The DIDs story, Part 1.

My name is Tony Miller, and I am the founder and national coordinator of a group called Dads in Distress, a dedicated support group of men whose immediate concern is to stem the present trend of male suicide due to the trauma of divorce or separation.

Current statistics indicate that 5.3 males per day or 37 males per week (ABS Information Paper, Suicides 2001) will take their own lives in this country alone.  Many are dads in distress who will take their own lives in preference to facing family, friends, and importantly, their own children, with the failure of the relationship.

From a small meeting on a veranda in Coffs Harbour four years ago, a group of dads in distress met. We didn’t know what we were doing, only that we couldn’t find any help for our circumstances. We met in the ’empty time’ on a Sunday night after we had returned our children after weekend access and faced the coming week or fortnight alone and without our children. It was in our grief over the loss of our families that we shared with each other our pain.

We came together week after week, and for those of us with thoughts of ending our lives it gave us a reason to continue. By sitting there on that veranda, telling our story to another dad in distress and listening to his, without interruption, without advice-giving, without someone rescuing and without judgement. Somehow we felt relieved, we felt vented, we felt we weren’t the only ones, we felt someone cared, someone understood our pain. How can I suicide when I am keeping the guy sitting next to me alive?

On our journey we soon developed our motto of there being three sides to every story: his, hers and the truth. And somewhere on the journey, we come to that truth. It can be very painful for some men but hugely empowering. Night after night, we saw the miracles take place. Dads who were filled with anger, remorse, bitterness, depression, loneliness, helplessness and who were often suicidal suddenly turn a corner. Dads in Distress was born.

Slowly these dads formed friendships, trust and began networking amongst themselves, and as their health both mentally and physically improved, many began to mentor new dads as they came in. Many crawl in, feeling their legs have been cut from beneath them. They are bitter about a system that they feel has let them down. They feel powerless to effect any change to their circumstances. They are grieving the loss of their families. They are grieving the loss of their children. Often they have court orders to obtain fortnightly access to maintain a relationship with their children. Often these court orders mean nothing and access is continually denied. Often they are continually engaging solicitors to fight through the courts to have this access re-established, only to end up on the merry-go-round and often either run out of finances or walk away, to then be labelled a deadbeat dad.

Sadly we see many who wish to have their children on weekend access, but cannot afford to do it. They are struggling to survive themselves. I know of many who go without meals or basic needs during the week to ensure they have enough funds to enable them to have their children during the weekend. I know of many who need medical, dental care, counselling etc, but see it as cost that would infringe on their being able to feed and entertain their children during their weekend access.

I know of many who are charged a cash fee to allow access to their own children. And I ask you if you haven’t seen your children for a fortnight or more, what would you do? You submit and you pay it and you give your children the best weekend you can give. There is nothing more devastating to me to see a dad come in crying because he had to say ‘no’ to having his kids on the weekend, because there is nothing in the fridge and nothing in the wallet.

Dads in Distress is child-focussed. We encourage dads to keep in contact with their children, no matter how hard that can be. Whether by phone, by letter, by access, keep in contact. Inevitably, those children will want to know who their dad is.

Number 9 of our aims is: To encourage, nurture and support men to continue their father-son-daughter relationships with their children.
Number 10 of our aims is: To encourage men to continue with emotional and financial support of their families for the sake of their children.

Check out our website and see what our aims are.

[Photo by Marcin Jozwiak on Unsplash]

About the Author: Tony Miller

Tony Miller was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in the 2010 Queen's Birthday honors list 'For service to the community through the provision of support services for separated families'.

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