Society's dismal message for fathers
OPINION:When it comes to fathers' rights no argument or piece of research will sway the prevailing ideology, writes JOHN WATERS
IN A SHOP in a western town this week, I ran into one of the minority of men who are not worried about the banking system, having more fundamental things on their minds.
The conversation began in a familiar way. The man shuffled up to me in the lampshade department and asked me if I was that guy he saw on television talking about fatherhood. When I confirmed that I was, he went on to relate a story identical in virtually all respects to stories I have been hearing from men for a dozen years.
The man - I will call him Joseph K in order to avoid running foul of the laws which exist to protect the family law system from answerability - was an unmarried father, whose son is now almost three. He has spent over £5,000 going to court several times and even managed to get an order for two hours "access" to his son per week.
After a few months of reasonably successful contact, however, the child's mother decided that she wasn't going to obey the order any more, and there seemed to be nothing anyone could do about this. He went to the Garda but was told it was a civil matter. He is waiting to go back to court but his lawyers are dragging their heels. He had not spent any time with his son for almost a year.
For a few moments I found myself irritated, both by the intrusion and the man's apparent belief that, as a result of telling me about his situation, something might be caused to happen for the better.
Perhaps I could write an article about his experiences and somebody in authority would take notice?
I told him I had been writing and talking about this issue for 12 years; that nothing had happened in that time and that I was not hopeful of anything happening in the future. In truth, I said, I was bored with the issue: bored with myself talking about the issue; disgusted with myself that I didn't write and talk about the issue more; tired of being abused and sneered at by malevolent actors for allegedly always talking about the issue, when in truth I did not talk about the issue nearly enough.
Joseph K looked at me sadly. What, he asked, about justice? Surely, he said, the Minister for Justice could not be aware of the facts, or something would
already have been done to correct this flagrant abuse of human rights?
It was my turn to look sad. I told him that the Minister for Justice was perfectly aware of the facts, but, like the four other justice ministers of the past dozen years, would do nothing for Joseph K.
It took me some minutes to see through to his pain. He told me that, a few days previously, he had met his son in the street in the company of a man he did not know.
He had approached them and sought to speak to his son and had been assaulted by the other man. He believed that his son was desperately in need of his father's presence in his life, but he felt helpless and impotent.
Feeling a belated surge of empathy, I apologised for my brusqueness. Nevertheless, I emphasised, the situation was pretty much as outlined. Nobody in this society cared about either Joseph K or his son. After 12 years thinking and agitating on this issue, all I could do was advise him to look after himself, to do what he could to maintain a relationship with his son and keep a record of what occurred. The best he could hope for was that, in 20 years or so, he would be able to give his son an account of his efforts, and out of that to have a chance of healing for them both. This is the dismal message I am reduced to imparting in a society which talks non-stop about equality and rights. I gave him my number for when the darkness gets too much.
The next day I picked up a newspaper and read a report about the findings of a UK study indicating that hands-on fathering is essential to the total development of a child.
A longitudinal study, conducted at Newcastle University over the past 50 years, and involving over 17,000 children, has established that children who have full relationships with their fathers grew up happier, smarter and more successful than children whose fathers are not centrally involved in their lives.
There have been times, even in the dark days of the 1990s, when I would have been greatly cheered to read such a report. Now I know it doesn't matter. It is not as if there is anything in this study that we do not already know. Anyone who had a good father knows in his or her heart that this is true, and anyone who didn't have a good father knows it even better. But our society, operating not to the impulse of the human heart but to the dictates of ideological prescription, is deaf both to truth and the cries of the wronged.