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  • Geoff Cordner

The Best of Days

There is something quite beautiful about being able to look back at a single moment in time with complete confidence that it was the happiest moment of your life. But there is also something extraordinarily sad about knowing, with equal certainty, that you will never experience such happiness again.

Over the years people would occasionally say to one or other of us - Tim, Ben, Linda or myself - that they saw us as “the perfect family”. Although this was an assessment that clearly involved a lot of assumptive guesswork, we always received it as an extremely flattering and touching compliment. Of course, like any family, we had our difficult moments from time to time. But there is no doubt that, as the boys matured, we grew stronger and stronger as a loving, supportive unit; to the point where I believe we all took genuine pride in this description of us.

For me that sense of pride, and gratitude, concerning the extent of our happiness and good fortune as a family reached its climax on October 20 2018. The venue was the Dunkirk Hotel at Pyrmont, and the occasion was Ben’s 21st birthday party.

There were about 70 or so people in attendance that night, the overwhelming majority being Ben’s closest friends. Apart from a torrential early evening downpour, which led to a few of the attendees looking a little the worse for wear upon arrival, the party had passed without major incident through its early stages. And so, at around 9pm, we decided the appropriate time had arrived to conduct a few formalities.

First cab off the rank was one of Ben’s oldest friends, Michael, who had volunteered to speak about the birthday boy on behalf of his peergroup. (In truth we have spent so much time with Michael, and his family, over the years since he and Ben first met one another in Kindergarten that it is sometimes difficult to tell where our family ends and theirs begins).

On reflection it now seems strange that we had not asked Tim to speak about his brother, or even offered him the opportunity to do so. Although the reasoning for that decision escapes me now, I suspect we figured he would offer himself up if he was really keen to say a few words, and that maybe he had not done so because he found the prospect a little awkward or daunting.

So when Michael concluded his heartfelt words it was time for Linda and I to deliver ours, with Ben alongside us.

I had chosen to speak about Ben’s many infuriating and endearing qualities, as well as thanking those present for their contribution to his wonderfully fulfilling life so far. The following is a (mildly) condensed version of what I said that night:

First and foremost tonight is of course about Ben. As most of you know, he is a very smart young man. So what have I learnt from living with him these past 21 years?

I have learnt that the secret to a well-rounded life is to keep yourself busy – the idle mind is a playground for the Devil they say. And it seems the best way to make sure your hands are full at all times is to wrap one of them permanently around your mobile phone, and the other one firmly around your junk.

I have learnt that “Bitches” is a term of endearment. At least I hope it is, because that’s what he calls his parents nine days out of 10.

I have learnt that copious amounts of toilet paper is compulsory, but that flushing is optional.

I have learnt that hair product is compulsory, but that socks, and knees in your pants, are optional.

I have learnt that someone who has a shower when they get home from a night out is almost certainly “munted”.

I have learnt there are now apparently three acceptable types of floor covering for a bedroom – those being (i) carpet, (ii) floorboards, and (iii) discarded clothing.

I have learnt that the most commonly used letter in Ben’s vocabulary is, somewhat surprisingly you may think, the letter U (not E or I), closely followed by the letters C, F and K.

On a more serious note, I’ve learnt from Ben that if you enjoy doing something you must give it your absolute best effort – and that if you do, the results are likely to be outstanding.

I have learnt there is no reason whatsoever not to tell and show the people you love that you do.

And I have learnt in the years following Ben’s arrival that the three of us – Linda, Tim and I – have become the beneficiaries of a truly unique and extraordinary human being; one who has changed our lives for the better forever, and made our family complete.

In recent times I have also learnt that nothing, absolutely nothing in this world means more to Ben than the company, the love, and the support of his many close friends.

One thing parents have very little control over is the people that their kids choose to hang around with. But if we could have chosen, we’d have chosen you. So many of you have become our friends, and we are so grateful for that, and for the part you have played, and will, no doubt, continue to play in Ben’s life. He is genuinely happy, and that is, in very large part, because of you. So thank you for all that you do, and for being part of tonight’s celebration. Ben’s life, and our lives, would not be the same without you.

What I had also prepared, but could not find the courage to deliver, when faced with a large group of young discerning music fans, was my own (abridged) rendition of one of Ben’s all‑time favourite tunes; indeed his go-to karaoke song of choice. Namely, Ice Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice. I did not tell Ben before he died that I had intended to perform that tribute at his party. Maybe I was saving it up for another suitable occasion. Whatever my thought process, the fact is he never knew, and I have not told anyone else before or since about that aborted plan.

So here, for what it’s worth, are the words I had intended to “sing” in Ben’s honour on that special night in October 2018.

All right – stop

Grab your mates and listen

Tonight we’re here to celebrate Benjamin

Something grabs my heart real tightly

When I see this kid – I mean the future excites me

Will it ever stop?

Yo, I don't know

But I’m pretty sure his rep’s gonna grow

If you’ve got a maths problem Ben will solve it

Now pass the Berocca it’s time to dissolve it

And yes, I know what you’re thinking. Bullet dodged. But regardless of the almost certain humiliation, it would have been worth it. At least it certainly seems so now.

After my speech it was Linda’s turn. Along with some well-chosen tributes, she brought the house down with an hilarious family tale highlighting Ben’s inquisitive mind, and his longstanding demand for total honesty from his parents.

When Ben was 9 and Tim was 11 we had dinner at my Mum’s house. Geoff was at a function, so it was just the kids, Mum and myself. The four of us sat down and started eating at the dining table. Completely out of the blue Ben, always such a curious little boy, asked me this question: “Mum, what’s a blow job?”

While clearing the food from my throat, I looked at my Mum for support and guidance. To my horror she placed her knife and fork on the plate, crossed her arms in front of her, and said “This’ll be good”. Thanks a lot Mum!

A million things were going through my head, but in the end I decided the truth might just shock Ben enough to stop him asking such direct questions in the future. So after a very long pause I told him exactly what a blowjob is – to the best of my recollection anyway. Ben’s response wasn’t at all what I had expected. He screwed up his face and said “Eww ‑ who’d want a job like that?”

As Linda finishes her speech I can see Tim, two years and four months older than Ben, and five inches taller, standing at the back of the crowd with his girlfriend, Audrey. As we prepare to hand over to Ben, I see Audrey gently urging Tim forward. To his eternal credit he makes a path through the partygoers towards us, and takes possession of the microphone.

Tim proceeds to tell a couple of stories highlighting some amusing aspects of the sibling relationship between he and Ben, but also expresses for the first time ever publicly – at least so far as we are aware – the extent of his respect and admiration for his brother. The speech, although brief and spontaneous, is as touching as it is unexpected.

And so finally it is Ben’s turn to speak.

Our second-born has always been more emotional than his older brother, and more comfortable with expressing those emotions in the company of others. It is one of the qualities I have made mention of in my own speech a few minutes earlier. But even knowing this, I did not expect him, on such a high-spirited occasion, to pour out his heart as he does; telling us how much he loves and appreciates his friends, his parents, and his brother, and how grateful he is for all that life has bestowed upon him.

Our youngest child, having lived his life for so long, like many of us, fixated on his own needs and desires, has expressed in the most forthright possible way what Linda and I have been feeling for so many years about our own circumstances.

And as the four of us stand together arm-in-arm listening to the crowd singing Happy Birthday to Ben, I contemplate, not for the first time, that if we are not the luckiest people on earth, then we can definitely see them from where we are.

And I am certain beyond any shadow of a doubt, and remain so to this day, that I have never been happier in my entire life than at this very moment.


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