Sunday, 16 June 2013

Reflections on Fathers’ Day

It’s been a sleepless few days for me.  Having celebrated my landmark 50th birthday this year, I still find myself hankering after one elusive …….. in my life – the “off” button.  You know, the one that switches off that constant noise in your head.  The one that raises a temporary barrier to those persistent, encroaching, challenging thoughts.  The one that allows relaxation, peace and tranquillity to soothe and wash away the tension.  Still not found it.  This being so, the run up to Fathers’ Day this year has found me somewhat overloaded and overwhelmed, culminating in this urgent need to write this blog today.  Specifically today. 

I love my dad.  He’s 70 this year – but a young 70.  He’s been married to my mum for 50 years – childhood sweethearts.  Growing up I remember him being playful, but strict.  He had high expectations of me, though I do not remember him pressuring me in any sense.  He was dependable, hard-working and honest and had a clear, moral code.  I never doubted that he loved me and would always be there for me, though sometimes I guess I wanted him to say this more, to show it more.  He had that sense of humour (!) that made everyone around him groan, and beg for mercy – “please no more!”.   I remember him being liked and respected by many – though his inability to let go of an argument and his unswerving belief that he “was right” did, on occasion, cause some friction.  As I have grown older, I’ve noticed different traits in my dad too.  He is always there for family and friends – physically caring for them, being compassionate and offering practical support too.  

Let’s be clear – my dad is great, but he isn’t perfect.  He can be irritating, stubborn and sometimes set in his opinions and views.  Recently, my dad has been given cause to consider whether he was a “good enough” father to me as a young child.  Whether he had done the best he could in protecting me and keeping me safe; to question his parenting.  For the record, dad, you were more than good enough.  I am where I am today, the best I’ve ever been, because of you.  You, and mum, my wonderful memories of a large, loving wider family have shaped me into who I am today.  It is the combination of family relationships, friendships and relationships with others, good and bad experiences which shape each of us into the adult we become – and continue to shape us as we move through adulthood.  I wouldn’t be me, now, happy, fulfilled and challenged, without ALL of the experiences in my life.

Although I’m not with my dad today, on Fathers’ Day, he is very much in my thoughts.  He told me the other day that he didn’t really understand what my research was about, and that set me thinking.  Why would he understand about Parental Alienation?  It has had no bearing on his life – it is not something he has encountered. I suppose the closest I can get to explaining to my dad, who clearly loves me and my sister is ……. “How would you have coped if mum had left you when we were young, taken us away from you, told us you were a vile, violent abusive man and we were never to see you again?  How would you have felt if you could never talk to us, to hold us.  If you never saw a photo of us, never attended our birthday parties, our graduation, our passing out parade, our weddings.  How would it be not to have a card and a telephone call from us on your birthday, or Fathers’ Day or Christmas – not to mention the standard box of Just Brazils!  What if we swore at you and vilified you and called you a paedophile?  What if you knew we were punished if we spoke of you or asked to see you? What if you were not able to protect us and keep us safe from harm?  What if you could only watch from the side-lines and not offer your enduring love and support as our lives fell apart, as our relationships disintegrated, as we struggled with our mental health?  What if you were never allowed to meet your grandchildren?”  This is the reality for many, many parents, dad, who like you love their children dearly.  They may not be perfect mums and dads – but like you, they are good enough.  Maybe this can help you understand what Parental Alienation is – at least from a parent’s point of view.  And maybe it can help you understand why I feel it is important to talk about this.  Just because we don’t experience something ourselves, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

So, returning to my over active brain.  There has been a barrage of “newsworthy” items this week which has over-excited my grey matter.  There is the Centre for Social Justice report on “man deserts”, the portrayal of fathers as feckless individuals on TV, the massive rise in Private Family Law cases for Cafcass and the debate over access to justice.   Yet the one story which stays with me most is that of Tim Haries.

Tim was arrested for defacing a portrait of the Queen in Westminster Abbey.  He allegedly spray-painted the word “Help” on the painting to draw attention to his legal battle to have contact with his children.  Now, me being me, always the researcher – I naturally googled Tim.  I could find very little about him, other than a report from his friend and legal adviser which stated that he has two daughters and has spent more than three years and had almost 30 hearings in the family court fighting for contact with them.  Tim’s friend also states that Tim has no police record, and has never been considered a risk to either his children or his ex-wife by the authorities.  The last time he attended court he was ordered to have no contact with his daughters, and further, he is forbidden for applying for contact for a further two years.  I find myself asking …. why?  What possible reasons are there to legally prohibit a relationship between a parent and a child?  After all, article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights affirms the right for everyone’s family life to be respected, and under European legislation “a child and his or her parents shall have the right to obtain and maintain regular contact with each other”(Council of Europe, 2003 Chapter 2 Article 4 (1)).  

So what has Tim Haries done that is so heinous, that his children are denied the benefit of him in their lives?  The answer is – we do not know.  We are not allowed to know.  In this democratic nation of ours, we are unable to ponder a legal judgement and draw our own conclusions about Tim.  We are denied the opportunity to consider whether our legal system is just and fair, whether a particular judge is applying precedent and principles in an objective and judicious manner.  We are not allowed to know why Tim is considered not be a “good enough” parent.  Furthermore – Tim is legally prohibited from telling anyone details of his case or the judgment either.  Disclosing details of Family Law cases is contempt and carries a risk of prosecution and imprisonment.

Now that Tim has entered the criminal arena, we are all free to ponder his actions.  There are, of course, no restrictions on the reporting of criminal proceedings.  Many already seem to have taken this opportunity to suggest that a man who has resorted to this criminal activity is clearly unfit to be a father.  How quick we are to judge on such limited information.  

My heart today goes out to Tim, and all those other dads and mums, who have been judged by the courts as “not good enough”.  Those who have no criminal record, have never been considered a risk to their child, who have been systematically removed from their child’s life, and for some, who continue to feel judged on a daily basis by those with no understanding of their plight.  Today I will be doing my utmost to ensure that one of these dads is distracted with a “fun-filled” day.   A dear friend, who has just said to me – “it is just another day”.  Yet I know that his words belie the truth for him, and are little more than a mask, a dampener, to push the hurt he feels should he contemplate, amongst other things, the 12 Fathers’ Days he has not spent with his daughter. 

On Fathers’ Day, whilst you are enjoying the love of those close to you, spare a thought for those children and fathers who are denied this opportunity – today, tomorrow, and the next ….