Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Privacy or Justice? A small victory for sense.

Fathers' rights in America may be reeling over the Darren Mack incident (and the lunatic fringe of the opposition having a fine old time crowing like the thugs that they are), but in the UK, The Times reports on a major victory, abeit under an inappropriately emotive headline.  Fathers (and I would assume mothers) will now have the right to talk openly about family court cases.  But we should reassure the Times editors that this is not the end of "children's right to anonymity" because, according to their own article, "publicity will not be allowed in any case where it could in any way harm or cause distress to a child."

Judges say it would help to “rebut the slur inherent in the charge that the family courts administer ‘secret justice’”.  Someone should explain the Brits' own language to these judges - if you can't talk about it, it's secret, so it's no "slur" that the courts administer, or rather, administered "secret justice", it's a simple fact.  Sheesh.

Interestingly, digging a little deeper, the decision derives from a case in which the father did jail time for internationally abducting his daughter.  The court was appropriately careful not to condone this action, and those who suspect that they are should think carefully about preventing anyone from explaining themselves, no matter how much they might disagree.  As the judge put it: "If the father thinks that an exculpatory account to the world of his discreditable behaviour will serve any purpose, he must be free to write it."  Like the judge, I doubt that he can excuse it, but I wouldn't deny him his right to try.

The family feud has a happy ending, by the way, with the parents sharing care having drawn up a "bill of rights" for their daughter.  What an excellent idea, and I salute the mother for having such sense and not reacting to the abduction at her daughter's expense.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Tong and Mack

In the immediate aftermath of Darren Mack's alleged rampage, a number of shrill blogs howled that this dealt a mortal blow to Dean Tong. Dean Tong is a survivor of false accusations of abuse and now crusades to help others in the same situation. He runs the "Abuse Excuse" web site and he was consulted on Darren Mack's case.  Various people out there in the blogosphere who seem to have a personal if not vested interest in maintaining the power of false accusation in family courts have been howling that Dean Tong will go down now for his involvement with Mack.  (I won't link to these harpies, I don't want to give them the exposure.)  Anyone with any ability at all to reason critically will realize that this is far from the case and that no professional can be held accountable for the actions of his client, if that were so any number of lawyers, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, etc., would be doing jail time for crimes they did not commit and, much as we might like to see the machine changed, that would be a greater injustice still.

Tong has this to say: 'my opinion is that this "family man turned hit man" was cracking under the strain of trying to hold onto his business, his assets and his daughter while navigating a misguided Family Court system that only poured gasoline on an already incendiary situation.' and decries the potential damage Mack has done to deserving non-custodial parents everywhere.

The real miracle is that so many men stay sane while they are inexorably stripped of their careers, their possessions and their children. 

Technorati Tags: , ,

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Are we not men?

Two articles catch my eye today, both of them at

First in North Carolina, an appeals court finds that Pernell Ingram should lose his parental rights because he did not establish himself as a caregiver to a child he believed to have been miscarried. Although he was no longer seeing the mother, when she became pregnant he helped where he could and prepared for life as a father. She then told him she'd lost the child and when she did actually give birth, gave the child up for adoption. He tried to verify the miscarriage but only found out the truth of the matter when the adoption agency sought to terminate his parental rights. He took it to court and the district court sided with him. Now, after two years of God knows what prevarication and obstruction, the state appeals court says "no" on the basis that he did not gain parental rights by i) marrying the mother he was no longer seeing, ii) providing financial support or consistent care to mother and child, or iii) immediately filing a petition in the relevant places. Talk about your Catch-22.

Judges John Martin and Eric Levinson (note, both men) said that the father had not assumed the burdens of parenthood. Judge Barbara Jackson (a woman!) dissented, saying he couldn't have given the mother's lies. What I've got to wonder is why does he have to "gain" rights of parenthood in the first place and who fought against him for two years?

In Canada, National Post columnist Barbara Kay (another Barbara) comes out in defense of men and fathers in her editorial, and plans to continue next week. It's worth a read, but I pull out a couple of quotes she includes:

Former justice minister Martin Cauchon: "Men have no rights, only responsibilities"

Feminist psychologist Peter Jaffe, a social-context educator of family court judges: "[J]oint custody is an attempt of males to continue dominance over females"
She also cites from a transcript of a child assessment interview:

Question: "What's the best thing and the worst thing about your father no longer living [at home]?" (She points out this is a very leading question)

Answer: Worst thing: "I don't have a father." Best thing: "Nothing."

Good for that kid.

I wanted to point out that these two articles have something in common, besides illustrating egregious examples of patriphobia. It is that in both cases, the father's worst enemy is his own gender and the support is coming from women. Why does this happen? It doesn't follow the pattern we'd expect. Is it because, as I alluded yesterday, it is in men's competitive interest to bring each other down and it's always more efficient to kick a man when he's already down? And the women, why are they so much more capable of defending us than we are?  Are we not men? Is it not manly to defend your right to be a father to your children?

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Feminism is not a conspiracy, or how to avoid becoming one of them.

Captain Zarmband commented on yesterday's post and I started to write an answer, then couldn't stop...

It is possible to argue that the laws we have now grew out of those that were originally drafted to suit men back in days when societal roles were more tightly defined for both genders. Men were supposed to go out to work and fight, women to stay home and raise kids. Divorce was rare and scandalous and in Victorian times, a wronged husband & father could easily have taken the kids, if his circumstances allowed for it. Back then, women had no political clout at all, except through their men, to the point that a divorced and disenfranchised mother was not even forced to pay child support because everyone knew she couldn't.

As divorce became easier, less of a stigma and more frequent, reasoning on what to do with children of divorce slowly became conflated with the reasoning on what to do with orphans, abandoned and abused children who were common in certain "job lots" as a result of two world wars. A primary caregiver assumption was a natural course to take and child support inevitably followed. However, society has also changed, demanding more domestic service from men and more workplace service from women, and divorce has now become positively mundane.

The modern family and its failures simply don't match the scenario envisaged by the people who wrote the laws, men and (a few) women. The point that women have dominant political power is true, I think, insofar as women have always dominated the domestic scene because that is where, socially speaking, they came from. I find it difficult to accept that this was a conscious, unified plan with universal reach. People, men and women, just aren't that smart.

Nevertheless, what we have ended up with is a significant advantage for one side in the family courts - while the advantaged side is strictly speaking the custodial parent, because of the primary caregiver presumption, "tender years" doctrine, and necessarily incomplete transition to total gender equality, that is statistically most likely to be the mother. Incidentally, if the mother loses custody, she is, if anything, often worse off than a disenfranchised father. But mothers by and large are now well mobilized by the successes of feminism and will not give up their default advantages without a fight, just as men didn't give up their advantage to women's suffrage without a fight.

We must also remember that the laws concerned were written very largely by men. These were men with certain prejudices of their own with regard to who should look after the kids - older men, men from the previous generation whose own children had long grown up and moved out. Anthropologically speaking, too, the consequence of keeping other men "in their place" suited them, whether they were aware of it or not - they were upper class, alpha males, interested in seeing the survival and reproductive success of their own offspring, who would have been less likely to divorce in the first place. They willingingly yielded power in this arena to women because it was in their own best interest to do so, it preserved their own power and social mores to the cost of the common man of the next generation.

At the same time, feminism, in an increasingly stable and affluent society that could afford it, gathered steam. They learned to call the process of the previous paragraph, "the patriarchy" making the same mistake as is so tempting for us now to make of feminism, assuming it to be a conscious force designed to oppress. "The patriarchy" is/was real however, again, not as a cynical conspiracy, but as a default set of behaviors with socially evolved success for some period of time. Feminism also makes the mistake of arguing as if "the patriarchy" was consituted of all men, that all men were willing, knowing participants without acknowledging those men who were also oppressed by it and agreed with them, wanting change. These men, and I was one of them, naively assumed that treating women more fairly in the workplace would be reciprocated in the home.

The result is a system that contains new abuses of men while incorporating a significant residual of the past abuses of women, and no-one is happy. In the family courts, men have been caught with their metaphorical pants down and our generation and our children are paying for it. In the workplace, women have made great strides, but often still do not find equal opportunity without sometimes ridiculous legislation (e.g. affirmitive action, a.k.a. positive discrminiation) which carries its own potential for abuse.

Why do I say all this? One, because I believe it to be true and two, because a good understanding of the situation shows the way to change things. I do believe that honest fathers and men have been wrongly disempowered and there are unjust laws on the books which allow for and sometimes encourage their abuse. Feminism has had us focus on injustice against women so much that we have become blind to injustice against men and as in any evolving ecology, where there is no constraint, the ecology will go. This is a fancy way of saying "power corrupts".

In our modern, democratic age, power is exercised by individuals at all levels of society. We have powerful groups, yes, but they are not conscious forces in their own right, their power derives from the consensus of the individuals who make up the group. This can look like a conspiracy, but it isn't. A conspiracy implies that some people, or even just one person, with some form of near totalitarian power decided something like "if we do this, we'll get that, but people won't like 'that' so we'll tell them we want something else they will like but which will also get us 'that'" and then went out and did it. People just aren't that predictable.

Yes, feminism has a few cranks who claim things like all men are rapists and all fathers are abusive, but they are on the fringes, they do not wield feminism's power, they do not sit in some female equivalent of the smoke filled room (teacups and pink wallpaper?) plotting how to enslave men. They merely irrationally express some of feminism's driving pain and frustrations and can motivate the group by appealing to its prejudices, by hate mongering. They are not the Hitlers of this world, they are the Lord Haw Haws, even their own side knows they are ridiculous. Does feminism have a Hitler, or a Stalin, or a Mussulini, or a Saddam Hussein?

To argue that feminism is some sort of totalitarian conspiracy is, paradoxically, to give it some power and to fuel the war. The honest, individual feminist (and I only vaguely mean Wendy McElroy's variety) knows that they are not part of some malignant plan to oppress and control, they believe that they are trying to do the opposite. To accuse them of this is to alienate them, to get their backs up, put them on the defensive and as everyone knows, a good defense is a strong offense. They know they are not part of a conspiracy and to accuse them of such makes us look ridiculous in their eyes, it makes us look like cranks. That and a threat. If we claim a feminist conspiracy of them, they are entitled to claim an MRA/FRA conspiracy of us, of which they can convince themselves to be afraid and call others to their threatened sides.

Do we want to look like cranks? Do we want to look like the male equivalent of Trish Wilson - that paragon of feminine mystique and feminist motherhood and not very closet patriphobe who writes pornography and long tracts defaming good fathers? Would a man who wrote pornography and essays defaming good mothers be called anything other than a misogynist? Allow me to digress a little because I can't resist including a quote I found attributed to her and dating back to 2002. The whole thing is here, but I extract: "Now, for the reason why women gain custody of children, it is crucial for children to form strong social bonds with mothers or mother figures for normal social development, whereas males are neccesary to the point of the sperm hitting the egg." What a charmer, but she's half right. The first stated belief is why women gain custody, but it is a self-serving distortion of the truth. The latter half is merely hate speech.

For this reason and others, the intelligent common woman has become more unimpressed with radical feminism, not wanting to be associated with the cranks. We should encourage this, help them to see what is going on. We should show reason, not prejudice and emotion. It is sometimes impossibly hard and anger and vitriol seems like the only possible response. The personal provocation is sometimes intense to the point of insanity, but we must not become insane, or we become like the cranks of feminism or worse (e.g. Darren Mack). If we do that, another paradox, their cranks win!

Wouldn't we be better off going to them, wherever possible, wherever they will listen and saying "We're not cranks, we've been hurt. We love our children, we want them to live in a better world, will you help us build it for them"?

(Cap'n, I realize I have written far more than an answer to your comment, I do not mean to imply anything more about your own position than you have actually written.)

Postscriptum: after writing this, I found an editorial by Wendy McElroy about Darren Mack which wierdly parallels some of my arguments. She finishes with "Fortunately, unlike NOW who champions murdering moms, the fathers' rights movement sees danger in dads who kill. Danger and genuine sadness." This is how the fathers' rights movement is going to win.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Court bias against mothers...?

I just posted the following as a comment on Breadbreaker's blog in response to a post in which he complains about a group of women claiming they are discriminated against by the family courts. I thought it would be worth reproducing here (with some small edits).

To address why women may feel that they are discriminated against in the courts - they have a point, but not because they are women, because they are non-custodial parents. Once you understand the thinking behind the courts' actions, it becomes obvious. Their policies are designed to protect the authority of the custodial parent in the eyes of the child. In the event of conflict between the parents, this becomes a case of favoring the custodial parent on all points of conflict. From the point of view of the non-custodial parent, this is an egregious bias. Most of the time, the NCP is the father, so the numbers make it look like a bias against fathers. But if you are an non-custodial mother, the court is also biased against you. Get enough NC-mothers together and you get a bunch of women, rightly, complaining that the court is biased against them.

Why is it so important to protect the custodial parent's authority? Because the largely Freudian psychology on which the reasoning is based demands that it is in the child's best interest to be able to form at least one strong parental relationship within which framework his or her appropriate development is assured. This, of course, is an appallingly bad and slapdash approximation. It assumes that it is better for the child to be shown the complete ineffectiveness of one parent than to live under the conflicts between both. It shows the child that the noncustodial parent is only "right" when he or she agrees with the custodial parent. It assumes that the conflicts between the parents cannot be otherwise resolved while simultaneously giving one of them, right or wrong, a huge advantage over the other and therefore often exacerbating the conflict. It takes no account of conflicts which arise from the custodial parent's mistreatment of the child (except in cases of obvious abuse or neglect, and there are many levels of mistreatment before those). It does not consider the benefits of the non-custodial parent's influence as a role model and as one half of the genetic origin of the child. It is, basically, institutionalized disenfranchisement.

Worse, it derives from antiquated and inappropriate standards of research. In fact, it would be better say that it is based on the opinions of people who are or were considered experts in the field, many of whom are or were adherents of now largely discredited or heavily refined psychological and psychiatric theories. It is not based on scientific research of modern standards of quality. It is long past time for a rethink.

Tags: , ,

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Why Dads Matter.

Off and on through the day, I've been arguing with Greg Kuperberg over in Dr. Helen's blog, on McCormick & Sacks article "Why Dads Matter".

Tags: ,

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Go on, belt him one, he deserves it.

The Sunday Times (London) is all golly-gosh surprised that 25% of the female students surveyed in Scotland thought that there are "occasions when it would be acceptable for a husband to slap his wife", but has nothing to say about the "60% [that] said there were situations when it was acceptable for wives to hit their husbands."

Did you get that? They think it's worth commenting that one quarter of the women think it can be OK to clobber the missus, but take in casual passing that more than twice as many think it's OK for the missus to clobber hubby. You'd think that it'd be worth noting that at minimum some 35% of respondents have a double standard on domestic violence. That is to say, at least 35% think he can't hit me, but I can hit him.

This was in the middle of an otherwise straightforward, if short, article introducing a new study which shows that, gee, gosh-darnit, women beat up on men pretty much as often as the other way around (maybe more). The BBC report on it too and now we should be grateful that the Times at least comments on the 60%, as Beeb ignores it completely but manages to point out the 25%, no problem.

Across the pond, where the survey actually comes from, I find that it's been in the news since May 23rd and, surprised that I hadn't noticed it, I Google news'd it and found a sum total of 6 hits in the US, which has something like five times the population of the UK, giving it an attention level so far of 60% that of the UK. (Elsewhere, only India seems to have noticed and the South Asian Women's Forum, given their name, makes a surprisingly neutral report.)

Among the US reports, Portland TV says "Critics say the study was flawed because 71% of those interviewed were women". Which critics? We aren't told. But whoever they are, it seems to escape them that with a total 13,601 survey respondents one might reasonably be able to compensate for the proportion imbalance by, well, you see, oh, goddamit, take a statistics class, but take it from me that with numbers that large you're not going to suffer from sample bias at a meaningful level and whoever these critics are, they're grasping at straws.

In New York, the Daily News feels the need to give a platform to Ruth Brandwein's (Stoneybrook) criticism on the basis of the just-so story of the diminutive girlfriend and her lethally aggressive linebacker boyfriend. Very scientific. Incidentally, the Daly News identifies Brandwein as a professor, but not the author of the survey, who is one too.

Katie Gentile, director of the women's center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (and who must therefore be the epitomy of objectivity) says "men usually become violent as a way of controlling women, while women who are violent often become so to prevent the man from attacking first." which leads me to conclude that she obviously hasn't read the paper because the survey brings this little chestnut into direct question.

The survey is due for publication in the "European Journal of Criminology", but it's already available on-line. The author is Murray Straus of the University of New Hampshire and his web page is a goldmine of information for those interested in something other than the standard line of how violent are men and non-violent are women. Check it out. But for a teaser, here's the paper's abstract:

"The study investigated the widely held belief that violence against partners in marital, cohabiting, and dating relationships is almost entirely perpetrated by men, and that when women assault their partners, it has a different etiology than assaults by men. The empirical data on these issues were provided by 13,601 university students who participated in the International Dating Violence Study in 32 nations. The results in the first part of this paper show that almost a third of the female as well as male students physically assaulted a dating partner in the 12 month study period, and that the most frequent pattern was mutuality in violence, i.e. both were violent, followed by “female-only” violence. Violence by only the male partner was the least frequent pattern according to both male and female participants. The second part of the paper focuses on whether there is gender symmetry in a crucial aspect of the etiology of partner violence -- dominance by one partner, The results show that dominance by either the male or the female partner is associated with an increased probability of violence. These results, in combination with results from many other studies, call into question the assumption that partner violence is primarily a male crime and that, when women are violent, it is self-defense. Because these assumption are crucial elements in almost all partner violence prevention and treatment programs, a fundamental revision is needed to bring these programs into alignment with the empirical data. Prevention and treatment of partner violence could become more effective if the programs recognize that most partner violence is mutual and act on the high rate of perpetration by women and the similar etiology of partner violence by men and women."

Tags: , , , , , .

Father's day news items

A small Father's Day present from the New York Times: Stephen Perrine on what it is to be a divorced dad today, i.e. pretty miserable, and Marianne J. Legato, of the "Partnership for Women's Health" no less, reviews the medical disadvantages of being male, i.e. significant.

Across the pond, however, the BBC finds that the best fathers in the animal kingdom are marmosets (human males aren't even listed), and the Archibishop of Canterbury identifies a role model for the proletariat fathers in David Beckham and for the upper classes the leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron (of course, he doesn't put it quite like that, but hey, a spade's a spade - one wonders at the level of snit one would induce in the female population if one identified motherhood role models on Mother's Day).

Tags: , ,

Friday, June 16, 2006

The big piece of chicken

I don't know about you guys, but my stomach's already knotting up over Father's Day. There are billboards everywhere, postings all over the net and cutesy crap wherever I look, all reminding me of a celebration of "normal" family life that I used to blow off as another Hallmark Holiday. Ugh, I just want to go and hide in the woods.

Over at Men's News Daily, Bob Parks quotes Chris Rock:

"Everybody takes Daddy for granted. Everything’s Mama. Dear Mama. Always loved my Mama. What’s the Daddy song? “Papa was a Rollin’ Stone.” Nobody appreciates Daddy.

Now, Mama’s got the roughest job. l ain’t gonna front. But at least people appreciate Mama. Every time Mama do something right, Mama gets a compliment… ’cause women need to hear compliments all the time.

Women need food, water, and compliments. That’s right. And an occasional pair of shoes. That’s right. Women got to hear it all the time, or they lose their minds.

And get Daddy to make sure you thank your Mama for everything. Tell your Mama how good the food is. Tell her how nice the house looks. Tell your Mama how nice her hair looks.

"Did you tell your Mama? You better go in there and tell your Mama!” That’s right. Tell your Mama! Tell your Mama! Tell your Mama!

Nobody ever tells Daddy sh*t.

I’m talking about the real daddies that handle their f**king business. Nobody ever says, "Hey, Daddy, thanks for knocking out this rent! Hey, Daddy, l sure love this hot water! Hey, Daddy, this is easy to read with all this light!”

Nobody gives a f**k about Daddy. I’m talking about a daddy that handles his business. Think about everything that the real daddy does: pay the bills, buy the food, put a f**king roof over your head. Everything you could ever ask for. Make your world a better, safer place.

And what does Daddy get for all his work?

The big piece of chicken. That’s all Daddy gets.”

Well, that or the door and an invoice.

Tags: ,

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Live longer, do more housework!

Today's prize for really crappy "social science" research with an agenda goes to Leonie Bloomfield (female) at the Social Policy Research Centre, Victoria, Australia, who thinks that a study of 200 men shows that more free time means laziness and boredom which means higher mortality. She also thinks "men already enjoy much more [free time] than women, because of gender inequalities in housework, childcare and other unpaid work". No female control group is mentioned. Nothing is said about the employment status, age, social level, death rate, etc. of the sample. Hmmm. Can we see just the faintest outlines of an agenda here? Men die sooner because they don't do the housework? I can just see all those overworked housewives clucking over their coffees while oggling the photo of some oiled-up beefcake in an apron tickling his hifi with a feather duster.

Who pays these people?

Tags: , .

Legal crimes, invisible victims

I encountered the following passage written by a well known legal theorist. It's a little dense, but I think worth reading for its application to non-custodial parents (aka fathers and sometimes mothers) and the children from whom they are disenfranchised.

“[human] rights can be observed to be a response to atrocity denied. Before atrocities are recognized as such, they are authoritatively regarded as either too extraordinary to be believable or too ordinary to be atrocious. If the events are socially considered unusual, the fact that they happened is denied in specific instances; if they are regarded as usual, the fact that they are violating is denied: if it’s happening, it’s not so bad, and if it’s really bad, it isn’t happening. The given status of certain people is seen as tautologous with, even justified by, the deprivations of their human rights . . . . Victims are thereby ideologically rendered appropriate to their treatment, the unequal treatment serving to confirm their ontological status as lesser humans. When nothing is done, the treatment, and social status accordingly, confirm and create who one is. Legally, one is less human when one’s violations do not violate the human rights that are recognized.”

To summarize, I take from this that institutionalized and legally unrecognized crimes and their victims take on a certain invisibility. Because the crimes are legal, the perpetrators are free to commit them and the victims are perceived to somehow deserve their situation. This, as far as I can tell, seems to apply quite well to noncustodial parents and the children with whom they can find it so hard to maintain an adequate relationship. The family court system recognizes the authority of the custodial parent and their claims against the other parent far more easily than it does the protestations of the NCP trying to do the right thing, all in the name of "protecting" a loved and wanted child from conflict but in reality exacerbating the situation. Result: disenfranchisement and conflict.

What's really interesting is that the author of the piece is feminist legal theorist Catharine MacKinnon in her book "Are Women Human" in which she argues women to be dehumanized by a tendency to recognize crimes against men as violations of human rights but crimes specifically against women as violations of the somehow lesser women's rights. Charles King of The Time Literary Supplement thinks her new book is over-theoretical, confused on exactly who it stands for (women as group or women as category) and this passage in particular "just nonsense". Feminist theory and rhetoric notwthstanding, I suspect that anyone who has been victimized in the name of an unjust law will not think the passsage "just nonsense" at all. Perhaps some of us NCPs will be surprised to find ourselves nodding heads in agreement with a feminist theorist, but I doubt that many feminists will be particularly happy with my reading of one of their icons' words.

Tags: , , , , .

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Best Interests of the Child - Part 2

I introduced "The Best Interests of the Child" in a previous post here. in this post, I continue my discussion of this manual of child placement with the preface and first introduction. But first a little more on a couple of the authors.

Anna Freud, a posthumous author, was Sigmund Freud's youngest daughter. She was apparently his favorite and sought to follow at least partially in his footsteps but focusing on the psychoanalysis of children. Wikipedia provides an outline of her life and notes that she "did not have a very close bond with her mother and had difficulties getting along with her siblings". She suffered from depression and eating disorders. She was extensively psychoanalysed by her father and her dreams were featured in his book "Interpretation of Dreams". She was not exactly what we'd call a "normal" child.

She established and worked at the Hampstead Child Therapy clinic which is now named for her. She learned much of the impact of the deprivation of parental care on children from young war victims and particularly concentration camp survivors. I will return to this as, while it was undoubtedly important work, the children concerned are clearly a far cry from those refugees of the modern divorce industry and to implicitly treat them as equivalent would be an egregious error.

As for the other authors, so far I have found only an obitiary for the second, Albert J. Solnit, who was a professor of child development, psychoanalysis and mental health at the Yale University Child Study Center. There's plenty of praise for his long walk through the hallowed halls of the psychiatry of troubled and disadvantaged children but not much to say about the man himself.

I'll keep looking...

The Preface

This is written by one Barbara F. Nordhaus. Google shows up no hits at all, which makes her pretty impressively obscure. But still, she's the one who thinks "it would be difficult to imagine an expert working in the field of child custody or family law in the United States - or in Canada, England, or many other nations - who has not been influenced by [this book]". Her obscurity notwithstanding, this opinion seems to be supported by the inclusion of the book on various family law reading lists.

She also says "This book will reduce the temptation to convert guidelines into an instruction manual" a couple of paragraphs after "Readers will benefit from the new format, which no longer requires them to consult separate volumes in putting together the relationship of invocation, adjudication, and disposition in the decision-making process". From this I take the implication that one need not consult any other books when coming to a decision and it escapes me (much does)how this might be different from an instruction manual, especially given the tone, layout and goals of the book.

Introduction to the paperback edition

Despite my issues with their conclusions, there are, of course, many wise words in this book. The authors have been around and seen a lot, and this is what makes their mistakes, sorry, conclusions potentially all the more dangerous even while their accumulated wisdom makes the basis for much that is positive:

...there is little consensus, in law or in science, about what "best interests" means. In the absence of a clarifying definition, personal preferences of lawyers, judges, and social workers may govern decision-making. And when two adults compete for a child's custody, "best interests of the child" can easily be subverted by being equated with "the best interests of the more 'deserving' adult".

There are doubtless many among us who are well familiar with this effect. Other potential (and real) failures of the system are introduced:

Failure to recognize and respect cultural differences in the way parents interact with their children may result in removal of children from their parents based on a state agency's culture-bound perception of abuse.

Indeed. But I would take it further. The state agencies have their own culture which is quite different from day-to-day life as any tax payer knows. How real is the life reflected by the tax form manual? Do we really expect the courts to be any different, rule bound and prejudiced? I mean "prejudiced" in the sense of pre-judgement in the expectation that everyone who walks in the door must fit some pre-defined mould just as every dollar that passes through your hands has to have its place in a tax form.

This introduction concludes with 6 points of advocacy:

1. The interests of the child are to be considered separate and apart from the interests of her family as a unit only if and when the family fails to provide [care] according to minimum cultural standards. Until then, the state must leave parents to minister to the child's needs as they see fit...

I have put "her" in bold face because this is the first instance in the book where the authors refer to a generic child. As far as I can tell, they continue to use only the female gender for this purpose throughout the book. There are no boys other than in specific cases. This practise, as far as I can see, is never explained and it stands out like a sore thumb.

I could doubtlessly be criticized for latching onto this on the basis that the predominant use of male pronouns in English literature in general means that an example of the use of female pronouns is not mere political correctness but a small attempt to redress an imbalance. However, I maintain that when it comes to discussions of human nature, it is highly inappropriate, whether the choice be male or female pronouns. It is one of the unreasonable excesses of radical feminism to claim that men and women, boys and girls are the same and should be treated the same. Simple common sense, never mind vast arrays of scientific results show that this is not true.

By sticking to "she" and "her" throughout their book, the authors set a tone which does injustice to fully half of their intended wards. Each time it appears, we imagine a little girl in her summer dress waiting to learn her fate, but not a handsome young boy with scuffed knees similarly bereft.

What are we to conclude? Are the authors pandering to a prejudiced audience? Are they just being trendy? Is there a difference? Are all of the three books written like this? Why could they not have used "his or her" and "she or he"?

2. Once the family ceases to function adequately for a child - if the child is abused or abandoned or when separating parents cannot agree on custody - the state should intervene.

This is interesting - parents arguing over custody are, in this sense, automatically considered together with neglectful and abusive parents. Is that appropriate? Parents are quite capable of fighting over custody while not neglecting nor abusing the children. Oh, I know what they mean, but precision of language is important here and this already exposes an assumption that goes unquestioned. Is this the first point of entry for the wedge? Is it possible to set up laws which require intervention only if there is neglect or abuse? What if there was a default of joint and equal custody and access and to interfere with that or to fail to step up to one's responsibilities to be considered as abuse or neglect? Hmmm. Something to think about...

3. Once the state intervenes it must put the child's interests first, over and above that of even the most "deserving" of adults. Placement of a child must never be used to compensate an adult who has suffered misfortune or injury or injustice at the hands of another adult or the sate; otherwise respect for the blood tie can only too easily be turned against the child's interests.

When this book was written, the term "parental alienation syndrome" did not exist. The authors seem appropriately concerned that child placement should not be used as reward or (but they don't say) punishment for a parent. OK, I can cope with that, but I have something of a problem with the didactic tone. "Must never"? Why not "should not" or "it is an inappropriate basis for child placement..."? This is a book of guidelines after all, and not an instruction manual.

I'll skip ahead to the sixth and last item which says "The placement should be unconditional", and they really mean it. Later on in the book, they argue that the courts should not even assign visitation to a non-custodial parent. Their position is that unless neglect or abuse can be shown, all decisions regarding the disposition of the child should be left entirely up to the custodial parent, apparently for fear of undermining that parent's authority in the eyes of the child. It seems that the custodial parent's attitudes, motivations and actions are to be considered above reproach. I have yet to find any suggestion that obstructing the child's relationship with the non-custodial parent or undermining his or her parental authority is to be considered abuse or neglect.

Remember, it is "difficult to imagine an expert working in the field of child custody or family law ... who has not been influenced by [this book]".

Tags: , , , , , .

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Toward a philosphy of child custody

In a comment to my last post, paterian wrote:

"Before you get too far, consider how insanely problematic it is to attempt to quantify goodness (what is best?). Goodness according to what standard? Out of how many conceivable standards? Who gets to choose these standards? Why? Consider the relationship between science and values, ontology vs deontology. Is psychology a science or an ethos? Folderol."

To which I reply:

Indeed, one cannot derive an "ought" from an "is". One has to choose some standard from which to work. Science does not moralize, but its results can be used to positive effect. It is my contention that the standard we use through most of the western world is inappropriate to our modern society and rooted in an incomplete, even willingly biased (mis)understanding of human nature. This has produced what amounts to an ideology which is often unnecessarily and destructively in conflict with the best interest of children in the event of a divorce.

We do not apply "the least detrimental alternative", as Goldstein et al. express it, but a sometimes poor approximation which is derived from unnecessary expediency. More simply, I think that the modern standard of child placement between two willing, perfectly capable, but mutually incompatible parents fails to instill cooperation, creates rather than reduces conflict, undermines the well-being of children and fails to respect the human rights and needs of those children and their parents. This standard derives from assumptions about human behavior which are known not to be true (or are too crude or too generally applied). It was adopted in order to avoid risks which can now be effectively controlled through other means and it is applied too blindly.

I believe that we need a "modern synthesis" rather than an ideology. I am not qualified to define the structure of that synthesis, but I can point out what I believe to be the flaws of what is in place and opine about what I think should replace it. 'Besides, it helps me understand and therefore cope with my own disenfranchisement.

Tags: , , .

Fathers? What fathers?

I was researching Anna Freud for my next installment on "The Best Interest of the Child" (part 1 here) when I came across the web site of The Anna Freud Center in London which used to be the Hampstead Child Therapy Clinic and Anna's home for some 40 years. I downloaded last year's review which claims: "The Anna Freud Centre is committed to raising standards in mental health care for children and young people. We work to develop new and effective ways to help families with children who are experiencing psychological problems, and translate this knowledge into strategies which can be researched and disseminated." Well and good, I wish them well.

But where they worry me is that this review uses the word "mother" a total of 15 times. The word father is used not once.

Tags: , , , .

Monday, June 05, 2006

The tyranny of coupledom.

A couple of interesting letters in the London Times today on the continuing trend towards making fatherhood an unpalatable option. Nicola Hodson on the topic of gold-digging spouses says "It’s time the courts stopped using the virtue of the achievers in life to pay for people who would prefer to prosper from the success of others". That'd be nice.

John Campion offers that "the matrilineal society that [the sexual separatism of radical feminism] inevitably create[s] is developing rapidly in front of our eyes, and its cruel destructive effects on individuals and society at large are everywhere to be seen." Hmmm. Could the feminist cure for "the patriarchy" be as bad as the disease? He goes on: "The legal recognition of contracts with regard to money and property has inevitably to come, followed, I hope, by contracts with regard to the care of children." Pretty soon, we'll have to take out a contract just to have a conversation with a person of the opposite sex.

And Adrian Perry quotes P. G. Wodehouse: “judges display that reckless generosity which is only to be found in men who are giving away someone else’s cash”

Across the pond, The Boston Globe makes us wonder if relationships are to go the way of the dodo with a long-winded article whose content can be summed up in the line: "everyone wants to know what will happen if the tyranny of coupledom finally tumbles".

The "tyranny of coupledom"? Wow. It's worth noting that the article is almost entirely about women choosing to be alone. But then, why shouldn't they when singleness is no longer any obstruction to motherhood and whichever fool supplies the sperm can be forced to finance their choices.

One truly wonders where this is going. I envisage an increasingly barren society disappearing into oblivion as women with no reason to commit whine about all the useless men with every reason not to. Another consequence is surely the social proscription of sex (impoverished father to estranged son son on the occasion of his 18th birthday after their first reunion in 16 years: "don't do it my boy, it's just not worth it, look what happened to me"). Hey, just a minute, wasn't that one of the things "the patriarchy" was supposed to be responsible for?

To finish up, let's go back the Britain where the BBC tells us that a bunch of 16-year-olds think that the elderly are appallingly badly treated. "More than half of all the respondents believed that there was a great deal of neglect and mistreatment of the elderly in Britain - a percentage that rose to 60% among females." They might well be right, and isn't it nice that the girls are more readily concerned than the boys, but who on earth thinks that a bunch of teenagers really know what goes on in old people's homes? I can only hope that "aged 16" is a misprint or else the ridiculous opinion poll has become the measure for action amongst the limeys.

Tags: , , ,

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Best Interests of the Child - Part 1

One of the difficult issues that I have had in trying to deal with my disenfranchisement is that no-one has ever been able to give me an adequate explanation for it. To many, it has almost seemed like a question they cannot understand. Why is your son being taken from you? Well, that's just the way the system works. This is begging the question and every time I've heard it, or something like it, besides amplifying my distress, it has produced a kind of intense, speechless frustration in me. I recognise it as a retreat away from blame, shirking of responsibility and an appeal, or deferral, to forces beyond anyone's control. The situation is unpleasant, complicated and beyond normal human resolution, so we hand over to the courts and the courts do what they always do. They make a decision, you might not like it, but that's what you get.

This doesn't help me. I want to know why, in the face of manifest injustice, the courts decide what they do. I want to know their reasoning.

Just recently, a book fell into my hands which goes a long way to giving me at least a partial explanation. The blurb on the back reads: "What principles should guide the courts in deciding the fate of hundreds of thousands of children involved every year in parental divorces and family breakdowns? What should justify state intrusion on the privacy of family relationships? How should professionals - judges, lawyers, social workers, psychiatrists, and psychologists - conduct themselves in pursuing 'the best interests' of children who have been abandoned, neglected or abused?"

These are all excellent questions, although what I'd like to know is what principles do guide the courts, what does justify state instrusion, and how do professionals conduct themselves in the pursuit of 'the best interests' of children? Therein lies the rub. These are not normally stupid people, the courts run on principles of law, the professionals are schooled in ethics, but I have had a hard time identifying what exactly is the framework in which they operate.

It's not a simple issue of ideology, because their ideologies are varied, many are left wing, but many too are right wing. As I have argued before, I don't believe in a conspiracy theory wherein there is some sort of dark cabal committed to the destruction of families in the interests of radical feminism. I think it's much more simple than that - it is fallible human beings working in an environment where they must follow certain rules to solve difficult problems. Sometimes the problems are so difficult that they fall back blindly on whatever rules seem to apply and thoughtful justice dies.

So what are the rules and where do they come from? The law alone does not explain it. An obviously unjust law doesn't last long in a democratic country and what laws there are allow for quite a lot of leeway. For example, in many jurisdictions, there is nothing in law to prevent a judge allowing what would be effectively joint custody even if the law itself does not require its presumption. The courts could come down harder on custodial parents who interfere with visitation but they seem to prefer tormenting non-custodial parents over child suppport while simultaneously insisting that one has nothing to do with the other. Why is this?

It's not just the "professionals" as few would be prepared to claim that a non-custodial parent is a bad parent just because the custodial parent says so. They are educated people, they are expected to maintain some level of objectivity. Some don't, but I would have thought that most do. Or they at least try.

I'm not a lawyer, nor a psychologist, but I fancy that I have above average powers of observation and understanding, I ought to be able to figure out what they think they're doing.

Perhaps this book I have in my hand will help. It seems to be a manual of sorts, although it repeatedly uses the word "guidelines" to explain itself. A little research shows that it pops up on a variety of reading lists for family court law courses and professionals at large. Indeed, the preface claims "it would be difficult to imagine an expert working in the field of child custody or family law in the United States - or in Canada, England, or many other nations - who has not been influenced by [this book]". On the back, a professor of psychology at Yale demands "Without question, it should be compulsory reading for judges, lawyers, social workers and clinicians". The ABA Juvenile and Child Welfare Law Reporter is quoted: "Essential reading for anyone charged with the protection of children in the legal process."

Could this be the smoking gun, the missing piece of the puzzle to explain why the courts won't help me and my son?

Possibly, or at least in part, because a book so directly to the point of what I am concerned about, with the pedigree it has, its long-term presence within the relevant circles and its apparently objective and reasonable, indeed scholarly, tone must have something to do with it.

Alright, enough teaser, it is:

"The Best Interests of the Child - The Least Detrimental Alternative" by Joseph Goldstein, Albert J. Solnit, Sonja Goldstein and the late Anna Freud.

It is a compendium of three previous books: Beyond the Best Interests of the Child, Before the Best Interests of the Child, and In the best Interests of the Child. Originality in titles has not been their speciality, but that's the point, they clearly have just one thing to discuss, one very important thing. On the back, the authors' credentials are summarised as follows:

Joseph Goldstein is Sterling Professor Emeritus of Law and Deral H. Ruttenberg Professorial Lecturer in Law at Yale University.

Sonja Goldstein is of counsel to the law firm of Eric I. B. Beller, P.C. and lecturer at the Yale University Child Study Center.

Albert J. Solnit is Sterling Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics and Psychiatry and Senior Research Scientist at the Yale University Child Study Center and School of Medicine, as well as Commissioner of Mental Health and Addiction Services for the state of Connecticut.

Anna Freud was Director of the Hampstead Child-Therapy Clinic in England until her death in 1982.

Yes, and Anna Freud is one of those Freuds, the youngest daughter of Sigmund himself and by many accounts his favorite.

Do you see what I mean about pedigree? If you were a court professional who wanted an authoritative text to help you decide (or decide for you) on what to do with a child caught up in a nasty divorce, who could be a better set of authors than those who cover the psychoanalytical study of child development and emminence in family law? A genuine Freud can only clinch the deal.

The books have been around for a while too. First published in 1973, surely a propitious time for any serious work in the placement of children of divorce, they have gone through multiple editions and this now consolidated edition is still very much available at

The short review at points out: "Many conclusions...are controversial." Which ones? Well, just a moment, and let me remind you that this has been an authoritative and mainstream book of guidelines for professionals in legal child placement for over thirty years. Got that? Good. The controversial conclusions that bother Amazon's reviewer are: "rejections of custodial arrangements involving forced visitation and the unquestioned primacy of birth parents".

Yes, well, I'd say that's pretty damned controversial. Wouldn't we consider a book on property law that advocated the death penalty for stealing sheep to be controversial? Would we not expect such a book to have been dropped from reading lists long ago? Perhaps I get a little hyperbolic with that analogy, but it seems to me that we should be equally shocked by the idea of explicitly stripping one parent of any and all rights with respect to his or her children in the event of a divorce and that is exactly what this book endorses.

The argument, as Amazon says, is tight and well presented, one might even say seductive, unless, that is, you're a parent looking straight down the barrel.

That's enough for now. In future posts, I plan to take this book apart, page by painful page, present its arguments and point out precisely where I think they're profoundly wrong, for all their emminence, experience and education, so please check back once in a while.

Read Part 2 here

Tags:, , , , , ,

Friday, June 02, 2006


A round of applause, please, for Mary Hackney who has designed an iron specifically for men. For providing a bigger handle and the capability to set its own temperature and steam levels, she gets forgiven for appealing to stereotype through trying to make it - sheesh - sexy. (It's an iron dear, it's for making clothes flat, it's never going to be sexy, blue go-faster stripe or not.)

But anyway, well done Mary, and thank you.


Thursday, June 01, 2006

OK, you open the door for me then.

In the Chicago Sun-Times Laura Berman is not sure if she laments what she thinks might be the death of chivalry, but she's not sure of that either. She provides an example she saw herself: "a man tried to open the door for a woman leaving at the same time as him. She stared at him, not moving. He looked back, arm stretched and holding the door. Eventually he broke the awkwardness and let himself out the door first."

Then she wrote: "I thought to myself, are there really women who don't like to have the door opened for them?" Gosh, it's all very confusing, isn't it? But since she actually saw one, then, yes, there obviously are women like that.

Me? I'd've let the door go and said "OK, fair's fair, you open the door for me then." Any outcome after that could only have been satisfying.

Tags: , , , , .

Men's studies or feminism-for-men?

I guess I ought to be pleased at a new men's study course at a British university, but the Guardian's (London, socialist) presentation of the story is peppered with misandrist inuendo and the course looks suspiciously like a vehicle for feminist propoganda. There isn't a word in the entire article about what men might actually be good for.

On the face of it, the course seems fairly positive in its intent, designed to "develop skills to work more effectively with men in social work and social care, or when delivering therapeutic services to men". But the "course convener", Jim Wild, whose academic qualifications are not described, is "concerned about abusive men", believes "we need to apply what we have learned from feminists about men's abuse within the family", and "is keen to emphasise the high levels of physical, emotional and sexual violence men inflict on women, children and one another." Is he grooming social workers and therapists to assume men are like this, or is it that he wants them to be able to work with those men who actually are? 'Hard to tell.

He claims "the diploma will be rooted in theory, including feminist theory." There's no mention of any masculist theory so I don't know what other theory he might be talking about. On the other hand, he wants to find "aspects of ourselves that have often been repressed - sensitivity, openness, vulnerability" but I'm afraid that sounds like another version of "men just can't express themselves" to me.

He says "Feminists at our university are OK about it. If it was a diploma on 'Finding the Warrior Within', I think there would be uproar." Uh-huh, so Jim Wild isn't a wild man and has the feminist stamp of approval (is that a tautology?). Are these pre-requisites for the course to be allowed?

Despite this, some feminists don't like it. One thinks 'the establishment of a separate discipline of men's studies is a retrograde move. "Feminist scholarship and the study of women, as well as the study of men as men, remain [sic] marginal in every discipline in every university, and it is this that we should be focusing our attention on,"' OK, so we've got women's studies courses, studying, er, men as men is marginal and so is the teaching of one of uncountable political theories at universities but a men's study course is a retrograde step. I don't get it. Anyone?

According to the article, "feminists - and a small number of pro-feminist male scholars - have done the important work of developing a critical analysis of male power and masculinity." Nice of them. Which prompts me to wonder how they'd feel about a critical analysis of female power and feminimity done by masculists and a small number of pro-masculist female scholars.

One academic feminist 'recalls a conference on men's studies. "No one liked the title as we were all aware that everything we teach and learn is 'men's studies', because men dominate all social and political structures in society."' Thus she exposes who exactly was at this conference, and shows herself to be another feminist who thinks and teaches that "some men" means "all men" and pre-emminence in some arenas means dominance in all.

To make sure that she can't be accused of failing to balance her reporting, the article's author quotes George McCauley after she takes care to point out that he's a member of the UK Men's Movement and describe it as anti-feminist. Before the quote we're told he 'instantly assumes that it is the study of "men's oppression"'. Those terrible, reactionary masculists, eh?

Then the quote: "Women have it all their own way and believe that equality is a one-way street. If women's studies are going to be elevated to the status of religion, as they are in universities, then we should have men's studies." Well, I guess the religion thing is a bit hyperbolic, but I can see his point.

Just to make sure that we don't swallow this obvious departure from approved reality, the next paragraph begins "In reality" and proceeds to assure us that the "oppressive, violent and controlling" traditional masculine stereotypes will be, uh, challenged by the course. Well good stuff, but doesn't that make it at least in part a 'study of "men's oppression"'? And by the way I can't say I know of any tradition that men should be that way and the stereotype seems to be feminism's favorite to me, not anyone else's.

Well, like I said, I guess I should be happy that the UK has got its first men's studies course, and I hope that it isn't feminism-for-men in disguise, but I don't hold out much hope.

Tags: , ,

Blog Archive