Monday, March 05, 2007

How to Talk to a Disenfranchised Father

"If you have ever lost someone very important to you, then you already know how it feels, and if you haven't, you cannot possibly imagine it." -Lemony Snicket.
A disenfranchised father is an adequate father who has been unreasonably and unwillingly removed from his children's life. By "adequate", I mean a father like any other, a father who cares for his children, who sees himself as a valuable part of their upbringing and who has invested a significant part of his identity in his role in their lives. By "removed", I mean that he no longer lives with his children, that he is reduced to a visitor in their lives or possibly prevented from seeing them altogether. He has no say in what happens to them. The mother works to keep him out, limits and controls their interactions, she likes it that way. To her, "the best interests of the child" are what she wants, period.

Many believe that the system is supposed to prevent this sort of thing from happening. That if such a father, loathed by his ex, can find no support in the courts, then there must be good and valid reason. These people are sorely mistaken. They have no understanding of the gaping holes in family law. By default they believe that the problem of absentee fathers must be the fault of the fathers themselves, single mothers are saints fighting the good fight against tragic odds and through no fault of their own.

A father who has gone through the worst of this may have "trust issues". He has probably spent a lot of time among supposedly professional people who have examined him closely and found him wanting according to standards impossibly higher than those to which his ex is held (to which nor even should be held any typical parent). People he thought he could trust have lied to him, have given him false hope and have actively worked against him, only for him to realize too late and leaving him with only resentment.

He will have spent a lot of time in an environment where the only appropriate response is outrage and yet any sign of anger from him would have cost him dear. The stress may have been too much and he may have expressed that anger and then seen the satisfied looks of those who look for excuses to do their awful work. An angry word may have been enough, he didn't need to actually get violent (although that would have produced all the more satisfaction and definitive result).

He may seem obsessed, only able to talk about one thing: the betrayal to which he has been subject. Alternatively, he may not want to talk about it, having learned that most people can't take it, can't accept the obvious pain he feels and melt away leaving him alone with it. "I've got my own problems, I can't get involved with that", or "I wish he'd just get over it".

They wish he'd just get over the loss of his children.

He may be a strong enough person that it no longer shows at all. Until you dig a little, if you're so inclined and if he is inclined to let you.

Sometimes, to lose a child like this, especially in the event of a complete lockout, is compared to the loss of a child to death. Not so. That would be what the philosophers call a category error. The circumstances and consequences are completely different. The death of a child is forever, it is final, it is by definition resolved even if the consequences are not, it must be survived, and those who are left behind must try to rebuild their lives without the dead child. Everyone with an ounce of humanity is sympathetic, tries to accomodate it.

Disenfranchisement, by contrast, is ambiguous. The child is not there, but is elsewhere. Many do not know if they should feel sympathy or not. They don't think "there but for the grace of God go I" because they know they're good parents, and there's no risk and, after all, he must have done something wrong, mustn't he? There is always hope, for those who have not had to spend years trying to maintain hope, even after years of no contact, because the child is not dead. If he does have contact, it may be difficult. He may have to run the gauntlet of the ex's bile (as she pockets the child support check - you think she should thank him? That's what the man says he owes her). He gets limited time, perhaps supervised, shoving down his feelings, to engage the child who would otherwise engage by default, whenever he or she was ready. How long do you think he should tolerate it? How long would you? Why should you have to tolerate anything? Why should he? Or his children?

The tiredest cliché a disenfranchised father will hear and keep hearing as long as he lets on what has happened: "Don't worry, they'll come back to you, just wait and see". This is poor comfort for two reasons. First, it's a statement of faith, not fact, and his faith has taken a severe beating. He may have believed in justice, the good motivations of psychologists, the objectiveness of court personnel. But the system that was supposed to prevent this, either did nothing of the sort or actively caused it. The society that touts the value of family life proves itself a deranged lunatic by doing nothing to preserve it. You want him to believe that his children will somehow absorb the importance of a father in their lives while not actually having one around to show them? That it should be somehow instinctive and one day they will wake up and realize this, tell their Machiavellian mother where to shove it and run back into his arms?

The other reason for this "wait and see" being bad advice is that it takes no account of the lost years. In advance, it shrugs them off and resigns to their being lost forever. Not just the normal security that the children should have as they grow in knowing that their father is there by their sides, but also the satisfaction and love that a father should feel in having his children near so he can watch over them and calm and keep them from their fears. All this is lost, not fully appreciated until it is gone, and only really by those who have lost it.

How do you talk to such a man? It depends, in part, on your own resources. How much of his anger are you willing to explore? That may seem odd, why should he get angry at you? Once you show some sympathy, you may find that his anger comes to the fore. He can't get angry at the people who deserve it. They have power over him and his children. Show him some sympathy and he may let that anger show, not necessarily at you, but in front of you. Are you man or woman enough to take it? It's difficult to express anger without offending someone, will you take it at face value or look for the deeper meaning he hasn't the lucidity to express?

Grief? He surely feels grief, and surely you're old enough and experienced enough by now to have been able to comfort the grieving and to have felt some yourself. But what if that grief goes on for years? What if it never really goes away but becomes a permanent wound that won't heal? He can't visit a gravesite, he can't really mourn. What, after all, does he have to mourn but the loss of something that, however improbably, could come back any day? Every time you see him, you will be conscious of his pain, even if he isn't. We all assess each other by what we know to have happened to each other.

One thing he may need more than anything else (besides his children) is validation. His self-image as a man and as a father has been under sustained and ongoing attack. Powerful people have either found him wanting or not found the spine to help him when they could (or should). The erosion on his sense of self worth is inevitable. All around are conflicting indicators of what he must do - shrug it off, take it like a man, grow a pair, don't give up on them, do everything that you can, fight!, don't fight!, never give up, build a new life, keep calling them, give it up. Whatever he does, it won't be the right thing (and there's no shortage of judges), but he has to do it anyway.

Perhaps the most meaningful thing you can say is: "what has happened to you is wrong", it'd be nice if you believed it.



Anonymous said...

I had tears in my eyes by the time I finished reading this post. I see everything you said in my beau's eyes... the anger... the erosion of self worth... the doubt about "to fight or not to fight..." The list goes on and on.

I see that my "help" has fallen on the right and the wrong side of the issue. Whereas I am happy to hug him and simply admit that what happened was wrong, I also try to give him hope that his kids do want to see him again. Looking back, I see how that may be a false hope based on the ages when they were taken and the persistent desire of the mother to alienate them.

Thanks again for another great piece. I'll be printing this one to share.

John Doe said...

It is true that where there is life, there is hope. But the trouble with hope is that sometimes it can be difficult to say whether it is better or worse than no hope.

I will always go with hope...

Andrew Birkhead said...

Your sub-heading 'When did you last see your children' has me with tears in my eyes.

The answer: Two Fucking Weeks.

Sadness and anger.

I'm out.

Anonymous said...

You nailed it, on all counts. Thanks for writing this.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing a great piece about the things we struggle to discuss. You have been treated badly, as have many of us. Don't give up, there is always tomorrow. When did I last see my kids? Eight and a half years ago, and I die a little every day. I refuse to give up. Great work, keep it up.
Take Care

Anonymous said...

Thank you, this was beautiful.

Requesting permission to repost with a link and credit to you.

Anonymous said...

The tiredest cliché a disenfranchised father will hear and keep hearing as long as he lets on what has happened: "Don't worry, they'll come back to you, just wait and see". This is poor comfort for two reasons. First, it's a statement of faith, not fact, and his faith has taken a severe beating. He may have believed in justice, the good motivations of psychologists, the objectiveness of court personnel. But the system that was supposed to prevent this, either did nothing of the sort or actively caused it. The society that touts the value of family life proves itself a deranged lunatic by doing nothing to preserve it. You want him to believe that his children will somehow absorb the importance of a father in their lives while not actually having one around to show them? That it should be somehow instinctive and one day they will wake up and realize this, tell their Machiavellian mother where to shove it and run back into his arms?

Excellent point.

I am the firstborn child of a "disenfranchised father."

I never came back to him and I will always regret and be deeply ashamed that upon reaching adulthood when he reached out to me he was cruelly rebuffed.

I thought I knew everything and he was, of course, a "bad guy."

I would pride myself on not bothering to know that man - apathetic to the end.

Then he died very young and now I've lost all chance to ever know him - just as I've begun to finally ASK and DIG and speak to his family - MY FAMILY - and find out that my disenfranchised dad was simply human - and wanting me - all along.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but as an adult child from this situation I don't think the children DO come back often.

I am considered a bright, articulate well-educated woman and I never, ever not once listened to reason or question my loyalty and the obvious superiority of my mother (whom I still love of course) until it was far too late.

If you are a father and you are reading this - fight.

Hold on.

Keep coming back.

Take the emotional punches and never back down.

Your children - at least the grown female ones - want huge, magnamous gestures.

Not pen pals.

Not buddies.

Not "let's get to know one another."

My father waited and wondered and would get nothing from me ever.

But he was careful, and respected and space and waited some more.

He was wrong to do that. He should have forced it. He should have fought harder. He should have made me see how much he loved me - even if he had to embarrass himself (and me!) -- now his survivors, strangers to me but my family to, must do all that for him.

Too late.

Live and learn.


Inane Ramblings said...

My recent divorce proceedings left me on the precipice of disenfranchisement as a father. My children's mother had sued for full custody motivated by spite and lust for increased spousal support. The very idea of being relegated to a every-other-weekend dad kept me up nights and left me desperately trying to control my outrage so that I could get through the court and mediation processes without an outburst.

I had to swallow my pride and kiss my ex's proverbial ass in order to negotiate what amounts to shared custody. Even then, I had to give up some final decision making power--I pray that this doesn't come back to haunt me. It's a sickening feeling knowing that your fate is in the hands of a spiteful ex and a judge, backed by a judicial system with a track record of running roughshod over the rights of fathers.

Though my case can be considered a "win"--the emotional costs were high and the aftermath continues. Every week, I have to interact with the person who tried to take my children away from me. If that person were a stranger, society would justify my anger and desire for retribution. Instead, I'm forced to smile and make nice. Sure, it's the right thing to do for my children's sake, but it smacks of a horrible injustice.

Thank you for being a voice of reason in an irrational landscape. I've decided that I'm going to take steps to help change the laws wherever I can and contribute to changing attitudes in my circle of influence.

Anonymous said...

Finally someone understands.....I've never felt so alone. I've been reduced to near poverty and my ex is doing everything she can to replace my role in my kids lives with her boyfriend. I'm sick of writing a large check to my X sometimes overdrawing my account and it's still not enough. I'm sick of eating maybe one meal a day because I can't afford anything more. But importantly, I'm sick of being a visitor in my childrens constantly be threatened by my X that the little time I have with them could be taken away if I don't do things her way. I'm sick of losing quality time with my children, times and events that will never be replaced. I'm sick of a system that is so biased against the father, judges that fail in their obligation to act in a fair and equitable manor and attorneys that make money out of building hate and rage, they make a profit out of destroying families. I know there is a special place in hell for my x's attorney as for most other divorce attornies. It's not only me he's destroyed--it's my kids as well. But, I'm stuck. I can't afford to go back to court. I can understand why there is such a high suicide rate for guys in these situations--I know I;ve been close to it myself.

Anonymous said...

absolutely spot on...i was thrown out of my own house on a friday afternoon in june 2002 after my wife made up a number of false allegations against me...i still remember driving past my children and the look on their faces, when I left the house for what turned out to be the last time ever. Since then my life has slowly spiralled down into an abyss that has no end and i have thought about ending it on numerous occasions...i cannot trust people anymore and feel completely hollow inside now and cannot feel anything xcept anger at what has happened to me for no kids well i still love them to bits but what use is that when you have become a ghostly echo of a past that everyone is trying to destroy...

Anonymous said...

What do we do with this pain or rage or whatever it is. Trying to tread water while our government holds our heads under. When justice abandons and faith slips away. When the money, possessions, security and hope are gone.

god help us.. wait.. err. pfft never mind.

Anonymous said...

This is probably your best post JADF.
Women do not care about how we feel, they simply take and take and take from us. We aren't worthwhile to them. To them it is simply their government-sponsored perogative to take our children, money and lives for their gain.

-Strength and Honor-

Mister-M said...

What an amazing essay. I am happy to have discovered it.

Few people on earth have to have as thick a skin, as much control of their emotions, suppress as much outrage... my list could on and on... as a disenfranchised father (or soon-to-be DF).

JADF - as frequently as I continue to have to go to court and conferences, for a while, talking and reading and communicating my experiences was such a drag. Having only recently started my own blog and figuring out how it all goes - and sharing the morbid details and inside-track information gives me the outlet to let the emotions, anger, humor, all of it - roll.

And guess what? I still live in fear that it's discovery by my Psycho Ex could be used against me.

That's probably the only thing that your essay failed to cover is how the rest of your life, nearly every move you take and decision you make - your first consideration is "how will this provoke my now mortal enemy into doing something that will adversely affect it?"

In a new relationship, you can hardly imagine how much frustration that can occasionally bring to your new partner. Do I take this job? Do we start a new business? If I hit the lottery, I'm giving you the ticket!

Your entire life, even in the aftermath of divorce, is affected by the viperous, bitter, determined-to-destroy ex.

And it sucks.

Hector said...

"they will come back to you someday"

These words have always stung the million times I have heard them. Thank you for helping me understand why.

Dataceptionist said...

Request to post in full and link back.

John Doe said...

Dataceptionist, feel free. Anyone may quote whatever they like from this blog, I just ask for fair representation (i.e. don't quote out of context), credit (albeit to "John Doe") and a link back.

Anonymous said...




Anonymous said...

Plain and simple, there is no substitute. Children need their father to grow up and become emotionally and psychologically functional human beings. Any mother taking their child away "for their best interests" is childish and shortsighted in their own lack of forgiveness towards their ex. The holes in Family Law are disgusting, to say the least--the frequency at which I see kids growing up with a weekend dad is disturbing.

Anonymous said...

If anyone wants to know why and how this is occuring and what the outcome is for the children involved they should read "The Garbage Generation" by Dr. Daniel Amneus. Its a mind blowingly good read and available from Amazon or you can read it as a free internet book. Google "fisheaters" or The "Garbage Generation."

Anonymous said...

I am going to say this.

After being with a woman for seven years my relationship was falling apart. I found out she was cheating on me with one of my co-workers. I still loved her. When my relationship of seven years fell apart, I went to a franklin covey seminar and two things stuck out. They said there are only two things you can control: 1 yourself and 2 how you react to things, That has been a beacon in my life ever since. Accelerate time several years and I am in a different situation. We have a son. I love my son and there is a good potential that I may lose him to a similar situation.

I handed her some information and said, "if you think court is going to solve your problems, think again."


63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes (US Dept. Of Health/Census) – 5 times the average

90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes – 32 times the average

85% of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes – 20 times the average

80% of rapists with anger problems come from fatherless homes --14 times the average

71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes – 9 times the average

75% of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes – 10 times the average

70% of youths in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes – 9 times the average

85% of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes – 20 times the average

Clearly, fathers represent a lot more than just a paycheck to a child; they represent safety, protection, guidance, friendship, and someone to look up too.

So I said, Eat that!

Ian Cranmer

Anonymous said...

Just 'another' disenfranchised father here.

When it has come to the point that you even question that you even deserve a relationship with your son anymore, then you know there is true evil in this world. I have been conditioned to think by my ex and the fascist "family" "court" "system" that I have no place in my son's life, and have even considered filing a motion for relinquishment of parental rights, not because I don't love my son, just that I refuse to expose him to the acrimony of custody or visitation 'battles'. Don't get me wrong, I'm not in any way trying to evade responsibility, it's just that I feel my relationship to my son is so badly damaged by alienation, that I have no other choice.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for stating so clearly the frustration I live with every minute of the day. I haven't seen my youngest daughter in a year, and my eldest only two or three times in that period. The mantra of all the people who care for me is , "Don't worry, they'll come around." I just grit my teeth and smile because none of them really understand what it's like. I'll send them your essay and hope that they finally "get it".

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much - I've never seen our situation put so clearly and eloquently.

"The other reason for this "wait and see" being bad advice is that it takes no account of the lost years."

This is what is killing me. My two daughters are turning from girls into women in some other city in another part of the country (Canada) without their father. Love and life is made in the details - the jokes, the comments, help with homework, meeting their friends, appreciating a new hat or hairdo, the little gestures of care, asking what time they'll be home... a million little things, knitting a life together, a history... lost forever - to me and to them.

So much of my emotional energy is used up daily just doing what I can't do right now - stopping the tears from rolling.

Unknown said...


Great reading

Great empathy

Keep up the good work

Will be tracking your BLOG from Beach Haven, North Shore City, Auckland, New Zealand

Please Email me - I would like you to put your stuff on the Ration Shed Communique, go Google

Onward - Jim

Unknown said...

Wow. Thank you for writing this essay. I wondered if you would allow me to post it as a guest post on my blog? I'm at becomingastepmom dot com. This is a message that my stepmom readers must read. Also, I would invite you to submit a letter to the Stepfamily Letter Project. I'll be adding your site to my blogroll.

Thank you again.

John Doe said...

Jacquelyn, anyone may use content from my blog in the support of fathers' and noncustodial parents' rights. I ask only for a link back to the original content.

AlmostBrokenDad said...

This Post really hit home as I am one of those that is hard to talk to so most people dont. I had one of those divorses where instead of concentrating resources on figuring out the best way to split everything (including a son!?!) I had so many allegations thrown against me that literally half of them could never be addressed in the court hearing. I had to spend so much time responding to false finger pointing that I could never get decent time with the judge talking about the only thing that matters, my son.
I will be straight, I am a very bitter divorced father. I got shafted and with the bad economy now I stand to lose what little I was allowed by people I didnt ask to get involved. (govt)
I dont really give a rats ass who the victim is in a divorce, man or woman. The simple fact is that the family justice system that is based on a system used to convict criminals is really the worst possible way to handle something as emotionally fragile as human relations. The system is only set up to show that if it wants the govt can and will control every single aspect of your life. If you dont like it, they got guns and jails cells to show you you will.
I never really thought about govt too much untill I was forced to and now I see that it is not there to protect you, it is there to extract money from you in every possible way. I am just going to start a frickin blog because there is no way to get all my opinions and feelings out in one comment.

Your blog just makes me more angry because by reading it I see how many people are affected in way way or another by big brother taking his crowbar and shoving it into your life till it splits.

Great site by the way

UnsungHero said...

We are the victims of government sponsored rape, we who post and share on this page. I credit you, my disenfranchised broken brothers, for the heroic restraint and unmatched mental discipline required so that our wretched abusive childrens' mothers have not been brought to violent and swift justice by we good men, an army of helpless soldiers.

Prison inmates get "visitation." I am a FATHER, not a felon.

Anonymous said...

My mum tried to disenfranchise my dad via divorce, but then she realized lawyers require money up front and are only interested if the 2% cut of the dad's pay will be worth something. My dad was broke, so she decided to let him come back home after a year or two. She needed someone to clean the house.

My best friend's dad was chucked for similar reasons, albeit for her whole childhood. We became roommates in college and spoke constantly of how we had missed or, in her case, how we still missed our dads. We're girls. It's normal. Her dad had written to her every week and kept carbons, so even after her mother destroyed many of the letters, he had a bookful of them for her. When she turned 16 and finally got ahold of her own mail, she wrote back to her dad and told her mother it was a foreign-language pen-pal. When she left for college, she did so to the very town where her father lived, began seeing him every day, and now the two of them have an excellent relationship.

She calls her mom once a month, usually when PMS forces her into hormonally generous actions.

My mother remains an utterly unrepentant shrew and my two nearly-grown siblings have no appreciation of how much Da does for them or how much Mom doesn't. My visits (timed carefully in order to catch Da when he's off work and Mom isn't, but before she can assign him to some menial project and whisk him away to the best places I can find,) demonstrate the division of my loyalties pretty well (Mom gets a monthly phonecall, apart from her ringing me up to whine,) and my friend has managed to take her dad on several long vacations, to say nothing of the fact that he's at our place for dinner three times a week, playing Super Nintendo with my Da on some evenings.

Sometimes, at least, disenfranchised daughters do come back to their dads. Just save the letters for us and we'll do our best.

Anonymous said...

By the third paragraph I burst into tears, and still sit here will them running down my face.

You wrote everything in my heart, every thing I see my husband go through every single day without his daughter.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Channeling the Founders said...

As I read this all of my anger flooded to the surface. Resentment that I have stuffed away came up and kicked me in the balls and sent me into an internal rage. His mother treats him like shit, he calls me and asks me to help him but I am helpless. She and the courts have seen to that. When he tells her how he feels she threatens him with cancelling his one yearly visit with me. These situations cry out for desperate measures. You got this one right on the money. My heart goes out to you in your fight. I wish I could offer encouraging words, but I'm fresh out. Just know that there are others who know what you're going through.

HeartBrokenDad said...

Excellent post and blog. You seem to be able to have the gift of clearly putting into the written word what all non-resident or target parents feel.

I have shared this on Facebook. Keep going my friend and thank you.

Luap said...

I linked to this today, truer words have never been written. Thank you for putting our feelings into words.

Anonymous said...

I am the mother of a disenfranched father. I frequently hear about courts forcing fathers or mothers to take their kids to jails to visit with the other parent. Perhaps if my son were a felon, he could see his children

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this.

It is exactly how I feel, how I have felt since my little boy was 5 years old and his mother and I divorced. When we were married, he would be waiting each day for me to get home from work. We had a great relationship. That changed literally overnight after I filed for a divorce.

My son is 14 years old today, and I have not really been a part of his life for the past 9 years. I don't really know him; he doesn't really know me. And even after nearly a decade, I still grieve the lost years.

I have, as you say, waxed and waned over what to do. I've been to see attorneys after my visitation was repeatedly interfered with. Sorry, they said. I've wondered if I should give him up, at least emotionally, afraid I could not withstand the pain, and thinking that maybe he was better off without me.

I am almost ashamed to say that today I still don't really know what to do. I have never felt such profound aloneness. There is no one around me who understands, who is really capable of understanding.

Anyway, I want to thank you again for putting into words what I and so many others have gone through, and are still going through today.

I don't know if I'm just being reactionary, but I have often thought of going to law school just for the purpose of representing fathers in these evil matters. I never really had enough money to fight the injustice, and maybe if I was a lawyer that wasn't a real part of the 'system,' I could help fathers like myself, and like you.

I never wanted to be in this position. All I wanted was to be the best dad that I could. Maybe it's too late for me; but perhaps I could help others.