I wish today to republish an edited version of an article I wrote in 2018. I think it particularly relevant after reading comments by the president of the National Organisation of Women over the weekend.
Following the recent 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 be 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 realised 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 people 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.
At the start of a new year, we have another chance to look at wholesome family life as we have just spent time reflecting on 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 offspring. Such an effort should lessen the hostility existing 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.
I have no doubt that Ms Marsha Hinds has grounds for suggesting that some women have good reason to fear for their children’s welfare in the hands of fathers. However, that comment implies that all mothers are capable of providing the best care for their offspring and seems to conveniently ignore the fact that fathers have just as much claim to them as mothers. There are no second class parents, as far as I know. Of course, this is not to deny that some fathers are unfit to raise children, but that is also true for some mothers.
Marsha must know that many of the nation’s children are crying out for the love and attention of their daddies. While teaching Literature to a fourth form at a secondary school some years ago, I was discussing with the students the excellent father-child relationship between Atticus Finch and his son, Jem and daughter, Scout from the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird.
I noticed a silence among the pupils and a few began to cry. Wondering if I had said something to upset them, I enquired of the reason for the tears. One by one, each child started to relate his/her story of an absence of a relationship with his/her father. I was dumbfounded, especially in light of the great relationship I had with my own father and the one I enjoyed with my three beautiful children. Incidentally, their mother had died when they were 9, 7 and 11 months old respectively, so with the help, particularly, of their maternal grandparents, as well as the support of my close relatives, I was left to nurture them. Ms Layne, there are many fathers who actually love and care for their children.
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 2020 be the year when we put the interests of our children above our hurts and disappointments. Children need their fathers, too.
John Goddard, retired, but always an educator.