When someone takes their own life their relatives will suffer grief more complicated, more intense and longer lasting than for any other form of death in the family.
Roxanne Roberts’s father killed himself in 1976. On the 20th anniversary of his death, she wrote about how her family grappled with the fallout from a brutal act.
by Roxanne RobertsThe blood was like Jell-O. That is what blood gets like, after you die, before they tidy up. Somehow, I had expected it would be gone. The police and coroner spent more than an hour behind the closed door; surely it was someone’s job to clean it up. But when they left, it still covered the kitchen floor like the glazing on a candy apple.
You couldn’t mop it. You needed a dustpan and a bucket. I got on my knees, slid the pan against the linoleum and lifted chunks to the bucket. It took hours to clean it all up, and even after that we found pools I had missed under the stove and sink.
It wasn’t until I finally stood up that I noticed the pictures from his wallet. The wooden breadboard had been pulled out slightly, and four photographs were spilled across it. “Now what?” I thought with annoyance. “What were the police looking for?”
But then it hit me. The police hadn’t done it. These snapshots – one of my mother, one of our dog and two of my brother and me – had been carefully set out in a row, by my father.
It was his penultimate act.
He was 46 years old. I was 21. This year marks the 20th anniversary of his death. And I am still cleaning up.
By the time you finish this article, another person in the United States will have killed himself. More than 30,000 people do it every year, one every 15 minutes. My father’s was a textbook case: Depressed white male with gun offs himself in May. December may be the loneliest month, April the cruelest, but May is the peak time for suicide. No one knows why, but I can guess: You’ve made it through another winter, but your world is no warmer.
Form of betrayal
This year, thousands of families will begin the process that ours began that night 20 years ago. Studies show that their grief will be more complicated, more intense and longer lasting than for any other form of death in the family. They will receive less support and more blame from others. Some will never really get over it: Children of those who die by suicide become a higher risk for suicide themselves. I once asked a psychologist why.
“Many children feel they don’t have a right to be any happier than their parents were,” he said. “To be happier is a form of betrayal.”
These are the legacies of suicide: guilt, anger, doubt, blame, fear, rejection, abandonment and profound grieving. Most people don’t want to talk about it, don’t even want to think about it. It is too raw and confusing.
Shortly after he died, I remember thinking: “I wonder how I’ll feel about this in 20 years?” Twenty years seemed like a lifetime away. Would I remember his suicide? Would I think about it much? Would I still feel angry, guilty, sad? Would time heal all wounds?
Twenty years later: Yes, I remember. No, I don’t think about it often. I don’t feel angry or guilty or sad, but, no, time does not heal all wounds.
My father’s suicide is, simply, a part of me. Think of your life as a can of white paint. Each significant experience adds a tiny drop of colour: pink for a birthday, yellow for a good report card. Worries are brown, setbacks gray. Lavender – my favourite colour when I was a little girl – is for a pretty new dress. Over time, a colour begins to emerge. Your personality.
When a suicide happens, someone hurls in a huge glob of red. You can’t get it out. You can’t start over. The red will always be there, no matter how many drops of yellow you add.
It colours the memories that came before it. It shades all the choices that follow. It is always there.
The call came about 9pm. It was a Friday night in suburban Minneapolis. The restaurant was packed. I was racing from the bar with a tray of drinks for my customers when the manager gestured me to the phone. It’s your mother, she said.
“Roxanne, he’s got a gun. He’s in the garage with a gun. You have to come.”
There had been many, many threats: “Be home in a half-hour,” he would say to my mother, “or I’ll be dead.” Sometimes she dashed back from the office, sometimes she refused.
This was different. There had never been a weapon before. “I have to go,” I said to my boss, hoping I wouldn’t be fired. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”
I made many choices that night; some were smart, some stupid, some crazy. I believed, deep down, my father would indeed kill himself, sooner or later; I knew my mother was in danger; and I knew he blamed me for a lot of his misery. Looking back, I feel lucky to have survived the night.
I drove past the house. He was standing in the shadows of the front yard; I couldn’t see if he had the gun. I sped to a phone booth two blocks away and dialled.
She answered. “He’s in the front yard,” I said. “Can you get out?”
Five minutes later, she walked up to the car. He was quiet now, she said. She told him she was going to talk to me, but would be back. Then she dropped the bombshell: He had held her at gunpoint for two hours before she called the restaurant.
We attempted rational conversation. We came to what seemed, at the time, a rational decision. We pulled up to the house, and my father came out the front door without the gun. He wanted to talk.
Give me the gun, I said. He refused. We can’t talk until the gun is gone, we said. He shook his head. Come inside, he asked my mother. She shook her head.
He went back in, we drove to a coffee shop nearby. Frantic, we debated what to do next. To this day, I am still astonished that it never occurred to us to get help, to call the police, a hotline, anybody.
It was almost midnight; exhausted, my mother wanted to go home. She would stay the night if he let me take the gun away. Tomorrow, after a night’s sleep, we would be able to think clearly.
The house was silent; the door to the kitchen was shut. Ominous. My mother reached it first. Opened it.
“He did it,” she whispered and slumped against the wall. I looked in, then pulled her back and shut the door again to prevent her little dogs from running in all the blood.
“Why didn’t I kiss him?” she asked.
“What?” I said, confused.
“Before the coffee shop, he asked me to kiss him and I wouldn’t.” She sank onto the couch. “Why didn’t I kiss him?”
There was a time when suicide was considered a noble act of noble men. There was a time when corpses of suicides were dragged through the streets, refused Christian burial, and all the family’s worldly goods were seized by the state. There was a time when romantics, inspired by Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, embraced suicide as a sign of their sensitivity.
Now we have long, impassioned debates about “assisted suicide”, which pales beside the much larger issue: How do we feel about suicides when there isn’t a terminal disease and a supportive family on hand?
How do we feel about suicide if a 46-year-old guy just doesn’t want to live any more? A man whose marriage is falling apart, whose kids are growing up and moving out, who can’t seem to hold down a job? Reason enough?
How do we feel about someone who’s depressed but won’t get help? Who blames all his problems on someone else? Who emotionally terrorises and blackmails the people he loves? Is that OK, too? Can you fault him for anything if he ends up dead?
There are people who will tell you, convincingly, that depression is so dark that it blots out reason, perspective and all other survival mechanisms. They are experts who will tell you suicide is rage turned inwards: A desire to kill becomes a need to die.
This is what I will tell you: suicide is the last word in an argument, maybe an argument you never knew you were having. It is a grand exit, one guaranteed to make everybody stop in his tracks, pay attention and feel bad. It is meant to be the last scene of the last act of life. Curtain down. End of story.
Except it isn’t.
Sea of police cars
Tosca jumps off the parapet, and I wonder who finds the shattered body. Romeo and Juliet die with a kiss, and I grieve for their parents. Madame Butterfly collapses on the dagger, and I cry for her little boy in the sailor suit.
The calls began: first to my father’s only brother, who lived three blocks away, then to the police. Officers arrived, then detectives and someone from the coroner’s office. Someone came into the living room to ask questions. I answered. Yes, he was depressed. Yes, he had threatened to kill himself. No, there wasn’t a note.
I had sent my mother next door. “Watch for Mike’s car,” I instructed. “You have to watch for Mike’s car.”
This was the night of my brother’s high school senior prom. The dance was on a boat – we didn’t know where – then there was an all-night party and a picnic the next day. I called his girlfriend’s house. There is an emergency at home, I said. Tell him to call.
An hour passed. No call. The detectives were still in the kitchen when Mike’s car turned slowly onto the street and found a sea of police cars, lights flashing. Neighbours huddled in clusters across the street.
I watched from the front step as my mother ran to him. “Your father shot himself and he’s dead,” she said, guiding him to the neighbour’s house. I watched as the police took the body out, dripping thick drops of blood from the kitchen to the front door. I watched my uncle stare blankly when I asked him to help clean up the kitchen.
“Frank,” I ordered. “You have to help me. I don’t want Mike to have to see this.”
White-lipped, he watched as I scooped up buckets of blood and flushed them down the toilet. I threw him an old sheet and told him to start wiping.
Years later, I learnt how angry I made him, how he never forgave me for making him do that. He didn’t like blood on his hands.
I was alone in the kitchen again when I noticed the pictures from my father’s wallet. There were two portraits of his children. In the first one, I am four or five and my brother is maybe a year old. The other was more recent, taken for Dad’s last birthday just a few months earlier. He loved both pictures. Everybody knew Mike Roberts loved his kids.
If he had to kill himself, I thought angrily, why did he do it tonight? Why did he spoil his son’s last night as a teenager? Why ruin prom night?
“You selfish bastard,” I thought. “You couldn’t have waited one more night?”
Suicide is poison.
In 1988, Gloria Vanderbilt’s 23-year-old son flung himself off the balcony of her 14th-floor Manhattan apartment as she watched in horror. His last words to his mother: “[Expletive] you.”
Suicide is a desperate act, but it is also a hostile act. It begets more hostility. It gives the survivors the perfect opportunity to express all their real feelings about one another, good and bad. Years of petty resentments, years of unmentioned slights and snubs, grab centre stage.
Something – or somebody – had driven my father to take his life. Somebody had failed to recognise the symptoms. Somebody had failed him, over and over. It was somebody’s fault. It had to be somebody’s fault, anybody but the guy who did it.
My mother was never well liked by my father’s sisters, and so they concluded that what had happened was my mother’s fault. She was having an affair, she had driven him to it. That’s what my father had told them before he died. The fact that she wore an aqua suit to the funeral was proof, wasn’t it?
And I? I was on her side. So it was my fault, too. The fact that I didn’t fall apart at the funeral was proof, wasn’t it?
There is no one truth. There are too many truths. My mother swears there was no affair, my father swore there was. I search my memory and come up empty. Did I ever know? Have I forgotten? In the end, of course, it doesn’t justify the suicide, even if it’s true.
Death makes most of us stupid: We say the wrong thing, or we don’t say anything at all. Suicide is worse. Sometimes it makes people cruel.
After the funeral, we were simply abandoned by my father’s family. My mother was still numb, but I was confused and angry. No calls, no help, no kindness. There were no invitations to dinner, not even Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Two years later, I found out why: They thought my mother and I killed him. At one of those little get-togethers just after he died, my father’s family decided that perhaps my mother and I had cleverly managed to murder my father and make it look like a suicide. There wasn’t any note, after all.
One of my cousins was so sceptical he went to the coroner and asked to look at the police photos. It was a classic suicide, the coroner assured him.
After all we’d been through, this accusation was simply too much to bear. What kind of cruelty was this? And what had we done to deserve it?
I vowed never, ever to speak to any of them again. When a distant member of the family – a devoted wife and mother – found her husband dead in the garage, sucking the end of an exhaust pipe, I was almost glad.
“Good,” I thought fiercely. “Now they’ll understand that suicide happens in nice families, too.”
Suicide is poison. It poisons the ground beneath it. Anything that grows in that ground is poisoned; the fruit is poisoned. But people feast on it.
It is a terrible mistake. To survive, you have to get the hell out of there.
Second-guessing is the devil’s game, for there are no answers and infinite questions. But it is an inevitable, inescapable refrain, like a bad song you can’t get out of your mind. What if, what if, what if. What if we had forced him to get help? Had him committed?
What if, that night he died, we had called the police? Why didn’t we?
Part of it was the natural tendency toward privacy: family business is kept in the family. Part of it was arrogance, believing that we knew father best, or at least we could handle whatever he threw at us.
I think I knew my father would have charmed the police, sent them away, leaving him furious with me, furious with my mother, dangerous, armed.
Maybe that’s why. Maybe it was fear. Maybe not. Maybe I wanted him to die. The tiniest thoughts, the slightest variations, carry the seeds of redemption and damnation. “Why didn’t I kiss him?”
At some point, you simply give up. You could have done everything differently. You could have done nothing differently. You finally let it rest or you go crazy.
The police were puzzled by a wand of Maybelline black mascara they found in my father’s pocket. Another woman? Proof of an affair? The answer was simple: he used it to touch up the grey on his temples.
I don’t think he ever really expected to get old. He was the baby, the youngest of five children. He had three older sisters to fuss over him and a timid older brother who was envious of his effortless popularity. He was a very happy child; it was adulthood that he could never quite grasp.
He was tall and cinematically handsome – blue eyes, dark, curly hair – and wore bad suits well. He was charming enough to talk his way into job after job. There was the real estate phase, the radio phase, the political hanger-on phase. (In one family photo, he is shaking hands with Hubert Humphrey.) No job lasted long, but it never occurred to him to do heavy lifting. The big score, the one that would make him a rich man, was always just around the corner.
Things started out well enough: a beautiful teenage bride, two kids and – after his mother died – his childhood home, a little bungalow, to raise his family in. His son was popular and athletic. His daughter was pretty and smart and attentive. Because he thought Ava Gardner fabulous and didn’t care much for Marilyn Monroe, I never felt the urge to dye my hair blond. It was like that in the beginning. Things should have been idyllic.
But money bedevilled him. He described himself as the most unlucky of men. He must have felt himself a dreadful failure. I remember him hiding in the bedroom while I lied to bill collectors at the door. Some creditors were less gentle. One summer my father parked his old car on a different block every night, but still someone found it and smashed the windshield.
The last straw
My memories are mostly like that, dark and forbidding. And yet, a few years ago, I found an old audio tape my parents must have made when I was five or six. It is preserved from a big old reel-to-reel. My mother is braiding my hair. My father is teasing me. I am giggling.
“Hey!” my voice pipes up, delighted. “You bit me on the nose!” It is a moment of wonderful, giddy joy. I can’t recall it at all, or anything like it, except here it is, incontestable proof. There must have been thousands of moments like that. To me, they are gone. They are drowned out by red.
When did things start falling apart? Or were they ever really together? Which was the last straw?
I remember a night when I was 11. One of our cats streaked across the living room. In his mouth was a hamster that had somehow escaped from its cage. We all jumped to the rescue; my father caught the cat at the top of the basement stairs. He was suddenly, unaccountably livid. He shook the cat, and the hamster fell to the floor and scampered free.
I will never forget what came next: With all his might, he threw the cat down the stairs. It landed in a heap on the concrete floor, motionless.
There was a moment of stunned silence, then tears and regret and an emergency trip to the vet. The cat lived. But I think I never fully trusted my father again: anything, any time, could set him off. One day, I said to myself, it could be me at the bottom of those stairs. He will feel terrible afterward, and beg for forgiveness, but what difference will it make then?
The 10 years that followed were filled with sudden rages, explosions without warning. I found out later that he first hit my mother when she was pregnant with me, and continued on and off for two decades.
But in the last year of his life, he collapsed. His marriage of 22 years was slipping away from him. His children were leaving him: I had moved out three years earlier, my brother was about to graduate from high school. He couldn’t find anyone who wanted to hire him at a job he would take.
We begged him to get help. We asked his brother and sisters to talk to him. And when, ultimately, I told my mother I thought she needed to leave for her own safety, my father saw that as a betrayal. He ordered me out of his life.
He didn’t speak to me again for two months, until the night he died. That night, he spoke volumes.
I lied to the police. I told them there was no suicide note. In fact, there were three. They were handwritten on white sheets of notebook paper, short spurts of deadly poetry. Two were waiting in the living room as we walked into the house.
The note to my mother begged for forgiveness but said he simply could not go on the way things were. She has, to this day, no memory of reading it. The note addressed to me opened with a rapprochement. “All is forgiven,” read the first line. My eyes filled. No, I said silently, all is not forgiven. Death does not convey absolution. You don’t get off that cheap. The rest of the note instructed me to take care of things.
When I went to call the police, I found the third note, addressed to my brother, in his room next to the extension phone. I cannot recall the specific words, but the short message to an 18-year-old boy was this: Son, you can’t trust women. My father had asked me to take care of things. And I was going to take care of things.
He was dead; we were alive. There was nothing more we could do for him. But Mike and my mother needed each other now, more than ever. This note could do no good.
I stuffed all three in my purse and went back out to the living room. A week later, with my mother watching, I ripped them to pieces and flushed them down the toilet.
When I finally told my brother about this, just two weeks ago, he was angry and hurt, as I knew he would be. He asked, quietly: “What made you think you could take something Dad left for me?” Fair question.
Here is the answer, Mike. It is simple. I hope you can live with it. I’ve had to. The wishes of the dead do not take precedence over the needs of the living.
Nothing is ever the same
Suicide does strange things to the subconscious. A few weeks after the funeral, I attended a performance by a local improvisational troupe. The audience threw out suggestions; the actors proved how fast they could think on their feet.
“For the next sketch we need something you inherit,” announced a pert blonde actress. “You know: silver, jewellery, pictures, something that gets passed on to the next generation.”
“Hemophilia,” I blurted out. I didn’t know why I said that.
There was a long silence; then the room exploded in laughter.
In retrospect, it makes perfect sense: a hereditary disease where the children, when bruised, cannot stop bleeding. Nothing is ever the same. At first, I read every book I could get my hands on about suicide. I tried to make sense of it all, tried to find reason in an irrational choice. To this day, I cannot bear the idea of a gun in my house.
On Easter Sunday almost a year after the suicide, I was standing at the entrance of the restaurant for which I worked, wearing a giant bunny costume to greet families arriving for dinner. A little boy, maybe two or three years old, came racing up to me, his eyes wide.
“Grandpa, look!” he said excitedly. An older man smiled broadly and swung the boy up in his arms.
I watched the two of them delight in each other. My father will never get a chance to know my children, I realised. He would have been a good grandfather. And the Easter Bunny began to cry.
I have come to understand that my father was angry, selfish, self-pitying. But most of all, he was without hope and in desperate pain. I don’t fault him for his depression; I fault him for refusing to get any help.
Suicides often believe everyone will be better off when they are dead. Even at his worst, I do not believe my father could have imagined the toll his death would take on all of us, and I don’t believe he ever really intended to hurt his children. His life was filled with errors in judgment, and this was his final one, a permanent mistake he could never correct or amend.
Suicide cuts a lot of ambivalence out of your life. I decided good intentions are never enough. I became fiercely protective of my happiness. Happiness, not money or titles, became my yardstick of a successful life. This was not adolescent self-indulgence or an epistemological exercise. It was life or death.
About a year after my father died, I left Minneapolis. I stumbled though my 20s, met a terrific man and got married, and spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to be when I grew up. For a couple of years I worked in advertising, an industry peopled by individuals with brains and creativity and a contempt for what they do. Not for me.
I think I became a journalist because whatever other duplicities this craft may embrace, your mission is the truth. You are not forced into war with yourself.
Nine months after the funeral, my brother moved to California. He was reckless, strong, adrift, and almost died three times – once in a motorcycle accident, once in a stabbing and once in a heedless dive into a pool that split open his skull.
He returned to Minnesota, subdued and gentle, and went on to a successful computer career. He was, surprisingly, never angry at my father or his family. He cherishes happy memories of our childhood, memories I cannot recall.
But he cannot bring himself to marry his girlfriend of 16 years. They live together, in a home they bought together, but he simply does not trust marriage.
Two years after the suicide, my mother remarried, changing her friends, her religion, even her first name. She was widowed again – a heart attack – and announced a year later that she was getting married again. Her fiance was my cousin – her nephew by marriage. He was the son of the aunt who had accused us of murder.
I was at a complete loss. His mother was someone I’d cut out of my life years before. I never expected to see her again; now she would be my mother’s new mother-in-law. One big strange dysfunctional family.
“I expect you to be civil to her,” my mother told me.
No, I said. I could promise to come to the wedding, and I could promise not to make a scene, but small talk with someone who thought I had murdered my father was too much to ask.
My mother was outraged. We had an ugly fight, and she didn’t speak to me for months. I went to her wedding but fled to the other side of the room when my aunt approached me. Nothing she could say would make any difference now.
My mother tells me my aunt is very hurt by all this.
The cycle continues, in ways I will never fully understand.
Four years ago, when my son was a month old, I took him to Minnesota to meet my family.
“Take me to father’s grave,” I told my brother.
It was the first time I’d been there since the funeral. The cemetery, shaded by rows of old oak trees, was cool and serene. I introduced my beautiful new baby to his grandfather, and my father to his only grandchild.
Today, when I stare at the boy who takes my breath away, I think about how much my father missed over the past 20 years, and how much more he will miss. I’ve more sorrow than anger now.
A lot of wonderful things have happened in those years, hundreds of shimmering droplets added to the mix. When I stir the paint now, it is a soft dusky rose. A grown-up’s colour, with a touch of sweetness and a touch of melancholy.
This story was first published in 1996.
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Australian author Tim Winton argues that misogyny, like racism, is one of the great engines of intergenerational trauma. Photograph: Lynn Webb
In an excerpt from a speech about his new book The Shepherd’s Hut, the author says it is men who need to step up and liberate boys from the race, the game, the fight
TIM WINTON Mon 9 Apr 2018 The Guardian
I don’t have any grand theory about masculinity. But I know a bit about boys. Partly because I’m at the beach and in the water a lot.
As a surfer you spend a lot of time bobbing about, waiting for something to happen. So eventually, you get talking. Or you listen to others talking. And I spend my work days alone, in a room with people who don’t exist, so these maritime conversations make up the bulk of my social life. And most of the people in the water are younger than me, some by 50 years or more.
I like the teasing and the joking that goes on, the shy asymmetrical conversations, the fitful moments of mutual bewilderment and curiosity. A lot of the time I’m just watching and listening. With affection. Indulgence. Amusement. Often puzzled, sometimes horrified. Interested, but careful, of course, not to appear too interested. And the wonderful thing about getting older – something many women will understand – is that after a certain age you become invisible. And for me, after years of being much too visible for my own comfort, this late life waterborne obscurity is a gift.
There are a lot more girls in the water these days, and hallellujah for that; I can’t tell you how heartening this is. But I want to focus on the boys for a moment. For what a mystery a boy is. Even to a grown man. Perhaps especially to a grown man. And how easy it is to forget what beautiful creatures they are. There’s so much about them and in them that’s lovely. Graceful. Dreamy. Vulnerable. Qualities we either don’t notice, or simply blind ourselves to. You see, there’s great native tenderness in children. In boys, as much as in girls. But so often I see boys having the tenderness shamed out of them.
Boys and young men are so routinely expected to betray their better natures, to smother their consciences, to renounce the best of themselves and submit to something low and mean. As if there’s only one way of being a bloke, one valid interpretation of the part, the role, if you like. There’s a constant pressure to enlist, to pull on the uniform of misogyny and join the Shithead Army that enforces and polices sexism. And it grieves me to say it’s not just men pressing those kids into service.
These boys in the surf. The things they say to me! The stuff I hear them saying to their mates! Some of it makes you want to hug them. Some of it makes you want to cry. Some of it makes you ashamed to be a male. Especially the stuff they feel entitled or obliged to say about girls and women.
What I’ve come to notice is that all these kids are rehearsing and projecting. Trying it on. Rehearsing their masculinity. Projecting their experimental versions of it. And wordlessly looking for cues the whole time. Not just from each other, but from older people around them, especially the men. Which can be heartbreaking to witness, to tell you the truth. Because the feedback they get is so damn unhelpful. If it’s well-meant it’s often feeble and half-hearted. Because good men don’t always stick their necks out and make an effort.
True, the blokes around me in the water are there, like me, for respite, to escape complexity and responsibility for an hour or two, to save themselves from going mad in their working lives, but their dignified silence in response to misogynistic trash talk allows other messages, other poisonous postures to flourish. Too often, in my experience, the ways of men to boys lack all conviction, they lack a sense of responsibility and gravity. And I think they lack the solidity and coherence of tradition. Sadly, modernity has failed to replace traditional codes with anything explicit, or coherent or benign. We’re left with values that are residual, fuzzy, accidental or sniggeringly conspiratorial.
We’ve scraped our culture bare of ritual pathways to adulthood. There are lots of reasons for having clear-felled and burnt our own traditions since the 1960s, and some of them are very good reasons. But I’m not sure what we’ve replaced them with. We’ve left our young people to fend for themselves. We retain a kind of indulgent, patronising, approval of rites of passage in other cultures, including those of our first peoples, but the poverty of mainstream modern Australian rituals is astounding.
What are we left with? The sly first beer your uncle slips you. The 18th birthday party where the keg is the icon. Maybe the B&S ball, if you live in the bush. First drink, first root, first bog-lap in your mum’s Corolla. Call me a snob, but that strikes me as pretty thin stuff. This, surely, is cultural impoverishment. And in such a prosperous country. To my mind, that’s salt rising to the surface, poisoning the future.
In the absence of explicit, widely-shared and enriching rites of passage, young men in particular are forced to make themselves up as they go along. Which usually means they put themselves together from spare parts, and the stuff closest to hand tends to be cheap and defective. And that’s dangerous.
Toxic masculinity is a burden to men. I’m not for a moment suggesting men and women suffer equally from misogyny, because that’s clearly and fundamentally not true. And nobody needs to hear me mansplaining on the subject of the patriarchy. But I think we forget or simply don’t notice the ways in which men, too, are shackled by misogyny. It narrows their lives. Distorts them. And that sort of damage radiates; it travels, just as trauma is embedded and travels and metastasizes in families. Slavery should have taught us that. The Stolen Generations are still teaching us. Misogyny, like racism, is one of the great engines of intergenerational trauma.
A man in manacles doesn’t fully understand the threat he poses to others. Even as he’s raging against his bonds. Especially as he’s raging against his bonds. When you’re bred for mastery, when you’re trained to endure and fight and suppress empathy, how do you find your way in a world that cannot be mastered? How do you live a life in which all of us must eventually surrender and come to terms? Too many men are blunt instruments. Otherwise known, I guess, as tools. Because of poor training, they’re simply not fit for purpose. Because life is not a race, it’s not a game, and it’s not a fight.
Can we wean boys off machismo and misogyny? Will they ever relinquish the race, the game, the fight, and join the dance? I hope so. Because liberation – a process of disarmament, reflection and renewal – isn’t just desirable, it’s desperately necessary. In our homes, in business, and clearly, and most clearly of all, in our politics.
Children are born wild. And that’s beautiful, it’s wondrous, regardless of gender. Even when they’re feral creatures, kids are reservoirs of tenderness and empathy. But some do turn into savages. And sadly most of those are boys. They’re trained into it. Because of neglect or indulgence. And when we meet them in the street, and have them in our classrooms, and haul them into the courts, we recoil from them in horror and disgust. Our detention centres and jails are heaving with them. These wild colonial boys, they’re a terror to Australia. Real and imagined. But I worry about our revulsion for them, our desire to banish them from consciousness for their noncompliance, their mistakes, or their faithful adherence to the scripts that have been written for them.
Boys need help. And, yes, men need fixing – I’m mindful of that. Males arrive in our community on the coattails of an almost endless chain of unexamined privilege. I don’t deny that for a second. But patriarchy is bondage for boys, too. It disfigures them. Even if they’re the last to notice. Even if they profit from it. And their disfigurement diminishes the ultimate prospects of all of us, wherever we are on the gender spectrum. I think we need to admit this.
But before we even get to that point, we have to acknowledge the awkward, implacable fact of their existence, especially those who most offend our sensibilities. We should resist our instinct or our ideological desire to cross the street to avoid them, our impulse to shut them down and shut them out and finally lock them up. We need to have higher expectations of them. Provide better modelling for them.
But before any of that is possible we need to attend to them. Yes, boys need their unexamined privilege curtailed. Just as they need certain proscribed privileges and behaviours made available to them. But the first step is to notice them. To find them worthy of our interest. As subjects, not objects. How else can we hope to take responsibility for them? And it’s men who need to step up and finally take their full share of that responsibility.
Who remembers all those kids whose parents got divorced in the late 1970s or early 80s? Remember how resilient they were going to be? How divorce wasn’t ideal, but the kids would be OK because surely it was better for them to be raised in homes that weren’t full of rancour?
Kids were resilient! I’m repeating it, because that was the buzz word. They’d adjust to their new reality, and they’d be fine. How true has that proven to be? We can’t know for certain because every case, and indeed every kid, is different, and for sure there were — and are — plenty of miserable marriages that absolutely had to end, but in saying that can’t we also acknowledge the trauma inflicted on the children?
I think we’re going to have to acknowledge it, because those kids are all grown up, and they are starting to tell their side of the story. Not everyone is going to want to hear it.
Most readers will know the name James Jeffrey. He writes the Strewth column for this newspaper. He’s a unique individual, is James: he keeps pet snakes; he plays bagpipes; he speaks a little Hungarian. He’s got a mop of curly blond hair, and he’s got a curious way of walking up on the tips of his toes, flapping his hands a little, which gives him an entirely agreeable air.
James has this week published a memoir, My Family and Other Animus, and while it is in parts extremely funny, it’s the chapters about the divorce he lived through as a child that had me captivated.
This is the gen X experience. Forget what their boomer parents had to say. This is how it was for the kids.
James was eight when the marriage between his English father Ian and his Hungarian mother Eszter came to a dramatic end. He didn’t see it coming, and my best guess is that most kids don’t. James puts it this way: “Despite the impressive and growing body of evidence my parents had been building over the years — the shouting matches, slammed doors — it was something I’d really never thought about. Loveless as it had become, my parents’ marriage was something that was simply there, and probably eternal, like the sky.”
But then a knife was drawn and the police were called, and for some time afterwards James saw his mother only at weekends.
His parents sustained their rage against each other for decades, determined, he says, to inflict upon each other as much pain as possible.
“To really, really hurt each other. That was the goal,” he recalled this week.
James came to know the inside of the Family Court rather too well as the battle raged around him, and since the supposed resilience of the kids was all the go, nobody even tried to keep them out of it.
James remembers “a friendly man with a moustache, and a brown suit” sitting him down one day to say: “Of course you love your parents equally and they love you, but …”
Well, there’s no but quite like the but that comes in a Family Court matter, is there? “But if you have to choose, who would you prefer to live with?” Brutal.
James’s father won custody, which wouldn’t have been all that common, because in the days before the so-called “shared care amendments” to the Family Law Act of 2006, it was mainly the mum who kept the kids while dad would get them every second weekend and half the school holidays — and maybe for a desultory dinner on Wednesday night at McDonald’s, where there would be a playground and plenty of CCTV.
James recalls in his book the instability that became part of his life after the divorce. He tries to find some comfort in the fact that at least both parents wanted him. That wasn’t everyone’s experience. But he can still remember everything the day it happened, down to the colour of the linoleum in the room where he was told that the only life he’d ever known was over.
A new, chaotic world rose in its place and, four decades later, he says: “I rarely go a week without thinking about it all.”
Forty years on, he still thinks about it every week? Yes, of course. Because we are all so resilient, aren’t we? We’re actually not. We suffer, and sometimes we take the suffering out on others, in ways both petty, and monstrous.
A year after the divorce of James’s parents went through, the old Family Court building in Sydney got bombed. A judge was murdered. That’s how bad it can get, and of course plenty of wives and children have been killed as they tried to make their way out the door.
Plenty of men have taken their own lives.
James says in his book that he was determined to turn his calamitous upbringing into “lessons that would guide me through life, into marriage, and parenthood”.
He never wanted to “come close to replicating the wasteland my parents called their marriage”.
Their wreckage would become “one of the guiding forces of my life”, he writes. “No part of the carcass has been wasted.”
When time came for James to marry and become a father himself, my God, he was going to do things differently. And that’s where you find joy in his book. On the first page, James says he started writing in part “as an explanation to my children as to why their parents kiss so much”.
Because it’s so gross to see old people — your parents! — kissing.
But, he says, “I can tell that at some level they secretly like that we are this way.” Because marriage is hard and some days — actually for some years, sometimes — it’s only going to be the dog that is happy to see you.
None of which is to say that parents shouldn’t get divorced. It happens, and it’s often necessary. In 25 years of adulthood I’ve never a met a person who was cavalier about their divorce.
A friend told me recently that she had been unhappy in her marriage for a decade.
We don’t get that many decades, and by the time you get to your late 40s, you don’t have that many left. And yet she hung in there, and not only to avoid the blasted Family Court, described recently by one of the wise old judges, Robert Benjamin, as a place that thrives on a “culture of bitter, adversarial and highly aggressive litigation”.
He was talking about a case in which the warring parents had been encouraged by rapacious counsel to spend an eye-watering $860,000 on legal fees as they tore each other, and their children, to pieces.
“It must stop,” he said.
Not divorce. You’ll probably never stop that. But the ugliness that comes with it, because it’s really tough on the kids.
Both of James’s parents are now dead, but his mum was still alive when he finished the manuscript. In his hands, their warring comes across a touch comically, which is of course the point. What a waste of energy it was, to spend all that time arguing.
What a sapping of the human spirit. It must have taken some courage for James to write so openly about the collateral damage. However brutal the message, we should all be glad he did.
During briefings as a patrol officer, I scanned the crime reports from the prior week, looking for patterns, trends and changes. If, for example, I discovered an increase in car burglaries on the west side of town, I would ask the simple question: What shifted in the past few weeks to account for the additional crimes? More robberies on the east side? What’s changed? Did someone new move into the area? Did some group of offenders decide to target our city?
Now, as a cold-case detective and author, I apply the same approach to a new crime phenomenon: the increase in mass school shootings. What’s changed in the past twenty years that might account for this? What cultural shifts lie behind the shootings?
An Increase in Social Media Use
Young people are more influenced by social media than any other generation. In a recent survey, teenagers reported that they often feel bad about themselves (or their lives) when viewing the social media posts of their friends. More importantly, teenagers said they are often bulliedon-line. That’s important, because the killers in each school shooting were also said to have been criticized or ostracized prior to the crime. While bullying is not new, the way young people bully each other has shifted. Social media intensifies bullying because it increases its severity, proximity and consistency. We are far harsher when criticizing others on social media. Worse yet, in a smart phone culture, the bully is as near as your phone. Those of us who were bullied in the past could at least find solace and protection in our own homes; bullying stopped as soon as we left the school grounds. Not so today. Bullies follow their victims home every night and sleep next to them on their nightstands. The way people interact has changed, and this shift is seen in the lives of school shooters. Many have been harboring growing animosity stoked by social media.
An Increased Dependency on Prescription Medicine
Parents are medicating their children today more than ever before. While it’s true that many of the school shooters were using (or had recently stopped using) prescription drugs, I’m not suggesting that this form of drug use is contributing directly to the increase in shootings. In fact, I have seen many families incorporate ADHD/depression/anxiety medications with great success. But, in a recent PBS special, Medicating Kids, Dr. Lawrence Diller made two important and insightful observations. First, he observed that we “as a culture – more than any other culture – seem to have accepted biology and the brain as the reason for maladaptive or poor behavior.” In addition, Dr. Diller observed, “we have a continuing erosion of parental discipline…” Some parents have now shifted toward prescription drugs that target the physical brain and away from traditional, time-consuming approaches that address behaviors. As a result, fewer children – including shooters – have extended interaction with their parents.
An Increase in Single Parent Households As a Gang Detail Officer in Los Angeles County, I had the opportunity to spend time with young Hispanic, African-American, Caucasian and Korean gang members. They came from different socio-economic and racial backgrounds but had one thing in common: lack of dad. Some never knew their fathers. Others had dads who were in jail. Some had fathers who were disinterested alcoholics. Others had dads who were workaholics who rarely ever came home. The percentage of children under the age of 18 in the United States living in single parent households has increased dramatically – during the same time that school shootings have multiplied. In addition, many young men are being raised in what is effectively (if not statistically) a single parent household. Men have a responsibility to raise up their boys, and when they shirk this responsibility we see tragic results. Family structures have changed; several of the high school shooters simply didn’t have an effective male role model who could help them navigate their teenage years.
Every cultural change holds both a promise and a threat. We either shift toward something worthy or worthless. The sooner we recognize what’s changed in America (and admit where the change is leading us), the sooner we’ll be able to address the increase in school shootings.
Too many Australians today do not appreciate how their country has been shaped by the Bible in myriad indelible ways
Roy Williams The Australian 31 March 2018
It’s worth recalling this Easter that the Bible is by far the most consequential book in Australian history. One hundred copies arrived on the First Fleet, and every subsequent vessel brought lots more.
Serious Bible-reading probably peaked here in about 1880, but there was a still a well-thumbed copy in nearly every home until the 1970s. That decade saw the start of a steep decline in Australia of Christianity’s heft and influence, at least measured in terms of churchgoing believers as a proportion of the population.
Even so, in 1976-77, The Good News Bible sold a quarter of a million copies, a record at the time for any new title. Kel Richards’s The Aussie Bible sold 100,000 copies as recently as the early 2000s.
There remains a strong market in Australia not only for the Bible but Christian books in general. The flourishing Koorong chain of stores, and equivalent Catholic outlets, are proof enough.
Yet most of our “mainstream” bookshops offer a woefully thin selection of religious titles. Why?
The underlying reason seems to be a perception that the Good Book and its offshoots are irrelevant nowadays to anyone bar “people of faith”.
Sydney-based historian Meredith Lake challenges this canard in her superbly engaging book The Bible in Australia.
Put aside — if you dare — ultimate metaphysical truth.
There are, Lake contends, several other reasons why any thinking citizen should take the Bible seriously. For a start, “the world in general remains highly religious”, and Christianity is the most practised faith across the globe.
As far as Australian public-policy discourse is concerned, most would also agree with Lake that “a confident, robust pluralism requires tolerance of religious voices, including Christian ones in all their diversity”.
But she insists there is more at stake than mere tolerance, for “an intelligent pluralism requires good historical memory”.
Too many Australians today do not appreciate how their country has been shaped by the Bible in myriad indelible ways. As Lake observes, “it has a history here that, while complicated, is difficult to outrun”. She posits three main ways of regarding the Bible — each for good and ill — and provides convincing, engrossing examples.
First, it has been a “globalising” force.
“European imperialism introduced the Bible to Australia” with traumatic consequences for the indigenous population, she observes. The legal fiction of terra nullius was based on a quasi-Christian idea of John Locke’s. Genesis 1:28 (King James Version) enjoined human beings to “replenish the earth, and subdue it”. In the eyes of most British colonists, non-agrarian indigenous peoples had not done so, so the land they occupied was ripe for the taking.
It was not until the High Court’s Mabo decision in 1992 — based, in significant part, on Thomist notions of natural law (cf. Romans 2:14-15), to say nothing of Jesus’s Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) — that a better, more authentically Christian view held sway.
Indigenous Christians had long pointed to verses such as Proverbs 22:28 (“Do not move an everlasting boundary stone”).
Lake reminds us that the Bible has also been a globalising force in Australia as a basis for encouraging immigration on a large scale. As far back as the 1830s, powerful figures such as John Dunmore Lang invoked the story of Israel as a model for populating the antipodean “land of milk and honey” (cf. Deuteronomy 31:20, Genesis 12:1-2). Catholic historians including Edmund Campion have shown that the church facilitated the nation-changing waves of European and Southeast Asian immigration after World War II.
Lake’s second way of assessing the Bible’s influence is as a “cultural” force.
Aside from its ubiquitous presence in everyday speech (“lamb to the slaughter”, “writing on the wall” and so on), she emphasises its role as an inspiration to local artists in all genres. Henry Handel Richardson, Arthur Boyd, Paul Kelly, Helen Garner, Christos Tsiolkas — these and many other creative giants, a lot of them unbelievers, could recognise a masterpiece when they encountered it.
But it is in the Bible’s third guise, as a “theological” force, that its influence has been most profound. For almost two centuries after 1788, a good number of our key opinion-makers — in politics, business, science, journalism, education, you name it — believed the Bible to be nothing less than the self-revelatory Word of God, a text “alive and active” (Hebrews 4:12). Accordingly, in Lake’s expression, “it was the unrivalled starting point for knowledge, the framework for understanding the world and its workings”.
Ranging widely, Lake demonstrates that the theological Bible has been, as often as not, a force of “dynamic altruism”. (The phrase is historian Alan Atkinson’s.)
The NSW Church Act of 1836, for instance, later copied in other colonies, established the principle of equal treatment for all Christian denominations. This reflected governor Richard Bourke’s vision of a people “united in one bond of peace” (see Ephesians 4:3).
In the longer term, despite outbreaks of sectarianism, religious equality helped foster a much greater degree of socio-economic equality here than in Britain.
Likewise, the movements in the late 19th century towards votes for women and Federation were energised disproportionately by devout Christians. A favourite verse among champions of both causes was Proverbs 14:34: “Righteousness exalteth a nation.”
It is to be remembered, too, that in those days leadership of the trade unions and the Australian Labor Party was dominated by earnest Protestant men.
Perhaps Lake’s best historical examples are in the field of race relations, a strength of her work. From the earliest decades of frontier violence against the indigenous, through the citizenship and land rights campaigns of the 20th century, to recent debates over refugees, the most rigorous pleas for generous treatment of darker-skinned people have been made by conscientious Christians.
Typically their arguments have been based on scripture, one passage in particular.
According to Acts 17:26, “[God] hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth” (KJV).
Secular Australian bookshops should give this book the prominence it deserves.
Roy Williams’s books include God, Actually.
The Bible in Australia: A Cultural History By Meredith Lake NewSouth, 439pp, $39.99
A New Story for an Old Land: 200 Years of the Bible Society in Australia
John Harris ABC Religion and Ethics 7 Mar 2017
As the Bible seemingly drifts into irrelevance in our increasingly secular society, the Bible Society remains convinced of the need to put more Bibles into people’s hands, minds and hearts.CREDIT: MIKDAM / GETTY IMAGES
When large numbers of men are doomed to bachelorhood, they get desperate
The Economist 19 March 2018
FEW South Sudanese see a link between their country’s horrific civil war and polygamy. Instead they blame greedy politicians or the tribe next door. Fair enough: corruption, weak institutions and tribalism all make violence more likely. But marital customs matter, too. Wherever polygamy is widely practised (in South Sudan, perhaps 40% of marriages involve multiple wives) turmoil tends to follow. The 20 most fragile states in the world are all somewhat or very polygamous. Polygamous nations are more likely to invade their neighbours. The polygamous regions of Haiti and Indonesia are the most turbulent. One London School of Economics study found a strong link between plural marriage and civil war. How come?
Polygamy nearly always means rich men taking multiple wives. And if the top 10% of men marry four women each, then the bottom 30% cannot marry at all. This often leaves them not only sexually frustrated but also socially marginalised. In many traditional societies, a man is not considered an adult until he has found a wife and sired children. To get a wife, he must typically pay a “brideprice” to her father. When polygamy creates a shortage of brides, it massively inflates this brideprice. In South Sudan, it can be anything from 30 to 300 cattle, far more wealth than an ill-educated young man can plausibly accumulate by legal means.
In desperation, many single men resort to extreme measures to secure a mate. In South Sudan, they pick up guns and steal cattle from the tribe next door. Many people are killed in such raids; many bloody feuds spring from them. Young bachelors who cannot afford to marry also make easy recruits for rebel armies. If they fight, they can loot, and with loot, they can wed. In a paper published last year, Valerie Hudson of Texas A&M University and Hilary Matfess of Yale found that a high brideprice is a “critical” factor “predisposing young men to become involved in organised group violence for political purposes”. Jihadist groups exploit this, too. One member of Pakistan’s Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the attack on Mumbai in 2008 that killed 166 people, said he joined the organisation because it promised to pay for his siblings to get married. During its heyday the so-called Islamic State offered foreign recruits honeymoons in Raqqa, its former capital. In northern Nigeria, where polygamy is rife, Boko Haram still arranges cheap marriages for its recruits.
Globally, polygamy is in retreat, but in some pockets support for it is rising. After America’s Supreme Court legalised same-sex marriage in 2015, some people argued that plural unions should be next.
According to Gallup, a pollster, the proportion of Americans who consider polygamy to be morally acceptable rose from 5% in 2006 to 17% last year, among the most dramatic jumps in the subjects it tracks.
Campaigners in Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and other central Asian states are seeking to re-establish men’s right to take multiple wives.
In Kazakhstan, a bill failed in 2008 after a female MP included an amendment stipulating that polyandry (women taking multiple husbands) also be allowed. Advocates claim that polygamy promotes social harmony by giving lusty husbands a legitimate alternative to infidelity. The mayhem in places like South Sudan, Afghanistan and northern Nigeria suggests otherwise.
Note: Recent private feedback from an Australian social worker who works in a youth detention centre – said that in some African migrant groups, when the wife takes over the finances, the husband can’t handle that, they return to Africa, and they take take a new wife back home. Then the teenagers remaining in Australia have no father to keep them under control. This is never reported in the media.
Kathleen Cormier is trying to instil a sense of gratitude in her sons, aged 12 and 17. But sometimes she wonders if other parents have given up.
Some of her sons’ peers, she says, are lacking in the basics of gratitude, such as looking adults in the eye to thank them. The saddest part, she says, is that many parents don’t even expect their children to be grateful any more. They are accustomed to getting no acknowledgment for, say, devoting their weekend to driving them from activity to activity. There is “such a lack of respect”, she says.
Every generation seems to complain that children “these days” are so much more entitled and ungrateful than in years past. This time, they may be right. In today’s selfie culture, which often rewards bragging and arrogance over kindness and humility, many people are noticing a drop-off in everyday expressions of gratitude.
In a 2012 national online poll of 2000 adults, commissioned by the John Templeton Foundation, 59 per cent of those surveyed thought that most people today were “less likely to have an attitude of gratitude than 10 or 20 years ago”. The youngest group, 18 to 24-year-olds, were the least likely of any age group to report expressing gratitude regularly (35 per cent) and the likeliest to express gratitude for self-serving reasons (“it will encourage people to be kind or generous to me”).
“In some communities, specifically among the white middle and upper-middle class, there’s good reason to believe that kids are less grateful than in the past,” says psychologist Richard Weissbourd, faculty director of the Making Caring Common initiative at Harvard’s graduate school of education. He places much of the blame on the self-esteem movement.
As Weissbourd sees it, parents were fed a myth that if children feel better about themselves — if parents praise them, cater to their every need and make them feel happy — it will help them to develop character. “But what we’re seeing in many cases is the opposite,’’ he says. “When parents organise their lives around their kids, those kids expect everyone else to as well, and that leads to entitlement.’’ And when children are raised to feel entitled to everything, they are left feeling grateful for nothing.
A growing body of research points to the many psychological and social benefits of regularly counting your blessings. The good news for parents: it also suggests that it’s never too late for their children to learn the subtle joys of appreciating the good in their lives. Gratitude can be cultivated at any age, whether it finds expression as a mood, a social emotion or a personality trait.
Researchers find that people with a grateful disposition are more thankful for a wider variety of things in their lives, such as their friends, their health, nature, their jobs or a higher power — and that they experience feelings of gratitude more intensely. For them, gratitude isn’t a one-off “thank you”. It’s a mindset, a way of seeing the world.
“Gratitude is also a spiritual emotion, whether it’s implicitly or explicitly expressed,” says David Rosmarin, director of the spirituality and mental health program at McLean Hospital and an assistant professor at Harvard medical school. Almost every religion includes gratitude as part of its value system, he says, citing familiar practices such as prayers of thanks or blessings over food.
In a study led by Rosmarin, published in 2011 in The Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers surveyed more than 400 adults online, assessing their religious and general gratitude, religious commitment, and mental and physical wellbeing. The researchers found, in keeping with past studies, that general gratitude was associated with less anxiety, less depression and greater wellbeing. They also found gratitude towards God was associated with further reductions in anxiety and depression and increases in wellbeing.
It can be difficult to remember to be grateful, for adults and children alike. Kristen Welch, a mother of three children between the ages of 11 and 18, lives outside Houston and is the author of Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World. She admits she was once “constantly comparing myself and my home to what others had”. If she visited a neighbour who was remodelling her kitchen, she would want to redo hers too, although it didn’t need it. She noticed a similar attitude in her children. “Whenever I’d give them something, it was never enough. They always wanted more,” she says.
Most of the research on the benefits of gratitude has been focused on adults, but researchers are turning their attention to how gratitude can better the lives of children, too. They’re finding that the experience of high levels of gratitude in the adolescent years can set up a child to thrive. Gratitude initiates what researchers call an “upward spiral of positive emotions”. Adolescents who rate higher in gratitude tend to be happier and more engaged at school, as compared with their less grateful peers, and to give and receive more social support from family and friends. They also tend to experience fewer depressive symptoms and less anxiety, and are less likely to exhibit anti-social behaviour, such as aggression.
Counting your blessings may provide a built-in coping strategy, as research among adults suggests. Grateful people experience daily hassles and annoyances just like everyone else, but they tend to view setbacks through a different lens, reframing challenges in a positive light.
Weissbourd gives the example of one of his students, who comes from a low-income community in South America. “We were talking about gratitude, and he said that whenever he gets frustrated about waiting for the bus, he reminds himself that where he’s from most people have to walk,” he says.
For a study published last year in The Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers tracked the role of gratitude in the lives of more than 500 adolescents from an affluent area of Long Island in New York across the course of four years, as they moved from middle school to high school. At four different points, students filled out questionnaires, rating on a scale of 1 to 7 how strongly they agreed with statements such as “I have so much to be thankful for”; “If I had to list everything that I felt grateful for, it would be a very long list”; and “I am grateful to a wide variety of people”.
The researchers also measured anti-social and pro-social behaviours. They asked the students to rate how often (never, sometimes, often) they “stuck up for another kid who was in trouble”, for example, or made “a kid upset because you were mean to them”. The researchers also looked at the students’ satisfaction with different aspects of their lives (school, self, family friends), how much support they received from family and friends, and their levels of empathy and self-regulation.
The study found that a growth in gratitude across the four years not only predicted a growth in pro-social behaviour, it also predicted a decrease in negative social behaviour compared with students whose gratitude levels stayed level or decreased. Being grateful may “undercut the motives for acting antisocially among adolescents”, the researchers suggest.
Students who were more grateful also were better at managing their lives and identifying important goals for the future, says lead researcher Giacomo Bono, an assistant professor of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills. “When adolescents regularly express gratitude,” he adds, “it’s a good litmus test that they’re thriving.”
Grateful adolescents enjoy stronger relationships with their peers, in part perhaps because their positive disposition makes them more attractive and likeable. In a 2015 study published in the journal Emotion, researchers conducted an experiment with 70 undergraduate students. They found that acquaintances were likelier to want to stay in touch with a student who expressed gratitude toward them (in writing) than students who didn’t show appreciation. Grateful students were perceived by peers as having a warmer personality and being more friendly and thoughtful.
As parents, we do our best to teach our children to be grateful, by doing things such as nagging them to writing thank-you notes. But experts warn that our best efforts can backfire and become a barrier to genuinely experiencing gratitude. Children need to learn how to think gratefully, they say, not just to mindlessly go through the motions of giving thanks.
Cormier says she has worked hard to make gratitude a family habit since her children were little — and now it has become the norm. She encourages finding gratitude in the “everyday stuff”, she says, not just in response to birthday and Christmas presents. She also tries to teach gratitude by example. When her children help out around the house, such as noticing when the bin is full and taking it out, she thanks them. And now, she says, “my kids thank me every single time I put fresh sheets on their bed”, chaperone a field trip or make them dinner.
In a paper published in 2014 in the journal School Psychology Review, researchers describe an educational program they developed to train primary school students, aged eight to 11, in gratitude. More than 200 students participated. Half were assigned to a control condition, while the other half were assigned to the gratitude intervention, which some received for one week and others for more than five. The program’s lessons included, for example, reading The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein and asking students to write down one thing they would do to show the generous tree in the story that they were grateful for what it had done.
Researchers found that students who received the training, even for just one week, were not only better at thinking gratefully, they also reported experiencing more grateful emotions and greater increases in positive social behaviour (such as writing thank-you notes) and emotional wellbeing than students in the control group. When researchers followed up five months later with students who had stayed in the program longer, these positive effects had continued to grow. With intentional practice, experts say, gratitude can move from a fleeting state to a habit and eventually can become a personality trait.
The research points to several ways that parents can help children to think gratefully. Parents can spur their children to appreciate and reflect on the time and thought behind the gifts and kindness they receive, as in: “Jack really knows how much you love football. How thoughtful that he gave you a jersey of your favourite team” or “Wow, Grandma just took a five-hour train ride to come and see you perform in that play!”.
For some parents, a good starting point is simply to set a better example themselves. In the Templeton poll, less than half of respondents said they expressed thanks or gratitude daily to their spouse or partner.
It’s also important for children — and adults — to notice and acknowledge the larger circle of people who benefit their lives, such as the school secretary or janitor, says Weissbourd. “In a society that has become so splintered and self-focused,” he says, “gratitude is a common bond and offers one of the best ways for us to connect with one another.”
The insightful blogger who goes by the moniker Spotted Toad has created a series of charts explaining the 2016 Electoral College results as a result of average home price in each state.
The pattern is much the same as it has been in every election since 2000: In states where younger white people can better afford to buy a home, they are more likely to be married, have more children, and vote more Republican. In states where whites are less able to afford a home, they marry later, have fewer children, and vote more Democratic.
For example, the state with the most expensive homes on average is Hawaii, at a self-estimated mean during 2010–14 of $505,400 (according to Census Bureau data). Not coincidentally, Donald Trump did worse in Hawaii than in any other state, garnering only 30.0 percent of the vote.
In contrast, in the state with the cheapest housing—West Virginia, with its mean home value of just $100,200—Trump enjoyed his biggest majority: 68.5 percent.
These aren’t fluke outliers, either.
Trump won the 22 states with the cheapest homes, and 26 of the 27 least costly states. Conversely, Hillary Clinton carried 15 of the 16 states with the most expensive housing. (The most expensive red state was No. 9 Alaska and the least expensive blue state was No. 28 New Mexico.)
Here is Spotted Toad’s graph showing the fifty states, with Trump’s share of the vote on the vertical axis and home values on the horizontal axis. The correlation coefficient for the relationship between Trump’s share of the vote and home values in each state was –0.76, a very strong negative correlation.
The next most expensive homes after Hawaii are in California at a mean of $371,000, where Trump won only 31.6 percent.
California had voted Republican in nine of ten presidential elections from 1952 through 1988, but has now gone Democrat in the past seven elections, beginning with 1992.
“The country will increasingly tend to divide itself up into family-oriented red states with low housing costs and amenity-oriented blue states with high housing costs.”
This reversal is usually blamed by the media on Republican governor Pete Wilson coming from behind in his 1994 reelection bid by endorsing the popular immigration restrictionist Proposition 187. And this explanation that the California GOP was done in by the subsequent anti-187 anger of the Latino electoral tsunami is widely assumed to be true by GOP “strategists” too dumb to notice that 1994 followed, rather than preceded, the turning-point election of 1992 when George H.W. Bush lost California to Bill Clinton by a historic 13.4 percentage points.
In reality, the bigger problem dooming the California GOP was that it stopped routinely carrying white voters by comfortable margins. And this shift was likely related to the massive surge in California home prices. The state’s homes were no more expensive than the national average until 1975, but have since become increasingly expensive as California homeowners have figured out how to manipulate environmental regulations to slow the construction of new homes and roads.
Growing up in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, I had a front-row seat since the watershed year of 1969 to watch the celebrities of Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and Malibu learn how to exploit environmentalism to drive up their property values and keep out deplorables from the Valley, such as me. (Simultaneously, the Westsiders denounced Americans who didn’t want to let in more illegal aliens as vicious racist xenophobes raising the wages they’d have to pay their servants.)
Why have richer U.S. states become more Democratic and poorer states more Republican? I find that this phenomenon actually reflects cost of living, driven by residential building restrictions…. By making housing supply less responsive to price, land-use regulation increases house prices in locations that are highly desirable for either amenities or production.
For example, Malibu’s most famous amenity is 21 miles of beaches. But an even better amenity than a public beach is a de facto private beach, so Malibuites such as Rob Reiner have managed to keep its population below 13,000 by severely restricting housing development.
Malibu voters don’t even want you paying to vacation on their turf. By my count, Malibu has only 184 hotel or motel rooms. “Stay out of Malibu, Lebowski!” would make a truthful civic slogan.
Meanwhile, billionaire producer David Geffen waged a 24-year-long legal battle to ignore the state law mandating he provide public access to the beach in front of his house (which he recently sold for $85 million).
One reason that Malibu beach houses like Geffen’s are so expensive is that Southern California housing development can only grow eastward into the hot desert. While an inland Republican metropolis like Dallas can expand 360 degrees, a Democratic waterfront redoubt like Los Angeles can spread only 180 degrees. Blue-state metropolises like Boston and Chicago generally find their suburban expansion hemmed in by oceans or Great Lakes, so their supply of land is much more limited than inland red-state cities like Phoenix and Atlanta.
But, of course, the bigger reason that merely 0.1 percent of the population of Southern California can afford to live in Malibu is because the One-Tenth of One Percent likes it that way. While they may advocate open borders for their country, they understand the advantages of extreme exclusivity for their quiet beach community.
Professor Sorens continues:
High house prices are the most important component of general cost of living. High cost of living deters in-migration of lower-income households, especially those that do not highly value amenities. Holding median household income constant, higher-cost locations will tend over time to attract and keep households that highly value amenities. It is hypothesized that these households will be more Democratic. Accordingly, raising residential building requirements in high-amenity areas should cause those areas to move gradually to the left.
To put this another way, people who value being able to afford the space needed to raise their families more highly than they value amenities will be less willing to pay inflated housing costs. So they will tend to move out of places like California.
And those whose preferences are on the knife-edge between children or amenities will tend to go with whatever their locale makes more available.
For instance, those couples who stay in California will more likely need both man and woman to work full-time to afford the rent, which makes it harder to raise children. And if you are not having children, is it all that important to marry? And if you aren’t married, isn’t the GOP’s family-values rhetoric kind of offensive?
Republican candidates do much better with married voters than single voters. In most presidential elections, the marriage gap is bigger than the famed gender gap. A higher likelihood of being married in states with affordable housing appears to be the prime driver by which low home prices get translated into Republican votes.
This means that the country will increasingly tend to divide itself up into family-oriented red states with low housing costs and amenity-oriented blue states with high housing costs. Not surprisingly, the GOP, as the family-values party, does better in states more appealing to family-focused voters.
What about the country as a whole? If the Republican Party wants to thrive in the long run, it needs to adjust supply and demand to make housing more affordable in order to grow more of the kind of married-with-kids white people who vote Republican. How? The most obvious way is by making it easier to build housing and harder to immigrate.
Want to know the real difference between the elites and the working class? And no, it’s not the money, although the huge gap in income between the two groups has many serious flow-on effects, both financial and cultural.
The differences are far more complex than cash, as US academic and author Joan Williams details in a new book called White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America.
Here’s one. “I was just living in The Netherlands,” says Williams on the phone from San Francisco. “And I show up in a room of people like me and they say, ‘What do you do?’ It’s the first question, and I say, ‘I’m a law professor.’ Well, immediately I have social honour. I’m a person they want to know.
“I tell the story in my book of going to my husband’s high school reunion in a blue-collar neighbourhood and he asked one of the classmates, ‘What do you do?’ The guy was extremely insulted and told him, ‘I sell toilets!’
“If you sell toilets you don’t want to be judged on your job. You want to stick around a group of people who know you well, who know that you’re more than your job and you’re a person to be reckoned with. And so while elites tend to pride themselves on merit, non-elites tend to pride themselves on morality. Each group choses a metric. We all chose baskets we can sell, that’s just human, but it means that elites are really different from non-elites.”
For Williams, a distinguished professor at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law who has written extensively on gender, race and class over decades, these class differences deserve to be at the heart of any analysis of Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election.
“Class is not the only thing that was going on,” she says. “Gender dynamics were very important and if Hillary Clinton had been a man, she would have won. But class was very important.”
Indeed, it was Clinton’s failure to speak to the white working class that saw Williams hitting her keyboard on election night. As the “most boring conventional progressive in the world” she has always voted Democrat and worked to get out the vote for Clinton. Desperate to explain what went wrong, she published an essay in the Harvard Business Review that quickly became the journal’s most-read article online. It has been viewed by 3.5 million people. About 800 people posted comments, and pretty soon Williams had a book contract.
Her attack is “quite transgressive of the accepted wisdom in my crowd — that white working-class people are ignorant because they voted against their self-interest, that they are racist and sexist. I’m making a very different argument.
“What the white working class sees is the hollowing out of the middle class in the United States … They think neither Democrats nor Republicans have delivered for them, and their perception is absolutely correct.
“This talk they are voting against their own interests is a contemporary example of the stereotype, the idea they are dimwitted; it’s highly inappropriate.”
Americans have a “convenient deafness” about class and prefer to see everyone as middle class. Williams splits class three ways — the top 20 per cent are the elites, the middle 53 per cent with a median income of $US75,144 in 2015 are the working class, and the remaining are poor. She is unapologetic about focusing on whites rather than people of colour, arguing that their often different cultural attitudes and needs have been ignored for too long.
Lack of awareness around class is a fairly new phenomenon, according to Williams.
“In the 1940s, 50s and 60s we were not so clueless about class,” she says.
“At least liberal intellectuals were very clued in to class, and we had a language for talking about class, it was called ‘don’t be snobbish’. But starting in the 70s, the attention shifted away from class to race and gender and LGBTQ, and we tended to forget about class. And when elites forget to run things through their heads, you have assumptions …”
She cites the emergence since the 70s of television sitcoms, such as All in the Family, where the patriarch (in this case, Archie Bunker) is depicted as overweight and sexist. This demonising is “a consequence of forgetting”, which led ultimately to Trump’s victory.
The forgetting means many people in service jobs — janitors, receptionists, taxi drivers — are invisible to elites, despite the constant cross-class interactions of every day. It’s time, says Williams, for the PMEs — the professionals, managers and executives — to “talk to people without the assumption that because they have a modest white or blue-collar job, they’re dimwitted.”
In her book, a readable volume of just 180 pages (50 of which are indexes and references), she tackles issues from working-class resentment of the poor and professionals, and apparently contradictory support of the rich, to how elites gain self-worth from merit while the working class gains self-worth from morality.
Both groups value hard work but they see it differently: “To working-class members of all races, valuing hard work means having the rigid self-discipline to do a menial job you hate for 40 years, and rein yourself in so that you don’t ‘have an attitude’ (ie, so that you can submit to authority). Hard work for elites is associated with self-actualisation: ‘disruption’ means founding a successful start-up. Disruption in working-class jobs just gets you fired.”
Williams explains how food and religion and even the value placed on talk divide the classes. She identifies stark differences in parenting styles. Elites focus on “concerted cultivation” of children with intense schedules; non-elites are likelier to follow “the ideology of natural growth”. The first is a “rehearsal for a life of work devotion: the time pressure, the intense competition, the exhaustion with it all, and the ethic of putting work before family”.
For the white working class, parenting tends to focus on “clear boundaries” between children and parents, with prompt obedience expected, because this is crucial training for the working class.
Poor and working-class people tend to be more rooted in their communities than the elites — something elites forget when they urge people to move where the work is. PMEs tend to have national or global social networks and a “very broad range of acquaintances to help us out both professionally and personally”, says Williams. “The working class tend to have smaller networks, very local … They have to depend on family and close friends for a lot of things like good childcare or care for grandma. And so one of the things that elites don’t often understand is that they (the white working class) don’t want to move because not only do they have to find a job but they have to find a job that’s so much better than what they have now because they have to pay for childcare.”
Elites who dismiss working-class whites as racist or sexist are truly clueless.
“Racial bias (on the part of elite whites) even against very elite African-Americans is very strong” — she argues Sasha and Malia Obama will be disadvantaged by race despite being advantaged by class — “which is one of the reasons I find it so ironic that some (of those elites) say they couldn’t possibly listen to the white working class because they’re racist. My reaction is, compared to whom?”
Equally, white-collar professionals talk the talk on gender equality but often don’t walk the walk. Blue-collar men may not talk the talk and may have more traditional views on family, but they’re also likelier than professional men to participate in childcare, says Williams.
And because of different family dynamics, gender does not necessarily bind women — some of whom have very limited opportunities and different obligations for their families — across social class. Says Williams: “If working-class white women had just split 50-50 for Hillary Clinton, she would’ve won. High school educated women voted for Trump by a 28 per cent margin. The message for feminists here is that the ideal of equal parenting and both parents in the labour force often looks really different to the elites than it does to the working class and the poor.
“People who are non-elite often look back to the breadwinner-homemaker family with a great deal of nostalgia because of what’s replaced it.
“What’s replaced it, is that the men have often lost their blue-collar jobs and the family is trying to survive on the wife’s ‘pink-collar job’ (such as cleaning or supermarket jobs) and perhaps intermittent work by the husband or else a pink-collar and a blue-collar job or, god forbid, two pink-collar jobs, which means the family has quite a low income.
“They can’t pay for childcare so they’re typically tag-teaming, where mom works one shift and dad works another shift. The families are completely exhausted and the parents rarely see each other. Tag-team families have three to six times the divorce rate of other families.” What’s the solution? Elites should stop arguing that globalisation and automation mean that all jobs are going to be knowledge jobs.
“That is so untrue,” says Williams. “I mean, 75 per cent of the US economy consists of physical jobs and the only question is: are we as elite going to sit by and see the middle class disappear? That’s what we’ve done. We sat by and watched it disappear as we smugly talk about knowledge jobs and how globalisation and automation mean we can’t do anything about it. Excuse me.
We can do something about it. It’s called industrial policy.Germany has done it. We could be keeping high-quality, middle-skilled jobs if we actually cared, which we evidently don’t, and so I think that’s why in some ways we get what we deserve. “
What’s next for the Democrats? “It’s important to mobilise the base and make sure that young people vote next time,” says Williams. “I think it’s important to continue to reach out to communities of colour and Latinos, but we are not going to be able to govern effectively without the white working class.
“There’s a lot of happy talk about how the Democrats can wipe off the white working class and depend on people of colour and young people and college-educated voters. You may be able to squeak by the electoral college but, even if you do, you can’t govern. Because you won’t have the House (of Representatives).”
Impeaching Trump would be a mixed blessing: “If we got Trump out we would be less likely to have a war with North Korea, that’s a good thing, and then we would have a competent Republican administration, and then we would have a clean sweep. So I think they’re equally chilling options.”
She sees a bigger challenge for Americans. “When you leave the two-thirds of Americans without college degrees out of your vision of the good life, they notice. And when elites commit to equality for many different groups but arrogantly dismiss ‘the dark rigidity of fundamentalist rural America’ this is a recipe for extreme alienation among working-class whites … We need to begin the process of healing the rift between white elites and white workers so that class conflict no longer dominates and distorts our politics … These people feel forgotten for a very simple reason. We forgot them.”
Every time the government puts more money into the system it creates more demands – Senator Cory Bernardi
March 25, 2017
Not for the first time and I suspect not for the last time, on behalf of the Australians Conservatives I am going to take the path less travelled, if I may put it like that.
I may be the only person in this place who thinks that $8.5 billion per annum spent on child care in the last 12 months, rising to $12 billion by 2020, for the government to pay service providers to look after families’ children, is more than enough.
As I said, already the figure is scheduled to rise to in excess of $12 billion in the next three years. That is $12,000 million that is being given to parents effectively to pay other people to look after their children.
It is another significant cost to the budget. It is absolutely created and sustained by delivering more debt that those very children, who all of us in this place want to help and bequeath a good, positive, healthy country to, are going to be forced to repay.
Once again I come back to it. Our debt in this country is spiralling out of control and there does not seem to be any real determination to redress it. That is a moral obligation we owe to our children.
So throwing another couple of billion dollars into child care here and there is not going to solve the problem, but it will indeed create greater problems, which will be magnified by the effect of interest and growth over time. Every child who is purported to benefit from this package will actually end up paying a very hefty price for it from the multibillion-dollar largess that is starting today, and I can promise you the demands will increase in the future for it to continue.
Australian Conservatives know that there is a better way. There are three key areas in which I can believe that this can be more effectively addressed. Firstly, we have to break this nexus between a government subsidy and a rise in the price of child care.
It seems to be a catch 22 where every time the government puts more money into the system it creates more demands for the child-care operators and the prices go up and there does not seem to be that greater benefit for the Australian families under the current guise.
Secondly—and I congratulate the government for its endeavours in this regard—there needs to be a determined effort to stamp out the significant rorts that are in this space.
Thirdly—and this is very important to me and I have communicated it to the minister—we need to remove the mandated prejudicial policies that disadvantage so many families and effectively establish a pecking order of who is allowed into the child-care system first.
Let me deal with the subsidies and costs. From a person who seeks less involvement in government it is far better for us to stretch every government dollar by streamlining processes and deregulating the sector. Every time we add additional compliance, additional requirements, additional reporting or any other additional regulation the cost of administering and providing child care escalates, sometimes exponentially, and I will detail some of those figures in a moment.
We need to end the ‘money shuffle’, if you will, where we collect taxes from people, throw it through the bureaucracy where sometimes it returns 50 or 60 cents in the dollar—sometimes less, sometimes more—and then give it back to those we deem worthy of it to subsidise the care of their children. I think that is inefficient.
It would be far more efficient for the government to allow tax deductibility, up to a maximum threshold, for childcare services. It would enable families to take responsibility for administering those costs themselves. It would allow families to claim it on a weekly or monthly basis with the ATO, as they do with other tax concessions, or on an annual basis. It would make child care more affordable.
With no guaranteed government funding, people could distinguish for themselves the service they want and the hours they want. That would create a much more competitive environment.
You mentioned the link between subsidies and costs. I want to take you back briefly to some research by the Australian National University which demonstrates the runaway price rises attached to child care in recent years.
Starting with March 2000 as our baseline, there was effectively parity between the market price of childcare services and the subsidy; in medical parlance, there was ‘no gap’.
Soon afterwards, a couple of years later, there was a modest gap, which parents were expected to meet, but there was virtually no difference between the subsidy rate and the market rate. But then between July 2002 and July 2007 the gap expanded.
By July 2007 the subsidy rate was 175 per cent of the March 2000 price. Not surprisingly, because of the additional onerous burdens on the childcare sector and the increase in subsidies, the cost of child care had risen by about 225 per cent.
So there was about a 50 basis point difference between the subsidy rising and the cost of child care. So no matter what levels of money were thrown into it, families will pay more.
What happened then was that there were cuts in 2007 and 2008 but the regulations continued to load up on the childcare service providers and there became a huge gap between the subsidy rate and the market price. The market price has continued to track upwards.
It has been higher than inflation ever since 2002, when, dare I say it, the sector recognised that by putting their prices up they could prompt demands in this place for more subsidies to be thrown at them and those demands would inevitably be met—just as we are discussing today. You cannot blame the sector for doing that.
If they can get away with it, they will continue to do it. We have to consider not capping it or putting any other forces on them but putting market forces on them.
We need to allow parents to make determinations about where they send their children so that the market itself will put pressure on the costs and prices.
So the gap—or gulf as it was then—went from about 50 basis points to about 150 points. It tripled in real terms. And then the subsidy rate returned to the March 2000 rate but child care prices keep going up and up and up.
At last check, that gulf is still widening. The market rate is about 460 per cent of the March 2000 price. In 17 years it has gone up 4½ half times, well in excess of inflation, and it has been fuelled by the money that has been thrown at it from this place.
And it is because of compliance. Since 2008, compliance has become so burdensome that the gap between the subsidy and the cost has risen from 50 basis points then to 300 basis points now.
That has a deleterious effect for every family and it is not going to be fixed by us throwing more money into the system. We have to take pressure out of the system. If we can reduce compliance, if we can reduce bureaucracy, if we can reduce regulations and red tape, child care will be more affordable and parents will have more choices.
And that will be sustainable because it means we will not have to throw more than $12 billion a year into the system; every dollar will go a lot further.
The second area in which Australian Conservatives believes there can still be significant improvement is in the area of rorting.
Lest anyone think I be uncomplimentary, I do want to congratulate the government and the minister for making significant efforts in this regard but, dare I say it, they are not enough.
I think there needs to be more diligence and more application to stamp out the rorts that are ripping off the taxpayer. I want to give you a few examples.
In 2015, an investigation in Albury in New South Wales revealed a $4 million family day care fraud in August 2016, authorities swooped on an operation in Lakemba in Sydney.
One of the accused was actually someone with alleged links to Islamic State. That did not stop them from profiting from and ripping off the childcare system. They stood accused of collecting over $27 million since 2012.
A known Islamic State sympathiser has been involved in an operation that has gathered $27 million of taxpayer funds, rorted within the childcare sector since 2012, and there are suggestions that some of that money has found its way to funding Australia’s enemies abroad.
The information I have is that in New South Wales, where these rort occurred, there are 324 services in operation but only 19 of them have been audited. If the other 305 underwent an audit, imagine how much more of this rip-off money they might find. In 2016, at Point Cook in Victoria, authorities raided families in the Somali community who in 18 months had claimed almost $16 million in grandparent childcare benefits.
Remember, these were additional payments brought in to assist grandparents who were looking after their grandchildren. But the $16 million worth of care was never provided— just the money was delivered.
Then the coalition government, to their credit, made the child swapping rort illegal on 12 October—bravo! Child swapping was where a childcare worker put their child in the care of another childcare worker and vice versa.
Before that, an estimated 11,000 parents were receiving $8.2 million per week, swapping over 31,000 children. That is $8.2 million per week of people just saying, ‘You take my child and I’ll take yours, and we’ll both make money out of the operation.’ It is wrong, and congratulations to the government for stopping it.
In 2016 a Melbourne woman of Sudanese origin was accused of claiming $800,000 a fortnight in a western Melbourne system that allegedly took $15.8 million in false payments. That $800,000 a fortnight is not a bad gig if you can get it, unless you are the taxpayer having to fund it. That is what is going on in our current childcare system.
A woman running Aussie Giggles, a family day care centre, was found guilty in 2016 in the New South Wales District Court of 81 fraud and forgery offences designed to defraud childcare benefits to the tune of $3.6 million in special childcare subsidies for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. She claimed that as many as 14 of these children from disadvantaged backgrounds were in her care when they were not. And yet this was never picked up in an audit.
In 2016 the Queensland Labor government confirmed a trend in childcare rorting and noncompliance in ethnic communities.
Nationwide, almost all the family day care services hit with restrictions or closure were run by Somali, Sudanese or other African migrants. One Sudanese migrant received $1.6 million in 16 months to run a family day care network which authorities could not confirm involved people he claimed were employed by him.
There is a problem here. The minimal audits that have taken place and the maximum exposure of rorts—I have highlighted just some of them today—says we can do much, much better and stretch every one of those $12 billion much, much further.
The final aspect of where my concerns lie I raised during estimates. It is that there is a priority list for allocating places in childcare. Some may defend that. I may describe it as prejudice. It was news to the minister and to the department when in estimates I quoted to them words from their own guidelines:
A child care service may require a Priority 3 child to vacate a place to make room for a child with a higher priority.
In simple terms, if you are a white, middle-class person and your child is in child care, and if the government says there is someone more needy—I will get to what neediness is—your child can be removed with 14 days notice to be replaced by that child they think is more needy.
In some of these areas there is genuine need. The first priority for allocating places is ‘a child at risk of serious abuse or neglect’.
Instinctively, a child at serious risk of abuse or neglect needs much more than child care. They should not be put into child care for the day—the eight or 10 hours or whatever it is—and then returned to an environment where they are at serious risk of abuse or neglect. It needs to be dealt with at the very root cause of it. If they are not safe with their own parents they need to be taken out of that environment permanently.
The second priority is ‘a child of a single parent who satisfies, or of parents who both satisfy, the work/training/study test under Section 14 of the A New Tax System (Family Assistance) Act 1999’. To be honest, I do not get that. I do not understand why one parent working is more important or less important than another parent working or another parent choosing to study or undergo training.
The idea is to provide this resource to Australians so that they can further their careers, their education or whatever the circumstances may be. I just do not buy it that we should all be paying and prioritising one person over another because of the job they are doing.
The third priority, of course, is ‘any other child’.
Within these categories there is even more entrenched prejudice. There is a priority list within the first priority group, the second priority group and the third priority group. If you are a child in an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander family, you get priority. A white kid can be removed from a childcare operation with 14 days notice to be replaced by an Aboriginal kid. I think that is wrong.
A child in a family which includes a disabled person gets priority. I am not making light of the difficulties that disabled people and their carers undergo, but I cannot come to terms with the fact that because you have a disabled sibling or a disabled parent you should have priority and someone should be removed from an existing childcare place because they deem you to be more worthy. I am not underselling the difficulties of it, but who are we to say: ‘I’m sorry, bad luck. Out you go and in you come.’ It is wrong. Even the department eventually admitted it was wrong.
Then, of course, we discriminate on the basis of income.
Apparently, if you do not earn enough money or if you do not have a job you are actually a greater priority for child care than the person who is actually out there earning money, paying more taxes and maybe employing other people—I do not know.
They can lose their place because they are earning above a threshold or they actually have a job—God forbid! Isn’t child care meant to be for getting people back into the workforce?
Finally, this is the one that really strikes me as odd, considering all the rorts I outlined before: children in families from a non-English speaking background get priority. I am not sure where they rank in the list, actually.
I am not sure whether coming from a non-English speaking background trumps being a low-income earner, having a disabled or less abled sibling or parent or having an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander family. I do not know whether it is the colour of your skin or the language your parents speak. I cannot determine this.
What I know is that any critical or reasonable assessment of it says it is wrong to remove someone in an existing place because of the colour of their skin, the language their parents speak or the income their parents have in favour of someone that a government of any stripe or persuasion deems more worthy.
Earlier, Senator Gallagher asked about deals that are done and things, and I have my doubts. I think that is very clear about the wisdom of throwing more money into this sector until other aspects of it are absolutely cleaned up.
I made it very clear to the minister that I have an open mind with respect to this package, but there are some things I would like addressed.
I really believe that if you are going to make child care available to every family, you are going to subsidise it to the cost of $12 billon-plus per year and more on the horizon, then it has to be available equally to every single family.
There should not be a priority allocation. You should not be able to kick a child out because their parents happen to be the wrong colour, speak the wrong language or happen to be able-bodied and earn money.