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Nick McEwan-Hall

Interview of founder Nick McEwan-Hall on Word for Word

In 2019 it was my absolute pleasure to be interviewed by Lisa Daniel on Word for Word - an hour long interview style show on Joy 94.9, Australia's GLBTIQA+ Radio Station.

It's an in depth interview where I share my story of growing up, discovering myself as a gay man, the complicated relationship with my Dad, mental health, and many other topics along the way.

At the time when I sat for the interview, I was just starting to put the pieces together for myself that Mental Health was a big interest area for me. The Mental Health Coach wasn't even on the agenda. It's interesting for me to listen to what I sounded like and what I said back at that time.

I hope you enjoy the interview. It will certainly give you an insight into who I am, and why the work I do with The Mental Health Coach is really important to important for me.

Listen to the podcast

Interview Transcript

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This episode of word for word may contain language or themes that are not suitable for our listeners. If you're experiencing difficulty, please reach out for support. You can reach Qlife, an anonymous and free LGBTI support service by calling 1-800-184-527, or call Lifeline 24 hours a day on 131114 for crisis support and suicide prevention. In an emergency please call 000.

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Across Australia on the community radio network to over 70 community stations around the nation, this is word for word, hosted by Lisa "Danno" Daniel, coming to you from Australia's LGBTIQ radio station, Joy.

Lisa Daniel:

Hi, welcome to word for word. I'm your host Lisa "Danno" Daniel. Despite significant family rejection, today's guest has risen above the negativity to become a productive member of the community. Welcome to word for word, Nick McEwan-Hall.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Lisa Daniel:

Double barrelled name. Is that giving out, giving your age a little bit? Isn't it?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

I guess it is. Double-barrelled, there's no getting around that. Yeah, it's too much to write!

Lisa Daniel:

Now, you're a proud out gay man, yeah? But you've travelled quite the journey to get to be an out proud man, but I wanted to get to the nub of why we're here. It is the theme of family rejection, mostly your father. So can you tell me a little bit about your family - who you grew up with?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

So a small family, me, my mum, my dad and my brother - younger brother. We grew up all over the place, but mostly in Sydney

Lisa Daniel:

What was the basis for the moving around. Was that a parent career thing, or.....?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

Yeah, dad's career. Yeah. He travelled a lot.

Lisa Daniel:

How many schools do you think you went to as a child?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

Lost count, but all over the place. Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Singapore, yeah.

Lisa Daniel:

How did you find living in Singapore? What age were you then?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

Like 14, 15, 15, 16 age. And it was interesting. At the time when my parents said we're moving to Singapore, we thought that was fun and exciting. They took us for a holiday to Singapore and we did every fun thing that you could do. I think my brother and I were like, this is going to be fantastic! And we got there and it was a completely different life. I mean, we went to a local school, we went to a Singaporean school.

Lisa Daniel:

Oh, so you weren't part of that expat Australian community where they pretty much live in mini Australia outside of the Singapore culture?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

At home we were. We lived in a condo and there were lots of expats there, but school was very much a Singaporean school. We were the only non-Singaporean kids in these schools and they're massive schools, you know, 1000, 1500 kids. And it was really interesting being the only recognisable face in a school. You know, everyone knew who I was because I was different. And I didn't know who anybody was, really!

Lisa Daniel:

Was there a language barrier.?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

No, they teach in English, Singapore has English as their first language. So that was really easy.

Lisa Daniel:

How do you think you went with all of that moving around, I mean, five, six schools over 12 years - it's fairly disruptive for your education? And your sense of developing friendships and your connection to an environment..

Nick McEwan-Hall:

I think in high school, that was the hardest bit, because going to Singapore, it wasn't such a big deal because we were excited about it. It's exciting. It was just something that was happening. When I came back, I re-joined the same year group as when I left. Most of my friends were still there and that was an instant sort of group. But there were other things too, Singapore being a very safe place, my brother and I would - and he's six years younger than me - we would get on the train and go into the city in Singapore, no problems. When we came home, I went on a geography excursion or something in year 11, I said to mum, "oh, I'll just get on the train and I'll just go". And she was like, mm, no. Yeah. So stuff like that. Moving from culture to culture and environment to environment - at the time, I didn't notice, but coming back and seeing the changes and the differences, I guess I really noticed it after the fact.

Lisa Daniel:

Was there ever a time in your life, or can you describe a time in your life, where you felt different to those around you? And was it difficult because you moved around a lot - because that could have been a point of difference too.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

That's an interesting question. I first became aware of a difference in Singapore actually. I'm not sure if that's because I was in such a different environment that I was just evaluating everything and trying to see how I fit in or not. But that was the first time that I came to realise that I am gay and yeah, that was not an issue at all. Which was interesting because back then that wasn't a thing that you should really be in Singapore, but it wasn't really something I stopped to think about.

Lisa Daniel:

Was it mostly you realising that you weren't particularly interested in females but more towards males?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

Yeah. I'd noticed my male friends more. I'd noticed them and I'd think they are attractive, but it was a very innocent observation at the time. It was like, oh, I'm just noticing this, and that's all it was.

Lisa Daniel:

Did you, at that stage, pinpoint it as being gay or is that a retrospective?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

That's a retrospective thing.

Lisa Daniel:

Most people say I felt different, but I didn't know why, I didn't know what it was. And even to the point of people saying that they were called faggots and gay at school and they still didn't know what it was.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

I definitely got that back in Australia when I came back in year 11 and 12. You know, I remember... I often laugh about these school memories because they just don't mean much, but they do at the same time. I remember being really unwell one day and I was in the sick bay. I was lying down. I think I was waiting for mum to come. There was another kid and he was a bit of a brat. On the walls in the sick bay there were health posters and things, one was about STIs - and this kid just goes "oh that's what you are, you're an STI!" And I didn't even know what the hell he was talking about. I was just like, oh, okay. And I just shrugged it off. But I did notice when I came back that I had a new appreciation for being the odd person out in a group - because I was. In Singapore, I was the one white Australian kid in the school. There was a second Australian kid actually, who came to the school the second year of me being there, also from Sydney and also called Nick. So that was interesting, but coming back, you know, in the school yard you'd have the different little groups of kids - the Asian kids, Indian kids, surfy kids and all that stuff. And I just couldn't tolerate anymore people picking on the Asian kids or picking the odd ones out. At the time, I don't really think I realised why, but retrospectively, of course it's obvious. I've just been that kid in Singapore.

Lisa Daniel:

It's interesting that you had that experience of being other when you're in Singapore. And what I'm hearing from you is that even though you felt different back in Sydney, you coped with it better because you'd already been through an experience of being an outsider.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

That's probably right. I think I was just getting on with stuff, but retrospectively I definitely saw that I wasn't really happy to sit around and watch them bully the other kids for just being different, because I knew what it was like.

Lisa Daniel:

Did you stick up for kids?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

I don't have any specific memories of that, but I probably did. And I probably would have talked to my friends about it.

Lisa Daniel:

Were you bullied yourself?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

Not really. I was pretty lucky. I flew under the radar a lot. You know, you get that schoolyard crap that happens, but nothing significant. Not that I remember anyway.

Lisa Daniel:

So mid-teens, you were thinking I'm a little bit, you know, maybe a bit different here. I feel different. You eventually put a label on it. I think I'm gay. When did you come out to anybody at all and who was that?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

After year 12, I moved to Newcastle to go to uni. And it was probably up there, I was a young adult at uni feeling all grown up and very empowered.. I think it was up there that I really started to explore stuff and see what happened. I think probably some of my good friends even to this day, Brooke and Peter, those guys I worked with, that was probably a very safe place. And it just was a thing. It wasn't something that I had to say, people just went, oh cool. And it was never a big problem.

Lisa Daniel:

What work environment was that? Restaurants, hospitality.... Hospitality? Ah. During uni years, a common journey and often a safe haven for the queers in terms of there being lots of others. So you were coming to terms with it yourself, you're in Newcastle - at what stage you started telling friends, at what stage did you tell your family?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

I'm pretty sure that they knew. I think it'd be pretty obvious, but I think they didn't know, because I have memories as a kid, of my mum and my dad arguing about it while I was asleep, quote unquote asleep. Not arguing, but dad's saying, is he gay or not? Is he? Is he or not? Well, I would have been, I don't know, it might have been year 11 and 12 after we came back from Singapore. I might've been younger. Mum was like, well, you know, whatever he is, that's what it is. And that's where I got the sense that maybe it's not something to really put out on the table with mom, and particularly dad. Because I had an inkling that wouldn't be something that would be okay by him. Afterwards, I'd met somebody out at one of the bars in Newcastle and we fell into a relationship, which was really nice. And I decided that it was time to tell mom, let her know. I'd been away on a cruise that I'd won. I came back, we had all these photos - it was back in the old days where you had film in your camera - I came back and there were 22 photos on a 24 roll. So me and my partner at the time, Gavin, took some photos. Mom came up, I said to mum, come on, come up to Newcastle and spend the weekend. And we were sitting on the couch and I said, I'll have a look at my photos from the Whitsundays and she's looking, and she goes, oh, who's this? It was Gavin. And I was like, ah yeah, Gavin's my boyfriend. So that's how I remember it happening anyway. And it was fine. It was okay.

Lisa Daniel:

So there was a bit of a gap between you hearing these conversations between your parents and then eventually, you know, post your Whitsundays holiday, telling her - was there an element of you protecting her due to your father's attitude?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

Oh, that's an interesting question. I haven't thought about that until just then. I don't think so. I think it was more along the lines of, it's just not something that we need to talk about. Dad and I had drifted apart anyway - largely because of this, but I went, well, I don't need to necessarily put it out there. I just won't talk about it. But I did make that decision. I was like, all right, I've got to tell mom, you know, and it was mom that I invited, not dad. And that was great. I felt very comfortable and she made that very easy.

Lisa Daniel:

So you said just before, you'd been drifting apart from your father. Do you think that was a sexuality thing? Or was there just elements of your personalities that just didn't have much in common?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

A bit of both. I don't remember ever feeling terribly close to dad. I'm not quite sure what that's about or where that comes from, but I just never, never felt that. And I think if we asked family, like my grandmother and my uncles, they'd go, yeah, you were never really that close. Who knows why? I've never asked them why. I think it was a combination of all those things.

Lisa Daniel:

I get a lot of stories in here, from gay men in particular, that they tell their mother first, their mother is very accepting - or maybe tolerate - I hate that word, but you know, they're accepting. But there's quite often a "don't tell your father", or there is a lag between the mother being told and the father. I'm fascinated by that difference. I mean, it's only anecdotal evidence obviously from talking to people, but I'm hearing it a lot.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

I think it was easy. I always felt closer to mom anyway. I always felt like we had a closer relationship than I did with dad. So it felt a lot more natural that I would talk to her. And I talked to mum all the time. Dad would ring all the time as well, but it was never anything important, you know? So mom and I would talk a lot. So maybe that's why.

Lisa Daniel:

What about your younger brother? When did you come out to him?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

It would have been when I was at uni. I don't know. I don't have a specific memory.

Lisa Daniel:

That's certainly a nice thing. Not to remember. Because if it was traumatic, I'm sure you remember. Obviously it was something that was reasonably easy to manage.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

There's never been an issue, put it that way.

Lisa Daniel:

Tell me about your dad. Your father's had had a significant impact on your life, but not necessarily in a good way, but maybe in a good way because you survived his response to your coming out. And you've kicked on and we'll get to your career later, but you're working with people, which is great. And you're inspiring people. When did you come out to your father?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

I think I never had that conversation with him directly. I have a memory of my 30th birthday, it was here in Melbourne and mom had come down. I think James was here. My grandmother had come down, which just, ah, that's one of my favourite memories in all of our whole life. She came down. I think after that, there was some event and my dad just said to mum, so who was there? You know, what were his friends like and all that stuff. He was grilling mom. And mum was like, what do you want to know? He never really answered it. So I think it happened by proxy. You know, I think it's just became known. I never said to him, hey dad, I'm gay. It just didn't because we'd never had that relationship anyway. And we weren't really having those sorts of conversations and the relationship wasn't strong enough or robust enough to have that vulnerable conversation. But I also felt well, I don't really care what you think, you know? I really don't.

Lisa Daniel:

Yeah. But you did ultimately care what he thought.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

Of course. You want your parents to, you know, take you unconditionally and all that stuff. It's just part of being human. But I think I'd normalise that strange abnormal relationship with him to a point where it's like, oh, it's just, it is what it is. It's not great to have a relationship with a parent that's not great. It has an impact.

Lisa Daniel:

I guess the fact that you'd - correct me if I'm wrong - convinced yourself that it was, it is what it is and I don't really care too much about it. Is that a self protection thing?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

I think it was because I knew in my heart of hearts that he wouldn't like it, that it wouldn't be okay. We just left it. I said, well, you know what? It is what it is. My brother was very close with him, but he got quite unwell. He had cancer. I got a phone call one day from James; and by this stage, dad and I weren't talking..

Lisa Daniel:

So you're in your early thirties at this stage?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

Yeah. Around that age. And he said, look, dad's really unwell. We're not sure if he's going to last much longer. I just thought I'd let you know, in case you want to talk to him or reach out or make amends or whatever. I really grappled with that decision, actually, for quite a while. I thought, I don't want to talk to him. In the end, the other side of that, there was a chance to have a conversation and that I'd probably regret not taking the chance when it wasn't available anymore. So I reached out and I said, I hear you're unwell. And you know, it's not great. It's not good. Obviously it's sad to hear. Would you like to talk? And he said, yeah, that'd be fine. He was going off on a trip. He travelled a lot and he was going off. He said, well, yeah, I'd love to, but it'll have to wait till I'm back. It was a long Skype conversation, but a text-based chat conversation. We were just chatting and it was a very civil conversation. And there was just this massive elephant in the room. I said, I feel it's weird if we don't talk about this issue, why have we drifted apart? Why have you disowned me, pushed me away? I said, I feel like it's odd if we don't talk about that and we just keep it nice and light about your impending death.

Lisa Daniel:

When you say - I just want to take you back to the word "disowned" - had he actively rejected you from his life in terms of never calling you, not wishing you a happy birthday, that sort of thing. Or was it just drifting apart?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

It was halfway between; we drifted apart, but there became quite a time where I was just like, oh, I'm not connected to him. Which is why when James said, he might pass, if you want to talk, now is the time. Anyway, on this Skype chat, I said, oh, why is this? And he said, oh, there have been two things that have happened that have made me form this view of you and I don't like them. Ok. What are they? He wouldn't tell me. He just said, I'm not going over, I'm not going to tell you. He said, there's just two things that have happened, and he said, I'm not in the business of causing harm. I don't want to go over these two things with you, but I've just made my decision. Even that was quite ambiguous. What decision have you made and what are these two things? He just wouldn't tell me, so we left it.

Lisa Daniel:

How did you feel immediately after that Skype conversation? Angry? Just the fact that it was Skype, but text-based Skype. It's easier. I wonder if it's easier for him to say such a, let's be honest, it's a very hurtful thing to say and very serious too, which is almost a violent thing to do.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

That's the effect that it's had.

Lisa Daniel:

And I wonder if the fact that he couldn't see you and you couldn't see him face to face, gave him that permission to be quite cruel?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

Possibly. He was quite a black-and-white person anyway, quite direct and blunt, in my experience and in my memory of him. But I think that the same is also true on my side. You know, it was quite a comfortable space to just go, hey, we haven't done this, type it out rather than talk about it. So it worked both ways, but yeah, you're absolutely right. You've nailed it on the head. At the time I was just so frustrated. I was like, wow, I've put myself out there. I asked the question - and you won't tell me these two things. What are these two things? I was really angry. I was frustrated. I remember calling mom and saying, this is what he said, what are these two things? She's like, oh, who knows? And we couldn't put our finger on anything. I guess we were looking for events or something that had happened and we couldn't work it out.

Lisa Daniel:

Sounds like it was quite specific that the two things were related to you, not something that had happened to him. Listening to you now I'm grappling for things - maybe something happened to him at school or, you know, maybe someone made a pass at him and he was very uncomfortable. And then, you know, you being gay.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

I'm not sure. We just could not work it out. And I were just like, okay. In that situation, you either try to fill in the gaps. Or you just go, what is it? And we had no idea.

Lisa Daniel:

Where was he living at that stage?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

He was in Singapore. He lived in Singapore for a long time after mum and dad split. He moved there and had worked there and he lived there. I'm pretty sure it would have been Singapore at the time.

Lisa Daniel:

Yeah. So that also made it, if you will, in terms of you not being able to just pop in the car and drive over..

Nick McEwan-Hall:

True. That's enough. I wouldn't have, but anyway, it would have been difficult.

Lisa Daniel:

What happened after you had that Skype conversation? So we've covered the initial shock and anger. How do you get past that? I mean, that would drive me insane, just the curiosity of wanting to know what those two secret things were.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

The way it's manifested itself for me in my life. I have a very dear friend, Brooke, she is my best friend. She'll do this thing. Sometimes she would say - and it's not just her, everybody does it - she would say, if you don't know what I'm upset at you about then I'm not going to tell you. That drives me absolutely bonkers because it's the same mechanism. There's something about you or something that's happened between us that I don't like, and I'm not going to tell you. That drives me absolutely mad. I've told her about that many years ago, I've had the same conversation with lots of people, I've said - you need to know that when you do this, this has this effect because of the way that the conversation, the relationship went with dad. That happens with friends, happens with colleagues, it happens all over the place. I'm better at dealing with it now, but at the start, I was just like, wow. I have these strong reactions. And I'm like, what is that? I finally joined the dots, I was like, okay. Yeah, that's fine.

Lisa Daniel:

So you need communication in your life that's direct and honest. Even if it hurts, do you think?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

I prefer that. I think, yeah, I do prefer that. Although it's harder, I do prefer to know. I'll try and seek it out too. I've changed now where I'll go, no, I want to know, what are you thinking? Because I also want to be able to have the chance to correct it. This is what I wanted to do with dad ultimately - so what are these two things, maybe you've got something wrong.

Lisa Daniel:

It's quite a passive aggressive thing to do - say that there's something in you that's broken, but you have to figure it out. Not going to tell you what it is. It's two secret things.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

Yeah. It was strange. It was passive aggressive. But it wasn't surprising at the same time. That's just how he was with me anyway. That's how he walks. And so it was like, hm, okay. So that normalisation of going, okay, this is just how this works; but at the same time, even though it's completely normal, incredibly affecting.

Lisa Daniel:

And did you make attempts to get to the bottom of that with him? Did you send him Skype messages saying, can you please tell me what you're talking about so I can either fix it or explain it or whatever?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

I don't think I did. I think after that I just left. I was like, well, I've done what I can do. It's not worth fighting for more. At the start of when this was all settling in for me, I had this idea that I actually wanted what I had with my dad back. I wanted a positive, great working relationship back with him - but in fact, I never really had it in the first place. So this strange thing where I was, I'm not idolising, but dreaming of, oh, I want this back. I miss this thing. And actually never had it in the first place.

Lisa Daniel:

Like a Brady Bunch father, or a My Three Sons father, those media fathers that are just - staunch solid, honest.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

Yeah. And when I realised it didn't have it, I just stopped trying, or stop being upset that I couldn't get it back.

Lisa Daniel:

I wonder what would've happened if you'd had this conversation with your dad when you were 16 and were less able to rationalise, less I would be mature about it. 'Cause you sound like you've taken a pretty mature approach and saying, look, I didn't have that anyway, I can't change it, I'm going to move on. What happened in the months after that?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

Well, he went on to live for another couple of years and we never really had, I don't think we ever had any further conversations to be really honest after that point. Certainly not memorable ones or significant ones. I'd hear about him because James was still in contact with him and James had gone and seen him in Singapore and all that. I'd asked James about his trip. I really wanted to make sure that with James, the issues between dad and I didn't affect him. I was really conscious of that. And like, you can have a good relationship with that. That's cool.

Lisa Daniel:

Did James know about this? Your "two things" and the Skype conversation, or did you want to keep that from him?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

He definitely knew that dad and I weren't really on the same page and probably about why. James had conversations with dad about that over time, you know, as he got older and stuff like that. So they had had conversations about it because dad did some things that directed at me that James knew about and James argued with him and said, no, you know, I think that's wrong.

Lisa Daniel:

So he did go into bat for you.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

Yeah. Yeah.

Lisa Daniel:

That's hard for him to do - he's six years younger. So he was, what age are we talking?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

Well, he would have been.. probably early thirties maybe or late twenties. So still quite young and to be battling a second hand battle as well. It's not his, but it's connected. James has always had this sense of fairness, I share that sense with him. He's always been about what's right, and you know, the family bond is strong. Our family, from mom's side of the family, to my grandma and uncles etc., family connections have always been really important. So he definitely put that on display and echoed that. He did go into bat for me. Yeah. Or at least he made his opinion known.

Lisa Daniel:

Do you have much of a relationship with your father's side of the family?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

No. So the only people we know - so, my dad was adopted - I have memories of my grandmother, his mother, which was his adopted mother, and his sister, which was actually another adopted child. So not actually a sister. She's still alive. My grandmother's passed, but we don't really have that much contact or we never really did.

Lisa Daniel:

So no contact between you and your father until, well, he passed away eventually. What happened then? How'd you feel when you got that news? Because it really shut the door on you ever a. repairing the relationship with him, and b. finding out what those secret two things were.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

Well, it all happened. So dad had planned another big trip, a traveling trip, like a holiday. And his doctors had said, we really don't think you should go, you're that unwell. James had told me this because James was in touch with dad - dad would actually come back to Australia for some treatment and see doctors and stuff from time to time, they said, no, we don't think you should go. He said, I'm going anyway. And he went. One day we were just chatting, I said to James, have you heard from dad lately? He said, no, I haven't heard from him for a couple of days actually. At that moment I knew - somehow, I don't know how I knew - that dad had passed away. A couple of days later it was found that yes, he had; he passed away by himself in a hotel in Croatia. And so that's how we came to find out. At that time, my first reaction was immense relief. It was huge relief. I was like, well, that is done. Nothing can change now. Like, it is what it is.

Lisa Daniel:

That's an amazing response because I could also imagine that you would be quite distressed by the fact that there is no chance now of fixing this relationship. There is no chance that I'll ever find out why he rejected me. It shows a lot of maturity to see past that and just go, well, I can't change that. Must've been a relief to be relieved, is what I'm trying to say.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

Yeah, it was. I mean, I was still upset, you know, I was still angry, but I'd worked really hard at coming to terms with the situation anyway. I'd come to this point where it is what it is. Yeah. I did feel relief because part of it was like, there's always an opportunity that I might find out while he's alive. You know, probably pretty ignorant, quite a bit of a dream there. That's, let's say hopeful. It sounds better. But yeah, there was all this opportunity. There's a chance, not that I'd start the conversation at all, but I thought maybe one day I'll find out. Yeah. So that was done. The book there was closed.

Lisa Daniel:

I'm interested in that too, Nick, because I've seen a lot of people that have had similar experiences where just because the parent or the significant person passed away, it didn't mean they couldn't still be hurt by that person - even though they weren't still breathing, they could still inflict hurt just in the memories.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

Well, at the time, I didn't know, but there was more hurt to come. Yeah. There was more hurt to come.

Lisa Daniel:

Can you explain that?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

So my dad lived in Singapore and he had a girlfriend or a partner at the time. I went to Singapore to help James wrap things up and to hold some funeral service. I met her there and it was just quite bizarre, quite strange. She said, I didn't want him to go on the holiday because the doctors said don't, so I think she said you go by yourself. I just was there for my brother and we had to go to all these different places and shut down his accounts and that sort of thing. Dad didn't ever want a funeral, I'd known that for a long time. James ended up having dad's remains cremated and brought them back from Croatia. So we had a service where we took the the ashes out into the harbour in Singapore and we scattered them - completely surreal. James said, oh, where are you going to stay in Singapore, a hotel? I'm going to stay at dad's apartment, you can stay with me. And a part of that process was to start executing the will. I remember being at the lawyers'. His girlfriend Ping, James and I went to the lawyers; and we were sitting across the table, much like we are here, and they had the will over there. They were looking at it - and I'm thinking what's in it, what's in it. I'm thinking, in my head, subconsciously, I'm thinking there's still a chance that dad can put something. You know, he can, he might've left me something or not.

Lisa Daniel:

He might've given left you a letter saying what these secret things were. I'm just thinking about how I would have responded. I want to think, is there a secret letter here where he is going to explain and maybe even ask for forgiveness or something, because it sounds like you wouldn't have known much about his financial realities anyway. So you've got no idea whether he's penniless or, you know, whatever.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

Well, I had a bit of a sense, I mean, he had assets and things - he was comfortable, very comfortable. But we were at the lawyer's office, they all had the will over the other side of the table. And I wanted to see what's on the will. I don't think I've ever told James this actually, but I was sitting there, I pretended to play on my phone and I took a photo of the will from the other side of the room. I was just playing on my phone, zoomed in zoomed in to read what was on the will. And it said that he had left me - in a separate line - he said, I leave my son Nicholas McEwan-Hall, one Singaporean dollar. I read that and I was like, ah. At the time my initial reaction was just, oh, okay, well he's not leaving. He's not doing a last gesture of apology or reconciliation or anything like that. But I didn't really register what was going on.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

You're sitting in a lawyer's office at the time taking this in.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

Yeah. But we walked out and I'd gone very quiet. My brother, we were walking out - my brother said, are you okay? I said, yeah. He said, you saw the will, didn't you? I said I did. That's when he said, I've known about it for a long time. And mum knew about it for a long time. 'Cause they had copies. And they had said to dad - or James at least had said to dad, I think that's wrong, I think that's really wrong. And it turns out the reason he'd done that was - because under Singapore law, if you're left anything in the will then you are absolutely unable to contest it. There's nothing you can do. Besides some pretty severe kind of action, like you'd have to prove he was mentally unstable and all that sort of stuff. I did research it. But yeah, that's the reason he did it. And my brother said, I have told him that it's wrong. And I also told dad many years ago that whatever he leaves me, you're getting half. James said that and I was completely floored by that. It was just such a real display of James's character. And a risky thing to do. I wouldn't have been surprised if dad had, oh, well you get a dollar as well, because that way Nick doesn't get anything. So fortunately that didn't happen and James has stayed true to that word. It's never been a question and it was pretty amazing.

Lisa Daniel:

That's incredible on a couple of levels. Sorry, Nick, I'm almost speechless because it's such a nasty way to conclude a relationship with a son. It was one thing to be mysterious about these secret two things. There was another to openly reject you and pretty much - you've used the word - disown; but to have him having researched Singaporean law to the point where he knew that this was going to safely tie you or completely reject you from any advantage from his will - it's extraordinary. It's a very, very emotionally violent thing to have to deal with it. Clearly your brother is very honourable.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

He would have always done it anyway. I think he would have always done that.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

How do you recover from that sort of rejection, Nick?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

I don't know if you do completely. My brother and I went to, when we lived in Singapore, we had an Indian restaurant that we always used to go to. They knew us there because we'd gone so often. I said to James, let's go for dinner at that restaurant. We went and it was so nostalgic and we ended up having some massive argument about something. I don't know what, I can't remember what it was, but a massive, big falling out. I left and came back to the hotel and I rang mum from the hotel. I was just like, wow, you know, this is what's happened. And she went, yeah, I just had no idea how to tell you, but I knew that that that was what's going to happen.

Lisa Daniel:

How did that make you feel about that your brother and your mother knew that that was going to happen and yet they chose not to tell you?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

There's no fault there. It's not their fault. It's dad's action. He has encumbered them with that as well. That's not their fault. I don't know how they would have had that conversation with me either. I wouldn't know how to have that conversation if the roles were reversed. I don't know. So I don't hold any ill will towards them.

Lisa Daniel:

That's pretty honourable because a lot of us would have said, why on earth did you not prepare me for that moment? When I find out that my father has left me a dollar in a will just to shut me up.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

Yeah. I mean, I probably did say something like that. It would've been nice to know, but it is what it is at that point. And I think by that stage, they'd just been Hawaii after waves of stuff to deal with, I was just like, ah, put the effort where it's due. Really, the responsibility rested with dad. So pointing out to James and my mum, Michelle, that I had a problem with them, it just didn't feel right at the time. It's not their fault. I'm looking back at it with that great benefit of hindsight. Now I still go, well, what would you say, it was going to be traumatic anyway. It was done.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

You can't go back and unwind it, but it was the last little kick in the guts. And it was hard. It was hard. But at the same time, James was just so - carrying around that, here he is, his dad who he loves dearly has passed away, he's dealing with all this stuff. He's been to Croatia, organised a cremation in Croatia, organised to fly back home.. He'd done everything and all this terrible stuff and still - he's like, I've got ya. It's just amazing.

Lisa Daniel:

Well, it's a testament to the relationship between you and your mum and your brother that you've risen above what I would call a toxic element in your family. He is not here to defend himself, let's put that out there. But I'm taking your story is, you know, this is your story. It's a testament to the three of you that you've been able to rise above that dysfunction and rejection, and remain close together.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

Well, I've got this view on situations - even now in my professional work - that people do the best they can with the resources they've got in the context they find themselves in, it's ultimately a fairness thing. So, in reaching out to dad on Skype and having a conversation, that's what I was trying to do. I was trying to allow him an opportunity to correct things. Maybe if you had different knowledge or maybe if you had a different, maybe his upbringing, I don't know, maybe there was something different, he'd have a different view. You know, it is what it is.

Lisa Daniel:

Now, we've covered your family quite significantly, and I'm fascinated by the fact that you now work in the area of leadership and life coaching, business coaching. It's a very people oriented industry. I could imagine you might want to go off to work in the mines away from humans or air traffic controller or something - away from encouraging people. I mean, you've let go of the toxicity of that experience. And now you work with people. Tell me a bit about what you do, career wise.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

Yeah, sure. So I've always worked in education of some kind; I did in secondary school teaching and decided school kids are terrible and didn't want to do that. I ended up working in adult education here in Melbourne. I moved to Melbourne from Newcastle, actually, with this big view, I'm going to become a trainer. And I came to Melbourne for a holiday. Six weeks later, I'd moved! It was just like, yep, I'm going to do it. I think I was out of work for eight months. And like, I'm not working until I can be a trainer. So I got into the vocational education and training sector. I've always been in a leadership role. Even there, I fell into a leadership role, it's like, oh, you're good at this, you should be the leader. Currently I'm working for a training organisation that provides executive coaching and training. I did their course probably five or six years ago because it was an interest area. And someone had said to me, you should go and become a coach. So I got on the phone and I said to them, if you ever need help with your compliance or whatever, just let me know. And they rang me one day and they said, we could use some help with something. You know, the thing was I'd just been made redundant - I literally was walking from the meeting room back to my desk and Natalie rang and she said, oh, we could use your help when you've got time. I looked at my clock and I was like.. now? I think I went the next day and helped them through some stuff as a consultant. We were sitting down, just laughing about something we were working on afterwards, and Andrew said to me, what's your next step? What are you going to do? I said to them, I think I want to change, I've been through this redundancy thing and a number of times I think I want to change. He said, I just ask because I think you'd fit in here really well. And I was like, oh, okay - the next Monday I started working for them. Yeah. So I put that coaching skillset to use in this job.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

And now what I do is a little bit of executive coaching, but also help people who want to become coaches, identify the best way to do it and how to get there. Really helping them understand that landscape. I've got a few other little things I do on the side as well - around people stuff. I work with a great colleague - an ex colleague -who actually audited me one year and I thought, I like you, you're an auditor, but I still like you. And yeah, I'll never let her out of my sight. We do some professional development work for people in the sector. So I do a bit of everything. I do a few different things, which is really fun.

Lisa Daniel:

So what is it about your background and the experience with your dad that you bring to working with people?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

Fairness. That's my thing. Probably in the last couple of years, I've just realised that is my driving thing, fairness, I want people to be treated fairly. I want people to have the right opportunities. I want them to be included. It's this idea of being fair and that you don't always know what's going on until you actually have a decent conversation with somebody. I think that's what took me to coaching as well, because having really great rapport-driven high quality conversations are really identifying what's happening and enabling someone to then do something positive. All kinds of drives from that experience of being treated fairly and being listened to and all those sorts of things that I've experienced or a lack of throughout my life - I now put into my work.

Lisa Daniel:

Do you refer to your background with people in your job or with training people? Do you ever tell that story?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

No. Lots of my friends know that story and I'll remind them of things or what I learned from that. So I do use it as a reference point. Coaching is a funny thing, you're not there to give advice. You're there to ask good questions and let them do the thinking. But it certainly informs the questions I ask because I'm always looking at someone and trying to see the whole picture of what else is going on. So through my questions, I might get them to take a look maybe under the surface or is there something else that's happening that that might be affecting. I'm with friends I've referred to the story a few times about, and I have friends who have similar stories.

Lisa Daniel:

How has it affected your intimate relationships? Do you have a partner? Do you think that your father and your experience with the father has affected your intimate partnerships?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

It's an interesting question. I don't think so. An experience like that with dad has lots of systemic impact anyway, it's shaped who I am and how I see things. So you've always got that undercurrent of that, but I don't think it's directly a part of it.

Lisa Daniel:

I want to ask a pretty blunt question. Why aren't you angry? Because you're very smart. Even when you're telling me the story, you have a bit of a smile on your face. Your eyes are quite bright. You haven't cried. But I'm fascinated as to why you're not angry.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

In terms of the way that dad treated me and all of that stuff, there is a level of anger, but I think I've passed that. It does make me feel angry, but I'm more in the zone of now of well, okay, that's all happened, what can I do now? How can I use that to help people or help myself, or share the story so people understand it. So I think I've turned it more into a tool for the sorts of things that I want to do now and the way I want to work with people.

Lisa Daniel:

Because some people could have taken a different road altogether. They could have focused on the anger being quite self-destructive or destructive to the people around them - just stayed in that anger and not moved on. You've not done that. I'm fascinated by it.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

I think you're so busy dealing with things sometimes that you don't notice what's actually happening until later you come back and retrospectively you look back at certain periods in life. You're like, oh, wow, that was happening. There's been periods of time where I've probably not been in the right headspace and that's okay. It's just what's happened. I think now it's about going, okay that happened, so what's next? How are we going to do the next bit? I've told the story, I've talked about it and I've talked about it and I've talked about it so many times. It's easy to talk about now.

Lisa Daniel:

Do you ever talk to, do you ever talk to your mother and brother about it or refer to it?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

No, I don't talk to them about it, but it's not something that's always there. It's done and we've moved on. He's passed and it's in the past now, so it's like, okay, what's next? How do you feel about your dad now? I still feel that residual anger - or frustration is probably more the right word to use. And I would've preferred to have a different relationship with him. It is what it is. Going back to that conversation that James had with me, he said, if you want to have a conversation with dad, now's the time. I think if I didn't have that conversation, I'd feel a lot different, I'd be like, maybe this could have happened or I'd be upset that I didn't take that opportunity. But I think because I'd put everything out there as much as I could anyway. I think I'd done everything I can. So it's like,

Lisa Daniel:

It was his choice not to take that opportunity.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

So I think if that was different, I'd probably have a much different view of things, cause I could have done something differently, but now looking back, I did everything that I could have.

Lisa Daniel:

Is there forgiveness then?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

I do, because I think that if he had different information or a different view of things where you had different beliefs or more context for what he was doing or what he'd thought - maybe he would have had a different view, he was an intelligent person.

Lisa Daniel:

Was there a religion in his life just trying to grapple with how to be?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

I sometimes wonder if his growing up story has a lot to do with it as well. I mean, he was adopted and he didn't want anyone to know, but I, as a kid would run around the house just having tantrum, kid tantrum. And I would say, oh, I feel like I'm adopted. Mom would be like, ah, and dad would just lose it. I was a kid at that time, I went - great, I got a reaction! But I look back at that and think, hmm, okay, obviously there's some stuff there, you know? He didn't want James to know, the only reason James found out was because he was staying with our RT, his sister, and she had a comment and he went, what, and that unfolded from there. I don't even know if dad knew James knew in the end, I've never talked with dad I do wonder maybe if that had something to do with his view of the world and I mean, I'm sure it did. What a thing to go through.

Lisa Daniel:

Well, the fact that he was bizarrely ashamed by being adopted and never talked to you about it, it does imply that there was an issue there for him. I don't know why.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

Yeah, I agree. That's what I take out of it is that he felt a sense of shame around that.

Lisa Daniel:

Well, it's a mystery that's never going to be solved. Really.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

Definitely not. Unless there's some notes somewhere he's written. Yeah. I doubt it.

Lisa Daniel:

So we've had a good chat today. We've talked a little bit about your career and the fact that you work with people and that you've risen above an incredible experience of rejection. Let's be honest, that's a tough word to use, but you were rejected, outward outwardly by your father. And then again, after his death, you survived it. What would you like listeners to get out of today's conversation?

Nick McEwan-Hall:

I think in preparing for today, I've been doing a lot of thinking about this. I think just knowing that you don't have to have significant things happen to you to experience a mental health issue. And I think there is a gap between if I look back at my story, I look at what's normal - I don't like using that word because everyone's normal is different - but let's say a lack of mental health issues. And then there's what you've got. The gap in between those two things. Sometimes it's our normal, so we discounted a bit, we ask nothing - I'm just like, oh yeah, my dad despised me. It's just stuff that you normalise and you spend so much time pushing it down or dealing with it or working with it. And so we discount sometimes that gap or that level of discomfort you're having is actually significant. You may not know it at the time because you are so busy, you just pushing through it or dealing with it or suppressing or working on or whatever it is that exists. Over the last, probably 5, 10 years, the more I've talked to people about my story or about theirs, I had some friends, who've had some quite significant mental health issues. The more I go, yeah, that's there and it's this thing where we just don't really notice it or we don't understand it and we don't give it credit for the impact it can have on us and the people around us as well.

Nick McEwan-Hall:

So yeah, that, that's what I would like people to take away is just to know that statistically, we're all going to have an experience of it at some point. So, you know, be ready, but also if people are listening to my story and they're like my dad - I'd really like them to hear the impact that it's had. And just to stop and think about that a little bit. Because my life and how I went through life and dealt with that relationship with dad could have been completely different if he'd reacted a different way. Even if it was just a superficial reaction, it would have had a big impact. So it's just about choosing our words and being clear on the impact that you can have without necessarily thinking you're doing anything particularly terrible.

Lisa Daniel:

Well, you're a living testament to me, to the power of "it does get ". I know it's a cliche, but seeing you here today with a smile on your face and talking about such a significant moment in life where you have survived and you've actually blossomed. It does get better clearly. So thank you for your honesty. I've really enjoyed chatting to you. Thank you.

x:

Word for word is presented and produced by Lisa Daniel with production support by Chris Tate from Australia's LGBTA radio station, Joy. word for word is distributed nationally to over 70 stations across the community radio network. If you're experiencing difficulty, please reach out for support. You can reach Qlife an anonymous and free LGBTI support service by calling 1-800-184-527 or call Lifeline 24 hours a day on 131114 for crisis support and suicide prevention. In an emergency please call 000.

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