So it’s Been a While8 min read
This is going to be a long and personal post, so if you have no interest in hearing about my life then stop reading now…
…and if you’re still here then great, it’s going to be nice catching up. It really has been quite some time since I’ve had a permanent online presence, which is a strange thing to say as a web designer right? Plenty has happened in the past 6 years — all of which I’ll try to address in this post — so get comfortable and grab a cup of coffee, this is our catch up call.
Cast your mind back to 2008, the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd makes an historic apology to Indigenous Australians and the Stolen Generation, Barack Obama becomes the first African-American to be elected President of the United States, Bill Gates leaves Microsoft and my father passes away… remember that last point, it has a big significance to this story.
It’s March and my wife has just submitted her finished PhD thesis to the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, where we have spent the past 4 years living and working. I work for a small software company called Tower Software as their in-house web monkey and graphic designer. It’s a great first real job because the people and atmosphere is relaxed, super friendly and creative. I’m given freedom to try things out, which is quite daunting for little 23 year old me.
Roll on April, my wife has accepted a Postdoctoral research position in Umeå, Sweden and I’ve just found out that the rumours were true, Mega Corp™ Hewlett Packard will soon consume Tower Software to feed the belly of the beast. A little dramatic I know, but this is how it felt — at least for me — going from a company of about 200 employees to one of well over 300,000, that’s more than the population of some towns I’ve lived in. So this happens which drags me into May and a meeting with my future boss. I thought this meeting would be over in a matter of minutes since I’m moving to Sweden in just over a months time and they wouldn’t need someone with my skill set, I was very wrong. Instead it went something like this…
Me: Hi, nice to meet you, my name is Rhys
Boss: Ah perfect! You’re the web guy right? Great! I have a project for you!
Me: OK, well I’m moving to Sweden in a month so I’m going to have to pass sor —
Boss: Sweden? Awesome! They have great metal up there. No worries we can deal with it.
Me: So you’re cool with me moving to Sweden and working remotely for you?
The rest of the conversation was about a new Information Management Digital Hub he was setting up with my soon to be colleague (and friend, hi Natasha!), heavy metal bands (turned out he collected guitars and loves heavy metal, I kept quiet about my predisposition to 80’s new romantic music) and social media.
So that was it. I was leaving Australia with a new job at HP in San Francisco while working remotely from Sweden.
The departure was everything we expected, lots of tears and heartache. We left a lot of great friends behind that we still miss dearly. However we still had some very important people to visit back home in New Zealand before starting our journey to Sweden—our families. It’s June and my birthday is in full swing, we’re out celebrating at Christchurch’s finest, The Dux Deluxe (a classic watering hole which is now gone thanks to massive earthquakes in 2011). I smoke something in the magnitude of 2 packs of cigarettes and vow to never smoke again.
Farewells are said, tears are shed and the hugs are long… it’s one of those farewells, the hardest kind — or at least I thought at the time, a much harder one is only 3 weeks away. We board a plane going from Christchurch, New Zealand to Los Angeles, then on to New York, then Stockholm, Sweden and then Umeå. It sucks. As most international air travel sucks in cattle class, not enough leg room, shitty meals, shitty people and shitty entertainment. Plus a total travel time of 52 hours thanks to the stop over in New York, the one and only time I have ever eaten a Philly sub for breakfast, sweet baby jesus.
At the end of this 2 day ordeal, we step out bleary eyed into a crisp Swedish summer and it’s amazing. The birds are singing, there are fields full of rolling green hills, cool quiet forests and lakes are welcoming, it was absolutely surreal. We are both extremely home sick and jet-lagged, but we’re also very eager to explore our new surroundings. After we sort out our apartment and get some sleep, we set about acquiring some new bikes since Umeå is mostly flat, as is most of Sweden — Norway stole all the mountains.
The next couple of weeks are spent getting settled into our apartment, our new jobs and Sweden. It’s a really exciting time for both of us and it’s the height of the Swedish summer, it’s friggin’ amazing for exploring the countryside.
4:03PM, July 3 2008
2 weeks into my new job at HP, the phone rings. It’s my brother, he tells me to sit down. I’m confused by this for two reasons—one, it’s 4am in New Zealand and two, why do I need to sit down?
…oh, that’s why.
My brother stays on the line, we talk, we cry, I'm confused, most of the call is a blur to me. I hang up and collapse into the arms of my wife, I’m lost. I inform my new boss that I need to go away for some time. An hour later I receive a call from him, he’s in the back of a cab somewhere in London, telling me that my wife and I are booked on the first flight out the following day to New Zealand. Absolutely speechless I choke back the tears enough to say a whimpering thank you and hang up. Bags are packed, more tears are shed, sleep evades me that night.
Suffice to say a funeral happens and the time was spent grieving with family. After another round-the-world trip we are back in Sweden, winter is closing in, the day light is diminishing and I’m miserable. I feel like the wind has been kicked out of me. I have no confidence in the art I produce or the words I speak. This is how 2008 ends.
The feeling persists well into 2010 when we move from Sweden to Norway. I’ve skipped over 2009 because I don’t think it would make very compelling reading. The time spent in Sweden was great, it’s just I wasn’t in the best frame of mind to enjoy it. Regardless of this I’m grateful that I took up running, cross country skiing and cycling there, it kept me from starting up smoking again, well that and the price of the junk. Sweden was really interesting, a complete reversal of the type of lifestyle we had been living while in Australia. We spent most weekends outside the apartment, either in a tent in some far off forest camping or in a wood cabin tucked away in some mountain range skiing. This helped with taking my mind off my fathers death. In fact, a lot of the things I did were to take my mind off this.
April 2010 is when we arrive in Tromsø, Norway, a small island located 350 km north of the Arctic Circle. We are now about as far away from New Zealand as one can get. The distance from home hurts but I feel revitalized by the landscape, the fjords, the open sea and the snow covered mountains, they are all magnificent. The first two photographs on my Norway collection page are the very first photographs I took in Tromsø. I still love these two, they remind me of the time when I started feeling alive again.
We continue to explore Troms (Troms is the county and Tromsø is the town), my wife starts her new Postdoctoral position at the University of Tromsø (UiT) and I continue working for HP remotely. The next 18 months see us travel all over the globe for work and pleasure, from San Francisco, Las Vegas, Cannes, Zürich, London, Reykjavík, Svalbard, China, Melbourne, Canberra, Christchurch and a myriad of other locations. It was nuts and amazing and most importantly for me at the time, it kept my mind occupied. Though if there is one thing I learned from that period of my life, it’s that one should never spend more than 3 days in Las Vegas, what a cesspool.
Fast-forward to another “working well into the night” evening in July 2011, my wife bursts in with a rather anxious tone to her voice;
Her: Guess what?
Me: err… what?
Her: I’m pregnant!
At this point I knew I had to leave my current job, there was no question about it. We celebrate and try to process exactly what all of this means. What will it be like having a little person who relies solely on you for everything? We are nervous, we can barely take care of ourselves, how are we meant to look after a baby? Do we need a licence to own one of these things? The night draws on and we continue to talk. Arctic winds usher in winter and the baby grows, 2011 comes to a close.
The beginning of 2012 is when many things changed for me. I leave my job at HP and accept a graphic/web design position at ArcticZymes, where I still work to this day, it’s awesome. But more importantly, it’s when I became a father. My daughter was born March 9th, which was a rather moving experience to say the least. All the emotions one experiences in that instant is just overwhelming. I cried a lot, a hell of a lot, but this time I was happy, really, really over the moon happy. My daughter was one of the best things to happen to me in a very long time — the other was marrying my long-term partner in crime.
So begins my journey into fatherhood. All of the sleepless nights, poopy nappies, illness, bad moods, early mornings are totally worth it. This is how most of 2012 is spent. We get to experience the Norwegian social system first hand with their generous maternity leave quotas — something like 14 weeks paid leave just for the father. Which works nicely for us as we can continue working part time.
2012 comes to an end and we spend our first Christmas together as a family in the Arctic. I’m finally catching my wind, my confidence is building once again.
The following year just gets better as my daughter continues to grow and starts walking, then running, then talking and then a whole slew of other seemingly uninteresting things to other people, but to me every single one of them is amazing. She is at kindergarten (barnehage, day care) from the age of 1 and takes to it like a fish to water. My wife and I return to full-time work, we take a family vacation to Croatia and Switzerland, life is grand. I continue to keep my head low though and decide not to work on any of my personal projects — like this website — until a later date. I want to concentrate on trying things out at ArcticZymes, I’m having great fun doing so and I’m going from strength to strength. Actually seeing my work printed in magazines, on posters, being produced into real tangible things, it’s a great feeling. 2013 is a good year and we end it back in New Zealand with the whole family.
During this trip there was one event that happened which affected me in such a substantial way, for how simple a gesture it was. I went to visit my father and while I’m placing flowers on his headstone, my daughter runs off, picks some dandelions and places them right next to the flowers I have just placed. Then looks at me sombrely like she understands, like she’s feeling what I’m feeling. For me, I see it as time to stop grieving and time to move on, I have a family of my own now.
So this brings us to present day and my 32nd birthday. If you’ve managed to read this far then you’re pretty much all caught up. I continue to live and work in Norway for the time being. I continue to hone my art. I continue to build confidence.
I’m finally catching my breath.
Next › A Work in Progress