Remember the old saying “A conservative is a liberal who just got robbed at gunpoint” ? There was another one that countered with what a liberal is, but I don’t remember what it was. The point of each though, was that one’s political persuasion has a lot to do with one’s experiences.
I imagine that British novelist Louis de Bernieres understands the concept all too well. After all, he’s a staunch advocate for fathers’ parental rights. So that must mean he’s had an experience with family court that educated him to its realities.
And sure enough, that’s just what happened. Read about it here (Daily Mail, 8/16/10). He and his partner, Cathy Gill, had a couple of kids, separated and guess what. She got custody and the court “allowed” him to see them once every two weeks, i.e. the standard order that is laughingly called “joint custody.” The result?
‘It was really dreadful,’ he said.
‘The worst thing, practically, was finding the house so quiet, because it was always so full of laughter and rampaging and stampeding. There was always a lot of noise and fun, and it suddenly went quiet.
‘The emotional desolation is hard to describe. There were many times when I felt suicidal. One of the most extreme things you feel is a fantastically deep, bitter, anger at being treated so outrageously.’
De Bernieres is a high-profile writer. He’s the author of the critically and popularly acclaimed Captain Corelli’s Mandolin among others. As such, he’s uniquely well placed to further the rights of children to a strong relationship with their dads after separation or divorce.
That “deep bitter anger at being treated so outrageously” is what countless other fathers have felt and will continue to feel as long as courts adopt the policy that it’s OK for a child to lose its father when the parents divorce. It’s the same “deep, bitter anger” that will fuel the fathers’ rights movement until legislative and judicial bodies bring law and public policy into line with the science that teaches one and all that children need both their parents, whether married or not. It’s the same “deep, bitter anger” that demands that fathers be treated equally and honorably by courts, that they be accorded the same due process rights enjoyed by every other class of people including the most heinous criminals.
As de Bernieres has learned, it’s past time to stop thinking of fathers as just a wallet. Fathers are more than that to children and it’s time courts acknowledged the fact in the orders they issue.
But more important is the fact that the standard “visitation” order, even if honored by the mother (which few courts require them to do), effectively removes the father from the child’s life. There’s a great deal of reputable social science on that. Given that keeping fathers in children’s lives post-divorce promotes the child’s sense of stability in an otherwise uncertain and frightening situation, the wholesale refusal of courts to seriously make that effort itself constitutes a form of child abuse. Face it, in the vast majority of cases (that of de Bernieres is one) courts can order equally shared parenting if they choose. But they rarely do, not because the value of fathers to children isn’t well known, but because of the rampant anti-father sentiment that pervades public discourse, law and public policy.
Equally shared parenting is good for children, it’s good for fathers and, yes, it’s good for mothers. By taking half of the onus of childcare off of mothers, equally shared parenting opens the door to them to greater career opportunities, higher earnings, more promotions and higher rates of savings for retirement. Advocates of equally shared parenting seek to promote a work-life balance that optimizes career and family for both sexes. Into the bargain, it seeks to create the best possible environment for kids.
And the problem with that is what?
I deeply empathize with Louis de Bernieres, a thoroughly decent man who has largely lost the children he loves so much. I am heartily sorry for the loss he feels so acutely. But I welcome him to the fold.