THE DEATH OF FATHERHOOD
He’s a devoted father. He knows his children well. The way their eyes crinkle when they are happy or sad. He can tell just by a photo exactly what mood they are in.
'She’s not happy', he tells me, as he gazes at a photo of his daughter at the end of her school term. See how her smile seems forced? It’s not her. He touches her picture on his computer screen with his hand – gently stroking her face. Lost in pain. He hasn’t seen her for a year or more.
His court papers allow him full access and visitation. He is still the legal guardian of his children. Has the rights to be consulted about their health and education.
His age defies his looks. He seems older than his years. Health is frail. I fear for him. I see a potential early death, and it’s for nothing.
An intelligent and sensitive man, he has spent his life working with and for children. His whole career has spanned taking care of the welfare of children. He wouldn’t hurt a fly.
I search around the room. Something is missing from the last visit. Where is the cat? ‘It was never really my cat’ he says in response. ' It was my daughters – for when she came to stay. She loved him. I kept the cat for her.'
I have heard many parents say similar comments. One mother I knew was unable to concentrate on a conversation in a visit, as she frantically searched for her housecat. Turning out every drawer and cupboard. The cat was her sons pet. The boy who had been taken from her in the middle of the night. Her only connection was the cat.
I turn my attention away from that memory to the father. He begins to tell me what happened today.
'I couldn’t handle not seeing her, not after this photo was sent to me,' he relates.
'I got a call...she seems to need special educaton. Last year she was at the top of her class – and now it appears she needs to be removed from her school, and put into a special class. Her english is suffering they say. Yet she is trilingual. Is it a coincidence that she is failing in English since she lost contact with me? Of course not.'
Again a memory – a mother of two children, taken by social services 3 years earlier, and now 3 years behind in their education but still denied the right to go home.
'I asked for just 30 minutes with my girl. Such a big decision to take her from her school and the friends she’s grown up with. I was denied the right – just sign the papers they told me. I decided that I was not going to sign. Of course that makes me an evil father, and I’ll be punished some more, but I just can’t do it.'
He is empty. Eloquent, polite and totally empty.
'I decided to break all the rules today. Not the court orders – but the rules. The unwritten ones. The ones that have put an arrest warrant on me – just because. I have all the papers to allow me to see my kids, but ‘she’ decided one morning a year ago that I couldn’t. I went to see her. Playing in a summer camp with her friends. The parents and kids I’ve known all her life – they looked at me as if I was some serial killer. I pressed forward and there she was. Trembling with fear when she saw me, the little girl who had laughed and played with me all her life. Suddenly in terror, not of me, but what would happen if people (ie her mother) found out she’d spoken to me.
Well done honey, you did so good at school. I tried to coax her. Every fibre in her being reached out to me, but in her eyes I saw her frozen, unable to be herself and her body held back. It’s hell to see your flesh and blood in so much confusion. She’s a kid for god’s sake. We chatted, she responded, and I told her I would order her favourite pizza as a reward for all her good schoolwork. ‘no daddy, no’ she pleaded. Don’t send a pizza to the house. Anyway, I don’t like pizza anymore.
Ice cream? No dad, don’t like that either. My child was fighting a mixture of instinct, fear, love and most of all the reprisal of seeing me. I couldn’t do it to her. Ok I said, just send me an sms with your flavour of pizza and you’ll get one straight away.
I hugged and kissed her. She reciprocated, but her trembling didn’t stop. I walked away, my heart in pieces – and my blood pressure still reaching nearly 200. Why doesn’t my heart stop beating? Why am I still here? I don’t want a life, to be here. My children are my life. I have nothing, no life. My heart beats, but that’s all I am – a heartbeat.
The feminist groups turned my ex into a monster. Who is she? How can they influence and decide not only for her, but flout every single court order I have? I am nothing. In court – I’m just a man, a loser of a father. Yet, I’ve paid support, and raised them. My honesty is nothing to their lies. She is allowed, remember.
Please – finish my life – it’s nothing. It’s got to end.'
I took a short break, unable to stay detached, my own tears burning unshed in my eyes. I hear stories every day, yet the depth of pain is almost impossible to impart in the words I write. How can anyone begin to feel this despair. How can I help him.
'I cannot keep her cat anymore, he tells me. I don’t really like the cat. It’s hers, but there is no ‘her’ anymore, so why keep the cat. In answer – he’s gone. I told him I’m sorry, I tried everywhere to find him a home.'
He tells me what he did. It didn’t harm the animal, but the parting was difficult.
Today bloggers and writers continue to rant against the family laws; social workers and judges. Without manners. They are being sued. This man hasn’t got any words left. He’s tried everything. There is nothing left for him to say.
There is nothing left for me to say.