Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"Mothers are twice as likely to physically hurt kids..."

Once in a while, despite all the prejudice against father custody and the sanctification of the single mother, the occasional unmistakable, unavoidable refutation pops up. Here's a real keeper. The American military has discovered, no surprise, that the incidence of child abuse rises significantly when dad has been deployed away from home, but, and here's the kicker, when it's mom who's deployed "the effect [...] on the likelihood of abuse or neglect was insignificant".

Did you get that? Dad goes away to war and mom takes it out on the kids - the likelihood triples! But when mom's away and the kids stay with dad, he's no more likely to abuse them than if she'd stayed.

Of course, it's no surprise at all that the article blows off dad's restraint by explicitly claiming he must be getting more support from elsewhere and poor, victim mom isn't, left bereft and on her own, but this is nothing in the face of the bare fact of the study.

Now I wonder what happens in the aftermath of divorce, eh?

Overheard in New York

'Found this while browsing:

Little girl: Daddy, when you die do we get all of your money?

Father: Well, that won't happen for a very long time.

Little girl: Daddy, how much money do you make?

--A train

Overheard by: A Chan

Overheard in New York, Jul 29, 2007

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Writhing in agony

A truly international post today, with three stories involving four different countries, but each could be from any of those four.

First, Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, a British domestic violence charity for the protection of women only (by the website), takes exception to the transfer of two children from the mothers' custody to the fathers' in an distressingly uncommon effort to redress years of alienation by the mothers against the fathers. While she accepts that "this is not an ideal world", she sees it as flawed in only one way that matters - mothers having to protect their children from abusive fathers. She says that the mothers she sees "are not bitter exes vengefully preventing separated fathers from seeing their children" and that is all she has to say about such women, that she doesn't see them. This should make her entire letter a thorough non sequitur because, from the article concerned, these two mothers who have, for once, been disciplined by the court manifestly are such vengeful harpies.

Nevertheless, Ms. Horley proceeds to forcefully suggest that the judges hadn't looked into these cases closely enough. Normally, and over that specific, unadorned point, I'd agree with her, the judges don't look closely enough nine times out of ten - it's very much the exception when they do and finally, after much hemming and hawing, find for the father.

She goes on to demand that court personnel should "receive training to dispel misconceptions about domestic violence" and likewise, I would agree with her. But not in the way should would imagine, not that all mothers claiming abuse must inevitably be telling telling the truth, nor that the facts of domestic violence is as one sided as she clearly believes, but that the courts themselves do cause considerable pain and anguish through their unwillingness to see the father in any terms besides those declared by the mother, often taking years to figure out what they want to do while children grow and fathers wither and die.

I find a third point in Ms. Horley's letter to which I can nod an assent, and again with a quick twist of which she would doubtless disapprove. She says "an automatic presumption that it is in 'the best interests of the child' to have contact with both parents, ignores the courts' responsibility to protect that child". Superficially, yes, she is correct, but she misrepresents the court by suggesting that the presumption implies the court shirks its duty in protecting the child in such a way. She would have done better to use the word "requirement" instead of "presumption" to retain some integrity to the assertion. But anyway, the whole meaning is undermined by the vacuousness of the phrase "the best interests of the child", no one has the least idea what that means any more.

What raised my jaded eyebrow, however, was her claim: "Defying the courts may well be a mother's 'last-ditch option' to keep her child safe." and here we have the chief executive of a major charity in a first world country advocating violation of the law. But only under certain conditions, I'm sure. I very much doubt that she would advocate a father kidnapping a child to protect his relationship with him or her, but it's clear she'd defend a mother doing so to keep the child away from the father, provided, of course, that the mother said he's dangerous.

A quick flit across the ocean to Texas and we discover precisely such an example of a father breaking the law to, he says, protect his relationship with his child. Daniel Pavon Cuellar has done a bunk across the border to Mexico with his infant son. Now this is clearly wrong and at best foolish because both Mexico and the USA are signatories to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, the only complicating factor being that the mother is not American, but British (it's not clear to me what the two of them were doing in Texas when the child was born). Of course, they have to find the child first, and it is trite but true of me to say that we all hope that this resolves without lasting harm to anyone, especially the boy, but it isn't hard to see that the father, ultimately, is doomed pretty much no matter what he does.

That said, you'll be unsurprised to hear that I think reflex condemnation in all respects is too pat and that the father's motivation, for all the stupidity of the act, is quite significant. He fled for fear of a custody action which he would inevitably lose anyway and, one presumes, a move of the child to the UK. It wouldn't be hard to see that he'd have unsurmountable problems in remaining any part of the child's life, especially given the UK's track record in such things. On her webpage, baby Sebastion's mother, Samantha, asserts that "Daniel is violent and shows signs of been [sic] unstable, and mentally ill", although there is no supporting evidence provided, besides the kidnapping, and Daniel, by newspaper reports, insists that she is lying.

Now some might think it crass and insensitive of me to even show shades of taking the father's side, but I am sure that even Sandra Horley would be pleased to join me in disapproving of his behavior, although doubtless with somewhat more vehemence and hypocrisy than I. Nevertheless, I urge you to look at his position right now, which is pretty tight, run to ground somewhere in Mexico City. Somehow, I doubt that calling him "violent", "unstable" and "mentally ill" is helping matters and causes me to look a little askance at the hysterical press who have already tried and condemned Daniel forever. In fact, the whole thing reminds me of another incident not long ago which resolved itself quite cleanly hopefully to the embarrassment (but I doubt it) to all the gung ho rescuing "heroes" involved.

Finally, over to Australia, and a graphic description of what can happen to dads who put their trust in the system, even when it is supposed to have laws which protect their relationships with their children. The director of the Shared Parenting Council of Australia, Edward Dabrowski, says
"I have seen fathers writhing in agony outside the doors of the Family Court. I will challenge any parent that is having their children wrenched away from them to say that they can remain totally sane and totally impassionate about what is happening to them."
I know that agony, and it does indeed test any normal person's sanity (hang in there, Samantha), it leads me to understand Daniel's behavior (but not, you idiot, to condone it!), and makes me realize that the Sandra Horleys of this world and their simplistic thinking are a disease of prejudice and ignorance which must be cured.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

"The alternative results in me."

Yesterday's post netted an interesting comment. You can read the whole thing here, but I extract the gist and points I wish to address below.

(Let's call him) Joe was raised by his mother. He met his father twice in his life, when he was 13 and they exchanged letters for about a year. But then Dad stopped writing. Joe carried on for a while, but then stopped too. Joe is now 24, has graduated college and is building his own life. He has located his father, but is angry with him, and has not made contact.

A short digression; Joe writes: "I might not agree with your portrayal of women post-marriage (chalk it up to the innocence of the unmarried, undivorced, and single-parent raised)"

I'm not sure how to react to this except to say that if I have portrayed women post-marriage in any particular way, that is not my intention. There are good men and good women, and there are bad men and bad women. To say that women in general behave in a certain way after divorce would make me guilty of hypocrisy through my claim that the world reacts to these things with far too much prejudice already.

My beef is with the imbalance present in the law and its application (or lack thereof). The law is supposed to control injustice. If it refuses to acknowledge an injustice, it cannot control it and there are plenty of people in the world, men and women, who will take advantage of that. The definition of injustice is to treat people with prejudice, to pre-judge them based on experience of others whom they are not.

But back to Joe, who thanks me for my blog, and he is welcome.

He goes on: "I figured if the letters had stopped coming, he might have sensed what I had sensed at that first meeting at the age of 13 (but what was too young to interpret). He didn't know me in the least. All those letters prior to meeting him, and he had no idea who [was] this person who bore his blood in his veins but had grown up completely away from him."

It's not hard to imagine. For whatever reason, Dad turns up after 13 years away, completely absent from Joe's life. Who knows what he was expecting? Only Joe knows what Joe thought. They only saw each other twice, barely even scratching the surface of what would be required to get to know one another. And it's not as if a 13 year old is equipped to understand the average old fart, is it? Hell, my parents raised me together and I didn't really begin to understand either of them until I had left home and started to experience the world for myself.

What was going on with Dad? If we read carefully what Joe has written, the only clue we have is actually a projection of his own feelings. "He didn't know me in the least." 13 year old Joe eyeballed this strange guy and correctly surmised that he didn't know him from Adam. Of course, 13 year old Joe didn't know his own self. What 13 year old does? And how many 13 year olds think that anyone at all knows them? Most teenagers I've ever known (I was one myself once, I think) believe there has never been anyone on this planet less understood than they are. (What is important, of course, is that there are people around who understand them, even if they think that there aren't.) Of course Joe decided Dad didn't know him.

On the other hand, I find it a very suspect conclusion to suppose that Dad looked at Joe and saw nothing he recognized. Maybe, indeed, he saw quite a lot, which is why he wrote for a year. If he hadn't seen anything, perhaps there wouldn't even have been more than one encounter.

"Even with this glaring knowledge staring both of us in the face, I still wonder why he stopped writing. And to a smaller degree, why he started writing in the first place if he didn't intend to continue."

I doubt that anyone starts writing, and keeps it up for a year, with the intention not to continue. We don't know why he looked Joe up, we don't know why he wrote, nor why he stopped and neither will Joe unless he goes and asks.

It is easy to be angry at Dad, but we know too little. It is easy to condemn him, to write him off as a ne'er do well, but we know nothing of his struggles, his demons, his pain; except that he surely has them because he is (was?) an alcoholic. Even if he weren't an alcoholic, the emotions that likely surrounded receiving and writing those letters were unlikely to be insignificant.

If he felt nothing, I contend they'd've dried up a lot earlier. More likely, given the alcoholism, each letter represented a considerable risk and effort. Hell, maybe with each one slid through a letterbox, he fell of the wagon and went on a binge. Stopping might have been a matter of survival! (He's hardly likely to have said as much in one of those letters.)

Even if it weren't, even if everything in Dad's life was hunky dory, there's this little issue of a son long abandoned which clearly eats at him somehow, or why make the contact in the first place? Modern life is hardly conducive for a man in his (I'm guessing) forties to keep up a letter correspondence with a teenager with no other engagement. Perhaps we should blame him for not generating greater engagement (was anything done to encourage him?), but I think we'd do better to recognize him for the effort that he did make and reflect on how we might feel or behave in his shoes.

Joe says: "In closing I urge all those disenfranchised fathers who read these words to pick up a pen (or keyboard, or piece of charcoal and write to your children. Perhaps you won't send all of what you write. Hopefully you'll keep your anger from them, as it will probably only serve to confuse them. Pick up a pen and write."

These are wise words. It's tough, sometimes very tough, to do this. the longer it goes on, the harder it gets. You're supposed to move on in life from the disasters that beset you, but at the same time, against the odds, continue personal responsibilities that derive directly from the fiasco that became your marriage? That piece of charcoal can be incredibly heavy, and it takes a strong man to lift it. Joe, maybe Dad looks at that piece of charcoal every day and doesn't feel strong enough.

Joe ends with: "The alternative results in me."

OK, Joe, so now I'm going to challenge you. Who are you? What are you? What is this "result" of which you speak? Should you get off that horse and drink your milk or scurry into that mouse hole, not yet a man? Yeah, so Dad is human, that can be an unpleasant realization, and for many it is hard not to be angry with him, even if he doesn't have some very plain shortcomings. Hey, there are plenty of kids out there whose fathers could be saints and they'd still hate them.

Joe, you're a grown up now, you know how to benchpress biros! How hard can it be for you to pick up a piece of charcoal? It's risky, I know. You may not like what you learn. But you may learn something of yourself. Half your genes are his, there will be a connection. If you don't give him a chance, who will?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Heroes in training

I am often bemused by the fact that "feminist" blogs appear to attract so much more attention and commentary than do fathers' and men's rights blogs. I find it reflective of the reflex attitude with which the population has been infected with respect to perceived (if not always real) oppression of women in contrast to the failure to perceive men's and fathers' problems. The content of that commentary further illustrates the problem.  It is easy, in our modern world, to be volubly outraged by often cliched examples of mistreatment of women to the point of blindness to the wider context.  It is harder to identify the hurdles faced by men and fathers and when they are identified, it is harder still to make the passers-by fully aware of what we are talking about, encouraging a descent into incoherent rage.

Mistreatment of men is so ingrained that it is often only the bona fide victims who speak up. Just as poking fun at other minority groups in the past has been so acceptable as to be barely noticed in daily life, the same is now true of men and fathers. Thus the average person in the street is taken aback when their, at best, humor and, at worst, bigotry is challenged.  It is something vaguely incomprehensible to them and like many things that are unknown, to be fought against.

As a consequence, those who do complain are those whose eyes have been opened by direct experience, and they are often driven to reactionary positions, unable, or no longer willing to see how that furthers the alienation they experience. Even if it doesn't go that far, many will find that just trying to voice their grievances is interpreted as politically incorrect - it can be quite difficult to find a way to air a legitimate grievance in this topic without being labeled as misogynist, and hard too, to avoid reacting by claiming to have paid the price and so might as well commit the crime. Thus men's and fathers' rights activists become seen wrongly, but wholly, as a lunatic fringe.

Moreover, the lack of a politically correct stance from which to fight for men's and fathers' rights drives many to seek support in political stances which further polarize debate. For example, the men's rights movement is largely seen as allied with right wing political philosophies and one of my pet peeves is the way that fathers' rights are often discussed in religious terms, complete with old testament quotes. One does not need to be a republican to recognize that men have a right to respect for what they are, one does not need to be a bible-thumper to know that fathers have a right to participate in raising their children. Nevertheless, these positions, being sympathetic to the specific goals of these activists, become attractive in the urge to generate allies and the goals become diluted and distorted as a result.

For all our problems with hurt and damaged men claiming the problem is with women, when discussing an issue sanely and logically it is clear that we have much higher standards of reason and behavior in ourselves than do the opposition. The other side fights dirty. This is plain, for example, in the blatant censorship of debate in many "feminist" blogs and, more subtly, in the argument about PAS - obviously, all parents who claim they are being alienated are not abusers, but the opposition wants you to think they must be. The mob censors by reflex, without thought or hesitation, the empowered minority thinks carefully before it tries to shout anyone down because ideas are central to a vital movement.

Surrounded by this confused miasma, hanging onto the central points and pursuing them relentlessly while under sustained attack and without losing the plot can be exceptionally difficult. If I may say so, it is a particularly manly challenge to attempt this. Holding onto what is right and true in the face of unpleasant odds has always been a trait we ascribe to heroes. Another characteristic of a hero is the discipline to police himself, to rise above the simple fray to fight the more important battles. This discipline has to be learned. It is my hope that the MRA reactionaries and lunatic fringes are merely heroes in training.

A useful manual for such heroes in training is to be found here.

Friday, July 06, 2007


These fathers' rights blogs seem to come and go. I myself find that I have periods where I just can't seem to write anything. Nothing has changed, and that's not much of a blog post "nothing has changed". Other parts of life roll along, as they ever do, and mere existence becomes the distraction. This too, is how fathers end up "losing touch". It doesn't matter how hard they fight, or don't fight. Nothing changes, so they sleepwalk into another life and out of their children's.

Sleepwalking, indeed, is the only thing to keep one going, after a while. Being awake, after all, just means knowing what is going on, knowing what has happened and hurting over not being able to do anything. Better to sleep through the day, do what has to be done at the time. 'Rather plays havoc on one's longer term view, though. But now that longer term no longer includes those who would have motivated it, so what the hey.

If my kid were here, I might have something to tell you about. But he isn't and I don't.