Raising Fathers

18 October 2020

6.1 MINS

Robert Falzon, a good friend of mine in the men’s movement, asked me to contribute a chapter to his new book called Raising Fathers: Fathering from the Frontline — 12 Men’s Stories.

Here is an excerpt from my contribution.

It was a fine weather Sunday in this small resort town. The café was full of people having their lunch. No one seemed to recall seeing the young man with blonde hair enter the café and order a meal.

Without any warning, he unzipped his bag and produced an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and began to methodically shoot people dead. He had an amazing ability when it came to guns!

There was a man there enjoying lunch with his wife of over twenty years. As Martin Bryant swung the gun around and pointed the barrel at his wife, the man made the split-second decision.

Without any hesitation, he leapt forward between the barrel point and his wife’s head. His brains took the full force of the bullet and he fell dead on top of his wife, who lives to this day.

Greater love has no man than this to lay his life down for his friends.

We say it every Anzac Day as we remember those who gave their lives for our freedom. This man proved his love for his wife. Would you do the same?

If you want to know the truth, I’m not sure if I would. I hope I never have to have to find out. My big problem is proving my love for my wife while I’m still alive…

The man that died at the Broad Arrow Café, Port Arthur that day demonstrated his love for his wife in the ultimate way. He proved his commitment beyond a shadow of a doubt.

If we are to turn the tide of Fatherlessness in our nation, we need to dramatically improve the love relationships of the people of our nation.

How do we do this?

I believe we need top-down, bottom-up reform. We need to work at the top levels of government to bring justice and fairness. Love is being fair. We need the government to begin to invest in prevention rather than cure. One ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

The Twelve-Point Plan estimates the cost of fatherlessness at $13 billion per annum with foundational figures from Dr Bruce Robinson from the University of Western Australia. I believe the true cost of fatherlessness in Australia to be closer to $30 – 40 billion p.a.

Good relationships are better than money in the bank. They cannot be valued, yet we pay for their failure, usually in more ways than one.

When we make mistakes as mothers and fathers, our children usually pay the price. When we get it right as mothers and fathers and choose the way of love together, our children benefit.

The above words are taken from my speech at the National Strategic Conference on Fatherhood, 18 August 2003, which was held in the Main Committee Room in the centre of Parliament House, Canberra. Within a few years, Parliament would enact much-needed shared parenting laws to allow fathers more access to their children after divorce. It was a powerful time of change.

So how did I, a nobody from Wollongong, end up convening a conference on Fatherhood in Australia’s parliament? How did I become the co-founder with my wife of the Dads4Kids Fatherhood Foundation? I thought you would never ask.

Joyce Meyer says, “Your mess becomes your ministry.” Henri Nouwen explained this idea beautifully in his book, The Wounded Healer. For Nouwen, those who seek to help others must be willing to go beyond their professional role and leave themselves open as fellow human beings with the same wounds and suffering — in the image of Christ in other words, we heal from our own wounds.

I had a wonderful mother and father, but they just could not get along. My mother was a McLeod-McKay from Scotland. Strong-willed and determined, she was a highly qualified nurse who had travelled the world…

Yes, we had some great memories growing up, but Charles Dicken’s words summed it up well, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”

By the time I hit high school, I had been to ten different schools, with approximately 15 different house moves. By the time I was seven I, with my brother, had been around the world twice for the purpose of visiting our grandmother in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Looking back, I now realise that I was probably abducted by my mother to get us away from my father. For a while, we lived at Castlereagh near the Nepean River in Western Sydney on a 5-acre farm. It was an idyllic life for a six-year-old boy. That year I learned to ride a bike, started school, and almost started a bushfire. Fire is something I have always loved, but you must be careful with your loves…

Living on the Castlereagh farm was my last happy memory of my father for two years or more. My Dad told me many years later that he came home, and Mum had gone. The house was cleaned out and his two beautiful boys were gone too. He never told me so, but I am sure he cried himself to sleep that night and for many nights thereafter.

We eventually travelled back to Scotland, the second time in so many years, to live again with our grandmother. (I thought at that stage that everyone lived with their grandmother.) I survived and grew older, not realising the sadness that was growing in my heart. When we are young, we push the pain away, but that does not mean it is not there.

This was the second trip to Scotland and second long absence from my father. I calculated some time ago, that approximately half of my first 12 years on the planet were spent separated from my father… (to read my full story buy the book)

This early wound of being fatherless in my younger years helped create the motivation to turn this pain into a source of healing for others. Out of this healed wound, the Dads4Kids Fatherhood Foundation was founded in May 2002.

That year, we released the first TV Community Service Announcements for national free-to-air television and every year since. That was the same year we started our weekly newsletter, which has continued until the present. Later that year, Dads4Kids started discussions with parliamentarians to work towards the first historic Fathering Forum, 10 February 2003.

The 12-Pt Plan was released in June 2003 as Dads4Kids prepared for the National Strategic Conference on Fatherhood to be held in Parliament House, Canberra, August 2003.

We have made progress over the last 18 years, but it has been painfully slow. The work of Dads4Kids can be very discouraging at times. Often it feels like three steps forwards and two steps backwards.

Sometimes I wonder if it really is worth it. But then I remember the 870,000 children who will go to sleep tonight without their biological father in the home. The many other millions of children who have a father in the home, but he is emotionally disengaged. He is still trying to recover from the wounds of his childhood, as I was in my mid-thirties.

This brings me to the point of my speech, with which I started this excerpt of my chapter from the book Raising Fathers.

Our society is filled with pain. Much of it caused by the father wound. That is why the words of Malachi 4:6 are so important. Malachi was right to emphasise the heart, and so must we. So, let me finish my speech as an encouragement to you.

“The future is in your heart. Together we can make a difference. It is about you and I as fathers having a change of heart. It is about you and I valuing our relationships above our jobs, our position, our money, our career. It is about you and I being living examples of our words.

Our children will become what we are as, not what we say. The greatest challenge we have as fathers is to change from the inside out. Yes, the laws need changing. But more importantly, we need a change deep within us all.

I have to stop being a slob at home. I have to not just be able to die for my wife, I have to live for her daily. We must do the same for our children. We must value our children more than our jobs, our positions and our money.

Men spell love S-E-X, women spell love T-A-L-K, children spell love T-I-M-E. We must all take spelling lessons together and learn how to spell L-O-V-E again. As the woman from Tasmania said, “Love is being committed to being committed.

Learn how your wife and children spell L-O-V-E. If you are not sure, ask them.

Much Love,
Warwick Marsh

PS: Tracey Edstein, the editor of Raising Fathers: Fathering from the Frontline — 12 Men’s Stories, had this to say about this wonderful book,

“I was privileged to immerse myself in the stories of these men and I am filled with admiration for their searing honesty. Read and weep and laugh and then accept the invitation to reflect on your story of being fathered.”

I am really looking forward to reading the other 11 men’s stories. I hope I have inspired you to do the same. Order your own copy at Connor Court Publishing for $29.95.

[Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels]

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