By Sonia Poulton
Last updated at 7:34 AM on 29th December 2011
A group calling themselves Real Fathers For Justice – thought to be a splinter group of activists Fathers For Justice – is said to be behind the Christmas graffiti attack on Justice Secretary Ken Clarke’s home.
The message daubed messily across his garage doors, and accompanied by half a dozen pictures or so of crying children, reads: ‘Fatherless Cristmas’. No, that is not a typo. Whoever sprayed the words missed a quite obvious ‘h’ from Christmas.
Media commentators and online pundits have made much of this error. Ridiculing it, claiming that it sets these people out as rubbish parents and that they ‘should return to school before they try to be parents’.
Perhaps these observers are desperate for laughs amidst the sometime sentimental and sombre festive season or perhaps they really do believe that the error is genuinely telling of the perpetrator’s character.
Either way, people have not been slow to savage the graffiti-favouring group, labelling them ‘ignorant’ and ‘stupid’.
Whoa! Talk about focusing on detail at the detriment of the big picture. The point the vandal was trying to make was that due to Ken Clarke’s inaction in reviewing family laws, many thousands of children were without their fathers this Christmas.
Yes, it was wrong to break in and vandalise his property, but that reveals the level of desperation some men feel as they are blocked at every turn to see and be with their children. To play a role, no matter how reduced, in the growing life of their child.
And, yes, clearly the spelling error is embarrassing but it shouldn’t negate the very serious message that this graffiti conveys.
Personally, I feel it says more about the type of people who focus on grammar rather than the fact that children are in emotionally choppy waters as they continue to be estranged from the paternal end of their DNA equation.
We are increasingly living in a fatherless society. That’s just fact. Hands up those who know a single parent family led by the mother and whose children have very little real contact with their father?
We don’t need statistics to confirm what is a modern day reality for hundreds of thousands of people – but if we did then here are some to swallow with the Turkey soup.
23 per cent – so that’s almost a quarter – of British households with dependent children are headed up by a single parent, of those only 10 per cent (186,000) is a man. In 1971 it was eight per cent of the child population growing up in a single parent family.
So, times have clearly changed the face of the traditional family, but the why’s and wherefore’s of that is for another occasion.
The issue now is to focus on the fact that the law must be addressed and amended when it comes to children having the legal right to a ‘meaningful relationship’ with both parents.
Of course there are some parents who are dangerous for their children, physically, emotionally or mentally – or a combination of all three – and the child must be protected at all costs.
Equally, there are some estranged parents who could not give the proverbial monkey’s about their off-spring.
They prove to be one disappointment after another to their children as they fail to turn up at access times, they avoid contributing maintenance and they promise – but seldom deliver – Birthday or Christmas presents.
Parents like this, mothers or fathers, are a disgrace and deserve for their children to treat them with disdain, which they almost certainly will at some stage.
However, I tend too think that if a man is prepared to court the type of attention that many fathers groups do in order to highlight their plight, then they are the men who will take their roles seriously.
Otherwise, why would they fight so long and hard, and place themselves in often physical or legal jeopardy? That wouldn’t make sense.
I am a single mother to a 14-year-old girl. Her father and I split up when she was three. It was a volatile relationship and we had to separate for our own, and our daughters, sanity and safety.
Even though our child and I live 100 miles from her father she visits him and they talk on the telephone regularly.
That is her right as it is, I believe, every child’s right to have access to both parents – if at all feasible.
But you wouldn’t know that judging by our legal system which is nothing less than punishing towards fathers regardless of whether they are good or poor ones.
They are all lumped in the same category (‘insignificant’) and to hell with the emotional toll it takes on them and the children involved.
In 2011 it is still overwhelmingly the case that women are given custody of the child – and extraordinary control – when a relationship breaks down and a separation between mother and father occurs.
Then, hundreds of thousands of men have to operate at the behest of the ‘parent with care’ (to adapt a favourite expression of the gob-smackingly useless Child Support Agency) or as they are more commonly known, ‘the mother’.
I have seen men broken down when excluded from seeing their children. Men who have been accused of heinous acts against their own flesh and blood by vindictive exes, men who work every hour God sends to keep the family home going for wife and child while he camps down on a friend’s sofa at night.
For too long the estranged father has found himself on the receiving end of a mother not always capable of putting the child’s needs, including the right to see their father, first. And a legal system that enables that.
Like all parents, I have made many mistakes raising our child because it’s one of those roles that you learn on the job and you fall down as you go, but blocking my child from having a relationship with her father is not one of them.
I have made it my business to drop her at her father’s for regular visits as well as always keeping the communication channels open between them both.
Trust me, in the early days of our separation this was not easy. We were both so angry at the breakdown of our relationship and operated a type of hot and fluid hatred between us. It was an awful time.
That said, I am proud to say we have managed to maintain our daughter’s relationship with her father, even though he no longer shares the family home.
I consider it to be criminal if a child is prevented from having a ‘meaningful relationship’ with any of their parents (picture posed by models)
Just as other children, she needs to know that just because mum and dad don’t love each other anymore, they have never stopped loving her.
I consider it to be criminal if a child is prevented from having a ‘meaningful relationship’ with any of their parents. A fact that our legal establishment needs to rectify for the betterment of society in general, and the fatherless children in particular.
So I ask Mr. Clarke that he works, without further delay, to strengthen the role of the father within a child’s life and to consider the many thousands of chidren who were kept away from their fathers this Christmas.
And that, frankly, is far more of a cause for concern than some dumb spelling mistake.