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Bad Dad | David Stavanger

After Michael Zavros' Bad dad (2013)



Misses deadlines.

Terrified. in his child’s eyes

sees his own manifest doubt.

Names his son after an adjective.

Protective. rarely proactive.

talks to the principal after the act.

Can change a tyre. can’t change the past.

Has never been bitten by a shark.

fishes for compliments washing up.

Doesn’t register as an occupation.

Misses his own blood when

it turns back to water.


Self-embody the magazine of your lifestyle

Most pools are measured in metres.

Ownership of half an Olympic pool

is a strong indicator of personal wealth.

Helicopters indicate significant personal wealth.

They hovered over elite Athens suburbs spotting

undeclared pools over 25 metres from heaven.

The lap of luxury. Length matters.

Half a lap is still a tax dodge.

Confession: many males admit to relieving themselves whilst swimming

Pool cast here as doomed anti-hero

A male swimmer centre in counter-relief.

No creepy-crawly lurking beneath.

A clean man, sense he showers a lot.

[Note: swimming is not a substitute for bathing.]

Infectious microorganisms contaminate such water,

the ingestion of unseen childhood pathogens.

[Stat: There are over 10 million swimming pools world-wide]

There will always be traces, no matter how many concrete bodies

of water constructed in pursuit of the national pursuit.

You cannot remove childhood from a pool.



A friend who really knows art visits

out of the blue and tells you

the artist statement informs

what the image does not imply.

You take photos of the statement on the gallery wall

to compare to the artist statement online.

Your friend could be right, the point of such text

ensures we don’t see what is not there.

[I got into $ for the art. I got into $ for the art.]



Free association. Abandoned pool toys =

let downs, hanging on, ephemeral joy,

parties you won’t remember.

The statement tells you there are three,

as in three siblings, like three is the perfect

number to reinforce the power of an idea,

as if invisible kids have physical form.

One is now a Playboy rabbit. The man is central,

draped over it. he is handsome, gratifyingly so,

the water reflecting itself in him. he looks like he gets

along with women. he looks like his work is home.

“stay-at-home home dad”

(due to economic reasons / not the evolution of family roles)

“go out into the world dad”

(due to the need to reproduce, an increasing sense of scale)

“hands-on dad”

(My children are not present through their absence ).

The man is the central image of this family.

No matter what he is or is not doing.

Back to Playboy rabbit. Perhaps it signifies

that which we embargo, illicit cargo crossing southern

borders in the conceptual summer hour that divides us.

Perhaps Michael Douglas. Perhaps an act of insurrection,

placing an illicit pet in the middle of the state’s cultural precinct.

Re-hang it in the foyer of the Dept of Agriculture & Fishing,

retitled: Why Designated Biosecurity Matter Matters to Me.

More likely it symbolises a rarely read part of said act:

never release a domesticated father into the wild.

What about his kids?

Where were they when they were being created?

To airbrush out what can’t be kept within.

The anomalies found in family portraits:

How close can a photo get? Chuck is nowhere to be seen.

The nuclear family are yet to be fully created by computers.

A painting can create children / that appear to be there to adults.

Three children casually removed / before canvas stretched to skin.

Tenderness. is. sharply. mechanical.

What does the beach ball signify?

a bereft pool toy. the art and viewer

locked in play. consensual eroticism.

that a particular genre of dad is disappearing?

Not far away from the ball are two pool noodles,

prostate on the surface.


Scenario: life builds up.

Realises being a father is no longer

an extension of his natural practice.

Decides to hotfoot it alone

leaving his wife and children behind.

Packs a suitcase, only takes the family pool with him.

Pursuing an aloof, he won’t sink.

The lifejacket of masculinity.

Many men are not this buoyant.

Might not be the most exciting dinner-party conversation.

Leave the residue in the sink.

*This poem was first commissioned and published temporarily online by QAGOMA as part of their Words & Pictures program in response to their Australian Collection (in partnership with Queensland Poetry Festival)

Note: Some lines in this poem draw on & rework text sourced from various online interviews with the artist

David Stavanger is poet, performer, editor, cultural producer, and lapsed psychologist. In 2013 he won the Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize, resulting in the release of The Special (UQP), his first full-length collection of poetry which was awarded the 2015 Wesley Michel Wright Poetry Prize. He was recently selected as the 2018 Melbourne Visiting Poets Program's resident by RMIT/Australian Poetry and is the Spoken Word Editor for Verity La. David was Co-Director of the Queensland Poetry Festival (2015-17) and is also sometimes known as Green Room-nominated spoken weird artist Ghostboy.

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