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Opinion: Protecting The Fathers

By Murray Bacon

Fathers are invincible, right? Many Kiwi kids have been raised on stories of Anzac heroes, All Blacks playing with gruesome injuries, or maybe Captain Falcon Scott’s stoic friend Captain Oates, saying “I’m going outside – I may be a while”.

Do we still need to make children this tough, in our time? Will this actually prepare them properly for their futures? Do these protectors ever need our protection?

Many soldiers returned from WW1 or WW2 with their emotions frozen, having witnessed or participated in brutal engagements.They found that friends or family didn’t find it easy to listen about their experiences.

While the soldiers needed a safe debrief, guilt or a lack of appreciation for the horrors of warfare obstructed many others from helping them.

They said real men don’t talk about the war, but we knew, they didn’t want to listen anyway. They were too proud to listen to what they’d put us through and it was too far away from where they lived.” Tough, they may have seemed, but more than a few of those old soldiers passed away in “unexplained circumstances”.

About 550 New Zealanders end their own lives every year, according to statistics. If we count that some “unexplained accidents” are variations on suicide, the figure may be higher still. Suicide, however, seems even more preventable than car or industrial accidents.

With the benefit of hindsight, the signs are often there for us to see, however, the warnings happen in hundreds of situations, where it never comes to a tragedy.

The no-warning attack, the futility, the needless destruction, the ineffectiveness of any remedy, can all help to drive those who are left-behind crazy. To most, the attack comes from an unexpected direction – an unknown enemy within. Many had honest faith in the strength, the resilience and the wisdom of their child, friend, or adult who had seemed ‘OK’ for quite a while….

Most of us probably know of someone who has taken their own life, though they may not have been close. When close, often the fact of suicide isn’t admitted to friends or workmates, this too is hidden.

Post Natal Depression is not an easy topic for women. It occurs in such a wide range of degrees, from mild or fatigued to actually scary, so no mother wants to be tarred with such a brush. This may lead to denial or hiding and contributes to tension.

Fathers who may have been looking forward to the ‘happy families’ period after a long or difficult pregnancy are often flummoxed.

If they have reduced contact with friends or family during this period, they may have relied on their partner for a listening ear.

If their partner is pretending all is OK the father may feel completely alone and become depressed. It is estimated that for every two PND– affected mothers there is also a clinically depressed father.

To complicate matters further, there is a large increase in suicide risk during the year after separation.

When couples do not separate amicably, there is possibly interference in the children’s relationship with the father, sometimes for disputed reasons or, to the effected party, unfair accusations.

In modern days, after decades of relative peace, our real life ordeals may pale in significance. Betrayal by a spouse or loss of a family member may not be totally unexpected.

Sickness and disease can be arbitrary murderers, support groups are almost mandatory, while victims of violence or car crashes need all the help we can muster.

To many men, however, just being blocked from contact with their children can be the most traumatic and frightening time of their lives.

If their separation was a surprise, via abduction or as part of a protection order, there may be unresolved emotions, separation anxiety and irrational, impulsive thoughts.

If the situation is compounded by being let down by authorities, in whom he thought he could trust, it may seem even more gut wrenching. In these states, men are often their own worst enemies, not reacting properly or feeling betrayed.

Certain men run from situations, some of them to escape responsibility for their children, but more are blocked, possibly without any good reason, from taking care of their own children. These situations are probably also kept silent, so work or social pretences can be maintained.

Are we sensitive to men being barred from fathering? Do we understand the consequences of unfair separation on both children and fathers? What can we do?

Industrial accidents kill about 100 men per year. A major effort has been made recently to reduce this needless toll. Car accidents carry away about 500 people per year.

We have eventually brought this toll down, to the lowest in fifty years, partly by instilling responsible behaviour into our drivers.

Of fathers experiencing unexpected loss of the children: 30% consider suicide.

The completed suicide rate also jumps higher for those who have experienced loss or interference with their own parental relationships when they were a child, or if the mother of the children has experienced separation anxiety.

These anxieties are sometimes fuelled through adoption or abortion.

This ‘separation anxiety’ drives impulsivity in general, more sharply when long term loss of children is involved (the biggest part of our reason for living) and the effects can become permanent.

Near great strength, there can be weaknesses. The Tacoma Falls (USA) Suspension Bridge had a very long span, supported by the strongest available steel suspension cables. The bridge could have withstood storms, but did not manage breezes at a particular, vulnerable speed.

Just before it’s opening, it was destroyed by gentle breezes, that generated standing waves. Despite the strength, the waves just built up, until the bridge was destroyed.

When our children are small, we can plant the seeds of resilience, let them know about the knocks in our life and how hard they can hit, but that it is OK to ask for help or support.

Letting our children see us asking for help goes a long way to enable them to seek help, if they ever need it sometime.

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