Faith in Distress: Happy Father’s Day

Leading up to Father’s Day many of us or those we support experience increased anxiety and frustration as all the difficulties of our parenting relationships come to the fore. This reflection on ‘faith’ won’t solve any immediate problems, but it might open a fresh approach in response to them.

 For the first time in my adult life I have discovered a definition of ‘faith’ that I totally relate to. For years it has contorted my brain. While always busy seeking practical solutions to so many separated parenting issues, an inviting attraction to the value of ‘faith’ remains constant. I always feel pulled to appreciating a greater yet hidden systemic order, but I quickly rebuff any suggestion I should leave my intellect at the door when approaching the place it points to.

 It comes from a source of wisdom we (or I?) so often shy way from, the Bible. I offer it here not as a religious message, but instead as a purely human expression of one person’s understanding of what ‘faith’ is. As human beings we deal with the unknown in every aspect of life every day, and we therefore are always putting faith in something, consciously, or not. So, why not check in with some ancient thought-leaders to see what they say about it?

Here is what I’m referring to, from the writings of St Paul: ‘Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ (Hebrews 11.1, from the King James version.)

To me, this is a remarkable insight; an observation of what we all do, referring simply to how our minds work and how we might work them better.

For example, plenty of us play with our mobile phones while we are driving, even though it is dumb and dangerous to do so, hopeful that we won’t get caught. Or we speed a bit, or we don’t fully stop at every stop sign, forever hoping there are no police in view. The substance of this type of hope is based on the law of probability, it is highly probable that we will not get caught every time for these misdemeanors, nor are we likely to cause a major accident (even though mobile phone use is increasingly a cause of serious accidents). If these outcomes were more likely, most of us would modify our behavior accordingly.

The breakup of a marriage or any long-term relationship can be brutal, it can devastate us for a long time, especially when children are involved. To talk about ‘faith’ to anyone in the thick of such difficulty, in its early or advanced stages, is generally a useless exercise because there is often no near-reality to have faith in. There are sometimes no legal or social mechanisms available to offer any hope of quickly reversing some circumstances. That is, everything we once thought to be real and ‘reasonable’ can appear to have been completely blown away. Although there may have been advance warnings nothing could have warned us for what feels like such a completely inhumane attack on our experience and identity as a parent, not to mention the equivalent attack it represents to our children’s lives. And we are left in shock at the inability of the law or anyone involved to put things ‘right’.

It can be tempting for anyone going through this, or supporting someone going through it, to only see everything as being ‘wrong’.  Trust me, these are words of experience.  What this reflection suggests though, is that we may all benefit from carefully examining what substance of things we do hope for, and what evidence of things not seen is actually guiding our inner decisions and our actions. Becoming more conscious of how we practice faith in this way might help us give more attention to the positive steps/people/influences that are in fact available to strengthen us. In that way, ‘faith’ can work to bring us closer to what we really want.

For those of us serving as DIDSS or MIDSS volunteers in the community, or anyone interested in what we do and keen to support our efforts, we always need to keep looking for ways to function at our best. It is not always easy to put aside our own personal experiences while being reminded every day of the hurt we might still carry through the experiences of those coming to us for support.

I am confident every person I have ever supported through DIDSS has definitely found some substance of hope in them. And, they have also found evidence of some positive things in their life that may not be immediately visible. There are so many things it might be, a forgotten relative or family friend, an interest in playing music or fixing cars, a passion for studying philosophy or participating in water sports, there is nearly always something we can tap into to help alleviate the distress being experienced and to help provide a more positive focus. Listening long enough to draw it out, or dealing with the many negative ideas the person is carrying, or encouraging them long enough to act appropriately, may not always be so straightforward.  But once we manage to help in this way, the actions people take are usually far more effective in creating a better situation for all involved.

Our challenge is to become more practiced in looking for these positives, and in helping others look for them. Otherwise, what is available to have faith in for each individual might be completely missed. If we do miss it, then we are at risk of acting without the strength that is in fact available. In the separated family environment it is crucial we work to find new strength to help replace what we know has been lost.

One of the most meaningful tools we have in DIDSS is the opportunity to really listen to what others are going through. As our welcome message reminds us in each meeting: Here we really listen to each other, or at least we don’t interrupt or jump in quick to say our piece or even give what we may think is just the best and most important piece of advice. Instead we give respectful attention. In this listening we connect with each other and more easily unravel the multiple forces that can easily combine to create unbearable stress.

Therefore, every single person in contact with DIDSS can be offered something real to put faith into. Our substance is a community of warm-hearted peers who have overcome many difficulties, and our evidence is that we continue to work, to volunteer, to be available for any one experiencing a family breakup that feels too difficult to bear.

This coming Father’s Day I encourage everyone to examine and nurture their practice of faith. No matter what the Day brings, there is sure to be someone you meet who can benefit from knowing there are strangers out there seriously committed to providing this special form of hope and help.

Dean Mason
National Chairman, Dads In Distress
Author, Daddy’s OK
Blog, Men Not Alone (for this and past festival day messages)


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Realising the hope we hold and the hope we don’t, Happy Easter.

For many of us, keeping a positive perspective on the real opportunities these ‘happy’ and ‘family’ times of the year like Easter can bring, can be nothing but tough. I hope the following reflection can edge everyone a bit closer toward that more positive place where the ‘Happy’ in ‘Happy Easter’ has deep and lasting resonance.

Like many others, I grew up being close to one side of the family and not knowing the other. We enjoyed lively and close relationships with all my mother’s side of the family while never seeing or, in some cases, not even meeting the relatives on my father’s side.  It always struck me as odd to be so close to some first cousins while not even knowing what others looked like. Ironically, the cousins I rarely or never met were living much nearer to us than the relations we enjoyed strong bonds with. I often mused at the odd possibility of sitting next to one of these estranged cousins on a train or a bus and both of us being oblivious to all the immediate family history we shared.

This was not a topic my dad enjoyed me raising. I was probably 10 or 11 when I first attempted it and his firm response was ‘I’ll tell you when you are older’. By the time I was 45 or so, thinking it might be time, he simply replied ‘no real reason, its just the way it was’. We had a strong and trusting relationship and I was happy to accept that as ok, if I needed to know more he would have told me.

Now, as a divorced parent, the topic of ’estrangement’ cuts closer to the bone. My own children don’t communicate with me, so I wonder how that topic will play out when their children come into the world and start asking awkward questions. And if I do get to meet my grandchildren, how will I explain these difficulties to them if and when they ask? Now this is the sort of stuff that sends my brain into over-drive…what the hell…are we on some sort of evolutionary spiraling roller-coaster here where each subsequent generation is becoming more and more fractured, less connected than the previous one, only to be thrust back into wholesome-family-nirvana at some point on the up-bend, in decades or centuries ahead???

But the future is the future, what matters most to me and everyone around me now is how well I, and we, can make the most of what we do have. This is not to stop wanting what we genuinely want of the future, but it is to put a stop to the false hope and to tune into the hope that is real. It is also not to suspend expectation of others or to carelessly put up with bad behavior. ‘Making the most of what we do have’ brings a different thinking to what the future might bring.

My wife and I have a new business dream that is full of hope. It is perilously empty of capital funding, but it is richly endowed with a real hope that clearly serves as a beacon to guide us. We are confident the capital will surface, but we have no idea where from. In the meantime we have a bundle of tasks to attend to, people to talk to, and serious matters to learn.  Each step of the way we are listening and looking, sensitive to what strengthens or weakens the realisation of the dream, and the dream itself. It is almost like a seed planted in us, not something we have chosen. Yet we are choosing it, following it, nurturing it and our lives are becoming more enriched because of it. When and, ok, maybe ‘if’ the capital appears, it will come from an unexpected source but one that we would not have found if we were not tuning into the hope that is real now. If we blindly ‘hope’ for the capital we need, it would probably not appear or, if it did, we would possibly not recognise it because our thinking would be guided in a different way.

I share this here because the hope I hold for this new business is closely connected to the hope that I held for DIDSS when I first got involved over 8 years ago, and to the hope I held for the local soccer club when I became president there a few years earlier, and for the businesses I have run, and for many other adventures I have been on in my life. Most importantly, this hope is deeply connected to that hope I also held when I first got married, and that I felt being turbo-charged each time one of our three children was born.  The more I reflect on these things, the more I see that every one of these hopes is still well and truly alive.

The nature of this hope is part of my life story, it is always there. Yes, a few ventures have gone awry and so may others in the future. But, in a sense, there can be no ‘wrong’, there can only be more discovery of how to realise the hope I hold and more insight into the ‘hope’ I don’t.

If you are experiencing any form of loneliness this Easter – and we know this is not just a function of the number of people you are around, but also the quality of the connection you feel – then I strongly encourage you to take the time to reflect on the hope that you hold. Every living being holds hope inside them in some shape or form, and so do you. The more we tap into the hope-story inside of us, the more we can not just feel positive about the future, but we can also positively engage with the actions that ‘the best future possible’ requires of us.

Sincerely wishing each of you a genuinely Happy Easter,


Dean Mason

National Chairman, Dads in Distress Support Services

Author, Daddy’s OK

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Dark and Light at Christmas time

Dear DIDSS Supporters and Friends,

A few weeks ago I had a dream that was simply cruel. In the dream itself I was extremely happy, with my children and their mother. We were all really happy, doing ordinary household things, getting ready for school and work, chatting, organizing, having the usual and manageable tensions of trying to get young children out the door on time.

When I woke up, and the glaring reality of being estranged for so many years dawned upon this dreamy feeling, the cruelty began. The dream itself was like a gush of fresh mountain air for a deprived soul, but in the light of day it was a complete brain-bender. Fortunately I’m not in a profession that requires intense attention to detail in every working minute. If I were I would have taken sick leave, or several mental health days if my employer allowed.

So I did what I have become accustomed to do in such times. Although I have called Mensline in the past, and found them very helpful, this time I didn’t. I worked, I read, I wrote, I walked, I did intense cardio workouts, I tried to share these things with loved ones and friends, I tried to consider there might be positives to be found, I tried to ignore it all, I tried to understand it all. But, just like I hear people speak of various mental illnesses, for quite a few days I could not shake the awful grip this clash of dream and reality had on my concentration and well-being.

Then I read somewhere the neat observation that if it were not for the darkness of night we would not be able to see the stars. Imagine if we never knew the star system even existed, what a massive gap in our bank of human wisdom and endeavour that would create.

And so I began to acknowledge this episode as ‘darkness’ and even to acknowledge it as being something that is probably an essential part of my, and probably all, human (inner) experience. Yet it is one that we have no control over whatsoever, in timing, intensity or duration. All we know is that it might come and if it does, for most of us at least, it will eventually pass. From there I was able to give in a bit, and to almost allow it to define my – I felt, very – shitty daily experience, while trying to protect others around me from its effects.

Christmas time is ripe for these episodes, perhaps because the social expectation all around is to ‘be happy’ even when our living reality may be far from it. And when the impetus to ‘be happy’ is tied to the wonder of young children, and our relationship with our own children is strained to any significant degree, we unavoidably crash into another bend in the brain.

This year has been an especially proud one for DIDSS. The Board has smoothly transitioned from old to new with four new members joining and quickly engaging with the work at hand. Barry, our CEO, with Laurence and Phil our Regional Coordinators, and Alan our National Volunteer Coordinator, Jeff, Jane, John and others who help in head office have done a remarkable job exceeding our government-funded project requirements while also delivering a national 1300 service and supporting the many groups and buddy activities that continue to grow in number around the country. Establishing our first Mums In Distress group was a particular highlight. Support for grandparents, gay dads, and others not served well in today’s environment will be explored further in 2013. Our quality assurance framework has also been established and is already showing marvelous signs of lifting our collective service standards without losing any of our peer-support grass-root strengths.

We have around 200 volunteers who perform a variety of support roles, giving selflessly of their time and energy week after week. This giving is similar to that of a parent to a child, it is unconditional. For me, to be an active part of an organization that is founded on – and overwhelmingly committed to – this principle of ‘love in action’, is like bathing in light.

Thank you to everyone who has shown DIDSS their support in any way at all during 2012. We need each other, and together we can achieve some extraordinary things to relieve – and perhaps even prevent – the pain and suffering that so many experience when they go through a family breakup.

May your Christmas be full of that light that comes when individually, and collectively, we manage to face the darkness and look to what it shows.


Dean Mason

National Chairman
Dads in Distress Support Services
1300 support: 1300 853 437

home phone: 03 9398 6262
personal mob: 0402 846 696

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Celebrating Virtue this Father’s Day

One marvelous aspect of peer-support is that we offer lessons directly from our own experience. They are not lessons learnt in theory, they have been shaped in us while we ourselves have travelled down our own unique ‘struggle street’ on the way to more stable and happier territory.

When we meet others who are experiencing family breakdown for the first time, or even multiple times, we often say things like ‘try to focus on what is best for the kids’, ‘try to look after yourself a bit more’, ‘try to not let what your ex is saying or doing to affect you so much’, and so on. In doing this, we are encouraging others to awake a spark of inner virtue. With our light burning a little stronger now, we are able to lean our flame in to help their’s burn a little brighter too.

One of my favourite reads is a book by a contemporary philosopher, Andre Comte-Sponville, with the title ‘A Short Treatise on the Great Virtues: the uses of philosophy in every day life’.  What Comte-Sponville does so well is take his readers into the opposite and unpleasant experience that the typical virtues represent. ‘Politeness’, ‘fidelity’, ‘prudence’, ‘temperance’, ‘courage, ‘justice’ and another 11 virtues are explored in their opposite to highlight the strength they each demand from inside of us.

Recently though I’ve been reading the writing of Christian mystic Meister Eckhart who lived as far back as the late 1200’s and early 1300’s. He writes that the virtue that ‘stands above all things’ is that of ‘detachment’. I struggled to take this one in at first, until I remembered Comte-Sponville’s approach. Pure detachment, I now think, can only be properly practiced and understood in the context of complete immersion in the world around us.

And this, for me, is what makes DIDSS and other peer-support models so powerful. We have each been immersed in the world of family breakdown. A small few have reconciled, quite a few have a reasonable working relationship with their co-parent, and if it were only a handful of people who, sadly, can not speak with their co-parent (eventually to become co-grand, co-great-grand-parents and so on) because the conflict is still too raw and unresolved, it would be too many. Unfortunately we know the truth is there are more than a handful in this category and, as a result, tens of thousands of children in Australia are suffering immeasurably.

It is our personal and collective growth through the immersion experience that yields the strength, the brighter flame, the tools and wisdom that we have to offer others. We all have ongoing work to do, to protect and nurture that flame in ourselves and in each other. I see this world of ‘virtue’, and of our common experiences of developing our understanding of virtues in the context of our coal-face practices, as being at the heart of what makes us the great organization we are, and will continue to grow to be.

As Comte-Sponville says ‘if virtue can be taught, as I believe it can be, it is not through books so much as by example’. Being living examples of ‘hope and help’ for others, is what we do. Enjoy this Father’s Day and celebrate where you sit, and where you aspire to be, in this world of virtue.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

If distress is where we meet, what’s next?

A wonderful Tropfest award winner this year, that everyone must watch, is called the ‘53rd hour‘. Jason van Genderen, a single dad, decided to make a film out of the images from that first hour after the kids have gone back to their other home. It is an inspirational piece of work for it has turned what we all know as such an unhappy, almost soul-less, time, into a very creative and purposeful time, and one that has now won him deserved recognition for his art.

What I love most is that Jason faced the horror of that moment and found something inspirational. The horror can appear to have no antidote, no chance of being quelled. It can be a raging fire that wants to spit hate, attack with fear, and bleed with endless hurt, or it can be devoid of all feeling as though you are the walking dead. Yet here is a guy who saw it, felt it, and somehow said  ‘no’ to all that, in his own way, and made something of it.

So, what do I do, what do you do, what do we do – those of us who are volunteering parts of our precious lives to this work in DIDSS? Isn’t it our mission, in its very essence, to lead people out of distress? How do we inspire others to do what Jason did?

We all know the biblical image that for a plant to grow a seed must die. There is this truth in nature, and in us, that for every success there must be a failure, for every death there is new life. But the dying and living that goes with our human nature, some might call our super-natural nature, is not so clear. If my emotional distress is a seed, what is the emotional plant waiting to grow? If my distress keeps recurring, why the hell does this soil strew itself with more and more slow seeds, when a whole forest is readying to sprout?!

If we are serious about recognising this fundamental truth of new life arising from loss – and I respectfully suggest that all of us involved with DIDSS need to be serious about at least considering it – then the simple question follows, ‘what is our personal response?’ In our DIDSS work, what is the attitude of mind, the principle of action, that we commit to or that we aspire to, with such a truth in mind?

There can only be one answer, as I see it, and it seems to be best expressed in this word we call ‘hope’. In this sense, I ask you to consider ‘hope’ as meaning to act, to do things out of love and respect for this life that springs from death and dying, even while we are in the midst of experiencing grief and loss – our own or that of others. We know it is not so simple, we know there is far more to it than we can ever ‘know’, and in practice we know it definitely raises challenging questions.

At the simplest level what does ‘hope’, as a principle of practice, require of you when you are confronted with someone else’s suffering – in a group, over the phone, or one-on-one?

To actively love ‘hope’ itself, or this ‘promise of new life’, when it is clearly absent and the pain of its loss is overwhelmingly sad, I suggest there is not much we can do other than to listen.  We can listen to our own inner response to the sadness, does it trigger something so overwhelmingly sad in us that we are struck dumb? Does it trigger a hurt or an anger inside of us that we still seek to resolve, perhaps even by acting ourselves in negative ways? Or, when we listen to our inside reaction, do we find that we still retain some calm and confidence in the new life that waits to come forth? If we do, then we have real strength to offer he or she who has made their  suffering known to us. Failing that, we can still be confident that just our willingness to listen to our friend’s suffering – that is, our willingness to listen for where the new life might be even if we can’t see it at that moment – is often strength enough to lighten their load.

Personally, where I find this notion of hope most difficult and confounding is in relation to those situations where it is me – or the person I am listening to – that has caused another person’s suffering. Whether such hurt caused is inadvertent, careless, negligent or outright intentional, there seems to be little difference in its effects. So what should I do, should we do to keep hope alive, if it is suffering that I or we have caused – or the person who has come to us in need has himself caused – if we are  serious about acting on this principle of supporting growth out of loss?

The listening in such a situation is more difficult, my inner sense of righteousness impels me to defend my or my friend’s actions. Or, my own sadness might be reawakened and prevent me from listening to much at all. If we can’t even listen, then so be it. If we’re not ready to accept responsibility for the hurt we or they have caused, then so be it too. Perhaps the best we can do, for hope, is to remain silent, and not act, but to wait for a clear direction that might help genuine new life along. It might be the smarts to shut up and really listen, it might be the willingness to accept the truth of what we or they have done, it might be the courage to accept that we can not un-do the hurt we or they have caused the other person, or it might be a drop of wisdom to guide our restorative action. Whatever we do on the inside – and here I am talking about this private conversation we have on the inside – and if we accept the truth that nature shows us about the cycle of life, it seems all we can do with hope is to start by waiting, listening, and being watchful.

‘Hope and help for separated dads’ is what we say on our web-site we offer. Over the next 12 months we will be working hard on better understanding and developing the skills that we need to do this even better on a national basis. Becoming more capable of facing our own and other people’s distress, not just every now and then but regularly, is one special skill that we can continue to develop in our collective work. There are many experts inside and outside of DIDSS whose wisdom will continue to guide us with this task in a multitude of practical and meaningful ways, and for which we are very grateful.

My personal aspiration is that we develop these skills while keeping this principle of hope firmly at the centre of each step we take with each person we meet in distress. Standing as a witness to new life can be as simple as marvelling at a cocoon spent for a butterfly’s beauty, or as difficult as listening to someone in severe anguish. Listening, that is, by keeping your internal light on for the beauty this new suffering is waiting to form; in you, or in your friend who now bears it.

I have never met Jason van Genderen, but I thank him for his Tropfest movie and the wonderful example he has given us of a separated dad who manages to keep the light on.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

DIDSS Fellowship

Dear All,

There is a lot of joy around us at Christmas, especially in children’s anticipation of what tomorrow brings, and in everyone else’s experience of making it special.

Dads who are in distress are not known for their joy, with plenty of reason. But if our job is to lead each other out of that distress, isn’t joy one of our destinations?

Perhaps as adults we still need to learn about joy. The same joy children have at this time but rather than it being gifted to us, we may have to do the wrapping.

We could be plagued by hurt, of our own or others’ doing. We might be grief-stricken at not being able to see our children. Or we might be pushed to the edge of anger and frustration with firm plans becoming undone at the hands of our co-parent who is less caring than we would like, or in the way we would like.

Let’s wrap all that up, not to put it aside, but just to acknowledge it for what it is. And then with the oxygen in our lungs and the blood flowing in our veins take a breath and try letting some of the joy in others enter us.

Whatever your experience of joy is this Christmas, you know that you are not alone.

Whatever your volunteering role in DIDSS is, as group facilitator, 1300 operator, buddy, group participant, committee member, working party member, administrative or other form of support, you can be proud of the fact that your efforts have made it possible for DIDSS to reach out and help thousands of people during 2011.

On behalf of the National Board, Thank You, for your efforts.

We also acknowledge the tremendous efforts of our paid staff, Barry, Laurence, Phil, Alan, Mac, Jeff, and thank them for their steady and caring attendance to the business side of our organisation.

The next few days will be tough for many. In DIDSS we can draw on the strength of knowing that the fellowship of our groups, and of the one-on-one work over the phone and in person, is an active process that does lead many to a stronger and happier place.

We look forward to making 2012 a year of genuine growth of this kind – of expanding this fellowship that leads people out of distress and to a place where joy is easy to feel and to be around.

With best wishes,
on behalf of the National Board of Management, Leon (Vice Chairman), Gehan (Treasurer), David (Director, Strategic Planning), Ralph, Neil, and Nick.

Dean Mason
National Chairman
Dads in Distress Support Services
home phone: 03 9398 6262
personal mob: 0402 846 696
1300 support: 1300 853 437

Posted in DIDSS | Leave a comment

Forgiveness, with excellent data, will make the difference

Every day, volunteers at Dads In Distress Support Services are dealing with modern  atrocities that are occurring without being officially detected. Perhaps we don’t yet have the right words or categories for them, we may not even have the right concepts for them,  they are those hurts and sufferings that are being widely experienced but have not yet been named. Future generations will explain them well, and those who took too long to act will regret doing so.

For the last forty years or so governments have been strongly focussed on giving a language and a voice to the hurt and suffering that women have experienced for so many generations. The recent Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2011 is just part of a long chain of events intended to better support and protect women and children against the types of abuse that men have been the major perpetrators of. And this of course is in the broader context of society wanting to liberate women comprehensively from the many shackles they have been disadvantaged by.

Many of the men who come to DIDSS for support have experienced false allegations of violence. These allegations have often resulted in the Dad not seeing his children for months, or even years, at a time. And this usually has the additional effect of the mother receiving more Centrelink payments, or Child Support payments, or both, we often wonder how strong the link might be. Have governments stepped too far into the role of ‘protector father’ and made the traditionally ‘protected’ role of ‘mother’ more at home on Centrelink payments than with a low income earning husband? Or are men so badly violent and abusive that this question overlooks the substantial suffering that women do experience at the hands of male family member perpetrators? After all, this is why governments are telling us they have to act the way they do.

We don’t know what percentage of all cases involve false allegations, but we know the percentage is a lot more more than what the Australian Federal Minister for the Status of Women, Kate Ellis, is being told. In the Sydney Morning Herald 27/5/11, she was reported to say: ”In short, claims that abuse allegations are manufactured are bogus and unsupported by any respectable form of evidence.”

DIDSS have a new incoming National Board of Management for the 2011/2012 year. We have a major task ahead of us to produce, alone or in collaboration with others, credible data that can be used to inform and instruct our government policy-makers on what effects these laws and policies are actually having. This task is made more onerous because it is not the men who ultimately suffer, it is their children, and their children’s children, we are seeing problems of trans-generational consequence being born here.

But we have an equally demanding challenge to also rise to. We, individually and collectively, must actively work at letting go of the resentment that such hurt and suffering tends to bring. If we are not working from a place of healthy respect and constructive engagement, all our efforts will be for nought. This applies to every person representing DIDSS in any role, at any time, it is an ethos that I believe we need to cultivate as urgently as we need to gather and report on the experiences of fathers, grandparents, children and everyone else affected by system-induced estrangement. Most significantly ‘everyone else’ includes the girlfriends, partners, wives of the fathers affected, not to mention the mothers, grandmothers, the aunties, and the sisters, all of whom are also closely affected by these new forms of social disadvantage.

‘Forgiveness’ has many definitions and interpretations. My favourite is: ‘to cease hating, to renouce vengeance’. It comes from a living French philosopher named Andre Comte-Sponville. It does not mean we stop fighting for justice, or for a fairer system, it just means we fight from a positive place, not from one fuelled with hate. Like any other definition, it is not easy to put in to practice. ‘Turn the other cheek’ seems too weak, but if we are turning away from hating, toward a more effective way of advocating for change, then it makes more sense, just very hard to do in situations like ours.

When we take calls on the 1300 number, or listen to a new guy’s story at a meeting, it is often inappropriate to even try to differentiate the many emotions he is experiencing. The injustice of false accusations and the apparent ease with which they are used in the family law and support system, is certainly a monstrous abuse of legislative and administrative power. Anyone experiencing these, or any other aspect of the trauma of separation and divorce, simply deserves from DIDSS volunteers an open ear and heart. And in that there is a lot of comfort, if not healing, that can flow.

However, unless we as volunteers are individually dealing with our own hurt in a constructive way, in a way that genuinely turns us away from the hating and wanting vengeance, then we will be prone to stimulating the wrong attitudes, and the wrong behaviours, in those we meet. This is at the deep individual level – the hurt that you and I carry from our own intimate relationships, the zones that often can not be spoken of, except in a trusting circle. It necessarily takes time for us to adjust to do that individually, just as it takes time for us to design and implement the systems to gather and report excellent data collectively, but both we must do.

As the DIDSS National Chairman for 2011-2012, to cultivate and promote a genuinely loving ethos toward others, while also tenaciously and intelligently advocating for the changes that are desperately needed, probably best sums up the driving ambition that I bring to the role.

Posted in DIDSS | 4 Comments

Happy Father’s Day 2011 – make it better for someone

Dear Members, Volunteers and Friends,

On Father’s Day, when I was growing up, my sisters and I would wait till my Dad arrived home from his regular Sunday round of golf, usually around 1:00pm. We would each have a card and gift prepared for him, usually Amphora Brown pipe tobacco, or a couple of packets of pipe cleaners, or a bar of Old Jamaica chocolate, and present them to him soon after he walked in. After lunch he would sleep for an hour or two and once he was awake and fresh again we would all venture out together to visit relatives or friends. He was the boss, we waited for him, we did what he said, we stayed quiet while he slept, and we went where he said we would go, no questions were asked.

Being a Dad now, I scratch my head, trying to work out what happened to that model of fatherhood that I grew up with. It was neither good nor bad, right nor wrong, it was just the best I knew, and nobody ever seemed to complain about it.

Like many of you, I don’t get to see my kids on Father’s Day. Even when my family was intact we never really made a big deal of it, or Mother’s Day, so that in itself is not such a surprise. But, also like many of you, I don’t see them for many reasons other than the nonchalance of forgetful teenagers and young adults. The depth of estrangements so many of us face don’t have easy explanations. For those who do see their children today it is often even more difficult, the circumstances are tense, the arrangements can be uncertain or easily scuttled, and the children are often strung-out by one or other parent’s own anxieties. And many of you have new partners and new children to those relationships, the logistics you must be juggling would make the best of us want to lie down on the couch for a long nap, at the mere thought of them.

To make Father’s Day the best we can now might mean many different things, depending on our circumstances. I like to go back to basics – the biological bonds can not be broken, they themselves are worth honouring in any way we see fit. Lighting a candle for each child, writing a letter, writing a journal of our fondest memories, all can help. And don’t forget our own Dads – have we done our best to show gratitude for the life that has come to us through him, and his father, and his grandfather, and so on, so many stories in this trail of procreation that are yet to be discovered and explored, that so largely influence the individuals we are. Studying ancestry online is a fascinating activity that can help us re-connect with our own origins. But may be we have a box of old photos that we have long forgotten, or war medals, coins or other trinkets to remind us. I know guys who have a guitar in the corner of their lounge, or an easel in the back room, perhaps some of you are turning these memories into music or paintings in this way today.

For all of us involved in DIDSS we have an especially bright window of opportunity to explore. We are connected with others who share our journey of being dads in this new era where separation is so common we rarely meet a person who is not touched by it. Our friendships with each other, whether you are a remote volunteer or in a large active group, means you can reach out to anyone on the 1300 line, or on the volunteer list and have a chat about whatever the day might mean for you. This helps us model to others that being separated need not result in a complete break-down of all that is good in our own body mind or soul. It may be a major event that has shaped our journey and our life’s experience, but it also one that can open many new doors for gaining insight, strength, and for renewing our enthusiasm for the life we have, for the life our own dad and mum gave us.

So, on behalf of the National Board of Management, I encourage you to do your bit to make this day a little better for your self, your children, your ancestors, or your fellow journey-men. You can be confident that in our collective experience of what this day brings, we are all that much stronger for being part of such a tremendous group of volunteers, friends and supporters. And do keep an eye out for others who are in need of support today, we know there are many out there.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cultivating character, in distress

When a person first makes contact with DIDSS, by phone, at a group, or via the web, they are quite often in a seriously distressed state. The main thing we as volunteers do, and often the only thing anybody could do, is to really listen to their hurting.

For us as volunteers, it is character building. We quickly learn that our old maxim of ‘there are three sides to every story, his, hers, and the truth’, and that ‘we are all on a journey to discover that truth’ is so thoroughly true. We don’t ‘buy in’ to the person’s own side of the story, we simply listen and let them be heard, helping them to start honestly considering where the truth can be found.

We often come across serious cases of apparent ‘systemic failure’ where one or more government agencies have imposed a blunt administrative instrument to deal with one aspect of the client’s story, while leaving several other aspects largely ignored.

For too many, this process is devastating, life-changing, and very often the beginning of a very long downward spiral.

We all have a responsibility to look for positive solutions. But for those who are emotionally devastated by their family breakdown experience, it is often impossible to think clearly enough as to what this might mean, at least until after the storm has passed. Those of us who have some available time and head-space, we just do what we can to help, hoping to bring some relief and some better outcomes for the children and both parents involved.

All DIDSS volunteers and workers can take some, yet very small, comfort from knowing that this mix of pressures provides a healthy opportunity for cultivating character – that elusive quality, but one we know very well, of strengthening our positive contribution through the work we do.

Posted in DIDSS | Leave a comment

DIDSS Meeting Format – circle of connectedness

Last night at Logan City (Qld) we held an inaugural forum for volunteers and supporters. These are held regularly in NSW and Vic, and we hope that they will also become a regular feature in at least the Southern parts of Queensland, if not in the far North as well.

Being the first forum of its kind in the Qld region, we ran in it much like a standard DIDSS meeting to help demonstrate what we do. The circle, the welcome message, the empty chair, the minutes silence, the sharing, the tea and coffee break, the issues session, the check-out. At each forum we try to revisit at least one of these elements to remind each other and ourselves of the beauty and power of the format itself, and of how important it is to preserve and nurture the format and our experience of it.

In particular, last night, we emphasized the circle. When we sit in a circle we become connected to each other. Having empty chairs between us weakens that connection so we remove them. Except, of course, ‘the’ empty chair which is placed and remains usually close to the facilitator.  And if we have a table in the middle of the room we remove that too, if we can, simply because it gets in the way of connectedness.

In the circle we are all equal. Yes, the facilitator is in a more senior position, but it is not a professional position, we are peers supporting peers. We each have the right to speak and to be heard, and we each have the right to be silent and to have that respected. Our life experiences bring us back to the essentials of survival and personal growth. And there we all feel each others pain, and we all need each others strength. We are equal in our sharing of our frailties and of our strengths, and in our willingness to walk with each other on this road of learning how to live our lives more fully. This means contributing to the ‘solution’ and not the ‘problem’, in all respects.

When we experience a relationship breakdown, or separation from our loved ones, we lose one of the most important and powerful resources that we can ever have, or hope to have, as human beings, that of connectedness. Being intimately connected through blood, or love, or both, is often the key thing that makes life worth living. But, for many of us, that is what has been, or could be, so easily lost in no time at all.

And so when we sit in our circle, in the DIDSS meeting, we once again experience being connected to other human beings. We may not be touching but we are close. We may not be intimate but we are able to trust and to be trusted. Quite often it is the simple process of sitting in the circle, with sharing or without sharing, but usually with measured silences, that we all begin to feel stronger and more connected than we did before.

As a national organization we are striving to grow many circles of connectedness throughout regional and metropolitan Australia. It is a privilege and an honour to see such wonderful volunteers and supporters in the Brisbane region contributing so much enthusiasm, dedication, and personal resources to helping make this happen.

Posted in DIDSS | 1 Comment