I just had to share this beautiful film which appeared this week and which details so perfectly the way in which parents who share care of their children, bear the pain, so that their children do not have to.
The moments after your children leave to go to their other home, can leave you speechless with the shock of silence and gasping with the repeated nature of loss.
For those who spend their time telling us that family separation does no harm, this film speaks of the way in which separation, from loved ones, hurts adults. And the tsunami of sorrow that must be borne for the sake of children.
A similar film, from the perspective of children, might illuminate those things that I write about so often, the transition bridge, the cold, creeping sense of ending, the never quite at home, never quite not at home feeling that can pervade life in a shared care world.
For those who tell us that fathers cannot love children in the same way as mothers, I say watch this film. For those feminists who tell us that men who love children like this are obsessional or not doing it right, I say, find in your heart the compassion that has been removed by your focus upon your individual rights.
If ever there was a film that should be routinely shown to parents BEFORE they decide to have children, this is it.
I make no apology whatsoever for my stance on family separation, when even Diane Abbot acknowledges the pain and suffering it brings, it has to be time to speak up. I lived it. My husband lived exactly like this, week in, week out for almost eighteen years. The first time I experienced the free fall of that 53rd hour, I was speechless with shock.
I share this film because there has to be a more compassionate way to support our separated families and because its time we acknowledged that dads have hearts and souls too.
For me this clip demonstrates the importance of the emotional health of the individual; feelings of sorrow and loss find expression in this short film. Surely emotional health is the most important aspect of separation. Not the roles we play nor the place that we live nor the education we recieve or the wealth that we may benefit from.
It is the respect that we have for each other and the relationships we wish to maintain with our children that needs to have top priority.
The man in this film has been relegated to that awful position of the ” contact parent”. He is now just a visitor to the children he should be having lots of time with. He is the forgotten parent, demoted by the courts having watched his former partner promoted (without having to sit an exam!) to “Primary Carer”. He is now but a distant relative with an open wallet.
Oh how I would love to put this up on my Facebook page but I know I shouldn’t and I can’t.
Yes, you and I both feel the same way
I remember the crushing pain of the 53rd hour. Nine hours of the waking 24 hours from picking up the children on Friday to dropping them off Sunday afternoon were spent travelling 450 miles to and fro the length of the country. The 53rd 54rth and 55th were spent travelling back, feeling numb and returning to an empty house. There is no 53rd hour any more, because I rarely see my children after seven years of struggling to make contact work. The children were exhausted by the travelling, schoolwork dramatically increased, they were obliged to make new friends having been forced to loose all their old ones and their social lives became important. A lay person could have predicted any of these – the judge couldn’t or didn’t want to. Having to give their doctor’s receptionist a password before being given any of their health records, having to contact their school repeatedly to get basic information, not being able to make any plans with the children because most have been easily scuppered by the other parent and as the video showed, not being able to achieve with the kids the sense of fulfilment and achievement of really completing something, anything in a non time restricted way has left me feeling empty and distanced from them.
You’re wrong that ‘parents’ feel the 53rd hour pain. I think it is mostly the parent who has been stripped of contact who feels it. To the other parent, time without the children is more often a break, with CSA/child benefit/tax credit money or else a largely unbroken-into salary to fund it (who in authority really knows anything about resident parent finances?-no government departments ever bother checking). One parent will have 24 waking hours to reinforce a bond, the other will have perhaps four times as long. People who argue as a backdoor means of maintaining a status quo that is nothing less than cruel to children, that the quality of time spent together is more important than the quantity, speak in condescending platitudes and know nothing of the 53rd hour.
Very touching and a reminder of those many, many days being cheery for my children as I drove them back to their mother. And then weeping all the way to my silent home. I realised after a while it was a weekly bereavement.
It used to hurt terribly when my daughter would ask “when are you coming again?”. I’d say, “Next week” and hope she’d draw some reassurance from my airy confidence. But of course, inside, I was aware only that I was never really sure whether I’d see her ever again. It wasn’t in my control. There were some times it didn’t happen when her mother would refuse to answer e mails of phone messages for a month or more at a time. But we persevered, I kept on doing the 200 mile round trips. After a couple of years I noticed my girl had stopped asking “when … “. It meant she wasn’t worried anymore and was just assuming I’d be there. That was a breakthrough moment. Her mother always refused to discuss anything about contact. It meant I never had any of the security myself I was trying to pass on to my daughter. I realised she was never going to talk about it and that was better than some of the screaming abuse I know other fathers have experienced. In time, came to accept that and I recognise that she could have been far more actively obstructive. I am grateful to her for that. But it has been a bit weird as well as undermining, upsetting and painful.
I am sorry to hear this story hasn’t as yet had a happy outcome. That is not to say it never can. Can I suggest a book here, that might help. The Prodigal Father, by Mark Bryan. One of the obvious barriers to maintaining the relationship is the reduction of time spent with a parent. As pointed out above, in order to develop a relationship with your children you need enough continuous time together in order to fall out with each other and then make up. This is one of the fundamentals of a strong long- lasting relationship. (The notion that relationships with your children can be sustained with “quality” or “good-time” events is just bunkum). Your children are changing fast as they grow up and you need lots of time to get to know them, and be able to support them emotionally.
The other obvious impediment to keeping the relationship going and improving your functionality as a parent, is the distance you now live apart. If your partner moves away there’s a chance you can prevent it with a “prohibitive steps order”, and if that doesn’t work you could move too. If you are in the same neighbourhood, even though your ex may be fending you off for all she/he is worth, you have a fighting chance of continuing your role as a parent by continuing to function “normally” with Schools, Doctors, Social Workers, neighbours etc. You may need the hide of a rhinoceras and the patience of Job and at times you will feel immobilised by the suffering you inflict upon yourself through all the injustices you encounter. Nevertheless this is best for you, your children, humanity, and even your former partner.
There is no level playing field and whilst we have ego, this will remain the case. The best you can sometimes hope for is a meaningful presence driven by a desire to continue what you started when you brought those beautiful kids into the world. We live in an imbalanced society where the expectations for women are different from those of men. The laws assign her with responsibilities in chidcare and him with finance. This is not conducive to collaboration and until the CSA is abolished and an assertion is made in law that we believe in the family, both pre and post separation then we will continue to destroy the relatonships that are so precious to the continuing health of our society.
Wow. Incredibly powerful. Thank you Karen.
I’ve shared already and I hope as many people as possible see this film.
Oh lord…there are two things here. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your campaigning, your voice of reason in the wilderness. Your strength to tell the truth.
My 13 year old son is getting the keys to “dads” flat in with his Christmas presents. He is spreading his wings. The same boy who twitched like a 1000 volts had been spread through his body at handovers. I can never thank you enough. You opened the door…
The film? Beautiful but sad. It made me feel someone has put a camera in my mind. The pillows, the hand mark (are we all the same?), the empty spaces. I find small lego pieces in corners. They draw pictures too and are insistent about leaving them here or in the car. They are creatures of territory…emotional and physical. I refuse ever to give up on them and never will. I am lucky. So many dads with the same mantra have lost them…for now.
I left because of DV and emotional abuse. When the children where exposed to that i left. The children will come to town…and perhaps someday we can let go of the solace, the pain? At one point I wanted them to grow to acknowledge it. A parental sacrifice? Now i want it never to touch their soul.
That they may find peace. This hard life, that they might slip away and let go of our hand…that they may never have to look at that hour nor ever think it beckoned…that we are always here?
We can protect them as best we can from many things but never from our eternal love. Perhaps that in itself is enough?