Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Denial - am I a nutcase?

I have been reading a few of the blog posts on MensNewsDaily, and particularly a recent piece by the incomparable Teri Stoddard. Time and again, she posts in support of fathers and their continuing mistreatment by the courts and time and again she comes under attack by even men's rights activists as if she were some sort of fifth columnist. Or something. I wouldn't blame her for throwing up her hands and walking out. I hope she doesn't.

Not all of her commenters are agin' her. GladMadSadDad certainly seems to be in agreement with her, and apparently among the fathers she would champion. Tucked into one of his comments, he said "in my dealings with newly divorced Fathers reeling from what has happened to them and their children, the overwhelming sentiment is they can’t believe the system functions as it does. [...] if [my brother] didn’t know me better, he would think I was a radical nutcase. He simply couldn’t believe what I was telling him. In some ways, I think he couldn’t bear to hear the truth." Which summarizes my experience beautifully.

Which raises a question.

Am I a radical nutcase?

I have a couple of feeds set up with Google news, particularly one keyed to "Fathers' rights". Most days there's at least one new item in there from which a new horror story emerges. (Some of them get discussed here, some I just link to via the feed at left). In each one of them, I see something to link it to my case. Every story of another disposable father I take personally, every tiny step towards recognition of what is going on gives me another reason to crawl forward myself.

Every day, I wake up thinking about what has happened to me and my child, drag myself out of bed and try to wash it away in the shower. I am aware that many fathers in my position simply implode. They drown out the howling noise in their heads with alcohol or drugs, they drop out of life and disappear while still occupying the same physical space. They try to build another life, if they're allowed to escape, or hobble on with what is left of the old one as well as they can, if they're not. But no matter what they do, they end up less than what they were, struggling to make the payments they've been ordered, trying to look forward to every minute they might spend with their children (if they get any at all), knowing that they are no longer, in any meaningful sense, their father.

Standing in the shower, I try to wash away some of the dreams of the night before. The night before last, I dreamed I was sorting through some of my child's books. Books I bought him but haven't seen since I was ejected from my home under false pretenses. I was talking to someone, off camera as it were; I think it was my mother. I held a book to my forehead and I asked: "What if I lose? What if I never see him again?" In my dream, I started crying, tears wetting the books, and I woke up.

I stood in the shower exhausted, first thing in the morning, feeling like I had been crying my eyes out. I have stood in that shower trying to wash off the filth. The process of divorce and disenfranchisement is dirty. Pushed in, you get carried along a man-made canal of muck. You get splashed with people's ill will, dark prejudices drip from a clear sky, you get complained about and sometimes shouted at by powerful people who don't know you, you become an embarrassment to many friends, acquaintances ignore you in the corridor. This sticks. You can't wash it off, but you still try.

I keep this blog as a small way of maintaining some sanity. (I have other ways. I haven't tried to dissolve myself in a bottle. Not Yet.) And yet in doing so, I wonder if it is, instead, an expression of my insanity. Sometimes, I get upset, and rail against fatuous politicians and moronic journalists, then I get accused of "insulting all women". Did I? I can't see it. Even Hawa, who's been around for a while, worries that at any moment I may tip over the edge into misogyny. Am I that close?

I get the guys at MensNewsDaily, I really do. You get to the point that everyone makes you angry, even your allies. Because you can't beat you enemies, you end up fighting your friends. It takes a real effort of will, sometimes, not to do that. Do that, and I'd say you become a nutcase.

You, dear reader, can't answer the question. You don't know who I am, and I can't tell you. I just want you to see what I see and agree, it isn't right. If I'm a nutcase, I can still have moments of clarity. Some of them end up here, don't they?

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Oh, alright, you can have what's left of the kid while mom's in rehab...

"A former client fought a custody battle after his infant child became permanently brain-damaged when his mother crashed their car while driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Though Leving successfully won his client temporary custody, the judge ruled the wife would regain full custody after completing rehabilitation."
Sometimes I just have to ask, what planet are these people on? This one paragraph speaks volumes. I take it from an article about trying to preserve fatherhood in the face of a world gone completely stark, raving mad.

Consider: we have a mom, who, drunk and stoned, goes out driving with her child in the car. Inevitably, she has an accident and permanently damages the child. Permanently BRAIN damages the child. She takes her own child and through idiocy and irresponsibility turns him or her into something else, something less, something to be pitied, cared for, probably, for the rest of his or her life.

What does the judge do? Tells her she's a naughty girl and to go and stand in the corner for a while, then she can come back and have the kid. The corner, of course, is rehab. What is dad's role? Oh, he can look after the brat while mom's in rehab, that is, after all, pretty much all he's good for. Then, having spent a fortune and God knows how much stress in court getting that right, he has to hand his kid back to the woman who all but killed it and go back to "visiting" when and if the court and mom will let him.

Is there more to this story? I damned well hope so. But the one paragraph is all we've got and it speaks volumes for the respect we have for fathers. Think of his state of mind as he cares for the child, dreading the day that mom gets out of rehab. Imagine how he must feel as he hands his damaged child over to the woman who did the harm. Think about those Friday and Saturday nights when he doesn't have visitation (that loathsome word!), is she out partying? Where's the kid? Will there be a late night phone call from an emergency room?

Will there be more to this story? Undoubtedly. Think of the kid, growing up with unknown handicaps, sooner or later perhaps to realize that mom's the reason for those handicaps. Dad wanted him or her, but the court said no, you have to go back to your mom, who did this to you, and might do it again. She was already a drunk and a drug addict, now she has a special needs kid to deal with, how likely is she to stay on any wagon? How helpless is the child, how helpless will he or she be as an adult?

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Sing it with me! Marriage, huh, what is it good for? Absolutely...

The UK press is all in a lather because marriage figures for 2005 have hit the lowest level since 1896. It turns out that this is actually an understatement because a) that's when official figures began and b) the population of the UK has doubled since then. That means that the marriage rate is lower than it has ever been, as far as we know, and it is HALF what it was 100 years ago. That is, marriage is now thoroughly and completely out of style. No-one should be seen dead in it.

The institution has passed on. It has shuffled off this mortal coil. It wouldn't go "Voom" if you put 10,000 volts through it, it isn't pinin' for the fjords, it's a stiff, bereft of life, it rests in peace, if it weren't nailed to the perch... Oh, er, wait, ahem, excuse me...

Not surprisingly, the press is full of hand-wringing over this, there are wild claims of the loss of cultural values, and desperate grabs at unlikely reasons. My favorite is "fear of commitment". That one's hilarious. It immediately, of course, puts the onus on men because we're supposed to be the brave ones, protective of our poor, defenseless women. But the argument too often stalls right there. Pulled out of the ether, marriage in the UK (and elsewhere) must be failing because people are afraid of commitment. Yeah, that's it. No more thinking required.

If one's afraid of something, there's often a good reason. One commenter quoted a friend: "Marriage is grand, divorce is about five-hundred grand!". But it's not just the financial risk, there's an even more expensive one: in the UK, 40% of divorced fathers lose contact with their children within two years. The twits in the big house think they can do something about this by blaming and ostracizing the fathers, no mention of the mother's part. Why do we keep on with this moronic idea of the defenseless woman? They are, and always have been, very far from helpless.

I find weak arguments about the complete lack of tax breaks now for married couples. But no-one points out that divorce is highly profitable for women (not to mention lawyers) and perhaps men have caught on to this.

Relate makes the amusing suggestion that "Children of divorced parents may feel ambivalent towards marrying their partner – even if they are in a happy, stable relationship – this could be reflected by these stats." Naw, really? A generation of kids, especially the boys, see their parents break up and dad disappears and they may feel ambivalent about the institution of marriage? What lessons are they learning? There's just nothing in it for anyone any more.

The benefits of marriage for the children have been sacrificed to the freedom of the parents, or, more accurately, mothers to divorce at the first inkling that they've had enough. And when mom kicks out dad, she gets child support and the kids, what has she lost, except the man she wanted rid of anyway? Hell, she can have someone else's kids and still take hubby for that ride. On top of this, they needn't even get married to acquire all of these "benefits".

I wonder if, on average, men don't get married for the above good reasons, and blissfully, if not desperately and somewhat hopelessly assume they can live and have kids with cupcake without taking the same risks, while cupcake herself is quite well aware that the law will let her take muggins for whatever he's worth anyway.

Marriage? What, exactly, for?

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Exactly how is this supposed to be a consolation?

The other day I found myself traveling for a few hours, one empty seat away from an initially friendly woman of a few years my senior. Our chat led me to give her a brief rundown of my situation to which she reacted with the appropriate scandalized expressions and sympathy. Then she said something rather extraordinary: "Don't worry, they all get their's in the end. Perhaps my story can offer you some consolation."

"How do you mean?" I asked.

"Well, after a horrible five year battle, I won the right to relocate to another state, he had nothing to do with our daughter for the next 12 years. Then he decided he didn't like the way she turned out and got the court to tell me to repay him some money. 'Over my dead body' I said and never paid him a penny, even though there was supposedly a lien against me. Then he was diagnosed with syphilis and died slowly and painfully over two years."

All this said with a considerable air of self-satisfaction and triumph.

I raised my slack jaw and replied that I wasn't sure it was much of a consolation, I was looking at long term isolation from my own child and anyway how on earth does one die of syphilis in this day and age? Apparently it's sufficiently unusual that doctors don't recognize it until it's too late, then it might as well be AIDS.

While she was explaining this, I think she finally realized what she had said. She buried herself in a book of crosswords, those mindless ones with little black-space and one word clues.

I wanted to ask questions. Like, how does her daughter feel, having now lost her father permanently? How did her ex get the court to order repayment, presumably of child support - this is the first I've ever heard of such a thing, it seems highly unlikely. Perhaps it was actually some alienation of affection thing.

Let's recap what this seemingly nice old bat has said. Nasty divorce/custody battle. Yes, well, that's probably no fun for either side and she's got the upper hand anyway. Then she wins a move-away, also known as legalized child abduction, which was presumably against the father's wishes and for whom it is now very much harder to remain appropriately engaged in his daughter's life.

He reacts to this by dropping out of sight for 12 years. This may be easy to condemn, but there is much that we don't know. Perhaps he couldn't afford to travel, perhaps it became just too painful to face up to, perhaps he felt it better both for him and his daughter to stay out of sight. It's not a position I can agree with, but I can see how it happens. Hell, maybe even the courts in the destination state wouldn't grant him any visitation and she puts it that way to land the blame on him.

After those 12 years, he successfully sues Mom for financial restitution because he didn't like the way the daughter turned out. I suspect this description hides a great deal of interesting information. The courts don't order such things just for the hell of it.

Then he dies slowly and painfully of syphilis. Who knows how he contracted it, perhaps it was the result of an affair during their marriage, perhaps it was something that happened years later. Either way, this woman is happy to crow over a tragedy which took the life of her daughter's father. I only hope that he and his daughter had an opportunity for some time together before he died.

I muse on my own reactions to this little tale of woe. At first, I was nodding along in sympathy, expecting, as told, that we would find common ground in our stories. I took at face value the idea that her ex was scum. It wasn't until she seemed to think that his slow, painful death was some sort of deserved retribution that I felt something fishy was going on and balked at the idea of walking along this spiteful road. If it wasn't for my own experience, I could easily have clucked in tacit, unthinking agreement with the whole thing, as, doubtless, have many others.

She took a nap and I looked at her, searching for signs of regret, compassion, worry for her daughter. The whole of her story was of her escape (legalized abscondment?), money and cosmic retribution for her ex. There was no mention of how her daughter was affected beyond her ex's apparent disapproval of how she turned out and the court's siding with him, exacting a financial retribution that was never faced.

When we finally arrived she disembarked without another word nor even a look in my direction.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Single parent custody: Seven years in the hole.

Today I am appalled by a particularly extreme case from Linz, Austria.  A lawyer mother, given full custody of her three daughters keeps her, get this, judge ex husband away from them for seven years.  What he doesn't know, although getting to court for access no less than nine times, is that she has locked the girls up in a dark room and left them to stew in their own filth, for seven years.  Finally, a neighbor has to threaten the local council with a lawsuit to get someone inside to see what's going on. 

The girls were 7, 11 and 13 when it started.  Now they're 14, 18 and 21.  It's too late for at least the oldest daughter - it sounds like she's permanently catatonic. All three are scarred for life.  They speak their own language, for pity's sake.

Funny thing, the case has only just come to light, but the three children were finally discovered over a year ago.  It seems reasonable to suppose that the authorities who allowed such an appalling mess have probably been conspiring to hide their embarrassment.  I've found it reported in several locations, but media interest seems pretty thin. 

What is wrong with us?  Why do we have this horrible attitude to children of divorce?  A JUDGE has to go to court NINE TIMES over SEVEN YEARS to get access to his own THREE CHILDREN who are suffering ONGOING ABUSE of the most horrendous kind and FAILS?  No-one, not even the neighbors, has seen them for YEARS.  Could there be any more condemning example of complete and total institutional incompetence?  Could there be any clearer an example of what can happen with the blind, pathological application of single-custody parenting, allowing one parent totalitarian control and granting the other nothing?  Is this "in the best interest of the children"?  Where is the outrage?  Who gives a good God-damn?

I am sickened.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Thank you, the London Times, thank you very much.

Of all the filthy innuendos. A letter bomb goes off (one person with minor injuries) in an unpopular business in London and what does the London Times have to say? "Police believe that the device may be the work of a single issue group, such as a fathers’ rights organisation..."

Thank you very much, The London Times. With no evidence WHATSOEVER you feel the need to malign men who want something to do with their children. Assuming some ignorant cop actually originated the idea in a fit of prejudiced stupidity, did you have to pass it on to the rest of us? Given a plenty long list of other groups of people with axes to grind, you had to pick on disenfranchised fathers. You outrageous, poisonous bastards.

In the stratospherically unlikely event that it was a fathers' rights group, I'll happily withdraw this item and join in the condemnation. The last thing we need is some nutcase fringe group screwing up what tiny chances we have, especially since the likes of the Times are so willing to join in the torment. If it turns out not to be, will fathers' rights workers get an apology from the Times? Yeah, right.

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