In the lead up to Father’s Day I received a phone call from a journalist, asking for help with a story about how a child’s love can change a father. This is not unusual in itself: as the CEO of Dads4Kids Fatherhood Foundation, a harm prevention charity that specialises in encouraging and resourcing Australian dads, I often get calls asking for contacts in the fatherhood movement or questions relating to the latest research on the importance of fathers.
However, what was unusual about this request was the background of the journalist and the subject matter of his story. The last time I talked with him was five years ago when he had just lost his beloved three-year-old daughter in a freak accident on a sporting field. While he was watching his older child playing sport, one of those portable steel goal post frames made for soccer nets had rolled onto his daughter, killing her instantly. This dedicated dad’s grief ran deep. He had lost much but yet he had loved much.
So his question to me this time was, “Warwick, do you know any dads who have been saved through their love for their children?”
“Yes’” I answered. I have my own story of redemption. I was driving along a lonely stretch of highway on the far South Coast of New South Wales. I can still remember the day: the sun was shining, the sky was blue and so were my thoughts. I had just received notice from my bank (I won’t say which bank). They were going to “reverse the temporary overdraft facility” that they had advanced, a euphemism for sending me and my building business to the wall.
After three months of wet weather, an 18 per cent interest rate on overdrafts and a housing market that suddenly collapsed, I was in no state to handle such treachery and still keep my million dollar business afloat. It meant the loss of everything I had ever worked for: a hundred acre farm on the edge of town; my house and cars; also my good name and my ego - two things that were closely related. I had failed my employees, I had failed my customers and, as a father, I had failed as a provider for my wife and children.
Suddenly, in my demented state of mind, I had a brilliant idea. Here I was driving along a lonely country road, lined by big tall gum trees. What if I was to take off my seat belt and run into one of those beautiful trees at high speed? It would surely look like an accident. I had a large life insurance policy. I could provide better in my death than in my life. That’s when I heard my two-year-old son cry out “daddy” from the back seat.
My redemption was sealed and my “brilliant idea” quickly evaporated from my mind. You see I loved my children more than I hated myself, and in that ultimate moment of self-hate when I felt that life was not worth the battle, love triumphed. I am unsure if it was my love for my son, or my son’s love for me, but a revolution had occurred in my thinking. It was a love revolution and it saved me from total destruction.
As I pondered my reply to the journalist, I realised that I am not alone. Even though this personal revolution of love happened more than 20 years ago, I can see the early signs of a renewal of fatherhood and a love revolution in our somewhat suicidal culture. Although at first glance the news is not good.
Our society over the last few decades seems to be in terminal decay. As Bishop Al Stewart said, “We live in a society that talks about peace and contentment, and yet we seem to grow further and further from both. We get richer, but relationally poorer. Our weddings get bigger and our marriages get shorter. Our houses get bigger and our families get smaller. We communicate across the world without difficulty but can't talk across the dinner table.”
The issues of family breakdown, accompanied by an even greater moral breakdown, fill our TV screens. We have a global financial crisis with an accompanying financial deficit but our society appears to be suffering most of all from a love deficit. Our bourgeoning prison population would seem to be the best indicator of this deficit.
The only way to keep our goals from overcrowding in our crime infested society is to keep lowering the penalties for crime. It is claimed that sexual assault is 70 per cent unreported these days and yet reported sexual assault has increased by almost 30 per cent since 1999. Men in prison for sexual assault in Australia have doubled since 1988. The American prison population (PDF 1.94MB) has skyrocketed over the past quarter of a century. In 1982, 1 in 77 adults were in the US correctional system in one form or another, totalling 2.2 million adults. In 2007 the US correctional population - those in prison, on probation or parole totalled 7.3 million or 1 in every 31 adults. That is a 50 per cent increase in less than three decades.
The really frightening statistic is that 78 per cent of America’s prison inmates grew up in a fatherless household. Unfortunately it is not much different here in Australia. Indeed it is the single largest predictor of crime and incarceration.
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