I recently represented the Fatherhood Foundation (Dads4Kids) at a national workshop conducted by the Department of Health and Ageing. Our task was to contribute towards an understanding of suicide amongst men in the 25-44 age group, and to assist in developing a strategic approach to prevention.

Some of the discussions and debates about the causes of suicide within this age group reminded me of the children’s story about the animals that climbed into a boat one by one until the boat finally sank. The first into the boat were the biggest and heaviest animals. They only added stability to the boat, and on their own they did nothing to threaten its safety. The last and tiniest creature made very little difference to the overall situation, but its addition was enough to create a catastrophe. The question is posed: Who sank the boat?

This is a difficult puzzle to solve for preschool philosophers. Was it the big fat hippopotamus who contributed the most to the overcrowding of the boat? Was it the tiny little mouse invited in at the end to join the fun? Without this final influence, the boat wouldn’t have sunk. Were all the animals equally responsible, or should they be apportioned a degree of blame in proportion to their weight?

As a young child I enjoyed the story, but I didn’t know the answer. I still don’t know the answer.

The thought processes required to consider this children’s story are similar to that required in consideration of the reasons or causes of suicide.

Perhaps there is no correct answer, and our understanding depends entirely on our experience and perspective. Or perhaps not all problems have a simple solution. There may be no single cause, but rather a complex array of multiple causes acting together in a cumulative way to bring about a particular outcome. Part of the equation may also be factors interacting and reacting in a way that promotes or contributes to the outcome. Some causes may not be events, but rather, omissions. Some causes may never be revealed because the right questions are not being asked, and as a consequence the right evidence or data is not being collected.

In the analogy of the children’s story, perhaps the boat was too small, or lacked buoyancy, or was poorly maintained. What about the surrounding waves, the depth of the water, the fear of an impending or imaginary storm? Maybe the responsibility lies with the regulatory controls, the boat’s design or construction or the excessive baggage. Maybe there are a multitude of maybes. There may be no end to the opportunity to assign blame or responsibility, and to the string of causal factors, the removal of any of which may have averted the final outcome.

Maybe the chaos theory isn’t the only theoretical framework for considering the relationship between cause and effect in the area of suicide prevention.

A small number of participants at the suicide prevention workshop held firmly to a very strong conviction that about 1,000 suicide deaths each year can be directly attributable to the activities of the Family Law Court and the Child Support Agency. They believed that because the causal relationship can be easily identified, then the preventative measures required are obvious and a successful outcome to their implementation is certain.

This view can be illustrated by changing the children’s story analogy. The last two animals on the boat were the biggest. They came uninvited and unwanted, pretending to be something other than what they were. There is no doubt that they were responsible for the boat sinking.

Switching analogies, it wasn’t the last straw that broke the camel’s back — it was those two great big boulders that landed together with a thud, unexpected and with destructive impact.

The Child Support Agency and Family Law Court deprive fathers of their children. Fathers without children lose their sense of identity, their hope, their purpose and their reason for living.

The solution is simple. These two organisations do no good and must be abolished.

This doesn’t, of course, address the issue of the suicide deaths of men who are not fathers. The causes here may well be complex.

But in the meantime, let’s not abandon non-custodial fathers. In developing and implementing strategies for suicide prevention, we should do what we can and then work to achieve that which is not yet within our capacity. Let’s rescue those who we’re able to, without taking our eyes off those we are not yet able to reach.

[Photo by Robert Thiemann on Unsplash]

About the Author: Roland Foster

Roland Foster is an non-custodial father, separated since 1997, with 5 young children aged between 6 and 14 years. Roland is a passionate father and an active social reformer who believes Australia's current laws are contributing to the creation of our fatherless society.

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