Friday, June 29, 2007

Anarchy in the UK (we're so pretty, oh so pretty, vacant).

It's been a red letter week for the courts in the UK. By the "three strikes and you're out" rule, they've shot their wad in just a few days:

Strike one: let's start small with Dennis North who has been ordered to pay out GBP200,000 (that's US$400,000) to his ex-wife of 30 years ago. Yes, that's right, 30 years after the divorce, she gets to come back to the court and take "another bite of the cherry" and the court doesn't laugh in her face and kick her out but actually takes her side. This, folks, is starting small. It gets worse.

Strike two: meanwhile, Michael Cox is hustled off to jail for non-payment of child support that his ex-wife doesn't want, against protests by his children and despite the fact that he looks after the children himself 50% of the time. Curiously, the debts are not described as being to his ex-wife, but to the child support collection agency (CSA), isn't that interesting? He made the mistake of telling the agency that it is “oppressive, unjust and discriminatory in its action”, it reacted by proving it for him.

Strike three: the hattrick is completed by Mark Harris who was separated from his children for ten years. It took 133 court appearances, 33 different judges, two prison sentences and a hunger strike for him to find some "justice". He was jailed for waving at his children in a passing car. Ultimately, it wasn't even the court that forced the issue but his children themselves.

It brings a whole new meaning to the idea of "contempt of court" does it not? It all really tests my faith that when things like this happen, the people doing it are not themselves evil, but rather "good people doing evil". Once in a while, a family court judge does show some conscience, with an appeal "don't ignore the children" from one judge who appears to want to be the daddy to children being chewed up by the courts. Someone should tell him that if the courts weren't so busy destroying their parents, or rather, one of their parents, they might give the children some security with the people who really matter in their lives.

Honestly, you couldn't make this stuff up.

Who the hell are these people? Magistrates in the UK are said, in part, to be taken from "the great and the good". If that's the case, the "Great" in "Great Britain" is a very strangely defined adjective, don't you think?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Ghosts of children still alive

I do things that I suspect are common to a lot of people in my position.

His room is the same as it was when he was taken. Untouched.

(I always say he was taken, others say he "left", he didn't, he was taken.)

I have the last set of clothes he wore when with me, still unwashed.

The other night, when I couldn't sleep (nothing unusual), I pulled them out and tried to smell him on them. I couldn't, or perhaps I could, I wasn't sure.

I remember the last time I saw him before he was taken. We sat side by side on a step and he showed me a book he was particularly pleased with. Silently, he paused and rested his head on my knee and I rested my head on the back of his. One of the most prayerful moments of my life.

He was sweaty. He'd been running.

The last look on his face was miserable. He'd wanted to be with me that weekend, but it wasn't my weekend and I had to disappoint him. I reassured him the time would pass quickly, and we'd have a good time. But he wasn't cheered and anyway, I was so wrong.

Today, I was at a place where he likes to play. Some rocks, and some water. I saw him there, frozen, as in a photograph that I have, mid-step, from one rock to another.

Oh God, I think these thoughts and I am left with a choice between grief and rage. Rage damages, grief never resolves. It is perhaps "unhealthy" to dwell on these things, but I cannot not. Like cherished memories of an favorite grandparent, or friend now gone, they are not things I want to let go. I must keep them fresh, these ghosts of my child still alive.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

This is Father's Day

(Updated Twice, scroll down.)

Can we imagine mother's day being presaged by newspaper & magazine articles reminding us how so many mothers are so bad, that they are the primary perpetrators of child abuse and equal contenders in the competition for most domestically violent? Perhaps one day, in the week before mothers' day, we'll hear about their pre-eminence in the the divorce courts and how often they use the children as a weapon against their ex-husbands; we'll see studies of their contributions to delinquency in teenagers because their fathers have been pushed out and how of the thousands and thousands of fathers who lose contact with their children each year, a major fraction are in point of fact innocent victims of Machiavellian motherhood.

How about a Hallmark card greeting: "I'd wish you a happy mother's day, but given the crimes of your gender, I don't think you deserve one"? Or just "Screw you, mom" might be more direct and carry the same sentiment, don't you think?

I'm not holding my breath, and anyway, it wouldn't be right, now would it? Instead, I will note that the lead-in to mother's day includes a definite spike in all the women-as-victim rhetoric. In the last couple of mothers' days, I have noted various charities, nominally concerned with child victims, have started staging domestic violence "awareness" campaigns, built around what dad supposedly does to mom. That is, on mother's day, it's not enough that mom's the heroine, dad's gotta be the bad guy too.

But now dad's gotta be the bad guy on father's day as well. We get editorials who think that fathers' day is for complaining about deadbeat dads and Time magazine claims that fathers don't deserve their day based on gender politics masquerading as "science". Seriously, guys, Time thinks monkeys are better than we are.

I'm a father, and I'm not going to have any kind of a father's day, whether these people want me to or not. I don't want you to feel sorry for me, I just want you to know, and to be outraged, as I am, by the revolting double standard of our age.

(Update: sometimes the logic of the father-critics truly astounds me. Here is a blogger who quotes Baskerville's assertion: "Most fatherless children result from fathers being forcibly separated from their children by courts." then follows it with the statement: "there are still far too many fathers who spend far too little time with their children. And while there are many explanations for this, hardly any of these explanations amount to real excuses." How much of an "excuse" does he want? If contact with your children is illegal and this is not enough of an "excuse" then, God help us, but we're all doomed.)

(Update 2: Two more articles slamming fathers for Fathers Day: The Washington Post makes fun of know-all fathers at the museum with their children, disregarding the positive note that, er, these are fathers who have taken their children to the museum. And NewsMax thinks you're more likely to become president if dad's not around. Thanks guys, see yah 'round (but not if I see you first). Hell, even presidential candidates think it's OK to dis' fathers on Father's Day.

The Onion's cartoon, on the other hand, has a much more valid point to make. How much of this are we supposed to take?)

(Whup! And one more: USA Today thinks that the typical sitcom moron dad is better than the real thing.)

Friday, June 08, 2007

Another dad bites the dust.

Today, spare a moment of thought please for Allan Foster of Carterton, Oxfordshire and his daughter, Jacklyn, who, at the behest of his ex-wife and the UK legal system will be separated by several thousand miles. The only reason this is in the news is that Lord Justice Thorpe has chosen this opportunity to complain about the problems internet romance is causing his court through its ability to bring geographically separated people together. The internet question is barely relevant to the UK court's ongoing practice of ignoring a non-custodial parent's objection to the removal of their children from the country by the other parent, but it serves to get this one case among many into the public eye.

However, that public eye is barely interested. I have found three sources which say substantially the same thing: the Telegraph, the Times, and, and it's fairly clear that if Thorpe hadn't brought the internet into it, we wouldn't be hearing about it at all.

Allan met Sonya of Texas via the internet and, after a brief romance, she moved to the UK with her first daughter, Caitlin, (leaving another father behind), got pregnant again around April 2001, and they got married in September. Jacklyn was born in January 2002. By 2005, it was all over. The marriage is described as "unhappy" and the separation "very acrimonious with allegations on both sides". That last is a claim which could hide a multitude of sins. Nowhere are we told that Allan or Sonya was actually abusive, so what could this mean?

As I have often pointed out on this blog, all the custodial parent, i.e. the mother, has to do to get what she wants is to create acrimony. The courts react to conflict by isolating the children from it which means automatic reduction or cessation of contact with the noncustodial parent, i.e. the father. It does not matter who generates the acrimony, the father gets dragged along whether he likes it or not and becomes the other player in the logic of "it takes two to tango", no matter that the mother is the lead in this nasty little dance. Dad is frogmarched down a dark and bewildering corridor at the end of which, he gets to hand over his kids to the very person who made him take that walk.

All three sources cite Sonya's claimed "devastation" if she could not go back to Texas. "Devastation".

No comment is made of Allan's state of mind if his daughter is taken from him and moved across the world's second largest ocean. Allan's lawyer says that the court has made no consideration on the effect of the removal on the children, but claims that it is "in their best interest". Indeed, Thorpe codifies the court's logic in one simple sentence: "An unhappy mother often means unhappy children.” The equation is simple, the best interest of the children is defined by whatever makes mom happy. 'Bye dad.

So, Sonya becomes a serial father-destroyer and Allan is condemned to years of minimal contact through whatever means Sonya approves. She proposed contact plans involving the internet and direct contact, but there's nothing to force her to stick to that once she gets back to Texas, and every reason to suppose that they were offered simply to look good in the UK court. After a long and acrimonious battle in the UK, how cooperative do you think she'll be once back on her home turf in Texas?

Allan has until the end of school term to say goodbye to his daughter. After that, he is completely at Sonya's mercy. He and his daughter have been betrayed by his own country and now he's at the mercy of yet another court system which is not likely to take kindly to some foreigner who their own Texan gal says is no good. He has no way to make sure Jacklyn is properly treated, he has no influence on her education, no chance to expose her to his own culture, he is, in every way, completely disenfranchised, and Jacklyn is fatherless.

And all the courts care about are the problems caused by this new fangled internet thing.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Not why I quit reading women's magazines

I quit reading women's magazines a while back. Now, when I say that, I mean my curiosity about them died some time ago. Not, I hasten to add, that they were some sort of preferred reading material. No, just the young man's urge to figure out what made the opposite sex tick and perhaps some clues were to be found in the likes of Cosmo. But eventually all that same-old, same-old oozing neurosis and rampant narcissism just overcame the curiosity and I got bored.

Once in a while, however, I will look over the women's section of whatever newspaper happens to cross my awareness, just for the hell of it, usually looking for something, er, different. Today, it is the Manchester Guardian Sunday edition, otherwise known as the Observer. And what do I find here? It is an article written by a man.

About men.

In the women's section.


How can I not read this? Alright, Mr. William Leith you want me to "Look at the state we're in", let's see what you think that state is.

But first of all, a question: what the hell is "concealer"? No. Wait. Scratch that. There's enough context for me to work out that I really don't care, because I am not, and never will be a "metrosexual" (you can just see the sneer on my lip, can't you?) The most I'm ever going to slap on my face is soap or shaving cream. People have long since stopped giving me aftershave for Christmas. What this horse's ass calls "blemishes" real men shamelessly call character. Oh, this is going to be fun.

It turns out that "concealer" is a metaphor for male denial. Apparently we don't want to take the blame for our sins. What sins? All of them: "We are hard-wired to be aggressive, competitive, crazy for status and sex. And this, we are beginning to see, is the mindset that is causing all the problems in the world."

Oh dear god, not this again. Every problem in the world is some man's fault, eh? And by extension, all men, so let's all engage in an orgy of guilty self-loathing in the women's section of the Observer, shall we?
"It's only just dawning on us that something is wrong; it's only just dawning on us that it's our fault. But the thing is - we are men, and one of the crucial things about men is that, when we have a problem, we don't want to talk about it. So if you look at men, and have an inkling that there might be something troubling us, things are actually much worse than you think."
And we go directly from how everything bad is our fault to how we don't want to talk about it, because men don't talk. Left off, of course, is the small saving grace of this defective line of logic, that men like to fix things, that would be too much in our favor. Sigh.

It's one cliche after another for a while: unlike women, our emotions are closed off, we can't admit we cry, "success" is our raison d'etre, we have fragile egos, we can't admit it when we're depressed, we get drunk instead, we brood, and when (not if) we finally crack we inevitably go postal.

Stereotype, anyone?

Listen, buddy, men don't talk/complain/cry when they're unhappy because no-one wants to hear it, not other men, nor women. Men don't have the luxury of being approved victims in our society, they tough it out because, almost always, they have to.

Mr. Leith treats us to an anecdote about meeting his friends in the pub, how they're all hale-fellow-well-met until, in an intimate one-on-one with one of them, it turns out things are not so hunky dory after all - injuries, job-loss, breakups, breakdowns, alcoholism, over work, back problems.

But we don't ask for help. Why not? Because we "don't have victim status". You have to have "victim status" to ask for help?

The feminist authority, Susan Faludi, is cited for her claim that "space was pretty much a dud" for that pioneering male spirit: "no-one there to learn from or fight". Yup, that's it guys, your urge to have a look what's out there is really just a search for an adult role model or a fight.

Is this is bogus because men are strong, he wondered? We must be strong to take the bashing that we do in popular culture, he claims to have thought, before realizing that all that mockery might mask something rather different from a challenge to be met. He was more concerned with man's ability to brush off punishment without complaint than with the idea of derision as a frontal attack, rather more akin to the fight for which we're supposed to be hungry. The result? Our own greatest weakness is our inability to ask for help. Is this true? Is that the only way to do things? Must we be recognized victims to be worthy of respect? 'Bit of a Catch 22, that...

But before we think too hard about that, let's quickly jump into our identities. We're "sperm factories" and "sperm-shooting machines".

That's it?


Oh good grief.

Before you can yell "strawman!", Leith tells us that this remaining shred of our worth is being undermined by modern science. A woman friend of his wants to breed out what she thinks is maleness - "killer genes", "shagger genes". For pity's sake, if that's all maleness is about, then what the hell, go for it, but someone please remind the cow that there's a reason eugenics has a bad rap.

A male friend blames "the alpha-male types" and, by extension, because he could never admit that he isn't an alpha-male himself, nor anyone he knows, then it must be all men's fault. I wonder if he even knows what "alpha-male" means, or why he thinks an alpha-female might be any less culpable, in her own way?

Passing through a massive over-simplification of Baron-Cohen's thesis that there are two types of brain (no not those that think there are two types of brain and those that don't, but they might as well be) we come to the inevitable: the world would be better if it were "run by females - or at least in a female way".

Oh, puh-lease. Baron-Cohen systematizes male and female brains with the claim that The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy.' and 'The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for [systematizing].' It's right there on the first page of his book "The Essential Difference", shortly followed by the reassurance that being male doesn't necessarily require that you have a male brain and likewise for females, which rather brings into question his choice of nomenclature as he claims not to be trying to reinforce stereotypes.

And so what, anyway? Men are, on average, 5 IQ points smarter than women. (It's a fact, ma'am.) Does that mean that I should assume that of a man and woman standing in front of me, the man is smarter than the woman? If you think so, then you have no idea of the difference between probability and actual experience.

A few wild, flying leaps to conclusions later and we find that the world's ills are all men's fault, and only men's fault.

Worse, you thought being a hunter was a good thing for your great-to-the-nth-granddaddy the caveman? Think again, apparently it was all so much chest-puffing and the real work was done by women after all.
"Why did women put up with this unfair situation? Why didn't they snuff out the problem in those early days, before it got too big? Because natural selection had put them at a disadvantage. Human beings thrived because of the combination of our big brains and our ability to walk upright, hands-free. The downside to this is sexual inequality: children are born with large skulls and underdeveloped bodies; they need a lot of looking after. And why do mothers - rather than fathers - look after children? Because they know, for sure, that the child is theirs. The father does not; it makes slightly more sense, if he wants to pass on his genes, to kill bison, do a lot of posing, and impregnate as many women as he can."
Oh yeah, sure, it was really that simple, that's all there was to it, and now we've been found out, we men should just put our heads between our legs and kiss our sorry backsides goodbye. There's so much wrong with that paragraph, from Leith's, uh, selective idea of natural selection to massive reductionism of the gender differences of child care, that I'm not even going to begin to take it apart.

Listen chum,I'd be really pissed off if it weren't so obvious that you are posing for the girls by writing a long, sniveling, ludicrously over-simplistic article, back-handedly dissing men under the guise of how we, the poor sobs, have failed ourselves. It's published in the Observer women's section, fer chrissakes.

What are you doing? Going for "victim status" via the back door? Poor, passive-aggressive little weenie. As it is, I just want to laugh at you. Let us know if it gets you laid, won't you...?