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Fighting to be a father

Paul Sutton said support group Dads Care 4 Kids has been a huge help in helping him see and raise kids Jacob and Maddison.

Local dad Paul Sutton is pushing to establish a Tumut arm of Riverina group Dads Care 4 Kids, which offers support to separated or single dads doing their best to raise their kids.

The group holds monthly meetings where dads can discuss their issues in a safe and trusting environment. They provide legal advice, and host guest speakers with expertise in childcare, depression and anxiety, domestic violence, and financial recovery.

“They generally offer a compassionate ear to listen if you feel you want to talk to someone,” Paul said.

The group hosts regular barbecues and events in which dads can get together and make friends as well as find the support they need, and they also liaise with women’s groups and the police.

The group is looking to expand into more regional areas, and Paul is enthusiastic about getting one started in Tumut.

“Quite often it’s a male stereotype that a father is purely the breadwinner – his role is to provide financially for the family – while the mother’s role is to provide the care and emotional support to the children, which is not always the whole story,” he said.

“We see so many support networks and groups catered to help separated women, but support for men is nearly non-existent and can leave separated fathers feeling hopeless and desperate.

“Separation between parents can be a very stressful and emotionally draining time, with grief and heartache being a large contributing factor in some poor choices being made on both sides – this is where support groups can literally be a lifesaver.”

Dads Care 4 Kids also helps fathers navigate the legal system – particularly in regards to AVOs and what their options are when the two parties have conflicting accounts of events.

Challenging an AVO, or taking a matter through the family courts, can require tens of thousands of dollars and will typically drag on for over a year, which isn’t a viable option for many people.

This leaves many parents, with little choice and few places to turn to for support, in a situation where they can’t see their kids – something Paul describes as “devastating.”

Paul’s relationship of eight years ended when his father died, and he turned to drugs to cope with the pain – something he freely admits was “a stupid mistake.”

Since then he’s been clean for ten months, gotten involved in the Tumut Community Church, sought support through the Dads Care 4 Kids group, and has been working and regularly attending counselling.

However, AVOs put against him by his ex-partner, which he disputes, have led to a situation where he has no control over when he can see his children, after spending six weeks in jail for breaches.

Paul believes preventing parents from seeing their children is a common form of exercising power in disagreements between couples or separated couples.

“In some cases a parent knowingly or without realising will use the children as a weapon of revenge against the other parent, and this is psychologically damaging to any children not just infants,” he explained.

“There needs to be more exposure and investigation of this type of behaviour as it is seen by many as a very damaging form of domestic violence and child abuse.

“This is also where support groups can play a vital role for separated families, in being able to provide the help and support to both parties which is needed to make responsible considerate choices that are in the best interest of the children.”

He said the Dads Care 4 Kids support group has been a huge relief for him during the challenges of separation and fatherhood.

Even if one doesn’t start up in Tumut, he is offering to carpool any interested fathers to Wagga for the meetings, or discuss any issues with local dads.

Paul can be contacted at 0420888413, and Wagga Dads Care 4 Kids founder Peter Makeham can be reached at 0408241673.