In the name of the father

To some, Father's Day is just another cynical opportunity to sell socks and jocks. But its symbolism isn't lost on many dads who understand the powerful bond between man and child.

Men like Tony McGinn, who will never forget the evening his phone rang 14 years ago. A paediatrician conveyed the news no parent ever wants to hear: "Your son has cancer. You need to go to Monash Medical Centre and see an oncologist the first thing tomorrow morning."

I thank God that I get to sit down on Father's Day with both my sons.

Tony McGinn

The founder and executive chairman of MCM Entertainment Group felt his world collapsing. His three-year old son Benjamin had been suffering pains in the legs and hips, which a GP had put down to growing pains. However, a series of blood tests confirmed the worst: Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).

"I felt lost, vulnerable, and completely terrified of something I had no knowledge of," McGinn says.

"You're told to bring a bag into the hospital and you spend five days there while the doctors carry out a battery of tests. Eventually your oncologist spells out exactly what the cancer is and the treatment, and you can't quite believe it. You realise there and then that your life is going to change and will never be the same again."

Benjamin eventually pulled through after a long and harrowing course of chemotherapy. Now a healthy 17-year-old, he also has a younger brother, Nicholas, 15.

This Father's Day, the three will be continue a tradition of heading out on a 50km bike ride before dropping by a café for breakfast.

"I thank God that I get to sit down on Father's Day with both my sons," says McGinn. "Father's Day is incredibly important to me. I very sadly lost my own dad this time last year. It helps put life in perspective and prompts you to cherish every day with your family.

"The interesting thing about fathers is that we like to think we can fix everything and anything, whether it's a leaky tap or a financial problem. It's a big part of our ego.


"But when you're the father of a child who has been diagnosed with cancer, one of the gravest frustrations is that apart from providing all the love and support in the world that you can, there's nothing else you can do. It stabs right at the core of being a father, where your absolute fundamental reason to exist is to protect and grow your children."

His son's illness prompted McGinn to devise the Million Dollar Lunch as a way of raising much-needed funds for the Children's Cancer Centre; a not-for-profit foundation that supports research programs and clinical trials. The first lunch was held in 2004. This year should see the total raised over the decade exceed $10.5 million.

One of the Million Dollar Lunch committee members is William Deague, the 36-year-old CEO of Asian Pacific Group; a property development company best known for its Art Series Hotels. Deague has two children, Hugo (6) and Sibella (5).

A typical Father's Day will see the family gather for a big lunch. This year they are all heading to Melbourne's Mornington Peninsula. "Now that I'm a father I appreciate more what my dad did for me, I've only got two kids, but he had four. I wonder sometimes how he did it."

On the Friday before Father's Day, Zachary 4 and Sebastian, 2 ½, will be helping to host a special 'dad's breakfast' at their pre-school. Their father, Cameron Warwick, the joint MD of Warwick Fabrics and also a committee member of the Million Dollar Lunch, is really looking forward to it.

"Father's Day is a great opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with your kids," says Warwick. "As an older dad (he's 46) fatherhood is precious. You come to your children after a hard day at work and your kids put everything into perspective."

Group managing director of Ogilvy Melbourne, 53-year-old Sean Taylor, has two children from two marriages and there's a very big age gap between them: Jemima is 19, and Thomas just 18 months.

Unsurprisingly, Father's Day can be a bit of a juggle. "I'll be seeing my father, visiting my daughter and spending the rest of the day with my wife and son," he says. "I imagine Thomas will probably scribble something in a card for me, but hopefully Jemima will be doing something more than that.

"I love being a dad. A lot of people say it must be easier the second time around, but it's so long between drinks that whatever I learnt the first time around I've forgotten. All I know is that I was busy both times. I still work hard and play hard and enjoy lots of time with my family."

His own memories of Father's Day were of jumping into his parent's bed and handing his dad a present. "One year I bought him a whopping big screwdriver, about 18 inches long. He was in marketing so I can't imagine he had any possible use for it."

The 10th  will be held Friday, October 17 at the Park Hyatt Melbourne.