‘I’d failed my boy’: a father’s anguish, and his message to other grieving dads

This emotion-charged image is one that’s burned in Greg Hughes’ mind. “It was 4:45 in the morning when this photo was taken,” the West Australian father says. “I’d cried more tears in that room than I had in my previous 29 years to that point.” He was watching his four-week-old son die from whooping cough.

Riley Hughes’ tragic death earlier this year prompted an outpouring of grief from every corner of the nation – but the newborn’s father has only now been able to speak of his gut-wrenching anguish. He’s bravely offered words of comfort and support to other dads struggling after loosing a child. 

Tiny Riley John Hughes’ was too young to be vaccinated, succumbing to complications from whooping cough in March, in the arms of his devastated parents. His story has now prompted a movement calling for women to receive a booster shot in their third trimester of pregnancy. But as the months have ticked by, Riley’s father has struggled to deal with his immense loss. This week, Greg decided to share his feelings in a Facebook post, to help other grieving dads.


Greg talks of feeling as though he’d failed his family by not being able to protect Riley.

“For me I always viewed myself as the protector of the family, the provider and the one who would always put himself at the forefront of any negativity, danger or ill will that would fly in the face of my family. In this very moment I remember the one thing that crossed my mind was that I was an abject failure. I’d failed my boy, I’d failed his mum and I’d failed his sister.”

As many men tend to do, Greg pushed his feelings aside, in a bid to return his family to a sense of normality.

“In the coming weeks after he’d gone, I took it upon myself to try and act as though everything would be normal,” he explains. “I went back to work fairly quickly, I chose not to speak about it unless prompted and I decided that the best thing for my health and for my family unit would be to simply wind back the clock to when we were a family of three.”

It resulted in Greg crumbling under the enormity of his loss.

“Roughly four weeks after I’d taken this stance I suffered what could only be described as a mini-meltdown and physically couldn’t drag myself out of bed. I cried for almost four hours straight and I had this soul crushing desire to not go on anymore. I honestly wasn’t sure which way was up or when I’d ever feel right again. I knew I wasn’t being true to my family, so I went and saw a Doctor, I sought counselling and was prescribed anti-depressants for a period of time.”

Greg acknowledges that men tend to push their feelings aside, but has warned other dads dealing with loss to open up: “You’re not weak if you choose to get help. It’s not weak to cry about your loss and you’re not a failure because you were one of the horribly unlucky parents who lost a child.”

LIVING WITHOUT MY SON – A DAD'S PERSPECTIVE:It was 4:45 in the morning when this photo was taken. I was shrouded in a…

Posted by Light for Riley on Friday, 27 November 2015

As the courageous father reveals, “It wasn’t until I opened up about everything that I could truly even begin to heal and appropriately honour my little man for everything he was truly worth.”

baby riley1

Babyology has previously featured Sands Australia, a volunteer organisation in Western Australia offering peer support to grieving dads who have lost babies.

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