My introduction to fathers’ rights issues came about accidentally. Years ago, my wife and I went to a dinner party at a friend’s house. During the course of the evening, our friend asked “did you hear what happened to Greg (a mutual friend)?” We said “no.” It turned out that Greg had recently received a telephone call that went something like this”
“Hello Greg? This is Amber Edwards (not her real name). Remember me?”
“Uh, yes, vaguely. It’s been a really long time.”
“Yes it has. Well, your 21-year-old son wants to speak to you. His name is Brad (again, not his real name).”
It seems that Greg and the woman had had an affair 22 years previously. She’d broken it off without much of an explanation. She’d become pregnant and decided not to tell Greg, and he remained in the dark all that time. But Brad always had an inkling that something was amiss between him and the man his mother told him was his dad. So finally he confronted his mother and she told him the truth. That was when Brad called Greg.
That was how I discovered the “door in the low wall” that led to the amazingly complex, varied and sometimes poisonous garden of fathers and their treatment by family courts. My initial interest and research stemmed from Greg’s case. In my naiveté, I assumed he could sue “Amber” for her intentional denial of his parental rights.
But the more I researched, the more I learned about just how ignored, disdained and hamstrung fathers are in family courts. I read innumerable cases and interviewed dozens of dads in Greg’s situation, more or less, i.e. fathers who’d learned long after the fact that they’d fathered a child. These were dads who were trying to come to grips with the fact that a woman they’d known and had feelings for had exercised that type of control over one of the most important things in anyone’s life.
Many of the cases were outrageous, and some were improbable, but none was as improbable as this one (Daily Mail, 5/30/10).
A few years ago, James and Maura (all the names in the article are pseudonyms) met and were uncannily attracted to each other. They pursued an ardent courtship, married and had a child. What’s the problem? They’re half-brother and sister, that’s what.
What happened was what I had researched and learned so much about following Greg’s discovery of his son. James’s mother, Carmel, had had a relationship with Tom years before.
Carmel had met Tom on a night out during the 1980s. She was 19. They dated for the next four to five weeks but the romance soon fizzled out and they went their separate ways.
But they did sleep together – and during her month-long relationship with Tom, Carmel became pregnant with James.
However, she didn”t tell Tom that she was expecting his child and, by the time James was born, she was already involved in a relationship with Vincent. So it was Vincent who was named as James”s father on his birth certificate.
It was not until about four years later that Tom discovered that Carmel had a child. Keen to find out whether he was the little boy”s father, he made contact but many of the details about what happened next are sketchy.
However, what is clear is that even though Tom was by now married and the father of a young daughter, he was so determined to be a part of his son”s life that he embarked on a legal battle to win access. It was the late 1980s and no doubt court cases like this were few and far between.
But Tom was undeterred and, when the case was heard behind closed doors in the family law court, Carmel admitted that Tom was indeed James”s father. She conceded that Vincent was not James”s father but his stepfather.
However, the court ruled that James should not be told who his real father was or be given access to him.
So, surprise! the court endorsed the mother’s desires when it came to a matter regarding fathers and children. Where have we seen that before? And so did the court-appointed psychologist who interviewed everyone in the case except Tom, the biological dad. Although the article doesn’t say so in so many words, I can just about guarantee that when the court and the psychologist looked at Tom they saw not the man who was “so determined to be a part of his son’s life,” but a single father and therefore presumptively a man who would stop at nothing to avoid his child and his paternal responsibilities.
So James lived with Carmel and Vincent, but always felt that something was missing from the man he thought was his father.
When I was growing up, I always knew something was being held back. The man I thought was my father, who I now know is my stepfather, always treated his nephews better than me. It wasn”t that he was physically abusive, it was more mental.
Meanwhile, Tom had married another woman with whom he’d had a daughter, Maura. Many years later, James and Maura, who lived 100 miles apart, happened to meet in a bar and their relationship clicked. They thought of themselves as soulmates until they had their own daughter. It was then that Carmel was forced to finally tell them the truth. She, with the blessings of the judge and the psychologist, fixed the birth certificate to list Vincent as John’s father thinking that no one would be the wiser.
But now they are.
As I learned early in my inquiries into fathers’ rights, courts are all too ready to abet mothers’ dishonesty when it comes to paternity fraud. The cover story is that it’s always done in “the best interests of the child.” But depriving a child of its father and a father of his child is rarely in the interest of either. It results in things like unnecessary adoptions, unnecessary foster care placements, unnecessary abuse by mothers’ boyfriends, etc. Just listen to James when he describes his upbringing, always knowing that, for some reason he couldn’t grasp, he was playing second fiddle.
It’s kind of like my friend Greg’s surprise son Brad. Amber is African-American and Greg is white. The man she found to act as Brad’s father is also African-American. All Brad’s life, he was teased by friends and classmates. “Oh, c’mon. Tell us who your real dad is. You’re too light to be (Amber’s husband’s) son.” It didn’t take long for Brad to start wondering himself. So when he came of age, he confronted his mother who admitted the truth, 21 years of uncertainty and heartache too late.
Best interests of the child?