Automatic language translation
Our website uses an automatic service to translate our content into different languages. These translations should be used as a guide only. See our Accessibility page for further information.
When you’re in active addiction, it’s really powerful. You put the drugs before everything else – relationships, work, even your own kids. It was like I was possessed. Gemma and I met in a bad place; we were both using ice and battled with it for years.
Today when I look at old photos on my phone from that time I can remember thinking I was being a good enough dad. That’s the mindset I was in. Now I can see the truth. DCJ had to take our children. It was the best thing they could have done.
I was horrible on ice. The drugs and lack of sleep made me paranoid so I would think Gemma was cheating on me, or taking my money. I would try to get back some of my control by taking Gemma’s away. I was supposed to be the man of the house, taking care of everyone, and I was failing. It made me frustrated and angry so I would hurt Gemma, choke her, pull her hair, sit on her, squeeze her really tight. It was the ice, but at the end of the day I was the one abusing my partner and I own that now.
I truly believed because I hadn’t punched her in the face I wasn’t really being that violent. I basically ticked every domestic violence box – financial, emotional, physical and psychological. Then after days of yelling and using and not sleeping, we’d get all dressed up and go out for dinner and be loving towards each other. It was messed up.
As heartbreaking as it is, we didn’t get ourselves together in time for Charlie. He was with his grandmother and settled. I hope one day he understands that we tried so hard but we weren’t able to be the parents he needed. It doesn’t change our love for him.
When Gemma was pregnant with Pheobe, I was in prison so had the chance to stop using drugs. When I came out I never touched drugs again, but I still had a lot of things to sort out. I reconnected with Gemma and we decided to give our relationship another go. This meant Pheobe went back into care, because the department needed me to show I had really changed. I won’t ever forget that day. We went straight to our church and we cried and cried. They held us and stopped us falling into despair. Gemma and I caught each other too and we never gave up hope of getting Pheobe home.
At first I was really aggressive with the DCJ caseworker who took Pheobe, but looking back now I get it. As a caseworker you can’t muck around; these are children’s lives at stake.
At first I was really aggressive with the DCJ caseworker who took Pheobe, but looking back now I get it. As a caseworker you can’t muck around; these are children’s lives at stake. Every moment kids are left in dangerous situations there is damage you will need to deal with later. It’s not like, oh, you can get your kids back next week, just take that time to sort a few things out. Now I see that DCJ needed to take both our children to keep them safe and give us time to make big changes.
With our new caseworker, Olivia, it was different from the start.I was definitely in a better place, but there was also something about Olivia’s kind and gentle way that made me feel less judged. Olivia was the one who wanted me to go to the men’s behaviour change program. It was run by Baptist Care and when I first went there and saw all these blokes sitting around I thought, ‘Look at all these losers’. And then I realised I was just as bad as all of them. This had a big impact on me. When I heard about how they’d abused their wives and partners, all I could do was sit there and think, ‘That’s me’. Twenty minutes in that room made me realise I don’t want to be like that. I did the program for five months. I’ve apologised to Gemma a lot since then. I have a lot to be sorry for.
The judge said that we had to work with the department and they might reassess us to have Pheobe come home, but nothing was guaranteed. It was scary and a very long, hard road we walked – not knowing if we would ever get our daughter back was the worst.
One of the things I needed to work on was feeling worthy enough to have Pheobe back. I had been to rehab, stopped being abusive and was working on my relationship with Gemma but I didn’t have belief in myself. You need to feel worthy of being a parent and not just a useless junkie for the changes to stick. Making new friends at our church helped a lot. I felt accepted by people who knew my past, but saw the man I was trying to be. We did so much work for more than a year and then my past caught up with me.
After I got out of prison the first time I took a job with an old family friend. I thought I was doing the right thing because the pay was good and I wasn’t using drugs. I quickly learned the company was fraudulent but stayed on even though I knew it was wrong. This decision meant I had to go back to prison just as we were going back to court for restoration of Pheobe. The timing was shocking. Thankfully, the department still backed me even though I had charges pending. I’m real thankful for that because that’s all behind me now. When I got out Pheobe and I reconnected straight away – she is the best kid.
I exercise to manage any stress. I believe in myself. I’m too worthy to ever go back to that life. I’m better than that and my family deserves better too. This is a very powerful place to be. I still feel shame when I remember what I was like, but I can’t let it take me into a black hole. I’m making amends every day.
I have an older son from a previous relationship. He is 13 and I’ve missed about 10 years of his life. I told him straight up I had been a terrible father and his mum did the right thing getting away from me. I want him to know the truth and I want him to see that I’ve changed and I’m here for him if he wants. I’m so grateful he accepts me and doesn’t hold any animosity. We talk all the time now and I’m soon going up to visit him in Queensland.
I’m so proud of Gemma; she is an amazing mum. Pheobe is so smart. She loves reading and Gemma does all these activities with her. All through COVID Gemma kept teaching Pheobe everything from home. I’m proud of my family and I’m proud of what I’ve done. One of the things I learned in rehab was about the generational curse. Growing up I saw my dad not deal with his issues and use alcohol to cope and I learned from him. I want this way of parenting to stop with me. To break the curse. I want Pheobe to grow up knowing what loving relationships look like.
Sometimes when I’ve worked late and drive home through my old neighbourhood I see all these ghosts from the past hanging around. Nothing has changed for them. They look skinnier and sicker, just wasting away. I think about how this could have been my future. I feel blessed every day that it isn’t – I’ve got everything to live for now.
One of the things I learned in rehab was about the generational curse. To break the curse. I want Pheobe to grow up knowing what loving relationships look like.
30 Mar 2023
We acknowledge Aboriginal people as the First Nations Peoples of NSW and pay our respects to Elders past, present, and future.
Informed by lessons of the past, Department of Communities and Justice is improving how we work with Aboriginal people and communities. We listen and learn from the knowledge, strength and resilience of Stolen Generations Survivors, Aboriginal Elders and Aboriginal communities.
You can access our apology to the Stolen Generations.