Do children ever really know what their parents are like? Do they ever realise their parents have a life that’s broader and more expansive than just parenting? Do they ever realise they have an inner life, a social life, and most likely, a parenting persona as well? One that’s nuanced. That has different shades to the parent they display.

I remember the first time I saw this. I was in the car, a 1963 something or other, that would be a classic today. I was with my mother and father, and we were travelling to Korumburra to spend the weekend with the Cascone family.

My brother, by this stage, had stopped accompanying the “family” and was doing whatever “responsible” children do at home on their own.

It was usually a two-hour trip during which I would normally zone out and watch the countryside slide along. My parents were chatting in the front bench seat.

There was an intimacy in the sound of their banter. If you listened closely to two people in this state, it’s as if their minds were synchronised, and they spoke with one voice. If you were recording the conversation, the meter would find it difficult to distinguish any difference in the cadence of one voice from the other. They even laughed in unison.

My ears pricked up, and I realised they were telling each other jokes.

I was probably about 15 years of age, but I was conscious of the rhythm of their delivery, the different voices they used, and the natural pattern and construction of their storytelling.

Who were these people? For the first time, I recognised them as someone else. I sat up, and my father noticed me in the rearview mirror and brought me into the conversation.

“Joe, do you like jokes?”

“Yes” after all, who doesn’t?

“I have one that I think you’ll love.”

It was as if I had been accepted into a secret club. They were no longer my parents but my club members and associates.

My father’s joke:

Two great friends are killed in an accident. One goes to heaven, the other to hell. Heaven is not too bad. The weather is always consistent, the food is excellent, and the pillows are fluffy. However, the friend really misses his great former companion and would love to see him and have a chat. It is not encouraged, and it takes years to get a pardon to visit hell.

The friend arrives at the gates of hell and looks in. He is amazed. He sees the most beautiful women; buxom, tall, blonde, scantily dressed, and absolutely gorgeous. There seem to be at least two for each man. The friend can’t believe this. It’s supposed to be hell. His gaze travels over all the females, and he spies his great former companion, who is surrounded by beautiful women in a hot tub.

The friends see each other and hug warmly. “What is going on?” says the friend. “I thought this was supposed to be hell. We don’t get any of this up there”, his finger points to the heavens like a model in a Da Vinci portrait.

His former companion stands and starts to climb out of the hot tub. The beautiful, naked women move aside. “Oh, it is, believe me”, he continues. “This is definitely hell.”

As he climbs out, his friend notices something is missing. He notices his former companion has no penis. He looks around, and none of the men have a penis.

My mother and father look at me seriously, waiting for my reaction. I wait for the joke to settle in and for it to come together in my mind. I start to smile, and they suddenly break into wild laughter.

I later learnt that my mother would often sit me on her lap and tell me a story. It was never read from a book but created there and then, fully formed from her mind. I don’t think my father came up with this joke on the spot, but it was very well told.