawn by my eldest daughter Sahskia. This is her view of what it means to be a FIFO Dad. Clearly the ‘flying in and out’ component of his job plays on her mind. I love that her Daddy is still smiling while he departs and the family who remain are smiling too; even the man in the ticket box is having a happy day. My kids adore their dad and he knows more than anyone that they consider him to be the greatest dad ever, and that’s because he really is!
We are then drawn in with fun scenes of an animated dad role playing, riding and reading stories with his kids. What are your partner’s favourite things to do with your three children?
Steve just loves being with them! We live in what we consider one of the most beautiful places on the Sunshine Coast and so visits to the beach, parks and in the pool are all of our favourites. Our kids are heavily into dancing and so having the opportunity to watch them do what they love to do most is wonderful when he is home from work.
You capture the narrator’s thoughts, feelings and actions of sadness and resilience so well. Are these based on your own child’s words and behaviour, or your experience with dealing with these issues?
I would say that these thoughts are shared from experience, practice and hope. I guess I tried to capture what my child was feeling and mix it with my hopes for what she would be able to feel in the future. My children are very resilient and with age and maturity this is developing more and more. We discuss how to deal with issues of different kinds, very often and I hope that one day it will become second nature. In saying this, the children and I are all sensitive souls and so acknowledging our feelings and working through them is something we will always do.
What do you hope this book achieves for its readers and the general public?
I hope that our story resonates with others in a FIFO/DIDO situation and that kids that are able to feel ‘OK when Dad’s Away’. I hope the story reassures children that despite distance, fathers can be present in heart, mind and spirit in many situations and those families can work towards building and maintaining strength, resilience and unity. While the platform for this story is FIFO I really think that anyone who believes in the unity of family will enjoy it and take some important messages from it.
How have you found people’s responses to the book so far?
I have been completely overwhelmed and relieved that all of my readers have loved the story as much as we do. Hearing that there have been tears, laughter and reassurance is the vein in which it was written and I couldn’t be more proud! I have received some beautiful photos of kids reading the book together with sibings, together with mum and together with Dad. In some of the orders I have received, there is a sense of urgency for families to have the book ‘in time for when Dad gets home’, it’s wonderful that the messages within the book are being shared as valuable in advance of them being read.
As a first time author, how did you find the publishing process, and working with illustrator, Ann-Marie Finn?
I am a true believer that things happen for a reason and firstly I found Ann-Marie and then was lead to Dragon Tales. I have been more than happy with this process and feel that in both, I have made the very best choice! I began my search for someone who could take my words and bring colour and life to them and give the beat of my heart to each and every one. You know you have made the right decision in your choice of illustrator when you open a PDF and your heart swells with emotion. Ann-Marie Finn, gave coloured life to my words and where there were no words her drawings carried the true intent of our family story, like she had known us for a lifetime. I am so very grateful! It is wonderful working with Kaylene at Dragon Tales as I have felt in total control over my work. She has offered constructive feedback and given me the necessary guidance of a true professional in this process, I couldn’t be happier!
Do you have any plans to write more stories along this line, or on other topics? Will you continue to write picture books?
ABSOLUTELY! I have plans to continue working to provide materials that will support families living a FIFO lifestyle but as well as this I cannot wait to share many other picture books with children and their families.
Thank you for your insights on your journey and for letting us take a little peek into your life, Jo! All the best with your future plans!