Adam had his 25th birthday in 2006. It was the year he resumed his apprenticeship with The Master Plumbers. He still complained that the pay was terrible when compared with the good money he earnt at the market garden. His work took him to Mt Hotham where he prepared units for the ski season.
Adam lived in shared rental accommodation in Langwarrin. He was pleased there was a large, unruly dog in residence, which he took for walks. On one occasion he brought the dog home and tied it to the clothesline, assuring us it did not bark. Well, he sure got that wrong.
Adam appreciated being offered transport to family get-togethers and his parents were happy to oblige. During weekdays, his work and study involved a lot of driving in often heavy peak hour traffic.
Adam enjoyed his sport. He played cricket and football with Tyabb. Adam’s rugby background was evident in the way he approached Australian Rules football or ‘aussie rules,’ as it is known locally. His focus on defence, and his aggressive tackling were features of his play.
In April 2006, Adam’s older brother Nathan married Maha at the Basilica of Our Lady of Victories in Camberwell. Adam looked handsome in his suit. He would need it again later in the year when his younger brother Nicholas married Tessa at Stillwater Winery in Dromana.
Adam wanted a girlfriend. On occasions, he would write about how he viewed life: his frustrations, his disappointments, his negativity, but also his desire to be happy, to focus on the positives and to make the best of life. Adam says,
“What is good for me? Friendships, girlfriend, happy work, health, lifestyle, self-worth, reality.”
Adam had a renewed interest in the church and personal belief and attended an independent fellowship in Frankston. He was baptised in the sea at the Frankston foreshore on the 2nd of December 2007.
‘Work’ and ‘Witness’ were his life. All other interests – personal fitness, sport, music – could not compete. When he was not working, he was witnessing. He developed a passion for sharing his faith, handing out bible tracts, engaging people in conversation, and preaching in public places. One of his favoured locations was outside the Southern Cross Railway Station in Melbourne. He became known as ‘Preacher Boy,’ particularly on social media.
Adam sat his ‘journeyman exam’ in 2008 and in April 2010 he was awarded his Certificate III in Plumbing. Adam worked for a company called Trio Plumbing, primarily as a roofing plumber. Some of their projects included the Frankston Hospital and Woodlands Golf Club.
In 2010 Adam purchased a Toyota Hilux for work purposes. We were somehow relieved. It represented a commitment, an investment in the future.
We had regular contact with Adam but did not see him as much as we would have liked. We assumed he was busy. We hoped he was happy and content with his varied activities. But we had our concerns, fearing his life lacked balance and accountability.
There were occasions that added to our uneasiness, suggesting all was not well.
I was speaking to Adam outside our back door. Adam owned several large ceramic pots which he left behind when he moved away from home. I placed them outside, filling them with annuals, pansies, petunias, and dianthus. Without warning, Adam propelled his skateboard into one of the pots, cracking it. He repeated this action several times. Without my intervention, he would have shattered all the pots. When questioned, Adam chose not to respond, offering no explanation for his bizarre behaviour.
I have often thought about this incident. I found it disturbing, the wilful destruction of something of beauty and value. Was it a symbolic act? If so, what was Adam trying to say? There was obvious intent. This was no random occurrence. This was calculated, designed to shock. It was impulsive and irrational, and it was final. I gathered up the pieces and put them in the bin.
Adam’s behaviour also pointed to a reservoir of suppressed emotions, anger, resentment, and frustration, that awaited an occasion to reveal themselves. And there was no guarantee that it would be appropriate.
The incident suggested to me that Adam was lacking in emotional intelligence. I cannot explain why this was so. As a parent, I am mindful of the way we shape our children, and I accept, it is not always for the best.
Emotional intelligence is commonly defined by four attributes – self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, and relationship management.
Adam had difficulties in each of these areas:
(1) Self-management –
Adam was not always in control of his impulsive feelings and behaviours. He had not developed the necessary skills to identify and manage his emotions in healthy ways. His anger and frustration could boil over, and the consequences were outside his control.
(2) Self-awareness –
Adam was not able to ‘join the dots,’ to understand how particular emotions affect your thoughts and behaviours. If he had been able to identify his emotions more accurately, it would have allowed him to cope better with distressing feelings that affected his moods.
(3) Social-awareness –
Adam lacked empathy. He did not always understand the emotions, needs, and concerns of other people.
This was most graphically illustrated in his much longed for relationship with a young woman at his church. Adam believed God had spoken to him and confirmed that he would marry this person. This insight obviously influenced the way he communicated with her. She felt uncomfortable with his manner and was not interested in a relationship. Sadly, Adam lacked the discernment to see that his attentions were not welcomed.
A meeting was arranged at which the father and the pastor of the church were present. Adam thought he would be able to speak of his desire to marry this young woman. Instead, he was criticised for his insensitivity and warned to back off. He was also told that he was no longer welcome at church.
It was a devastating experience for Adam. He did not see it coming. He was a broken man. The losses were incalculable. The rejection wounded him deeply. His dreams lay in ruins. And yet the hurt was partly his own doing. It was his inability to pick up on emotional cues that caused him to make the situation far worse than it needed to be.
(4) Relationship management –
Adam struggled to form relationships. He found it difficult to relax, to talk about inconsequential things. When his friends disappointed him, annoyed him, frustrated him, or led him astray, he was not able to walk away, to cut his ties. He avoided conflict, choosing to withdraw. He lacked the skills to deal with situations he was not happy with. He was unable to advocate for what was in his best interest.
Adam’s church family was the exception. Initially, he found acceptance there. It was a fellowship of like-minded people, where meaningful friendships could grow.
Adam’s religious fervour won him admirers. He was praised for his courage in publicly sharing his faith. He was honoured for his sacrificial giving to Christian missions. His commitment to God, his practice of the spiritual disciplines (prayer and fasting), his loyalty and willingness to serve, set him apart.
We were not so enamoured. As parents we struggled with his intensity, with his growing judgmental attitude. He was not an easy person to talk to. It seemed his only concern was getting the message out. He had little time for our thoughts and insights. He was happy to dismiss a lifetime of experience. A conversation with Adam was hard work, leaving you feeling drained.
A mental crisis awaited. We were not aware of the seriousness of the situation until Adam’s 30th birthday. He wanted a low-key celebration, so we had made plans to play golf. But Adam did not turn up. We visited him that night at his flat. He seemed distracted and his responses defensive. We were conversing but not connecting. At one point I asked him if he had ever thought about suicide. Adam denied any such thoughts.
Adam went missing. We had no idea where he was and were unable to reach him on his mobile as it was switched off. Several days passed before we were told he was in the Acute Mental Health Unit at the Frankston Hospital. When I went to visit him, he looked gaunt and the medication he was prescribed was making him anxious.
Adam explained how events had unfolded. He said he went to the Frankston Police Station when he became fearful of what he might do. Adam did not elaborate on this point, but I sensed he saw himself as a danger, either to himself or others. It sounded like a psychotic episode. The police directed him to the emergency department at the Frankston Hospital where he underwent an assessment and was admitted.
Adam was compliant but he had no faith in the mental health professionals to resolve his issues. He believed the difficulties he faced were spiritual. He had failed God and was, in a sense, experiencing what it was to be denied His grace and mercy.
Following his discharge, Adam returned to his flat. I have no idea when Adam made the final decision to end his life, but the following weeks seemed, from this vantage point, to be spent in tidying up his affairs and saying his goodbyes. Adam cancelled his car insurance and stopped all payments to Christian missions.
Having spent time with us over Easter at our town house in Bendigo, Adam left. He travelled over 1000km. On Easter Tuesday he was sitting behind the steering wheel of his Toyota Hilux in a lonely railway carpark contemplating the end of his journey.