By Jodi Johnson
I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.
And so we fight.
We fight to be a part of the lives he brought into the world. The lives that were created because he exists. We fight to retain something that is indelibly, rightfully, biologically his. We fight to protect these children from being divided in two by the people who are supposed to be caring for them.
It begs the question WHY? Why must he fight to be in his children’s lives? Why must he prove over and over and over again that he belongs in their lives when he was put there in the beginning by virtue of nature alone?
Married couples don’t have to prove their worth and battle in the courtroom year after year to see their children, to go to their school events or birthday parties or simply have a conversation with them. It’s just what parents do and it’s never questioned…when those parents are together that is. Yet when those parents can no longer co-exist, by no fault of the child’s, one parent is instantly demoted to “visitor;” and in many ways also, “victim.” They are victimized by the court system who makes decisions on the lives of people they don’t know based on one hour’s worth of testimony by whoever is the more believable. They are victimized by the other parent who now sees them as a paycheck instead of a person. They are victimized by society who judges them for not being the constant presence in their children’s lives they truly wish they could be. They are told when and where and for how long they can see their own children. They are told when and how long they can speak to them. They are told they can’t make decisions about the lives they created. And they are told how they feel about it doesn’t apply; that someone else has determined what is in their own child’s best interest and they must comply. And all because mom and dad can’t be married to one another.
And so we fight.
Albeit slowly changing, our society and our court system has long-held, archaic beliefs that women rear the children while the father provides for the family. Particularly in our very conservative corner of the world the notion of the father raising the children is frankly scoffed upon.
It brings to mind the June and Ward Cleaver version of Americana wherein the mother is packing the children’s lunchboxes every morning wearing her ubiquitous apron and has dinner on the table, hot and ready, every evening when Ward comes home from work. A pleasant, slow lifestyle. Well what if June and Ward split up? Naturally June would continue to take care of the kids while Ward provided, right? That scenario made sense in that era because far fewer women worked and they relied on their husbands for support while the men relied on their wives to take care of the domestic end of things.
Fast forward to 2014. June had an affair with the 26 year old neighbor which led to the demise of her marriage with Ward. Ward still works his 8 – 5, home at the same time every night, alone in his cramped one bedroom apartment because half his income still goes to June and he’s sitting there bored, missing his kids. June is working 65 hours a week. She and the kids are running frantic every morning trying to get out the door in time for them to be dropped off ½ an hour early to school because June has a morning meeting. They get a ride home on the bus and let themselves in the house and are there from 5:00 – 7:00 unsupervised. She leaves work at 6:00 to go to the gym for an hour and then goes home to feed them a pre-packaged dinner, check the kids got their homework done and have them get ready for bed by 8:00. And let’s not forget about the weekends when she’s out with boyfriend #4 that year while the kids are home with the Wii.
Meanwhile Ward, the “visitor,” is just wishing he could see them and would sacrifice whatever he could to just spend time with them. But the judge said no. He’s not the better parent. And he can only talk to the kids once a week. And he can only see them for 40 whole hours a month. Despite June never being fully present for the kids, in the court’s firmly held beliefs, June is still the best choice for the kids’ primary caretaker because she bore that child during infancy.
This is a true and clear depiction of the modern day custody situation. No, it’s not every family’s story. But I can tell you undeniably, it’s what we’re living, my husband and I; and it’s true of millions of other broken families world-wide.
We can simply not hold steady to the beliefs, stereotypes, and even laws of the past. They’re antiquated and not representative of the way life is now. In some cases, yes, mom is the better choice. But absolutely in no way should that be the pre-determined presumption. That child was created 50/50 and clearly the mom had, at one point, determined that this man was a qualified candidate to be a father to their child and only now because emotion and jealousy has clouded her judgment and ill-placed resentment has hardened her heart, this child’s father is precluded from being a caring, beneficial presence in the child’s life. And it certainly doesn’t benefit the child, being forced into accepting which half of themselves they get to spend time with more.
The tide is now starting to turn, ever so slowly, because dads are just plain fed up with the discrimination and are speaking out in growing numbers and the women who support them are using their voices to create a necessary balance and get the needed attention. And people, the government and court system included, are starting to listen. We are on the precipice of major change in family law and the view of the parental role in fatherhood in cases of unmarried parents and need those voices to continue to speak; and speak to the people who can effect change as there is still a long and arduous road ahead for these pioneers of father’s rights.
And so we fight.