Dads in Distress: lending a helping hand to alienated fathers

Alan Patterson of Landsdale (Dads in Distress Facilitator).  Alan is a facilitator for a group called Dads in Distress, a body that offers support to dads undergoing acrimonious splits from partners and struggling to gain custody/visitation rights to children. Photo: David Baylis
Alan Patterson of Landsdale (Dads in Distress Facilitator). Alan is a facilitator for a group called Dads in Distress, a body that offers support to dads undergoing acrimonious splits from partners and struggling to gain custody/visitation rights to children. Photo: David Baylis

ALAN Patterson knows too much about distress.

The Landsdale father is a facilitator at the Perth branch of national male support group Dads in Distress.

The group’s credo is to stem the tide of “suicide in single fathers due to trauma incurred during painful divorce or separation”.

Meeting weekly, the group gives men enduring painful separations a forum to vent their feelings and tools to better prepare themselves for single fatherhood.

For Alan, divorce was a difficult period, but nothing compared to the pain caused when his 17-year-old daughter Kate committed suicide in 2007.

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“My daughter suffered a great deal from the separation,” he said.

“She suffered a lot of depression and took her own life three years after we separated.

“When my daughter died I did feel lost.

“I did feel there was nowhere I belonged.”

Alan had just started chairing Dads in Distress meetings when his daughter died, and he sought refuge in the group.

“From that point on it was a place where I belonged,” Alan said.

“Guys tend to be ostracised when they separate.

“It was like I fitted in somewhere.

“It was the one place I could be listened to, and that helped a hell of a lot.”

Clayton Cramer, another Dads in Distress facilitator, said suicide is a massive issue among separated fathers.

“At the start of every meeting there’s an empty chair, a minute’s silence for the dads that haven’t made it,” Clayton said.

“It happens a lot.”

Alan knows all too well the devastation suicide can wreak.

“Parental alienation is a major thing. Depression, suicide is a big outcome of it – it’s what we try to deal with,” he said.

As well as providing a place for venting emotions, Dads in Distress also puts a large focus on self-improvement.

“We get guys who come along who don’t want to be there,” Alan said.

“They can’t see beyond the arguments and fights going on in their head.

“We give them the tools to better themselves, and after a couple of weeks they’re ok.

“They handle themselves better in society.”

Dads in Distress meets every Tuesday night at St Bartholomew’s House, 7 Lime Street in East Perth.