Healing the Masculine Soul
Following is a transcript of Warwick's speech.
We welcome you here today to the inaugural ‘Men & Father’s Health Summit’, Parliament House Canberra, the nation’s capital. This is an important milestone for men in Australia and your presence here is making history.
men are living longer but dying faster and our children are feeling the pain
Firstly I would like to thank Senator Cory Bernardi, chair of the recent Senate Select Enquiry into men’s health which had bipartisan support in its recommendations to advance the cause of men’s health in Australia.
The Senate Select Committee’s inquiry allowed the men and father’s movement to speak with unfettered voice. The high number of submissions and the high quality of the submissions showed that the issue of men’s health and the issues surrounding the social determinants of men’s health are front and centre in the men and father’s movement of Australia.
I would also like to thank the many health professionals, doctors, nurses, academics and public policy advisors who have taken an interest in the development of a men’s health policy, who are not necessarily part of the men and father’s movement, but who have been incredibly supportive of better health for men. We would not be here today without your support, and for that we are grateful.
The reality is that we don’t know who first started the push for a National Men’s Health policy, but I am guessing it was some far-sighted individual back in the 80s whose name we may never know.
The Australian women’s movement has a long history in the area of health development for women. Edith Cowan, who lived from 1861 to 1932, was Australia’s first woman member of parliament and a person of deep faith. She was also an early advocate for better health outcomes for women. Edith Cowan’s dream for a National Women’s Health Policy finally came to fruition in 1988.
Today men are still waiting for the same outcomes, but hopefully will not have to wait too much longer as the Minister for Health, Nicola Roxon, will be announcing the men’s health policy later this year.
This is the reason we are here today. We are here to celebrate International Men’s Health Week, the 15th to the 21st June and we are also meeting together to discuss our hopes and recommendations for a National Men’s Health Policy and putting them to the parliament.
This document ‘Healthy Men, Healthy Families, Healthy Nation’ contains your recommendations and hopes, but more importantly ways to action that policy and deliver the results that men in Australia need to improve their health. We are all here today to speak on behalf of Australian men and fathers with one voice, with one heart and with one mind.
What is our message?
What is the current situation for men’s health in Australia today?
We need healing for the masculine soul.
Men die 5 years earlier than women.
Indigenous men die 20 years earlier than non-indigenous men.
Men commit suicide at 4 times the rate of women.
Indigenous men’s suicide rate is 70% higher than non-indigenous men.
At almost every level of health statistics men’s health is far worse than women’s.
Indigenous men die from diabetes at 500% the rate of non-indigenous men.
Indigenous men’s health is the poorest adult health in Australia.
It is wonderful to have two Indigenous leaders with us at the Men’s Health Summit today:
Rick Welsh from Western Sydney University and
Ps Peter Walker from Australian Indigenous Christian Ministries
- because together, we can make a difference.
What are my reasons for being here?
When my wife and I started the Dads4kids Fatherhood Foundation in 2002, I must confess I did not know a great deal about men’s health. My mum was a highly qualified nurse and used to tell me to eat my vegetables, and she was big on preventative health. She was a nutritionist par excellence and the quote, “You are what you eat” was often heard in our home.
But it was only after reading Dr John Tickell’s book, ‘Laughter, Sex, Vegetables and Fish – the Ten Secrets of Long Living People’ that I realised that my mum was right. That book changed my life in regards to health and Dr John’s presentation ‘The Stress of Success’ has featured in every fatherhood course I have conducted since.
A dead father is no good to anyone, least of all his children. As I observed last week in my Dads4Kids newsletter, ‘men are living longer but dying faster and our children are feeling the pain.’
Studies have shown that healthy fathers produce healthy children in more ways than one. Children look up to their fathers as role models. When fathers practice good health habits there is a 70% likelihood that their children will too. It’s all summed up in that well known phrase, ‘Like father – like son’.
On 10th February 2003 the Dads4Kids Fatherhood Foundation held the first Fatherhood Forum at Parliament House, Canberra. We had a good representation from the Mens’ Health and Wellbeing movement. We are thankful to people such as Brendon Sullivan, Don Bowak and Paul Whyte who helped set us on the right track to include the issues surrounding men’s health and wellbeing as part of our policy deliberations for fathers. The ensuing 12pt Plan released by Mark Latham, former leader of the opposition, tells the story well.
Don Bowak, who died of cancer last year, and is something of an elder statesman in the Australian men’s movement, said something very profound at that first forum. Don said, “This fatherhood forum is all about us as men. We must become the change we seek”. His words deeply challenged me and that is why I will not subscribe to the politics of hate championed in this parliament and by a compliant press gallery whose only interest is to sell newspapers.
Every time we have come to parliament, we have always worked with both sides of the house, no matter who is in government.
Yet I have been attacked by both sides of parliament for doing just that. However I am immoveable. We must accord dignity to those who work in this place, no matter which political party they represent, even if we are not accorded the same kindness. As Martin Luther King Jnr said in his struggle for a fair go for his African American brothers: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’
When the Dads4Kids Fatherhood Foundation released The 12pt Plan in 2003, a plan that helped lay a foundation for the forthcoming men’s health policy, Mark Latham said, “We don’t want a men’s movement that blames women, we want a men’s movement that works with men and women to develop better identity, better relationships, a stronger fathering role in our society and to develop win-win outcomes, where as a society across both genders, we can make advances and make successful changes.”
We must avoid the politics of hate. We need healing for the masculine soul. We all have egos, but we must not let our ego take over our support for each other.
You might remember that I was briefly appointed as a men’s health ambassador last November and then dismissed because of a vicious media smear campaign. Advocating for men in a feminist political world is always a dangerous occupation.
I received a call from the Health Minister’s office asking me to be a Men’s Health Ambassador and to come to Canberra the following Tuesday for the policy announcement. My heart swelled with pride. I would be famous at last. I asked innocently, “Have you got Professor John Macdonald on the list?” I was shocked to find out that they didn’t want him. I told them that if they didn’t want John, then there was no way I was going to be an ambassador unless Professor Macdonald was one too. Benjamin Franklin once said, “If we don’t hang together we shall all hang separately.” Franklin’s words came true quite unexpectedly as I experienced the full frontal assault of the politics of hate. I was not only hung but hung, drawn and quartered. A media execution par excellence. It was so ironic that I had been advocating for the possibility of better health outcomes for homosexual men with the said shadow health minister before the last election. In the world of politics the truth is often conveniently forgotten. Unfortunately lies and treachery are the commonalities of so much of our politics.
Sadly this happens on both sides of politics. The upper echelons of the Liberal Party were quite happy to scuttle one of the Fatherhood Forums held in this place. I speak of the day Professor John Macdonald put the idea forward for a National Men’s Health Policy on Wednesday 20th June 2007 at the Men and Fathers Family Friendly Policy Forum. I stood my ground that day and told them what I thought of their treachery. The Forum went ahead in spite of it all. The temptation in this place is to always descend to such a level and embrace the politics of hate but I believe too much in the words of Dr Martin Luther King, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
Don Bowak asked me quizzically after that first Fatherhood Forum in 2003, “What are we doing here Warwick?”
My answer is the same today as it was then, “Trying to find what love is.”
Unless we become the change we seek as Don Bowak, President for the NSW Men’s Health and Wellbeing Association, said that day in 2003 we will never understand the meaning of health and wellbeing.
Love is still the strongest force in the Universe. It is the primary source of our wellbeing. Let’s model it today in spite of our differing opinions.
Our delegates creed, found on page 2 of your booklet says:
1. Blame not, judge not, and make no assumptions.
2. Listen intently and carefully. Look from the listener’s perspective.
3. Identify the kernel of truth in every argument, especially those you totally oppose.
4. Treat everyone with honour, respect, dignity and sensitivity.
5. Always relate to the big picture of progressing men & fathers’ health in Australia.
6. Let the past be a reference, not a pivot for the future.
7. Look for common principles.
8. Put differences in context.
9. Deal with issues, not personalities.
10. Pursue unity with diversity.
The challenge we now face is to put such a creed into practice.
More information at Fatherhood Foundation Australia