In this period of 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, I join with those who continue to work for peace and harmony between men and women in relationships. As I have done several times in the past, on behalf of the Advocacy and Social Justice Commission of the Anglican Church, I again call on perpetrators of domestic violence to find wholesome ways of resolving conflict and see their partners as persons made in the image of God and, therefore, deserving of respect.
On this occasion, I wish to focus attention on an issue which is often overlooked. While statistics show that the vast majority of victims of family violence are women, we must not ignore the fact that an increasing number of men are experiencing pain because they are being denied access to their children. Children deserve to have the love and care of both parents and must not be used as pawns or weapons in their parents’ battles.
Too often, the court orders that men are allowed to spend time with their children and some mothers find ways of defying the judgement of the court. I have had the experience of seeing a teenager caught in a tug of war between father and mother. The boy lived with his mother, but the court’s ruling was that his father would collect him from school on Friday and have him for the weekend. When the form teacher realized that the student was often either absent from school on Fridays, or brought an excuse to leave half day, the matter was referred to the Year Head who investigated. He discovered that the mother was trying to prevent the father from spending time with his son and called her to account.
My understanding is that the situation aforementioned is not uncommon. We need to stop playing games with other people’s emotions and with our children’s lives. It takes two persons to produce a child, and both are equally responsible for his/her care and nurture. We are courting disaster when we find devious ways of preventing one parent from fulfilling his/her parental responsibility.
In approaching the Christmas season, we have another chance to look at wholesome family life as we observe the love lavished on Baby Jesus by His mother and earthly father. The church must challenge parents to emulate that example and to encourage mothers, hurt as they might be, to remove the obstacles that hinder willing fathers from building a healthy relationship with their off-spring. Such an effort should lessen the hostility that exists between some mothers and their estranged partners and redound to the benefit of the children. The last thing we want is for violence to result from the desperation of a man who supports his child but is denied access to him/her.
Finally, the judicial system has to help remove the male perception that it has a tendency to discriminate against men. Men must feel that their legitimate concerns are being sympathetically addressed. There are good fathers just as there are good mothers and our law courts must give the appearance of being fair to both.
Let 2019 be the year when we put the interests of our children above our hurts and disappointments. Children need their fathers, too.
John Goddard, retired educator