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Absent fathers

Yesterday’s stories on fathers who have had their children absconded by their mothers, sometimes never to be seen again, shows the depth of a tragedy that occurs more often than most people think.Even in instances when one parent has left the Island with the full knowledge of the other, the bitterness of separation can result in fathers not seeing their children for years or even decades.It’s not only the parent who misses out. It also affects grandparents and other relatives, while the child loses contact with people who genetically make them whole and who they are.And it’s the children who ultimately are the biggest losers. They lose the benefit of knowing their parent and having them be a part of their lives. The wounds this creates scars them for life.To be sure, for every father who wants to be a part of his child’s life and is prevented from being there, there are fathers who are utterly irresponsible and reckless, who fail to meet their obligations and commitments, who do not provide for their children’s upkeep, let alone attend their school plays, teacher’s meeting, football matches or dance recitals.And it must also be accepted that there a minority of cases where one of the parents should be kept as far away from the children as possible, but these are a small minority.But those experiences, which fill a library of family court records and pages of newsprint, have resulted in a tendency on the parts of helping agencies and courts to listen to the mother first and last, to instinctively offer the mother custody even when the father may be the better parent, and to fail to protect the father’s interests.Then too, the whole process of divorce seems to be designed to worsen the situation rather than improve it.Many lawyers recognise this, which is why they advocate mediation before litigation. The parental rights organisation Child Watch supports shared parenting which gives both parents fair access to the child, while they also support settling issues like custody at family centres where parenting plans can be devised.All of these are worthwhile ideas. They deserve to be taken up, and former Social Rehabilitation Minister Dale Butler was driving these ideas before he resigned in 2009.Current Minister Glenn Blakeney also appears to be sympathetic, but it’s parents working together for the good of the children that really matters, even when the marriage is irrevocably broken.