She left him pointers on bedtime rituals, hair care, how much screen time the kids get, a reminder to use sunblock, ironing shirts, etc.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on June 17, 2021. It has since been updated.
Ian Millthorpe follows the rulebook to a T when it comes to raising his children. The 15-point list of rules left to him by his late wife, Angie, has never failed him during his past decade as a single father of eight and proves valuable even now as he raises a new generation of Millthorpes: his grandchildren. As someone who had little to no knowledge of a parent's day-to-day duties and responsibilities prior to Angie's death in 2010, Millthorpe knows he would have struggled to bring up their six sons and two daughters all by himself, had it not been Angie's helpful notes and the strength and courage he got from them.
"I used to think it was me who had it hard and [Angie] who had it easy," Millthorpe, who used to work as a miner, told The Guardian. "I remember I sat down at work talking about it, me and the lads. But how wrong we were. You just don't realize how much they do." It was in 1993 that he finally got a sense of what full-time parenting entailed. Angie was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo a mastectomy, followed by radiotherapy. With his wife in the hospital, Millthorpe found himself single-handedly attending to the needs of their children (three at the time) for the very first time.
"I remember trying to stir the beans, watch the toast, lay the table, and get the drinks – all with three boys running around and tugging at my leg," he recalled. "I always did housework – decorating, washing up, gardening, knocking together rabbit hutches – but I'd never had to look after the kids like that before." Fortunately, Angie went into remission and by 1998, the couple once again began nurturing hopes of fulfilling their long-time dream of having a big family. Their fourth son was born the next year, followed by a twin boy and girl in 2002, and another son not long after. With the birth of their second daughter in 2007, their brood of eight was complete.
Tragedy struck in 2008 when Angie developed a persistent cough and doctors found a shadow on her lung. Biopsy results confirmed that the cancer had returned and this time, was terminal. "I remember thinking, how will I cope?" Millthorpe recalled. "How on earth will I be able to raise all our kids on my own? I'm a man! I don't have a clue." Angie may have feared the same and despite what she was going through, started preparing her family for life after her death.
One morning, without warning, Angie asked Millthorpe the date of their youngest son's birthday. As her husband floundered and gave her a couple of wrong guesses, Angie sighed in exasperation: "You've got to know the kids' birthdays, Mill. What if you forget one?" she asked him. Fetching a notebook, she wrote down the birthdays of all eight children. Millthorpe noticed that she had also jotted down a number of other parenting tips in the notebook: pointers on bedtime rituals, hair care, how much screen time the kids get, a reminder to use sunblock, ironing shirts, etc. Here are the rules:
#1: Plait girls hair or it splits
#2: Must do homework before bed
#3: Must be in 1 hour before dark
#4: Vet TV programs
#5: Don't let them bite nails
#6: Vet boyfriends/ girlfriends
#7: Keep going to Thornwich with the rest of family
#8: Be strict with them
#9: Check their hair for nits
#10: Only one hour a day on the computer
#11: Make sure Ella has her Meningitis boosters
#12: Don't have iron too hot for shifts
#13: Don't leave Ella in the bath alone
#14: Don't give them too many sweets
#15: Sunblock on hot days
On October 19, 2010, Angie passed away. Over the next 11 years, Millthorpe's life changed completely as he devoted himself to raising their children as per the rules his late wife had left him. Today, he uses the same rules to raise his grandchildren and brings out Angie's note when necessary to remind his brood about what Mum would have wanted. "I miss Angie every day but I really did feel her absence during the birth of our grandchildren. She’d have loved hugging them, just as I do," he told The Mirror. Under their father's love and guidance, the Millthorpe kids — Ryan (35), Damon (32), Reece (30), Connor (22), twins Jake and Jade (18), Corey (15), and Ella (13) — have flourished.
"He's been so great and supportive. It's because of him that I want to train as a social worker once I leave school. I want to make a difference to somebody's life," Jade said of Millthorpe in 2018. "He’s amazing and makes the best chicken curry," Elle, the youngest, chimed in. While his children shower him with praise, Millthorpe believes he had little to do with raising them right. "I'm very fortunate," he said. "I have a bunch of hard-working, caring kids. I'm really proud. My children talk about Angie every day, what their Mam used to do, what she used to say. I can never replace Angie – I don't want to – but I'm determined to do everything that I can to make her proud of our family. Luckily she has made it easier for me."