Friday, May 18, 2007

What silver lining?

Most of what you get on this blog is bad news. That's because there's not much good news to be heard on the topic of fathers' rights in the western world. Likewise, much of what I (can) write about my own situation is pretty rough, but that's not to say that there aren't good things to be found in the experience of losing your children.

Reread that last sentence and see if you can think of anything that might apply. It doesn't make any sense, does it? How on God's good earth can there be anything good in the experience of losing your children? This has the potential to be one weird-assed post...

Let's start with the obstacles to finding the silver-lining in that mother of all black clouds. Well, there's the obvious. your kids are gone. Depending on the malignancy of your situation, that can mean anything from they live with mom and "visit" (say that with a sneer) with you every other weekend and a weekday evening, holidays if you're really lucky, to no contact, of any kind, at all, for years, maybe forever.

Personally, I think that for the engaged dad even "standard visitation" is an outrageous violation of natural rights. Complete isolation is literally unthinkable in the sense that thinking about it gives me serious cognitive and emotional indigestion. Finding the good in "visitation rights" is partly a matter of seeing that the cup being 15% full still makes it not completely empty. Finding the good in total disenfranchisement is like trying to be happy that even while you're dying of thirst and others all around you get to take a drink whenever they want, you still own a cup.

How can there be any good in having your kids taken unjustly? There can't, that's all there is to it. So I ignore the question and see what comes up.

There's a more subtle obstacle to finding the good, the "I won't give them the satisfaction" problem. From the moment of the first court date, whoever ends up non-custodial is expected to toe the line. Putting up a fight is going to count against you and you will need to be seen to have learned a lesson. Yes, that can be retroactively applied - the losing party starts to accumulate negative points from the moment they start resisting, well before they have "lost". That is, the loser will be judged partly on the basis of how strongly he (or she) fought. Society and the family court, for all the entertainment and potential profit to be made, doesn't actually like the dirty details of the conflict. They want you to meekly accept the short end of the stick, be a nice non-custodial parent and go quietly into the night (leave your wallet at the door).

The nastier the fight, the greater the need for a scapegoat. The more fight, the less acceptable and the more thorough must be the denouement. You think that's perverse? We're barely scratching the surface.

Putting up a fight partly involves not going quietly into the night, it means resisting some incredible pressure to just give up on your kids, let her (sometimes him) just take off and do whatever she wants with them. They want you to learn your lesson, lose gracefully, and get over it. To survive, you can build up a significant "screw you" response to that which can translate into a considerable resistance to finding a silver lining.

So what am I talking about? Not the trivial crap like an opportunity to "build a new life", to move on into the big wide world. Puh-lease. I don't need a nasty [expletive] divorce to do that, and isn't that what we do every day, anyway? I also don't mean the "learn from your mistakes" thing, either, that gets too close to "giving them satisfaction". Only an idiot doesn't a) know he makes mistakes nor b) learn from them, but plenty a vindictive ex will revel in the admission and have fun rubbing them in (she likes the idea that you're an idiot).

Alright, already, what the hell am I talking about? I'm talking about that having fought, and continuing to fight a righteous war: One. Does. Not. Lose.

In my explorations and experience of this wasteland, I have encountered many horrific stories. Many times, I have been appalled by what parents have been put through, what they have had to survive, what they continue to have to survive. There are tragedies happening in plain sight, all of the time, and no-one seems to give a damn. But the people, the target parents, the non-victims, what happens to them?

Some of them fall, some quickly (pink bullet, anyone? Please, don't), some slowly (the bottle seems to be a favorite). Falling slowly at least offers the chance of a recovery. Some give up, and, sigh!, "build a new life", but that always contains the option of returning to the fight, eventually. Some, even out of options, never stop fighting.

How do you keep fighting, even when you're out of options? By refusing to accept, even while you're forced to do nothing. It would be altogether too easy, even trite, here, to veer off into discussions of Ghandi and his passive resistance, Nelson Mandella's time in jail and subsequent rise, Steve Biko's death and the symbol he became, or any number of freedom fighters and risen phoenixes (phoenices?), but fighting for your children is not the same as fighting oppression, it's much, much more personal. We should use such people and their stories as inspiration, but not imagine that we are like them. Becoming a martyr is not, ultimately, going to help your kids.

It is a dangerous trap, to imagine a sort of negative Karma. An "if I suffer enough, I will win because that would be only fair" approach to the problem. That is the strategy of the faux victim, looking for leverage in "poor me, someone help", a kind of masochism, a rationalization for self-immolation and subsequent escape from humiliation and pain by embracing humiliation and pain, learning to like them. It can be difficult to escape this almost Pavlovian demand, but one becomes better at spotting the inclination and less accepting of the weakness in oneself.

I am getting towards issues of integrity, of old-fashioned and unfairly maligned questions of morality, of belief in yourself, even when no-one else seems to believe. Even when you have to fall, slowly, for a while, to yield to the forces arrayed against you at a given time, to maintain that seed of knowledge that what you are trying to do is the right thing (and do, please, be sure that it is).

'Chances are that if you have fought for your children and lost a battle or two or more in the war, you have been forced to confront yourself in visceral ways. You will have explored dark nights of the soul as few around you have. Some fall back on religion for the answers, and I am not belittling that, although I personally don't believe it is necessary. However you do it, if you emerge from that dark night determined to resist, however you can, then you will have a clue what I am driving at and you will not have lost.

What does it mean to "fight" at this point, when there is nothing to fight, to "resist" what you have no choice but to accept? It means keeping alive the knowledge that you tried to do the right thing and will continue to try, no matter how many doors are closed, phones hung up, or letters returned. The ability to say "today I am tired, today I have no options, but tomorrow I will be rested and options will generate themselves, and I will be ready", to know that a moment of despair need only be endured and will pass. A refusal to be ground to dust and blown away.

So much for the high and mighty words. What does this translate to? An enlightenment of sorts, there is something you know about the world and your place in it that others do not. A knowledge of your own weaknesses and strengths that few can claim, a self reliance which may have been learned by unjust force, but is real nevertheless.

Nietzsche's words "that which does not kill you makes you strong" have become trite for me, and, ultimately they are untrue because the human organism can only take so much and enough punishment produces irreversible damage. As such, and this is an important point, the people who took your children have no credit for that part of you which has, nevertheless, become stronger.

Aeon Flux's modification to Nietzsche appeals to me: "That which does not kill you makes you stranger". There are things that I know now which make me strange to others who have not and will not experience what I have experienced. I envy them, but, in that pain, I have something they don't.

The loss is intolerable, and yet must be tolerated. There is no "until it can be tolerated no more". That tense certainty is the only good that can come of having your children taken unjustly.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your posts. They are very much appreciated.

As far as continuing to fight goes, I think the sort of injustices suffered by victims of the family law system are the sort of injustices that can't be accepted by anyone with a principled mind.

In some respects, I think the system preys especially on men due to the cultural reinforcement exhorting us to be tough, resilient and indestructible. Given that, most men seem to be unwilling to admit how painful it all can be--and many consequently commit suicide, as you've pointed out.

As far a pain making one stranger goes, I don't think I'll ever be able to look at the system the same way again.