The Daily Telegraph ran a feature on Tuesday written by Tim Lott, a divorced dad about how lonely and bereft fathers can be when they are forcibly separated from their children.
The article is a response to remarks made by author Louis de Bernieres , whose partner left him last year, taking his two children with her and relegating him to seeing them only on weekends. (Ironically, divorce was introduced partly to ‘keep the State out of our affairs’, but in fact divorce invites the State into some of the most intimate aspects of our lives and makes us subject to its dictates).
De Bernieres spoke of “the emotional desolation” he felt. He said, “There were many times when I felt suicidal”.
Lott sympathises: “Parting from my wife, Serana, and children Ruby and Cissy in 1999, left me with too many agonising memories to count. The lonely weekends in the parks alone with other sad single dads. The lies I told my children in order to reassure them – ‘Isn’t it wonderful – you’re going to have two homes instead of just one’.
“The memory that sticks in my mind is of Ruby, then seven years old, running after my car screaming for me to come back after my designated weekend was over. That image – of her running down the street after me, as I stared at her diminishing image in my rear-view mirror – still replays in my head. The fact that I could not see my children for five days felt deeply unnatural.”
Lott points out that around one third of fathers lose all contact with their children after divorce. This, he says is frequently put attributed to the indifference of the father but he suspects that often “it’s about the barriers that can be put in the way of contact”.
These barriers, he says “may be erected by the courts or the mother, or both”.
“A mother may relocate to somewhere geographically remote or form a new relationship in which the biological father is seen as an impediment to the harmony of the open “new family”. Put another way, this amounts, as Bob Geldolf once put it, to ‘a form of child abuse’,” Lott writes.
He also skewers the notion that fathers are somehow lesser parents: “I agree with de Bernières that there remains a historical tendency for society to see fathers as the disposable parent. De Bernières called it “a sentimental Victorian idea” which took mothers to be automatically “sacred”. It’s an attitude that still permeates the courts, as well as popular opinion.
“This is a noxious idea. Both parents are sacred. The idea that the presence of the father is unimportant for a child’s development is plainly untrue – the gang wars and petty crime that scar our city streets are so often perpetrated by children and teenagers who have no paternal role model.”