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On International Men’s Day eve: a tribute to the Unknown Father

18 November 2018

8:40 AM

18 November 2018

8:40 AM

The unknown soldier was buried in the ‘Hall of Memory’, at the Australian War Memorial on 11 November 1993. Twenty-five years and eight days since that solemn occasion we celebrate the life and death of the unknown father on International Men’s Day 19 November 2018.

How did this happen?

Just last week I received an unexpected video message on my phone from my friend, Rob Day.

Hi Warwick, so sad when men give up hope. Found this beautiful card and flowers on top of a cliff near Newcastle today. This Dad must have ended his life some time ago.

Rob sent me the photo of a bouquet of withered flowers on which was pinned a bright blue badge with a cute animal and the words, “world’s best daddy”.

Accompanying the flowers and badge was a matching colourful card with similar sentiments, but it was the note inside that got to me. The thoughts of a young boy:

Dear Daddy

We wish you were alive and if you were alive you would have presents for your birthday.

So we are giving you this badge for you so you are happy and we will never forget you.

We love you

From Josh and Mummy

(punctuated with two hearts and two kisses)

It was the picture-perfect nature of the letter. Everything was done with impeccable care and love.

The flowers had withered away, just like Josh’s Daddy, but the card and badge, sharing their memories, were still in great condition. I fight back the tears every time I think about it.

My first brush with suicide was as a young man of seventeen in Wollongong. Another young man, perhaps ten years my senior, came to live in the same town.

I was a-sort-of carer, even though there was a big age gap. He suicided unexpectedly, and it was a huge shock to me.

Most of the time it is hard to see it coming. Men can be masters of disguise. All we are left with, are questions. Could I have stopped him? Where was I when it happened? Why did he do it?

No doubt these questions were swirling behind young Josh’s beautiful and loving letter, even though such questions didn’t actually physically surface in it. Josh’s letter was full of love and approbation and I can’t help but feel that Josh’s mother felt the same way.

Yet the unknown father is not alone at all. In 2017 there were a total of 3,128 deaths by suicide in Australia.

Of that total, 780 were women and 2,348 were men. This figure was an almost 10 per cent increase on the previous year, so things are getting worse, not better.

Even sadder is the fact that men are three times more likely to kill themselves than women. Why is this? Thoreau’s famous quote springs to mind:

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

This seems more so in the developed world where the male suicide rate is much the same as in Australia.

Sadly, on average around the world, almost two men kill themselves for every woman who succeeds.

Suicide is a terrible thing for both men and women, but as a man, and having been involved in the men’s movement for almost four decades I am very familiar with the quiet sense of desperation that we, as men, feel at times.

The statistics below show some alarming disparities and the need to be pro-active for the male of the species.

One of the main goals of International Men’s Day is to reduce the male suicide rate. We need to turn the quiet desperation into action.

For this reason, as the coordinator of International Men’s Day, we are asking all people of goodwill to offer a minute’s silence in memory of the Unknown Father on 19 November, every year.

We do the same for the Unknown Soldier on Remembrance Day; why not do the same for this unknown man, also a father, on International Men’s Day each year.

We should do it as a way of honouring those amongst us whose sense of quiet desperation just became too overwhelming. We should do it to remember the six men who die each day in Australia due to the male suicide scourge.

We must turn the tide of male suicide in Australia. We can do it if we work together.

While we remember the past, let us also remember the future. On Monday 19 November, wish everyone you meet a Happy International Men’s Day.

Kind words and a smile are the best way to destroy the ‘quiet desperation’ that we all struggle with at times.

In the words of John Donne, “No man is an island”. Neither is any woman. We both need each other. Suicide is a scourge for both men and women.

The founder of International Men’s Day has a dream for gender reconciliation. That’s why one of the six objectives behind International Men’s Day is to “improve gender relations and promote gender equality”.

Dr Jerome Teelucksingh, founder of International Men’s Day, from Trinidad & Tobago, said in a recent global media release:

The observances of International Men’s Day are part of a global love revolution… to heal scarred hearts, seek solutions to social problems, reform the social outcasts, uplift the dysfunctional and mend troubled minds.

International Men’s Day is designed to promote positive role models in society and develop wholesome individuals.

Such developments are badly needed in today’s wounded communities which reflect… the clashes among men, women and children which unravel the fabric of the family and the society.

It is so important to wish everyone you meet on November 19, “Happy International Men’s Day” and join the ‘global love revolution’. Together we can make a difference.

If you or someone you know is in need of assistance, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Warwick Marsh is the founder of the Dads4Kids Fatherhood Foundation and has worked as a musician and creative communicator/TV producer. He is editor in chief of the weekly Dads4Kids email newsletter and in 2001 received a Centenary Medal from the Governor-General for service in musical leadership for young people and the Aboriginal community and his international missions and aid work.

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