Disposable Dads and The Myth of the Modern Family

A quick post before I head off for a short break to get ready for our big launch.

This post appears today on the Huffington Post where I have been invited to be a HuffPost Blogger.

As you can imagine, I am incredibly excited by the opportunity to share with an audience of 14 million people, the thoughts I have been sharing here with you for several years now.

This post is something you all know I have been talking about for a long time.  Now a bigger audience will have access to those things we have been grappling with on here together.

This is an exciting time for us and, I hope for everyone affected by the sadness caused by a dysfunctional system which causes too much harm to families. A system that we know is replicated around the world as people are left to suffer through separation, seeing the impact on their children, without the help that they desperately need.

I will be writing regularly for the Huffington Post and hope you will all join me there and show your support for the words I am writing. Words which are about your experience and the things that need to happen to make the world a better place for all children affected by family separation around the world.

HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around masculinity in the 21st Century, and the pressures men face around identity. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, from bringing up young boys to the importance of mentors, the challenges between speaking out and ‘manning up’ as well as a look at male violence, body image, LGBT identity, lad culture, sports, male friendship and mental illness.

There is a popular notion that after separation dads are either absent or angry and that their presence in family life is not necessarily an essential part of what a child needs. From the changing of the divorce laws in 1973 to the current day, several generations of dads have found themselves disposed of after family separation. An outcome which is nothing less than brutal for those so affected and which is, in these days of modern men and masculinities, so ridiculously outdated that it can sometimes feel as if we are living in a bygone era, where children and their fathers were on head patting terms before bed but nothing more.

I work in the field of family separation and I meet disposable dads every day. These men, who appear at times to me to be nothing more than the ghostly imprint of what a father is, are suffering. Not that you would know it, so unpopular is their plight. Gaslighted by the system which surrounds the family as it separates, these dads, who were pregnant with their partners (in that most modern approach to sharing all of the experience of bringing forth life), now find themselves routinely cast out of the family after separation. Dads are not welcome in post-separation family life, especially if they are going to cause trouble by wanting to actually parent their children. For those modern men who gave their all to fatherhood, the injustice of such a swift eviction from the lives of their children after separation, is a bewildering attack on their very sense of self.

When I talk about ‘the system’ I am talking about those family services which are likely to become involved in supporting the family as it separates and adapts to changing times, CAFCASS (the Family Court Practitioners who assess the needs of children in post separated family life and Social Services, who may also be involved). All of these services are routinely delivering their services around mother and children first, with father coming a very poor second. There is no such thing as gender equality in family services it seems, or if there is, it is the commonly held approach of women and children first. Pity those dads who go into the family courts expecting fairness, equality and justice, for what they receive is far less than this.

Dads after separation were once described by the CEO of Gingerbread (the single parenting charity) as ‘secondary resources, most effective when strategically employed.’ Translated this means, dads are useful to mums after separation because they can babysit and be included on the rota for the school run. Dads as helpers, are acceptable so long as they are doing as they are told. Dads as hands on active parents, sharing the care, the chores, the long nights of tummy aches and sickness are not routinely acceptable. In fact as a practitioner working with dads who have been evicted from their children’s lives after separation, I have witnessed dads being told that their desire to care for their children is ‘aggressive and upsetting’ to their children’s mother.

These days, in the shadow of Section 11 of the Children and Families Act 2014, children are regarded as being best served by having a relationship with both of their parents after separation. The problem being that in order to achieve that many dads face obstacles to achieving that. Obstacles in the shape of Family Court Practitioners whose own belief system does not allow them to conceive of a father wanting to care for his children and obstacles in the shape of other people who believe that when it comes to post separation care for children, mum knows best. For all of our efforts to modernise the family, bring fathering into the frame and ensuring that children experience mum and dad as team parent, when the family separates it is cast back into the nineteen fifties. Back to a world where dad works and mum cares and the space in between, where equality and modernity should be is lost forever.

And the terror of it all is that what is waiting for dads, should the family ever separate, is so hidden from view, that no man about to become a father can see it, until it is far, far too late. In our building of modern men we have failed to address their real needs as fathers because allowing them to become disposable after separation is both cruel and deeply damaging to the children they are summarily removed from.

Those children who will one day soon become parents themselves, are internalising an expectation of parenthood that belongs in the past, not the present and definitely not in the future.

To blog on the site as part of Building Modern Men, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com. If you would like to read our features focused around men, click here, and for more about our partnership with Southbank Centre’s Being A Man festival, click here.

Follow Karen Woodall on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/woodallthoughts


  1. Wonderful. Have you heard about “The Red Pill” – a film in production by Cassie Jaye charting her journey as someone with a feminist perspective now encountering the men’s movement in the USA?

    The Huff post should be aware of developments like these – a ray of hope in the darkness..


      1. Busy working on our community music program, Karen – which aims to support families not to break in the first place as well as exploring any possibility of child/parent reunion.

        Slowly but surely tackling some of the deep alienation issues with my eldest daughter.

        Hope to have an event ready soon – waiting on venue…will confirm as soon as we do.


      2. Excellent news Woodman, tell us about it on here won’t you, perhaps a post for us?


      3. That would wonderful, Karen. I have to say, am encountering so much resistance in putting this community music platform together (even from folk who appear at first to be supportive!) it will be great to have some wider support and awareness.

        We are building up a set of audio visual resources that will be available for use anywhere else. Having someone with musical ability is helpful – but the main requirement is simply an enthusiasm for the popular music of the last 60 years – a bit like rock choir for everyone!


  2. So pleased for this Karen. A great platform for this plight, for you and your team, and your approach to it. I wish you well and know that you will beware the trolls ahead. Any support I can give I will. Any forwarding and shining of light I can do I will. Best wishes.


  3. Another great post. I would just add that many fathers who are more traditional and worked to provide for their families while the mothers cared are no less a father or hurt any less because of their less modern approach.
    As Warren Farrell said” Men show their love for their children by staying away from them”


    1. I will be writing about the way in which the feminisation of masculinity as a stealthy approach to changing men’s expectations of themselves has affected how men parent CMM. The difference in men and women’s inherent attitudes to children fascinates me, I watch it all the time. All expressions are of love, how that is expressed is different.


  4. I hope you are not just another voice in the wind. The message you just delivered is exactly my experience. I was told by the GAL that I shouldn’t parent, and my kids mother asked me why I said anything at all. Parenting my children has led to me having supervised visits. Not because I am dangerous, or say hurtful things, but because I disagreed with their mother and told them so.


    1. I hope I am not a voice in the wind too HeligKo but having been writing for some years on this topic and now being able to write for a wider audience about it, I am hopeful that I am not. For sure parenting your children is about doing those things that you think are right for them, putting them to bed on time, getting them to school on time, making sure they do their homework, reading with them at night, offering them empathic responses that make them feel good about themselves. And both parents should be able to do that with their children. It is difficult for children though when parents tell them that they disagree with the other parent because it confuses them and makes them feel uncertain about themselves and their love for the other parent. Arguments about care need to take place between parents away from the children, absolutely essential for the wellbeing of children to keep them right away from those disagreements. That said, you have every right to care for your children.


      1. I tend to agree. The problem is when one parent, in this case the mother, will not work out parenting disagreements with the other parent. They instead choose to parent first, and try to force the other parent to go along with their decision. Its is far less confusing for the kids to understand that their parents don’t agree than it is for them to be told by an authority, the court, that one parent is bad. Understand my situation involves criminal court as well for my oldest, who is prepared to take a plea bargain rather than his mom get in trouble (which she wouldn’t), and all the kids involved are between 12 and 16. Not small children.


  5. As a dad that got shared residence a very uncommon accurance in 2004. It made very little difference still ignored by schools, SS, and especially unemployment or housing agencey etc treated as second class to the prime carer. Good luck, will look forward to reading your articles as ever, and especially the feed back. You are an important voice that needs to be heard.


    1. Thank you Phill, yes I am aware of the way in which family services ignore the needs of dads, to the degree that you are often invisible. I will write more about this soon and how it contributes to the diminishment of the role of parent in a child’s life.


  6. I look forward to your work with Huffington Post with great anticipation Karen. I have followed the “Huff” for a very long time. I feel sure that with your vast experience of family breakdown and the wisdom that you have offered to all parents in helping solving their problems, that you will further enhance its reputation. Good luck with your project.


  7. I am delighted that you have been recognised and have an opportunity to contribute to the issue of family separation and raise awareness for the benefit of children and their families that have been traumatised by family break down. Wonderful Karen, you work so hard and so diligently for families.


    1. Thank you Tracey, it is a very exciting opportunity for me to be able to say it to the wider world. Writing has always been my outlet, the way that I cope with the sadnesses of the world I work in. When I write, I discharge the energies and I feel life flow through me again. Trauma is something I am used to, personally and professionally, having the chance to write more is immensly helpful to me because it keeps me focused and steady in my work with families.


  8. Karen, thank you so much for lifting my spirit. My son is 12 today. When I asked him (by email, as he refuses to talk to me) if I could come and see him, he replied “please don’t come, it would make me sad”.
    He is sad because he is trapped by, and unable to escape from, his situation that has been created by the myths you correctly identify in your post.
    I am sad because child care “professionals” believe and have dictated to me through the family courts and CAFCASS that it is in “the best interests of my son” that he values a situation where he has the least contact with or parenting by his father. Unsurprisingly the consequence is that a 12 year old boy has successfully been made sad because his father wants to see him on his Birthday.
    Your posts keep my hopes alive that parental inequality, and the terrible sadness the supporters of it engender in children from separated families, will end.


    1. Tim, I am glad that you find some help here, I hope you will come with us to our new site where we will be talking about helping parents in your circumstances to cope over the longer term, to know how to reach out and when, how to keep hope alive and how to keep your self and soul and dignity intact until your son can come back to you. We want to help all parents in your circumstances to have a safe place where you can be understood and valued and where you can help and be helped so that you can be that healthy parent that your son needs when it is time. At 12 he is right in the midst of the worst period, give him a couple of years and his whole personality and self will begin to emerge. Keep reaching out, keep letting him know you are there, he needs you to do that. K


  9. Really pleased with what is clearly “onwards and upwards”! The world needs this Karen and you are fulfilling what is much needed. The Huff Post is wide reaching and a great platform for you. Good wishes as always.

    Rushing now but will certainly write something duly.

    I initially missed the link to your article above – in case others did as well, here is the general link to your small but very significant corner on there…


    1. Thanks PMK, we will be writing, publishing, speaking, training, talking, pushing, demanding and shaping the next decade and we WILL make a difference.


  10. I always read with interest your compassionate and person centred pieces. I am constantly seeing young men in my area involved and delighting in their offspring . In an area where parents are young one sees lots of variety in arrangements and a real openess to working out the reality of working for low wages while doing the best for children. As you say all this goes on in a society where debate is still as if a mythical mid 50s society actually exists now.
    So many so called “progressives” are actually almost “Victorian” in their attitudes and are very much less than relevant or helpful to the young parents of today.


    1. There is a fear I think of upsetting the parent with control be this mum or dad. In my experience one parent always assumes control after a battle or not and the practitioners are very afraid of upsetting this person so they do not intervene in anything like the manner which is needed. Additionally they are confined by the expectations of their role and the lack of care in the institutions they work in. K


  11. The comment I left last weekend might have gone into your spam folder (I included a hyperlink, which sometimes does that). Anyway, I mentioned a song you might enjoy because it’s about a disposed of dad. It’s by American country singer Zac Brown, called Highway 20 Ride. There’s a live version of it on his YouTube channel.


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