2013 – a year in the world of family separation

It’s January 2013. Christmas is behind us and, as the festivities fade, I am called to work with a family of five where separation looms.  As I walk up the path to the door of the house and knock, I wonder who I will meet this time and what scene will greet me as I walk through the door.  On my desk in my office is the draft of the telephony training that I have written for the Department of Work and Pensions initiative called Help and Support for Separated Families.

A tired looking man opens the door. He looks to be in his early thirties. I smile and he invites me in. As he makes tea, I listen as he tells me that he last saw his children on Christmas Day for an hour. It was the first time he had seen his children since he returned home to find them gone, along with his wife and most of the furnishings in the house.  We sit on stiff backed kitchen chairs to drink our tea whilst thin, pale, fingers of light play on the floor in the space where the kitchen table used to be.  I listen as he tries to tell me what has happened without crying. I put my hand on his arm to allow the tears to flow. I am reminded again of the horror that awaits too many  fathers after separation.  I try to remember to breathe.

Back at the office I open the draft of the telephony training.  It is destined to train staff on national helplines to offer help and support to separated families.  The idea originated in discussions that I had had with the then Minister with responsibility for Child Maintenance, Maria Miller.  The reform of family services was intended to move delivery of support to the whole family after separation.  I spent many hours sitting in rooms with the heads of government funded charities discussing how to achieve this.  During this period F4J and Mumsnet had an angry encounter over the feminist discussions about men and boys on the Mumsnet message boards. At the time, I commented on the way in which this fight reflected the way in which mothers and fathers who are separating have to take up adversarial positions simply because of the way that the single parent and domestic violence lobby have dominated the field of family separation.  I watched as the women’s rights representatives dominated the discussion space about family separation.  I wondered why no-one representing fathers ever spoke up to defend them or reset the agenda.  Working on the telephony training, I thought about the father I had just spent two hours with and wondered how I could ever write the kind of training that would develop compassion in the hearts and minds of the people who work in the field of family separation.  Compassion for fathers too often being the missing ingredient in most of the support that is delivered to families after separation.

Two weeks later and I’m working as a parenting co-ordinator, bringing the three children of the tired looking man back to the half empty house that they used to call home, for the first time in three months.  As we walk up the path the door is flung open and the man runs to greet the children, all of whom rush at him like hungry little animals dying for a feast.  Inside, a makeshift table has been set up in the kitchen with three planks of wood across two chairs, a table cloth covers the wood and cup cakes with sparklers in them have been set out ready.  The children are delighted and run through the rooms of the house looking to see the familiar places. ‘Come with us dad’, they shout, as they haul him off to play.  I sit and drink tea and listen to the sounds of a family reunited, albeit with one person missing.  The house is full of love that day.

In March, back at my desk, I find myself in an increasingly agitated state.  Still working on the telephony training I am becoming more and more disillusioned with the Help and Support for Separated Families Initiative that I spent such a long time working on.  Back in 2008, I had, alongside Nick, written, developed and delivered, a core part of the training that enabled the reform of Child Maintenance through the development of the Options service.  Having been part of the reform of Child Maintenance since before Sir David Henshaw produced his review in 2006, I was well versed in its purpose and the intentions of successive governments to move from a punitive to a supportive system of post separation financial arrangements between parents.  Between January and the end of July 2008, Nick and I worked twelve hour days alongside the Child Support Redesign Team in bringing the Options service to life. Between 2009 and 2011, we trained all of the new employees of the Child Maintenance Enforcement Commission (as it was then called) Executive in whole family, gender aware, father inclusive support to separated parents.  Our training was nominated and won awards, it was voted the best part of the Commissions induction programme. We grew more confident that whole family support to separated families was something the government would adopt on a wider scale.  By 2011, when the Coalition government began its simultaneous  reform of the Children Act and family services, we were hopeful that a breakthrough could be made.  In March 2013, as I sit looking at the Web Application which is now widely touted by the DWP as a a tool to help parents to sort out separation, I feel my heart sinking. Though I had known, on the day that Maria Miller and Tim Loughton were reshuffled, that any real reform hopes were lost for good, the reality of the swing back to the same old women’s rights agenda begins to dawn on me.

April 2013 and I am back at the family home of the tired looking man, supervising ‘contact’ for him and his three children again.   There are still outstanding allegations against this father which have not yet been heard in court and, for that reason, a continued supervision order is in place.  At least we have managed to agree supervision outside of a contact centre although, looking around at the now practically empty house with the for sale sign outside, it doesn’t feel too comforting.  The elder of the three children doesn’t want to play with his dad today and sits with me, chin on his chest and his eyes cast down to the floor. Nothing I can do will cheer him up.  ‘When can I go home’, he asks me sullenly and I look around at the home he used to live and love and play in, which is now empty of all feeling other than loss and change.  I put my hand on his shoulder and feel my heart sink further. I know what is coming for these children.

Summer arrives and I have decided that I can no longer support the DWP in their Help and Support for Separated Families Initiative.  Inspired by a visit to Jersey and the work of some wonderful volunteers at Milli’s which is part of the Jersey Centre for Separated Families and linked in to our growing network, I write a blog contrasting that with the experience of working with managers from the Options service.  I have pretty much made up my mind by now that I can no longer work with the DWP because what they have produced is so far away from what parents need that it will cause harm rather than serve to support collaboration between parents.  The DWP don’t want me delivering the training I have written for their telephony service after this is published and I am glad to walk away from it.  What began as a vision of reform of family services, with a telephony circle of leading charities working to help parents to collaborate, ends up with a tiny handful of organisations – one of which has clearly over exaggerated the number of people delivering their telephone services, another of which is unhappy with the concept of collaboration. Two of the organisations do have an understanding of what faces fathers and their children after separation so I comfort myself with the idea that at least my efforts went to supporting those.

Summer rolls on and I read that the DWP has funded a raft of new services to help parents to collaborate.  One of these services has received funding to help fathers to understand what they need to do to stop the conflict and another proposes to tell dads how to stop being quite so deficient.  Mediation is funded aplenty and I am unsurprised to read on the pages of one chosen organisation how women are more likely to live in poverty after separation than anyone else.  Nowhere do I see a word about how supporting families to work together helps children over their lifetime.  Elsewhere, someone is getting a gang of teenagers to raise money for an idea called ‘Kids in the Middle’, this is child labour for the twenty first century in my view, but hey, what’s not to like when its all about getting kids to tell their parents what they should be doing after separation! Snuggling in with CAFCASS and a few Family Law firms, Kids in the Middle will fit very nicely into the government funded family services, I think.  Back at the tired looking man’s new flat, he tells me sadly that his eldest boy said to him last week that he doesn’t want to come anymore.  I wonder how much longer the other two will keep making the trip.

Autumn, and I’m heading into a massive life transition. A house move looms and we have both left the Centre for Separated Families behind.  Now we can properly focus on the work that we really want to do, which is therapeutic support to the whole family through separation and beyond.  Our plans for research are coming to fruition and we are meeting new people, our new project, the National Network of Separated Family Centres is starting to flourish. The tired looking man cries as he asks me what he can do, now that all three of his children will not come to see him.  The fact finding hearing in April found that there was no case to answer, the allegations were disproved, contact should have been happening every other weekend and once in the week in between. There is radio silence from his children’s mother.  I try to find out what is happening. He fills out another court application.

It’s November when I raise my head above the parapet again. I have survived the move and am now heading into preparation for a doctoral thesis on generational patterns of estrangement in families where alienation is present. Cases are coming at me thick and fast and our therapeutic mediation services are in demand.   I continue to act as a parenting co-ordinator for the tired looking man who is now thin and gaunt.  I run a training day on Parental Alienation and as I talk about the process of delay in our family courts and the way in which an alienating parent has all the time in the world to build reluctance in a child to make transitions, I think of him and his children.

The following day I manage to get the youngest two to come with me to his flat where we spend three hours making and sticking and cooking and baking.  The youngest takes a cake he has baked back to his mother’s house. She puts it in the bin without even opening the bag.  I watch the boy’s face as he struggles with the confusion caused by her actions, I can tell he is wondering what he has done wrong.  I gently try to let mum know that her actions speak too loudly in her son’s ears, she snorts in derision at me and tells me its a trick her ex is playing to try and use the kids to ‘get back in’ with her emotionally.  I go home and, as I sit on the tube reading, I see an article by the head of the single parent charity, Gingerbread, in the paper.  Single parents ‘you’re brilliant’ goes the strap line.  I think about the little one’s face as the bun in the bag went in the bin.  I wonder how, for so long, our children’s precious hearts and minds have been allowed to be treated with such callous indifference.  Where are the services that help parents to understand the impact of separation on their children? Where are the helplines that offer advice and guidance? Where is the compassion that offers grieving and heartbroken parents and their children, the support that they need to recover from one of life’s most awful challenges?  Gingerbread’s CEO is ranting about the money that single parents need.  I close the newspaper.  My heart feels heavy in my chest.

And so this is Christmas 2013 and I am about to close down for a few days to rest and recuperate so that I can return to my work with renewed vim and vigour in 2014.  Yesterday I went to see the tired looking man, who is thin and gaunt and has almost given up.  His children keep saying they do not want to see him. A CAFCASS officer will visit him just after Christmas.  We drink tea and I put my hand on his forearm as he cries again.  I make sure he has people around him during this most awful time of year for separated families who are still in the early days, I tell him over and over again to hang on, to keep going, to never ever give up.

Back at the office I read about the millions just granted by the DWP for more mediation and, bizarrely, for gardening and painting activities, as part of the Help and Support for Separated Families Initiative. Thankfully,   Nick gives me a copy of the Centre for Social Justice report Fractured Families and I am heartened to see that our visions and our values and our expertise are not completely lost. Nick’s work on Child Maintenance has contributed to the report and I can see that there is a way to keep hope for change alive.  I talk with colleagues about the Early Intervention Project; we hatch plans to bring it back to the public stage for discussion in 2014.  I plan more work on research into generational experiences of parental alienation.  The ideas of equality, dignity and the relationship between us are never more important to keep alive than now.

I pick up the phone and its the tired looking man. He is distraught and I cannot hear what he is saying.  When I finally calm him down enough to hear him, he tells me that his ex has made more allegations against him.  All contact is suspended pending investigation.  A court hearing has been set for mid March 2014.

On LBC Radio, F4J are talking about fatherlessness and the family courts, the issue rising rapidly to the surface via the fight between this campaign group and Kate Winslet’s statements about the living arrangements of her children.

I think about the space that opens up between parents after separation and the appalling lack of guidance and support that remains and the family law process, grinding its slow and painfully destructive way, leaving generation after generation of fractured and fragile families.

And I think about the tired man and his three children who will grow up without a father, burdened by the responsibility of having to choose between two parents.

Until 2014…

Towards equality, dignity and respect for the relationships between us.

Happy Christmas Britain.

30 Comments

  1. So many would not believe your story Karen. They would assume that there is a good reason why a mother does this. But you know and I know that all it takes is determination, and the children will be left with no father in their lives for no reason other than that is what the mother has decided, and that the agencies involved will aid and abet her in her determination. Mostly fathers are excluded, but sometimes mothers. And very often that parent’s family is excluded too.

    How is this right for children? How can such abuse be justified? And yet it is. Again and again and again.

    Many of us are so very, very grateful for your help this past year. I do hope Nick’s and your work this coming year bears fruit. The fruit is so badly needed.

    Have a good rest over the Christmas period and very best wishes for 2014.
    Jenny

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    1. If only it were not true Jenny but you know, like I do, that there are too many stories like this one, of fathers and mothers who are pushed out of their childrens lives aided by our state services. Far too many. Thank you for your kind words, I know how much you also do for families, you must rest and take care and we will begin again in 2014, with renewed determination. We must never, ever, give up.

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  2. living in this barbaric discriminatory system and living without my child I can only pray for this this person and to offer this

    I find I tell myself

    “soon as this is behind me I will find peace”

    I am misguided

    I must tell myself and I must believe

    ” if I find peace this to shall pass”

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  3. Bob Geldof described all this brilliantly years ago in his foreword to The Custody Minefield. The above blog by Karen shows how damaging this is to parents and their children. Easy to lay blame, hard to find a solution. So I present my simple versions. Men are primarily at fault for not protecting their children and themselves from this voracious greed ideologically and financially. And their will be no improvement until we have Gender Neutral Impartial Professionalism. Currently we are overdosing on back door social engineering in the form of Child Endangering Gender Discrimination.

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    1. Yes…and although I am no expert on the law – I doubt whether it is really laws that are doing this…but rather attitudes. And we generally don’t change attitudes except by having conversations – with whichever women (in particular, in this case) ARE prepared to talk to us about possible problems of gender discrimination.

      That has to be a priority for 2014, I believe. To try and initiate conversations in these difficult areas you describe with those willing to come forward…in an atmosphere of genuine enquiry into understanding what has happened – rather than vilification – as much as possible. A better appreciation of what it feels like from BOTH sides – would help to defuse at least SOME of the anger we feel, mightn’t it, and lead to some progress in stopping this war of attrition?

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      1. 2014 – the year of discussion between men and women Woodman, I look forward to your plans unfolding, k

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      2. Thank you Karen – there is a lot to take on, but I hope so.

        For me personally, the discussions need to take place on at least three levels.

        1. Beginning to explore the possibility of focusing on more unrestrained emotional response through music – with a mixed group of people who are interested in this (who may or may not be involved in family breakup) and then the follow-up discussion from this.

        2. To talk with people (women and men) who have specifically identified as feminist, in order to explore the idea that the oppression and suffering of men – is inherently JUST as much as issue to a feminism based on notions of equality (let’s see how many can measure up to this?) as the oppression and suffering of women.

        3. If at all possible (any ideas on how to get that access?) to talk with people within the Judiciary (who may or may not identify as feminist) about what they understand their role as child protectors to be – so that we can present (at least from our perspective) how they could have got this understanding so spectacularly wrong – and therefore (despite their best intentions…presumably?) be doing far more harm than good in regard to this so much (if not most of) the time.

        Any thoughts in regard to any of the three potential conversations?

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      3. My only thought right now remains, leave the feminist out of it…we will get much further without it k

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    2. However this happened, gender awareness is all of our responsibility to argue, push and fight for, only by fighting for the true meaning of equality, which is respecting the difference between men and women and the different things they bring to their childrens lives will we do the the right thing by the next generations of our children.

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  4. Karen, what to say.
    As yet another year comes to a close, people are still saying the same things as they were in 2007 when I found my son and ourselves in this horrible situation. Until it happened,I was blissfully unaware of PA. I wish I still was. Stupidly I had always believed there was good in everyone, I now know that is not true. What ever happens to people to make them want to hurt others so badly. I have found myself on the end of the phone to grandparents who want to end their lives because they have been wrongly accused of stuff and they can see no end to the hurt. To be on the end of the phone listening to grandparents whose sons have ended their lives. I am not sure how to move forward into 2014 with much positivity, but I will because I owe it to my granddaughter. I can’t do the clever stuff, or use the clever words but I can listen. Thanks to you and Nick for all of the work you do, and I hope you do have some time to relax and enjoy your family over Christmas.

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    1. Jane, I know how hard you work for grandparents and how much you have suffered too, thank you for all that you for families, I hope you have a peaceful and restful holiday time. K

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  5. Thanks for this extended story, Karen. As you know, I find the anecdotes tell the world more powerfully alongside the more powerful polemics! I will Tweet this one. Nick

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    1. Thank you Nick and thank you too for all that you do, I know that you are working very hard in Scotland to raise the issue of alienation and the ways that we can work to bring change in this arena, I wish you a leaceful Christmas and look forward to more discussion and development of ideas in 2014. K

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  6. Jane has been a wonderful friend and support in the last 3 years.
    3rd Christmas of denied contact with my grandson- though he only lives a mile away.
    Trying to be positive. Feel tearful/ depressed just now but it must be worse for my son.

    ‘Gender discrimination’ I felt angry today to see report in local paper about Christmas tree in Waitrose to highlight domestic abuse to women.’104 baubles to symbolise average number of women who die as a result of domestic abuse each year’. -and leaflets about local help. No mention of abuse to men!! or help for them and their children.

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    1. Grandmani, I hope that in 2014 there will be change in your life and your sons, I know how hard it has been for all of you. Sending my support always K

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  7. Thank you, Karen. I don’t know how you find the strength to carry on in the face of such discouragement. Your blog is an inspiration, a ray of light.

    I have just received a Christmas present from the family court: an order ending all contact, direct and indirect, with my 8 year old daughter. I argued successfully to be allowed to send her a farewell letter, but that will be it.

    Separation occurred two years ago, and parental alienation proceeded much as in the case you have described. Direct contact ended a year ago; I came to the contact centre with Christmas presents to find my daughter outside, bawling and clinging to her mother and refusing to enter. The same date can be found on a ‘Secret Diary’ my daughter wrote under her mother’s supervision, making a series of allegations againt me which imply that I was grooming her for sexual abuse.

    The Secret Diary was the central piece of evidence in the fact finding hearing last week, which went against me. My concerns about parental alienation were never seriously considered by the court in two years of proceedings. As soon as I refuted allegations, more were produced, ensuring that battle was fought on ground of my ex-wife’s choosing.

    To overturn a finding of fact is of course extremely difficult, so my prospects of seeing my child again, or even of re-establishing indirect contact, are very bleak. Perhaps one day she will come forward and testify that she was forced to denounce me, and say things about me which were not true. Who knows? To do that she will need the courage and strength to rebel against her mother, which is not likely to happen until she is in her teens, perhaps not until much later.

    When I look back, and read diary entries that I wrote in the final, chaotic, months of our life together, I am struck by how difficult it was to alienate my daughter from me, how long she remained loyal to her father despite enormous pressure. This is a child who said to me, when she was five and had been told off by her mother for saying something that was true, “Mummy doesn’t know about the truth”.

    As her mother and stepsister were packing for the separation, my daughter told me, “Don’t worry, it will all work out as it should”, and she described a discussion of separation and divorce at school, in which two of her Reception class peers stood at the front of the class and explained how they spent some time with each parent, but more with their mother. As my daughter left the house for the last time, she hugged me and said, “I’ll love you forever, Daddy.” Even a year later, despite minimal contact in an institutional, contact-centre environment, her affection for me, though muted, remained clear.

    What, oh what, is going through her mind now?

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    1. My heart goes out to you and to every father and mother who face this terrible, terrible ordeal. What you describe so clearly, is the way that children hang on desperately, for as long as they possibly can, to the parent they are being forced to reject, they know, as normal loving children, that what is happening is wrong and they try their best to keep those threads of love alive. When they can no longer cope they start to use a coping mechanism to split their feelings into good and bad so that they can hide from themselves the truth of the awful choice they have been forced to make. It is child abuse, nothing more and nothing less and the slow erosion of those loving threads, which are thinned and stripped until they are invisible by court professionals and alienating parents and families, is nothing less than torture of innocent human beings. Your child has used a coping mechanism, this pushes her feelings of love for you down into the depths of her unconscious, she has covered that over with guilt and shame and on top of that she has layered anger, which has been inculcated by her mothers actions. She will not appear to suffer too much on the surface and her mother and the courts will be satisfied that they have made rhe right decision. In the latency years to come, she will miss you now and then but she will not be able to touch the love which she has buried without help. But in her teenage years, when all that is buried in latency comes surging up to the conscious mind in the battle to become an independent human being, she will battle storms with her mother and will face her loss of you through dreams, irrational thoughts, anxiety, compulsions, a continued sense of loss. She will look for you in boyfriends, she will search for you in her choice of career, she will try to numb the pain of guilt for ‘choosing’ to reject you. One day she will come to find you. When she does know this. You are her source of hope, strength and a lifeline out of the nightmare she has been plunged into. If she finds you waiting, strong and healthy and ready to welcome her home, she will recover balance quickly and will move through reversal of what has been done healthily. Your role right now as her parent, is to keep yourself well and healthy and strong and balanced and to feed your own soul with as much nurture, care and love as you can because this is how you will, when she finds you, be able to help her to recover.

      Know that you are not alone, there are too many of you suffering this and too many of your children too. Keep yourself healthy and well. Join us on here and discuss, find others to help, give yourself permission to grieve, be angry but do not let it turn you bitter, be sad but not let it turn to despair. This too will pass and you are more precious in your child’s life than you could ever believe, discard the ignorance of the courts from your mind and move on if you can into shaping your world the way that you want it to be. When you say goodbye to your daughter do not say goodbye forever, tell her you will be waiting, always and when she is ready you will be there, it will be the most precious words you could ever write and one day she will know that. Sending my support to you and to everyone else, my thoughts are always with you. K

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  8. Thank you so much Karen, this is very helpful. I have been reading your blog for a while, and now the case is over, I intend to contribute comments and to blog myself, gently and without bitterness.

    Change to the system will come, I believe, if too late to help my daughter. I am hopeful that, when she and other girls in her situation grow to adulthood, they will challenge the strange alliance between hardline feminism and promoters of old-fashioned gender role models (my ex-wife is no feminist, though she is happy to use the tools that feminism provides to achieve her ends) that does so much to promote this cruelty by excluding fathers from caring for their children. One of the more helpful professionals I encountered in our case was a young woman who supervised some of our contact sessions and who told me that her own parents had divorced, and that therefore she understood the situation that my daughter found herself in and wanted to help her.

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    1. Hi DH,

      Your poise and dignity are remarkable, and your awful experience has nevertheless allowed you to hit the nail on the head.

      The ‘strange alliance’ that you describe between seemingly ‘radical’ and ‘reactionary’ views – is indeed immediately understandable once we realize that what they represent are ‘matriarchy’…and ‘patriarchy’…respectively – held in uneasy alliance where both are only united in their concern for power OVER others…whereas those of us who are truly feminist (in the equity sense) wish only to experience power together WITH others.

      When my daughter was eleven and things were starting to kick off with Mum – she turned to me and said that she had “one gentle parent – and one rough parent…”.

      With a similar story of alienation I have no idea whether things will deteriorate for us further down the path you describe – or whether there is still any way of turning things around. Our children need us to do everything in our power while we still can.

      I am very fortunate to have another daughter who is somewhat more resistant to alienation as also part of the picture.

      With so many fathers understandably deeply embittered and hostile against the Judiciary, it would be extremely helpful to have someone with your equanimity and perception to be part of the discussion with Judges that I have suggested is now essential for 2014.

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      1. Thanks W

        It sounds as though your daughters are older than mine and that you’ve been more successful in keeping up contact than I was, so I hope very much that they will be more able to resist pressure to reject you.

        Would judges be willing to enter into discussion with us? Would they not say, this is a political matter, one we need to take up with our MPs if we want to see changes in the law and in social work practice?

        The feminist label is not one I would want to claim at all. It seems to me that feminism is a kind of trades unionism of women. The trades unions were formed to defend working people against real oppression and to fight for their rights. They were very successful in this, but they also became powerful lobby groups in their own right, with a blinkered group selfishness that lost sight of the needs of those outside their membership. Something similar seems to me to have happened to feminism, at least in a country like the UK where feminists have won real power and influence in at least some sectors of society such as academia, social work and the law. We should try to enter into dialogue with feminists, but I don’t want to shelter under the feminist umbrella, and as a man and a father I probably wouldn’t be welcome under it anyway.

        The power over/power with distinction is an interesting one I have come across in green and anarchist political theory. A society without coercive, power-over relationships seems to me to be utopian and I can’t imagine how it could be made to work. Power-over relationships can be very oppressive, but they can also be necessary and responsible, and tender and gentle. I think of my relationship with my daughter, before it was broken, when I was in a position of authority over someone very vulnerable, who needed to be protected from dangers she didn’t understand.

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      2. With some soberness in sympathy with the family of one of our number who simply couldn’t take any more, as Jane has said – I feel we owe it to him to continue to press on to find a possible resolution of this terrible state of affairs.

        In my case it is my eldest (16) who is the most susceptible to alienation through the means of the ‘poisoned apple’ of money.

        Your alias suggests you know all too well the role of money as one of the most potent weapons in the alienating arsenal.

        My youngest daughter (10) is mildly autistic, and so more easily retains the awareness that she needs me in ways that money doesn’t supply.

        Power over is appropriate to dealing with young children to a certain extent, yes…but even then, my feeling has always been to keep this to a minimum. Power with – is always far more fun along the way…from the earliest age, wherever and whenever possible.

        But when one is competing with a person whose style is ‘power over’ (one can see this from the previous quote I gave) this is extremely hard work.

        If we can meet with another person whose style is also predominantly ‘power with’…rather than ‘power over’ – that would definitely make life very sweet.

        You are right that these are relatively rare…but there is no harm in being utopian in the sense that utopia is simply a “better place” (a better way of relating, in this instance) that we can aim for – rather than an impossibility. People who exist in ‘power over’ mode – do so primarily out of their own emotional pain. Emotional Pain is something that can certainly be dealt with…i.e. as in the first of the three “conversations” that I mentioned, once we realize what a central role this plays in all of our lives.

        Women’s “trade unions” – is an entirely understandable way of seeing feminism, but a point of view based on the worker/boss model may not be so accurate of female/male relations. Or rather, once we start to look at gender relations in the way that Warren Farrell, for example does…we may start to feel that if anything, even in times past, the worker/boss relationship, if anything, has consisted more of male worker/female boss – than anything else.

        How is this? The answer is that the historical male “role” demands that we sacrifice ourselves as men for the protection of women. We have typically worked longer hours to gain more money – but with the result is that in many sectors of the economy up to 80% of the spending is done by women…that money must largely be being transferred to the women. Successful marketers know this very well…and will predominantly target the demographic with the most spending power, and generally have the most time to decide what needs spending on, and when.

        I suspect that it is the very pressure on men to be able to “purchase” the love they need – which often drives those less successful in this – to “take” what they cannot gain legitimately, and thus creates the aura of fear with which women do have to live. But these reactions by men are a direct result of their societal powerLESSness – rather than their being the ‘bosses’.

        Feminism developed at the perceived lack of power of the female, on the basis of the need for gender equality. Once we begin to see that men are actually as disadvantaged as women have been thought to be, or perhaps even more so – it becomes the task of feminism to address this imbalance.

        Judges, who know very well that their task is to balance the issues confronting them and often have to arrive at conclusions based on probabilities rather than absolute certainties – are in fact extremely well prepared for this type of restorative approach.

        My perception is that the majority of the issues facing us can be addressed without significant changes in the law – but simply through a change of attitude on the part of the judiciary, should they be willing to be challenged about the working assumptions that they use most of the time. So there may well be a role for MP’s and parliament – but I would suspect that the Judges already have powers to address family issues that they are generally simply unwilling to use.

        I’m not suggesting that all Judges will be interested in this – but that there will be a significant minority who will be extremely uncomfortable about the way family Law is being conducted but are nervous about stepping out of line…or bowing to pressure tactics such as F4J tend to use, etc. However I believe this type of Judge will be deeply appreciative of an approach from a quietly passionate group – deeply committed to exploring fairness all round, and showing themselves to be equally interested in the well-being of mothers – as of fathers.

        This is where the conversation with feminists of the equity kind is so important. (Commited gender feminists will be extremely unlikely to agree to any dialogue, and it would be pretty pointless if they did). I can promise you that my introductory experience with a feminist conference recently demonstrated that there were many “sisters” who were only to ready to abandon any notion of sisterhood as female trade union – and open up a dialogue with men with whom they are capable of feeling a deep sympathy and connection for.

        Surprising, perhaps…but true, I think you will find.

        I haven’t yet approached anyone (although I do have someone in mind) because I don’t yet have a group of us men willing to do so. We have to face the reality that one person – is simply not substantial enough to warrant their time and attention. The organisers tend to be busy academics – there has to be something of significance for them to schedule in some time for us.

        I don’t really know what has happened with FNF. It has been around for 30 years but is hardly known about, and doesn’t even seem to have started down this road which to my mind is the only way of resolving the problem. So the answer is to stay within it – but begin to build the bridge with FNM, so to speak.

        If anyone can think of an alternative, then I would be glad to hear it.

        I can’t quite recall who suggested that CAFCASS needed to be abolished…I can understand the sentiment very well – but the Judges have to rely on someone to collect information for them. They could change things simply by throwing out reports that it was OBVIOUS were heavily biased and prejudiced, once they were more aware of some of the ways CAFCASS (and some Social Workers perhaps even more) go about collecting their ‘information’ & setting the women up to pressurize them heavily into going to court etc. That would start to send some shock waves through the system.

        But we are not going to be able to approach the Judges in this way within the Court system. It has to be on an informal basis, outside of that – and MUCH more powerful if we can show we are talking with the women’s lobby as well – otherwise it will likely be perceived and resisted as an attempt on our part to pursue undue influence from our side.

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  9. Karen.
    As a victim of family law myself, something needs to be done to help shut down CAFCASS. CAFCASS as you know, are an organisation that can and do freely lie in family courts and one that construes indirect contact as being a positive result. I find it abhorrent that they do not keep any form of evidence to support their farcical claim of “we work in the best interests of the children”. In my very own case, my contact was documented as being positive and should continue. However, 5 mins before going into a directions hearing, CAFCASS then say NO CONTACT!! CAFCASS also document that I also need permission to take pictures of my son! I also find it extremely alarming that way too many complaints are being shoved to one side and letters from enhanced service managers say that such complaints are vexatious, when really they are genuine.

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  10. The reality has just appeared in my Inbox this morning, we go round and round all saying the same stuff, trying desperately to find some answers. That reality is, a grandparent who has just told me that her son took his own life as he could not face anymore.

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    1. So sorry to hear this Jane – a tragic story and this time of year is so difficult for so many. I am regularly shocked by the lack of empathy our society shows for fathers who are denied a relationship with their children. No wonder some of the fathers break, but deeply tragic every time it happens.

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  11. Hi Karen

    I have read with interest your diary for 2013 and am amazed at how you manage to cope with the personal tragedies of the tired man and remain so sharp and lucid when dealing with organisations that should be doing more to help him. A man, after all, who has been and is capable of being a good father to his children.

    I would like to apologise for not getting involved with your telephony initiative. I have had a little Samaritan training and feel I could be helpful. I missed an opportunity to come to London mainly because of costs, but I would like to give up some of my time to help.

    So far as the tired man goes what struck me was how similar his case is to every other marginalised parent we come across; varying intensity of the same disease. It’s a bit like the runaway train which you are desperately trying to stop, driving a wedge into the ground as the train gathers pace unable to stop such a powerful force.
    Having been on a similar journey I want to help this tired man with all the tricks of the trade. He is unwittingly in a psychological game and his ex seems to be pulling all the strings. There are many things he could be doing to stop the train in spite of the fact there is so little help for him from outside sources.
    A. Social integration………..Doctor/ health….Education/school……..Relationships/friends
    B. Self belief
    C. Acceptance of another’s point of view without feeling obliged to agree with it.
    Because we, as marginalised parents are in a minority we have to work much harder at the skills required to be a parent. Like the person who comes to this Country from abroad he/she can either accept the prejudices and habits of the new Nation and work positively within its’ confines or he/she can complain about it’s weakness’s and unfairness and be forever embroiled in its cantankerous and ageing systems.

    I am also interested in the Early intervention Project 2014. Taking this a step further I want to make Cafcass’s abiding new years resolution one of restoration. In my own dealings with Cafcass I was acutely aware of how their report reflects what they see at any given moment. Of course, by the time they get involved in the family separation process, more often than not the break up of the family is well advanced with the two parents in different homes and the children polarising toward a single parent outcome. Rather than base their “report” on what they see they should be writing it on how it was or how an “ideal family” should be. (In my case they seemed far too willing to accept that if I did not see my children I would somehow make contact with them when they had grown up and become adults themselves). For me this is not social work. At best it’s laziness and at worst a sackable offense.

    All the best for 2014

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  12. Thank you, Karen, for your acute perception of how matters truly are in respect of the family courts, CAFCASS, gender bias and the feminist lobby, the charities that promote the single resident parent family to the disadvantage and demise of the non-resident parent and that unique group of mothers and fathers who cannot see the terrible toll they are taking on their children’s emotional and psychological welfare by putting them in a situation where they have no choice but to choose that resident parent over their non-resident parent.

    I recognise the story of the “tired looking man”. It is my story and it is that of the many fathers I have met at our local FNF support meetings. Thank you for giving a voice to those “tired looking men” among us who have (for the perceived sake of their own well-being and that of their children) many times considered giving up the struggle to restore the loving relationship they once had with their children prior to separation.

    Perhaps in 2014 you might consider running a workshop here in the South West. Perhaps we can work on restoring dignity to the family unit by encouraging anyone in the above mentioned groups who will listen to ensure that mothers and fathers together are at the heart of the family and that this is the common sense approach that must be adopted.

    Wishing you and yours much happiness and success in 2014.

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  13. Hi

    This is an excerpt from the Gov.uk website. The Minister for women and equalities has been busy in 2013.

    Announcements
    by Minister for Women and Equalities
    Bigger role for women leads to better results for business
    16 December 2013News story
    Over 140 UK businesses commit to improving gender equality at work
    3 December 2013News story
    Business leaders urged to ensure women can fully contribute to economic growth
    7 November 2013News story
    Grants to boost childcare start-ups
    26 September 2013News story
    Same sex marriage becomes law
    17 July 2013News story
    Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill receives Royal Assent
    17 July 2013Press release
    British Hospitality and Tourism Summit 2013
    11 June 2013Speech
    New report aims to boost women’s role in economic growth
    4 June 2013News story
    £2 million grant scheme to boost childcare opens its doors
    1 May 2013Press release
    £2 million grant scheme to boost childcare launched

    Theresa May has been busy. HELP!

    Can someone please tell me where I can find the Minister for men and equalities?
    I was hoping to ask him/her about Fathers and childcare.

    One of the most scary advances in women’s equality (or however you like to phrase it) has been the grant scheme making it so much easier for separated women to farm childcare out to a third party keeping that irritating ex at bay, whilst pursuing her all important career.

    Kind regards

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