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  • Writer's pictureJordan Rivers

My Old Man

Updated: Jun 21, 2018

My grandfather was born in Apia, Samoa in 1921.

I was born in Wellington, New Zealand in 1992. He is the son of the great Samoan Chief, Moefa'auo.

I'm the son of a mechanic. My grandfather spent most of his teen years fishing and hunting pigs.

I studied Performing Arts.

At the age that I am now, my grandfather was a boxer. A boxer that moved to New Zealand to make a better life for himself and his kids. He had no money and no real skills but he had a responsibility to his young family and he took a risk that would end up benefiting them greatly and of course leading to me being born.

My self portraits are a reflection of that choice and my connection to him. I don't have one single body of work dedicated to it but every few years when I feel like I've reached a milestone in my life I take one. Each represent where I am in relation to where he was at the same age.

The theme of boxing is what I've used to represent him over the years. Boxing was always a big part of his life and I remember watching David Tua fights downstairs in his room, He had one TV that had no sound and one TV that had no visuals so you had to turn them to the same channel at the same time in order to watch TV.

The room was always filled with smoke, cause I guess that was ok in the 90's. Holiday 20's. Green packet.

As a kid from a single parent household, the old man did a lot of raising. Mum worked to support us and my brother and sister were 10 years older and in college by the time i was 5, so I couldn't exactly hang out with them. The Old Man was my main father figure.

He taught me how to shave, gamble and wipe my own bum... not at the same time.

I remember thinking that I wanted his hands when I grow up. He has these wrinkly leathery hands with scars and smooth bits from carrying heavy stuff all his life. I wanted his hands. Mine were smooth and skinny like girls hands because I played the piano and painted as a kid. I used to sit in his room and try draw his hands and imagine what caused each scar or when he got each tattoo. At 19 I got my first roofing job and one day there was a storm and it was raining. I was carrying some sheets of corrugated iron up a ladder but my grip wasnt quite strong enough and all the sheets of iron slid out of my hand, slicing through my gloves and I remember thinking

Yes! I've sliced my hand open!
2013 - My hands, so far.

Unfortunately the gloves were good enough that I sustained no lasting scars but to this day I still compare hands, like rings on a tree stump. Just casually, but every now then when I'm waiting for my bus or walking by myself I'll look at my hands and imagine his.

Did he ever think that his grandson would up grow up to be like me? Acting, writing poetry, taking photos, wearing skinny jeans?... probably not the skinny jeans bit.

But Is he proud of me?

Thats the question that anchors me. Is he happy with what I've become or what I am becoming? As I grow and develop as a person I constantly have to stop to check myself, measuring myself against this Old Man. Its not something that I had anticipated on doing so often as an adult. Perhaps most men do this with their fathers, I wouldn't know. But for me the measure of a good person has always been My Old Man. He's been around the sun 95 times now and he isn't all there anymore, but he's still the same Old Man. He's polite, he loves animals, he still enjoys a cup of tea (milky, 2 sugars) and he still looks at me the same way he did when he picked me up from kindergarten, everyday, with a packet of Juicy Fruit chewing gum and his winning tickets from the TAB.

I owe it to him to keep asking myself, Whats important to me? who's important to me? Am i in a better place than i was last year?...

and would he be proud? 

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