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Christmas Eve 1999
by Tony Miller

The hook in the ceiling should do the job I decide, but will it hold my weight? It's only use is to carry pot plants. It looks pretty strong to me, or maybe I would be better off throwing down a heap of those pills I have. After all, I've got a bloody draw full of them now, been there before. I have to make sure I take enough this time. The bastards brought me back last time, so many years ago and here I am back again.

What about the kids. What about the plan. Stuff the plan... I rip the top from another beer and pour it down my throat. I roll another smoke with a sprinkling of dope, light it and take a deep draw. In a few seconds I'm coughing my throat up. A minute longer and it's an instant hit. It will dull the pain my mate told me. It might dull the pain, but it doesn't heal the hole in my heart...

My kids, I wonder, my eldest won't even talk to me any more. I can see the hate in his eyes - What have you done and why did you leave? Why can't we be a family? I can see it in his eyes. I want to tell him my story... I didn't want to leave, surely you can see that... I kicked and fought to stay... In the end it wasn't worth the fighting, the screaming, the abuse...

"Your the best dad that a kid could have," my 4 year old says often. "Am I the best son a dad could have?"

"Of course you are," I assure him...

"When are we going to move in with you dad?"

I try and explain that he may not, but thankfully his attention is now drawn to a discarded toy he has just rediscovered. But every now and then he interrupts his playtime and looks me straight in the eye as if to reassure himself that I'm still there and that he knows my hurt, then he gets up and gives me the biggest hug with all his little strength.

"I love you dad..."

"I love you mate."

And then my 10 year old quietly gives love and asks for nothing in return. He has just stood on the sideline and watched the drama unfold in front of him saying nothing. I feel he has the pain bottled up inside of him and doesn't want to let it out. I wish I could help him. I love him.

I think of my two kids through a previous marriage - I feel disgrace. No longer kids, they're in their 20s, older than I was when I became their father. I write but nothing comes in return. The pain they must be going through. I want to tell them my story but feel it's too late... I still love them...

The dope doesn't dull the pain enough. I remember a book given to me by a friend... That bloody Morris West... He was so right...

"There is no cure for the human condition because every man reads the present and plots the light of his own past - there is no such thing as a clean start - because no-one truly forgives and no-one wholly forgets - in the end, the folk memory betrays us all - the wrongs of the father are revenged on the children".

For my kids' sake, I must get through this night.

I open another beer, roll another smoke this time with a bigger helping of dope. It will deaden the pain - so he says - it's been a long time between smokes and it hits me fairly quick - what the hell, I thought, who cares?

I think of my mate - it's not doing him much good. He has just celebrated his divorce after 22 years, 5 kids. Celebrate's the wrong word. He cried - he was a mess. I sat with him on the day, I prayed with him, he says he will go to AA again.

"Go - it won't hurt," I assure him. He has been fighting it a long time. I look around at the dive he is living in - a very tiny and very worn out old flat, scantily furnished with an old fold-up card table, a couple of odd chairs and an old TV that doesn't work. I had just brought him around an envelope full of coffee and another full of tea, all I could spare as I was waiting for pay day. So was he. We made a cup of tea together, no milk, no sugar - "sorry mate - have to wait until Thursday for those!"

No worries, it tastes better this way - bullshit - I wonder if this is how I'll finish up - my place is a shade nice, a bit more furniture, but the problem is the same.

He starts to tell me about the course he wants to do - as if forgetting he has told me a hundred times already - "I want to be a counsellor, it's by correspondence, you get a degree."

"It's a great idea," I assure him and wonder quietly whether he will ever actually do it. "Specialise in men's issues," I tell him - God knows, we need them - there's not enough around - I listen to him rattle off his ideas, his dreams, just as he has listened to mine.

"You know Tony, I moved down here to be closer to my family, you know I have brothers, sisters... Mum's here... I may as well have moved to Tibet."

I know what he is saying - he has joined the leper colony - welcome to the club. Every now and then he'll talk of suicide, every now and then I pray with him.

I wake from my thoughts and realise I'm standing in the kitchen with half a beer in my hand - I quickly throw it down and tear into another one. It's taking its effect, as my gait is somewhat slower now - I look at the Christmas card my son made for me - sitting pride of place on the kitchen bench. I took a Christmas card around to my mate earlier, but as I looked through the window, I saw him playing with his son - I remembered he was getting him for a few days over Christmas - I backed away quietly, stuck the envelope in his letterbox and retreated out of sight. Let him have his time with his son, I thought, half his luck.

The sound of smashing bottles coming from outside reverberates around the room. It's probably the guy next door. Trust me to move into a flat with another single dad next door. Every now and then you see him sitting out the front, bottle in hand, drowning out his sorrows. I've spoken with him a few times - he is still very agro.

"They carried me out in a paddy wagon, he tells me - as if to be proud of the fact. Most times he is too incoherent to understand - it's too early to reach him. I wonder what his story is.

Next to him there's a single mother with child - I often hear her screaming at him, then I hear the boy crying. In fact most times I see him he is crying. I see some guy every fortnight leading him out to his car - I guess it's his dad for their weekend together - he seems happy then.

Next to her there is a young married couple. I guess they're married by the screaming and the shouting - I often hear the doors slamming, the screaming of abuse, the car screeching out the driveway and then the crying - it doesn't upset me, it reminds me of home.

The dope and the grog have taken their toll and slowed me up - although they haven't stopped the water welling in my eyes - it's getting dark outside - the first stars are appearing. I realise it's the first time in 14 years in which I haven't been with my boys on Christmas Eve. I love them and I miss them - in that order - I look for any movement in the sky and remember every year taking the boys outside on Christmas Eve looking for Santa in the skies - the first shooting star or sometimes just a plane. I would convince them it was Santa delivering the presents - I used to love seeing the gleam in their eyes - now I only have water in mine.

I'm sick of crying - what's the use of it. I crack open another bottle, another joint - more dope to deaden the pain. I pick up the phone and dial star-10-hash. It's become automatic now. If I'm away awhile or on the rare occasions that I sleep, the first thing I do on returning or awakening is dial star-10-hash. Always checking for that elusive phone call - you know the one - the one where she rings to say it's all been a mistake. A big joke. She still loves you - wants you to come home - she was just mixed up. Come home to me and the kids. Of course the call never comes.

I hang the phone up and recall the other day when I was over there to see the kids - I noticed all the Christmas cards spread out over the TV. I started to read them and realised - I had died - they were all addressed to her and the kids. Where was my name? I knew all these people who had sent the cards - or did I? My name had vanished - as if I never existed. It's only been a few months, I thought, how quick you are to dismiss. They were all wishing her a wonderful Christmas and a happy prosperous New Year. What about me? Hadn't I been a friend too? Where were you all when I was going through my deepest, darkest turmoil?

What happened to my friends with whom I shared a beer, a BBQ, a shoulder to cry on?

I've received no cards, no phone calls, no support. I was the guy that you all came to, to be picked up by, motivated - you used to say talking to me used to make you feel revived - I was the guy who would give you a famous quote, lend you an uplifting book or give you a motivational tape. I was the guy who would turn up with a beer and a shoulder to cry on when you needed it.

Where are you now?

I realise I've just joined the leper colony.

By now the combination of alcohol and dope are clouding my brain. I gaze across the smoke-filled room, it's dark - the blinds are drawn as usual, the door is locked. And the only light is from the full moon shining through the cracks in the blinds, shedding light on my miserable existence - or what is left of it - a few cardboard boxes full of mementos, a rusty fridge, an old settee - all the shit she didn't want. I couldn't take the good stuff. I was thinking of the kids, not her. Although - I still loved her, I hated her for the hurt she was putting me through.

There's a tape on the kitchen bench - Advice and Initiatives to help handle Depression - my doctor had given it to me. He says I'm just burnt out - I'm depressed - "take the tablets. Depression's like walking around with a cloud around your head - the tablets will lift the cloud - but be careful, they do have side effects" - I know, I've been there...

Depression he says! Why wouldn't I be depressed - in the last 12 months I've lost my company, my money, my cars, my house, been picked up and ripped off by many who saw the opportunity. I've suffered a breakdown, ended up in hospital twice with two heart attacks and am about to face bankruptcy - and then my wife decides she doesn't love me anymore and asks me to leave - and he says I'm depressed - fuck!!!!

Most blokes who have been through what I have in the last 12 months would have blown their bloody brains out by now -

You call it depression - I call it hurt!

The business, the cars, the money, the sickness, the bloody lot means nothing except for the loss of my family, that's what means something for me. The family - a bloody pill is not going to bring them back!

It's late - after more dope and more grog, I'm getting gamer to end this shit - I don't want to feel sorry for myself, but every time I look around the flat I feel the emptiness - the loneliness - where are my kids? What gives her the right to have them - automatically - why can't they live with me?

Her world is just starting to open up, so she tells me the other day - the Government is throwing money at her - and there's these courses she can do - free - she says so gleefully - free train travel, discount phone and electricity and on and on - so many pluses - I don't know whether she wants me to be happy for her or blow my brains out!

The phone rings - it might be her - this might be the call - she's finally realised her mistake! She knows I love her and the kids and she knows I just want to come home - I hesitate - I'm a bit groggy, a bit stoned - a lot of both...

"Tony - it's Nigel" I guess I knew deep down it wouldn't be her. Nevertheless I'm pleased and surprised - what's he doing ringing me on Christmas Eve?

"Just a call, mate - see how you are going?"

"Just", I said.

"Thought so - thought you might just need someone to talk to."

"How'd you know?"

"Been there mate - I know what you're going through - especially tonight..."

I break up and spurt out my feelings, not knowing if I made any sense. Apparently I did, for he advises and listens like someone who has been through it. I'm amazed that there is someone out there who knows what I'm going through - I don't have to tell him I am thinking of suicide - he already knows - he comforts and consoles me.

"What about the cause?", he asks. "What about the ride?" - (see footnote).

It's all you've been talking about - what about all the support you have been getting - the guys crying when you tell them what you're going to do. The excitement, the pledges of I'll be there - I'll ride, drive, walk with you - it's about time someone stuck their neck out for this dying race called men.

Well, Nige, God gave me a neck - I guess it was to stick it out - I attempt to crack a joke.

I just don't, well, you know; I don't know whether I'm up to doing this - whether I'm worthy or not.

"Tony - most guys only dream of what to do and never get off their backsides and do it - you have taken that step. Look, mate, you've sat down with the Station Manager of Channel 10 up there - you've got him thinking of how he can help - you've got cameramen, producers, editors interested - you've got Christian groups, men's groups - what about the guy from Not Justice saying, Thanks mate - thanks from all of us. About bloody time - that came from the heart."

As he continues on, I think of the hell he has been through, of his own personal problems of late and I listen in awe as he tries to build my own confidence back.

"It wasn't that long ago you were whipping me into shape and look where that's led me now - you helped me, mate, more than you can imagine, and you can help a lot more men out there, we need you mate..."

Tears are welling in my eyes - I know what he is saying - I feel so strongly about it. There must be many men feeling as I do tonight - this night especially - But Nige, I've been married before - who's going to listen to me?

"Precisely the reason to do it - you've been there - look, mate, the last time was 16 years - 3 kids - it's not like you were married for 5 minutes and chucked it in. Shit happens - it happened to you. And it's happened to a lot of others - we need to show them that there is help out there, so it doesn't happen again."

"I'll be bankrupt by the end of the month - I've lost everything. Even the letters I'm sending off I don't know if my writing is up to standard - whether I can put the words in the right place..."

"Put it out there, mate, and have the faith in your words that if it's meant to happen it will."

He reminds me of a verse I read to him a few weeks ago when he was down.

The path I've chosen has it's share of obstacles - a broken dream, a wounded heart, a tired spirit. And yet I've been promised that if I walk the path with faith, my dreams can be restored, my heart will be whole again, and my spirit will be renewed - Susan E. Fair.

Silence - I can hear a faint cry...

"You know Tony, you brought me back to the Lord."

"No I didn't - you did that yourself. I was just lucky enough to be your guide and point you in the direction."

"Precisely - that's why we need you out there."

I realise what he is saying, but still have those self-doubts - But Nige - I can't even ride a bike!

So what? - that's part of the story - even better.

I am going to learn.

He continues in a tirade of pluses and somewhere in the tirade I lose my self-doubt.

"Yes, Nigel, we need a name - we need to get someone well-known to join us. Who, I don't know, but I'll find them..."

"And Nigel - I've been thinking - we need to arrange through men's groups, Christian organisations, government agencies etc. to have counsellors (men's counsellors) at every town, every meeting we hold - and Nige - we need speakers - I'm going to track down that Steve Biddulph. He has to come - everyone I talk to are so excited about this - but we have to do it right. It's going to take some organising."

"I'm with you, mate - I'll contact...", and he starts to rattle off names and organisations he intends to contact. He's caught up in the cause. It's no longer I, it's we. It's no longer you, it's us. It's the same change I found in everyone I've spoken to - from the Station Manager at Channel 10 down to single dads - everyone soon becomes involved.

"Tony - I've got to go - put the kids to bed."

"Sure, mate - hey - thanks for ringing - and Nige - give the kids a cuddle from all of us who can't."

"Call me anytime over the weekend - any time, Tony. I'm here for ya."

"I know, mate - thanks."

We hang up in unison.

I thank God he rang - I cry - only this time it's not cries of despair but cries of thanks. Thank God - he sent me an angel tonight. I throw what's left of the dope in the bin - I don't need it any more - I want a clear head. I've got work to do - my mate has shown me by a phone call what this is all about - men supporting men.

I look at the clock - it's Christmas Day - happy birthday Lord - I'm going to see my kids this morning.

I try and get comfortable in my usual position on the couch, since I can't bare sleeping in our old bed alone. As I lay there I recall the night's events, the feelings, the phone call. I start to laugh - I haven't laughed in a long time - I've just remembered what I've bought my wife for Christmas - a kilo of chocolate - she loves chocolate. If I'd had the money, I'd have bought here 10 kilos - I want her to get fat, I want her to get ugly - I want her teeth to fall out. I laugh at the thought. I look up at a picture of Jesus I have hanging on the wall - a tinge of guilt - sorry, mate I whisper - but I detect a faint smile on his face I hadn't noticed before - I'm sure he gets the joke.



Footnote

When I was asked whether I wanted this story published and whether I wanted my name attached I thought about it a lot, in fact I agonised a lot. It was written way back in Christmas 1999, three months into a separation and although I've moved on, it was how I was feeling back then. Devastated, gutted, lonely, depressed, angry, hurt, scared, confused, resentful and possibly many more things I fail to even remember now. I abused alcohol and I used drugs to hide from my pain. Anything to stop the hurt. I just wanted to get off. Stop the ride, just let me get off...

It's a story I have heard retold a thousand times in a thousand different voices,and it rings in my ears. Every day I hear dads re-living their tale of tragedy and devastation from broken marriages. I hear from kids who are living through the trauma of their parents divorce or separation and who are trying desperately to love them both and come to terms with the tragedy. I hear from women who want their husbands to come to terms with the divorce and move on and continue to see their kids. I hear from dads who are often refused or relegated to pitiful access to their children. I hear from mums, dads, sisters, brothers, friends, relatives, devastated by the loss of their loved one to suicide from the trauma of divorce and separation. And every day I hear from the forgotten ones in this tragedy, the grandparents, who are often left completely out of the picture and denied the privilege of seeing their grandkids grow up.

My story is how Dads in Distress was formed. I went looking for help and couldn't find any, so I started it. I am no hero. It was a selfish act that has kept me alive and fortunately many, many others. Our motto, "There are three sides to every story - his, hers and the truth and somewhere on the journey we come to that truth", rings true with every story we hear. I am still on the journey and it's a privilege, especially to be associated with the men and woman who are working at the coal-face with me. True lifesavers in every sense of the word.

The story also talks of a ride of awareness. It's a ride we still hope to do one day. It's about raising the awareness of male suicide due to what we call "separation grief". It's a ride where we want to take our kids on a leg and it's a ride we want all mums, dads and grandparents to join with us around Australia to show that dad still means something in this country. It's a ride I would like you to join. If you can help in planning and making it happen contact us.

When I started, dad was a dirty word. Today that has changed somewhat. Thanks to a Prime Minister and a government that finally recognises the fact that dad plays an important part in their children's lives.

I allowed my story to be published not to denigrate my ex-wife or hurt my children but simply to tell my story of how I was feeling back then. It has already saved many lives of those it's been passed to and who have been able to identify something of themselves within the story. My reasoning is, how can I ask the dads in distress to come forward and share their story if I am not willing to share mine? And, to show you that you can claw your way back out of the hole. I have and you can too.

If you are a dad in distress or if you know one, please use the link on this page or direct them to contact us. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and it's not a train coming.

Tony Miller OAM




From The Depths of My Soul The Pain Speaks Out

From the depths of my soul the pain speaks out. There seems no place to go. I seek justice, I speak my words, my truth. People listen, but do they really hear?

No one knows my internal battle. I bare my soul for all to see. I take the risk. I make the leap. Who is there to catch me? Will I make it? Will they understand?

I speak my words again. Telling all. Telling of the anguish, the self-loathing, the flashbacks, and dreams. I tell, but do they hear? Can they see my battered heart and soul growing weary from the fight? Do they see my faith in God? Do they see who I am, or am I just another victim?

Here, here's some money. Go away, speak of this no more. We don't want to hear it any more. No one can know. We must protect ourselves. It is not our fault, we are not responsible. Go on your way. Be silent, speak of this no more. My heart is torn, my faith and hope crumble. Have they heard me? Do they understand?

All I want are simple words, "we're sorry," but it seems so hard to get. I go on trying to continue to speak. My heart and soul yearning for justice. Can I keep going?

Sometimes I don't know. Sometimes it hurts too much. I've been told that the truth sets you free, but it seems to have imprisoned me. Don't speak the truth. It is doubtful. We aren't responsible. Take the money and be on your way. But my soul is still empty. Why don't you see me for who I am?

I don't want revenge, I seek justice. I continue to call out. Will I be heard? Who will listen? I bared my soul, I spoke the truth through shame and terror. Did you hear me? Did you see me? Did you hear what was in my heart? Are you there? Where is God in the Church? Where is God? Where is courage? Where is faith? Why are you afraid of me? I only speak the truth from my heart. Can you do the same in response? Where is Jesus?

The lawyers have taken over, we need protection. We act out of fear of the future. We can't trust you. Where is the faith? Why can't you trust in God to do what is just? Why do you hide behind lawyers?

We are afraid. Others might find out. We will be condemned and scorned. We hurt too. Accept the truth, act on the truth, and have faith that God will be there. Sometimes I wonder if I'm confused? What do they want? Do they hear me? Do they see me?

I don't know. I don't know.

anon

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