I find I am at odds with popular opinion in the case of the mother who was jailed for not allowing her ex-husband access to their teenage son. In short, I find that (unlike most people it seems) I do have sympathy towards the father who was interviewed this morning on TVAM.
It is a complicated case, the real facts of which are still emerging, and I honestly do not know whether the sentence of three months’ jail for the mother was justified. What I do know is that she was given a presidential pardon after the public outcry and a Xarabank programme which whipped up public sentiment, and she was released after three weeks. I watched her coming out of jail carrying a plastic bag with her belongings, looking dazed at being met with cameras and microphones.
The father was not given a chance to tell his side of the story on TV until this morning. There are many unclear details about this story – the most crucial one in my view is that, if the husband left her 18 years ago when she was pregnant, then why did he spend all this time fighting for custody? Unless I am missing something, to me that shows that although the marriage fell apart, he still must have cared about the boy, otherwise he could have just walked away, like some men do.
According to an interview he gave to The Times earlier this week:
“They did not delve deeply into the case… They did not want to hear my side of the story… I spent 18 years fighting in court. She goes to Xarabank and all is forgotten. I’ve lost faith in the courts… what weight do they have if a programme can overturn their decision,” he asked.
He said he did not want his estranged wife in jail but there had to be some form of punishment for someone who disobeyed the court and refused to give him access to his son.
Should the mother have been jailed for not granting access? With the same reasoning, should a man be jailed for not paying alimony and child support?
Now, those who know me, know how much of a feminist I am, but being a feminist does not mean that women are always automatically right. In my view, feminism means that you cannot have two weights and two measures just because of gender, and that can work both ways.
What I do know from the countless horror stories I have heard first-hand about separation cases, both men and women are perfectly capable of being unbelievably callous towards their ex-spouses. There is often warfare over assets and property, and when the couple have children, they are thrown into the mix too, haggled over as if they were a piece of furniture which both sides are determined to get their hands on. It stops being about the welfare of the children, but about who will win. Kids become part of the spoils purely to spite the ex who walked out.
This particular (very sad) case has caught the public’s attention because the mother ended up in jail and she was made into a cause celebre by the powerful media machine at Where’s Everybody. But there are numerous similar stories which never make it into the public eye, which are just as heartbreaking. The one thing they have in common is that, when things turn ugly, the children are the victims who suffer the most trauma.
The wrongs being done to children are often so unspeakable I wonder what people are thinking when they decide to bring a baby into the world.
It doesn’t matter who does it: whether it is the father who walks out without a backward glance, blithely “forgetting” that he ever spawned a child, leaving behind another damaged, bewildered human being who will always wonder “who is my real Daddy?”
Or whether it is the mother who highhandedly decides that the man who made her pregnant should be completely wiped out from the child’s memory so that she can make a “fresh start” (after ensuring that she has sufficiently poisoned the child’s mind against the father who eventually becomes like a ‘monster’ in the child’s imagination).
Both of these scenarios happen time and again and both are unbelievably selfish. And in both cases, the crux of the matter is that we have too many children being raised without a father figure in their lives who could give them guidance and proper direction.
Let us not forget – as much as they need their mothers, children need their fathers too.
For more information about custody cases please read this opinion by family lawyer Dr Ann Marie Mangion