Saturday, December 27, 2008

A matter of life and death

The following paragraph summarizes the plot of the television program with the largest UK audience of 2008. People interested in the exposure of female on male domestic violence could hardly have asked for a better Christmas present, watched as it was by 14.3 million people on Christmas day:

A woman feigns distress to encourage a vulnerable and gullible man to risk serious injury to save her. She manipulates her way into his home where she takes obsessive control. She demonstrates a violent temper when thwarted in a cold-blooded attempt to injure and possibly kill the man. She uses self-injury and false accusation to discredit the man's friend and her sidekick shows obvious signs of ongoing abuse. She is significantly overweight and resents and blames men for this, claiming that her overeating is their fault. She is determined to take her revenge on men and does so by killing 12 of them, this latest being her intended 13th victim. When she is exposed as a serial killer and removed from the scene, her sidekick and victim both show considerable distress, typical of victims of domestic violence who are unable to accept what their tormentor has done to them, preferring to believe in the myth that was used to control them.

Would you believe this is a half-hour Wallace and Gromit special titled "A Matter of Loaf and Death"? In terms of entertainment, I would not rate this as Nick Park's best, but it is certainly his effort for which I am most grateful. It was made for British TV, but I'm sure it will make the rounds of many other countries too, keep an eye open for it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

It's not a question of courage...

The father's struggle for his children in family court can sometimes feel like the struggle for life itself against a foe as large as an ocean, maybe there's even a tiger in your little lifeboat along with you...

"I was giving up. I would have given up - if a voice hadn't made itself heard in my heart. The voice said, 'I will not die. I refuse it. I will make it through this nightmare. I will beat the odds, as great as they are. I have survived so far, miraculously. I will turn miracle into routine. The amazing will be seen every day. I will put in all the hard work necessary. Yes, so long as God is with me, I will not die. Amen'

My face set to a grim and determined expression. I speak in all modesty as I say this, but I discovered at that moment that I have a fierce will to live. It's not something evident, in my experience. Some of us give up on life with only a resigned sigh. Others fight a little, then lose hope. Still others - and I am one of those - never give up. We fight and fight and fight. We fight no matter what the cost of battle, the losses we take, the improbability of success. We fight to the very end. It's not a question of courage. It's something constitutional, an inability to let go. It may be nothing more than life-hungry stupidity."

-- Yann Martel, "Life of Pi", p186.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Father's Lament

Something tore inside me
The day she took away my son
It seems it won't repair,
It won't even form a scar.
The casual cruelty strikes me dumb,
The way that it was done.

I can see that what is best for him
Should be what is done.
But who says what that is?
One thing's for sure: they never ask me.
And this obviously isn't it,
Because it's best for none,
Except for those who think this is fun,
Or at least, a well-paid job
The easy, slow, daily grind
Of people's lives into hard ground
From atop a big book of words to make it all
Everyone else's fault,
Or mine.

I'm sorry, son.
It's not right, it's very wrong,
But they won't give me a way
To be you and I.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Lord of the Flies is watching you

I have, in recent months, with some embarrassment, read both Golding's Lord of the Flies and Orwell's 1984.

The embarrassment derives from the fact that I have, from time to time, indulged in various pontifications on their subject matter and, hell, I haven't even seen the movies. I possessed a sort of folk knowledge of the story-lines and themes gleaned from the myriad casual mentions everyone hears and that seemed to do for most chats in the pub. Now, honor is satisfied and I don't think I've made too big an ass of myself so I permit myself a small sigh of relief.

However, having finally read them, what stands out to me is their power and timelessness. Perhaps this is simply the point of great literature, that one should feel somewhat enlightened having read them, or touched, or disturbed, or, well more than just the satisfaction of having plowed through what your English teacher always said you should read.

Curiously, I don't feel that I have learned anything much, although I have had a number of suspicions reinforced. I'm a little jealous, that these two authors were able to express such dark themes so ably such that the stories became vehicles for much deeper thoughts than the immediate plot. And I am impressed that, despite having been written as what might be called speculative fiction - each taking place in a world that had not yet happened, but could - their relevance to our real lives is unquestionable.

I don't think I've learned much from these novels because they didn't tell me anything I didn't already know about their subject matter which, at the heart of it, has to do with the unintentional evil humanity inflicts on itself. Having said that, one reason that I am reading such heavy material as this, and others, is that I am trying to comprehend what I have seen over the past few years.

Golding's boys are stranded on an island onto which they project a deepening malevolence and which then turns around and proceeds to consume them. In the face of this, Ralph and Piggy, viewed as a unit, attempt to protect a semblance of rationality and plan for getting themselves out of it. For all their efforts and insight, savagery overcomes them.

Orwell's Smith lives in a world determined to undermine his every independent thought. He has to monitor his every action, even as the state monitors him itself; and as soon as he lets his guard down, he is consumed by it. In the process, he is instructed in his helpless complicity. Big Brother is all of us.

Inevitably, I identify with Ralph, Piggy and Winston Smith. My anonymity in this blog is driven by forces akin to those faced by Smith. Many times, I have wondered at the childish and savage insanity of the world so obvious to me and apparently invisible to others. This has never been visceral than in family court, where I despair at their inability to see the destructiveness of the process, never mind how I feel about what they've done to me and my son. Or rather, what they have allowed to happen.

But surely, the people who do these things would also identify with the central protagonists of these stories. So how, exactly, does a family court judge who does nothing to preserve a father's relationship with his child identify with Ralph and not the savage, self-righteous, despotic Jack? How does the Armani-suited lawyer who subtly suggests a denunciation, no matter how fabricated the evidence, as a means to controlling a divorce, not see himself as a member of the cossetted Inner Party rather than just another victim of the oppressive state in which he participates?

I suspect it has something to do with claiming that we're not boys stranded on a tropical island, nor huddled masses frightened of our own government, or some other point-missing argument like that.

Would they read these stories with a clinical detachment, convinced that these themes do not apply to them, while happily recognizing that they do to others? Such are confirmation bias and false uniqueness.

Having read these two books and seen what I've seen, I feel this urge to take a number of people I've met and force them to read them too, using physical means if necessary, and then explain the point to them in monosyllabic detail until they convince me they've got it and learned better. But then, that would make me no better than them, wouldn't it?

In closing, I note that all of the significant characters in these books are men, and boys. Orwell's Julia barely counts as she is largely a foil for Smith and vehicle for his downfall, possessing little individuality of her own. I cannot immediately bring to mind any dystopic novels written around female machinations - would that there were more insight into female malevolence to be found in this world, we might all live more honest lives.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Character lynching

A phrase popped into my head the other day: "character lynching", for what is done to a man by a false accusation of domestic violence, child abuse or rape. Character assassination is the deliberate trashing of someone behind their back, but it's usually not more than unpleasant gossip. A false accusation via the courts, however, involves dragging in society at large to do your dirty work, egging on the mindless mob to destroy your target and that seems more like a lynching to me. Shrug.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Here we go again

Women who kill are ill and need support. Men who kill are simply despicable and deserve nothing.

Women who kill are depressed and we let them down by not being there. Men who kill are just crazy and no-one could have seen it coming.

Women in trouble are there through no fault of their own, they need understanding and nurturing. Men in trouble have only themselves to blame, might be dangerous and should be contained and controlled.

It never seems to occur to the writers of these articles that their double standards have a whiff of self-fulfilling prophecy about them. That a woman knows society will react sympathetically to her problems and so is less likely to react with obvious destructiveness. That a man knows society doesn't give a damn, will spit on him when he lands in the gutter and so might react from rage.

(Never mind the specious claim that women turn their troubles inward but men turn them outward. Then explain the fact that male suicide is several times more prevalent than female.)

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

How to survive this insanity.

This morning I started the day by reading about yet another legal insanity, this time from New Jersey where a court has ruled that deliberate alienation and kidnapping of children does not constitute "intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress" against the left behind, target parent. How a judge can say this and not giggle like a lunatic purely escapes me.

Aristotle claimed that the law is the triumph of reason over the emotions. If family law and jurisprudence are reason, then we are all doomed. Last one to leave please turn out the lights.

In the comments to this article, I find the gem "it takes TWO to make a relationship work ... it also takes TWO to break one". Clearly ellenb1 has never been dumped.

It is a characteristic of this game that the most transparent falsehoods get promulgated as supposedly trivial fact. Under these circumstances, it can be hard not to lose it and yet, as the father being ground into the dirt, you are the one who has the most to lose by going crazy. You must stay sane when confronted with this insanity.

How to do that?

When all is out of control, you must stay in control. You cannot control what is going on around you any more than the one-eyed man in the country of the blind can restore everyone else's sight. Pick your battles carefully.

What you can attempt to control is your little island of calm in the eye of the storm. That island is in your head. Your "happy place" as Peter Pan, and others, would have it. We can't expect it to be all that happy under the circumstances, but we can at least try to keep it as peaceful as possible.

Getting the right support is always the right thing to do. If you're like me, you'll develop a deep suspicion of psychologists, few of them have much real idea of how to cope with unstereotypical problems. Nevertheless, they are our culture's current idea of how to support the suffering in spirit.

Actual wisdom is better and usually must be found elsewhere. If you have wise friends, possibly even a priest or spiritual leader (preferably from a long established line of life's teaching and not something half-baked), then you are doing well. Trust them, but do not expect them to make your decisions for you, especially if they themselves have never been where you are. (Some "friends" will turn out to be unable to avoid saying thoughtless, insensitive things; you don't have to turn your back on them, they may be friends for other reasons, but manage interaction with them carefully.)

You'll be doing a lot of waiting around, in anterooms, waiting rooms, perhaps travelling, not doing much when life screams for action. You'll need either distraction or something to help focus your mind, sometimes both. Music is excellent for the purpose.

Buy an mp3 player.

Fill it with music whose emotional content attracts you but is not too intense. Classical music is good. I find the genre now known as Chillout to be very effective, full of complex, sustained rhythms that carry me along but do not push me into maudlin or overwrought melody.

For those times when you can stand to listen to a human voice, podcasts are excellent. Choose your sources carefully. The BBC, NPR and CBC have an excellent selection, but avoid subjects which may trigger the wrong moods. (The BBC's Woman's Hour, for example, is unlikely to help at all.) Look for high intellectual content, even if it is difficult for you to understand, just trying to follow what they're talking about may help you climb out of a pothole of despair. Flavor with some light entertainment as well.

Don't spend too much time watching TV. It is full of imagery and stereotyping that won't help. Try to stick to things that are rooted in fact, not fantasy. Documentaries and travel programs, for example, or historical dramas, or war stories. But not the majority of sitcoms, nor cop shows (the bad guy is all too often the bad guy).

Read. There is a small but growing body of literature out there which recognizes modern cultural desert in which we live, discusses its causes and seeks solutions. Again, fact rather than fiction. If you do read fiction, try some classics. Modern literature is also infected with the disease of political correctness, but Dickens, Orwell, and Dosteyovski were fortunate not to have lived under its cloud (although Orwell certainly saw it coming).

Exercise. This is where the mp3 player can really come into its own. A brisk walk listening to some opinionated fool carefully selected from the foolishness of the internet can be most therapeutic. Try not to argue with them out loud, it tends to draw stares and, after all, we're trying not to let the world think it's succeeded in driving you over the edge.

Find time for yourself. This is perhaps counterintuitive because family court is extremely isolating for a father. But you'll need space to breath, to figure out what you think is the right thing to do, to calm down and to center yourself. Turn off the TV, put down the book, find a pleasant view, or even just stare at a blank wall, and just be. Let the tears come, heave out a scream if necessary, tear things apart in your head, recognize and identify the emotions. Accept them as normal, you are under attack, and it is proper that you be angry, hurt, unhappy, depressed, despairing, raging, sick to your stomach with it all. But above all, keep it under control, let out a little at a time, and do not let it overcome you. Do not let it, and therefore them, control you. You do that. Not them. They are insane, but they have power, and they will use that insanity against you if they can. Don't let them.

Sunday, August 31, 2008


It is very difficult to navigate when you can't see the terrain. This is what happens when no-one will tell you what they think, one way or the other, when no-one takes a stand for you or against. Even if the stand were against, it provides a reference point against which to fight.

The social terrain has landmarks near and far. A campaign of isolation removes near landmarks and make far ones indistinct. The greater the isolation, the farther the landmarks on which one relies and the greater the local errors.

The game of blind-man's-buff you're forced to play means not only that people can't speak to you, but you can't speak to them. The information exchange that is the lifeblood of social cohesiveness and integrity is blocked. To survive without information, one must work in absolutes, hard truths, choosing them, deciding what they are for oneself.

But people are not used to working in absolutes, even if they exist. Inflexible truth is anathema to getting on with people, each with his or her own expediencies for getting through life. Everyone bends with the flow. But if you don't know where the flow and its obstructions are, you cannot bend with them. You collide with prejudices and get driven up against assumptions, sometimes being forced in a direction you know not to apply but unable to find an escape.

What is hidden becomes far more important than what you can see. People's secret desires and fears come to dominate, mostly keeping them distant or quiet, but always alert and distrustful, and sometimes leading them to take advantage for their own gain should the opportunity arise.

To start this nasty little game, break free a few moorings by disrupting relationships between what people see and what they believe. It helps if those beliefs are rooted in falsehood, as many are. Play to prejudice to deny the obvious. Stretch the truth and twist it into unfamiliar shapes until everyone is unsure of themselves and looking for a scapegoat. Spin an attractive, scandalous tale with unverifiable bases. Do things that look decisive and assertive, but sew discord and fear. Never stop hounding your target. Smile as you aim, then laugh as you loose the shot so your fans will cheer while you take the innocent down for their sport. Try not to look at the blood.

She would not have survived what she put me through.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The silence of the crowd

"In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." - Martin Luther King Jr.

Of all the aspects of my fight to remain a father to my son one which I have found among the hardest to come to terms with is the reticence to comment and apparent indifference displayed by a wide variety of people, from old friends to unknown bystanders. In particular, it hurts most that so many friends and colleagues when faced with manifest injustice do little more than tut, if that. It is as if they are struck dumb, and I am left confused and uncertain because I cannot tell what it is that they are thinking. If they really do think I am truly the abusive father that my ex would have them believe in, then they do not say so and I cannot address the question. If they believe that I am not than monster, then likewise they do not say and I cannot be reassured.

I have wasted much anxiety on this issue and can only conclude that MLK is right, eventually I won't care what my enemies have said. I know they are wrong. There is nothing more to consider. But my friends, who said nothing and simply watched, that I shall remember.

Friday, August 22, 2008

I love women, but...

How often have you read discussions of gender begun with some claim that the speaker thinks women are just great, but, well, if only…? Every time I hear it, it makes my hackles rise, no matter how I might agree with the following claim. Either that person is about to say something not terribly well thought out or he doesn't have the courage of his own convictions. (Women, as far as I can tell, don't have to bother with the qualification. Not even if they're talking about men to men.)

Thinking about it, it is a reflexive and obligatory obeisance to an emotional component of the discussion which ought to have no place. The speaker must claim a default positive inclination towards women as a class, or it is suspected that he has a negative one instead, that he is a misogynist in the old-fashioned sense. "Women" as a class, is neutral, but not to claim some sort of pangeyrical feel-good warmth towards them all together implies a dangerous and subversive aversion.

Or, perhaps, it means that he is not interested in getting laid and doesn't care if he upsets a woman or not. Maybe these are the same thing. Now there's a thought - not being interested in getting laid as a subversive position. The only reason for that could be that the man's sex drive is a route to power for the women and his indifference to sex implies a threat to her. Must she then defend herself against this by demanding his fealty even when it is undeserved?

To my mind it is indicative of a mature woman that she does not need his irrelevant claim and can follow the line of reasoning without it.

When I think of "women", I feel the same as thinking of "people" - it runs the gamut from knowing that there are some truly good people who are worth getting to know and spending time in their company all the way to knowing there are some that are truly evil and should be avoided or fought at all costs. The same is true of gender, class, race, whatever. Why should I need to preface a less than flattering observation of my experience of women in general with some sort of disingenuous claim that I am well disposed towards them any more than I am towards any other group? It is because convention seems to demand it, because objective criticism of women is today immediately and effectively, if not rationally, vulnerable to claims of misogyny. That is, in discussions of gender, "misogynist" has come to describe anything which is not overtly and explicitly positive towards women for fear that anything that is not so, is necessarily anti-women. As such, it has so degenerated that it is only useful as a means to rouse the rabble against whomever it is aimed. Yet to begin "I love women" hints at an awareness that what is about to be said might draw such accusations and thus seems to grant a validity to them. Better not to say it, and be sure enough of yourself to fend off the accusations if and when they come rather than exhibit insecurity and invite irrationality with the first words.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

A working mum's guide to rousing her rabble

What does a working mother do when told something she doesn't like to hear? Throw a snarky tantrum of course, toss out a few anecdotes, ridicule some stereotypes and then blame men and employers. Along the way, there might be one or two reasonable points, but it'll be hard to tell. Above all, don't examine the possibility that some working mothers might have more interest in their own "choices" than their children's wellbeing.

The piece is mildly amusing in its own way, much as any empassioned rant might have you smile at its more extreme exaggerations, but what caught my eye, even tripped me up halfway through the article and forced me to start reading it again, was the line: "I feel as if the told-you-so-sayers are plonking working mothers in a category of villains that includes paedophiles and violent dads."

Wait, what?

Suddenly, I found myself not thinking about working mothers, but why such a one would a) group paedophiles with violent dads and b) use this artificial group as a shibboleth against people who would disagree with her choices.

The point, of course, is to gather a couple of stereotypical bad guys into one band and say "look, we're obviously not one of them, therefore you're wrong". Not a particularly intellectual means of argument, it nevertheless works remarkably well with your typical idiot in the street. Not wanting to be thought of as considering working mums as on a par with abusive fathers and child molesters, the only concievable alternative is to dumbly nod in acquiescence.

But why this particular selection of bad guy? Paedophiles are the easy and first recourse of the lazy rabble rouser. Most of the western world now immediately shuts down its critical faculties at the merest suggestion of impropriety with children, making it the quickest route to shutting down dissent too. So, green light to identifying the out-group as a bunch of pedos.

But that really isn't enough because to suggest working mothers are being cast as simply like paedophiles is really too silly for even the dumbest of Telegraph reader, so she needs something slightly less risible to lend credulity to the claim. "Abusive fathers" might have done it, but it's not really down to earth enough. Better to say "dads" because that'll bring it right into everyman's, or everywoman's, home and say "violent" to make sure we know what we're talking about. (Shhh! Nobody point out that child abuse is primarily perpetrated by mothers and their boyfriends, well before actual fathers enter the picture! You'll spoil her fun!)

Interestingly, this is the only explicit mention of fathers in the entire article. Even when she starts complaining about men not "pulling their weight domestically", it's just "men", not fathers. Mention of fathers is reserved for association with violence and proximity to pedophilia.

So, what does author Cassandra Jardine betray about her true agenda? I'd say it's something like rather than examine the possibility that some working mothers are putting their own choices ahead of their children, she'll fan the fires of father hate and fall back on a couple of safe canards. For me, that rather proves the point she's trying to deny.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What should I tell my son?

I suppose it's possible that one day I might see my son again, and one day I may have the opportunity to counsel him on matters of the heart, marriage, and fatherhood. Probably, the best I can hope for is that this insane world will have seen the foolishness of handing over decisions on the future of children of failed marriages to bigoted control freaks who think "at least one parental figure" means "only one parental figure", that this one figure should be paid to take the child from the other and the other should otherwise just disappear into the night. I can hope for this, but acting as if the hope had some chance of reality would be pretty stupid.

So what should I tell my son? Be vewy, vewy careful? That wabbit you're hunting is actually hunting you, and has much bigger guns than you do? Should I spoil a young man's fun with that?

And what of marriage? Maybe I won't have to counsel him against it, given the way things are going. Most young people don't see the point, never mind the hidden danger.

Children? I'd like grandchildren, both for my son and for the hope they might give me at least a consolation for what has been taken from me. But there is another danger there, that those children, at the behest of their mother and the complicity of the courts, might also be turned into a painful, grinding millstone around the neck of my son. I'd then be torn between hoping he'd carry that millstone willingly, however heavy, as I have tried to do for him, and fear that he'd learn from what he has seen happened to me and make himself as scarce as possible as quickly as possible.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The murderer-suicide in our midst

Are you a middle-aged man? Do you provide a good home for your family? Are you dedicated to your wife? Devoted to your kids? Do you work hard to maintain their lives? Do you like to think your life is pretty much under control? But is it still sometimes a bit of a struggle? That promotion not so easy to get? So you sometimes wonder if you can keep up? Have the stress and working so hard crimped your social life a bit?

If so, then you fit the profile for someone who could kill his family and then himself.

Yes, you.

You might be just like Brian Philcox.

At least, according to the Mirror and Professor Jack Levin, an expert on "family annihilators".

It's a bit of a double-bind, isn't it? And you can kind of see their point.

If you took such a basically ordinary man and subjected him to sustained, ongoing torment through the disruption of his life in every respect. If you took his family away, turned him out of his home, prevented him from seeing his children, spent his money; if you rendered him completely powerless to do anything about it. If you made him try to defend himself against society's disapprobation for failing as a father, or a husband, or a man while giving him no tools to do anything about it. If, in short, you tried to break him, he just might do something terminal.

You can see how that might happen. So can the vindictive ex's, the courts and their apologists, even if they won't admit it, which is partly why they pile on the blame as they strip a father of his rights, to make sure it is his fault, as opposed to the other way around. Slightly scared of the consequences of their own actions, they seek to divert attention to the most convenient target. The guilty are always the quickest to apportion blame. Fighting it makes it worse.

Most likely he'll be made to give up and become one of the 40% of separated fathers who lose all contact with his children within two years, and it'll be his fault for not fighting hard enough.

Somewhat less likely, but still alarmingly common, he might kill himself, which means he was weak anyway. It's tragic, but we can forget about him now.

Very, very rarely, he might kill his family and himself, then he is unspeakably evil, it's no-one's fault but his own and everyone falls over themselves to condemn him.

Through this unspoken, but obvious chain of connections, uncountably many good fathers are unjustly tarred with one horribly failed father's grotesque act. The very vagueness of the "profile" causes a tiny bit to stick to every father under the family court spotlight. Is it any less grotesque to connect these good fathers with that despicable act? No-one says it, but you can practically see them thinking it.

The first places the journalists go when such a thing happens are the fathers' rights organizations. If he was acting with nothing in common with other, unfairly rejected fathers, why would they do that?

Of course, there is no defending such a destructive act as murder-suicide. It is quite the most distressing and appalling thing I can imagine. And not least because it does so much harm to other fathers. One simply does not want to think about it.

But there must be more to it than that. In order to prevent it happening again, we have to ask some difficult questions.


Or, perhaps more usefully: what kind of man would do such a thing?

The fact that a supposed expert in the field can only describe an ordinary sort of chap in straitened circumstances tells us something important.

The vast majority of such ordinary chaps don't do any such thing. Hence, in truth, Prof. Levin is really saying: "I don't know" even while he apparently claims to. He's also saying "anyone could do it". In which case, unless we're to be completely paranoid, context is absolutely crucial. It is therefore not that the behavior necessarily has a specific root in the individual concerned, rather that environmental factors play a very strong role.

If you look at Prof. Levin's web site, you will find that he is actually an expert in violent hate crime. This would seem to suggest that he views murder-suicide as a hate crime. Now, that sounds reasonable, I suppose, but it leads to the assumption that the murderer's motives are simply hateful. In which case, I would have thought that the perpetrator's profile would include being known as a hateful, vengeful sort. But apparently not.

Of course, that doesn't stop the peanut gallery from running with it. Carol Sarler in The Daily Mail is positively horrified that anyone would DARE to suggest that someone besides the perpetrator himself might have had anything at all to do with it. He must necessarily have been acting in a complete vacuum, driven only by his own diabolical need for revenge. It is possible, of course, but Ms. Sarler demands that you not DARE have any other ideas.

She also thinks it's only fathers that do it. Oh, she knows mothers kill their kids, but they're just ill. They have undiagnosed problems, like post partum depression, or schizophrenia. Fathers who do so have no such excuses and are, well, inexcusable, and "just trying to prove a point". Somehow, a father who kills is in full possession of his faculties and acting out of sane, but evil, logic. Mothers, on the other hand, are understandably out of control, the poor things, and it wasn't their fault. Come again?

She cites John Hogan as an example - a man who survived his unpremeditated suicide but killed his son. This is a man whose two brothers had previously killed themselves and has himself been treated for clinical depression for most of his life. His wife shacked up with another man almost faster than you could snap your fingers and, since the attempted murder-suicide, he has tried to kill himself at least 4 times. I insist that I am not excusing him, but even so it would be a spectacularly blinkered observer who claimed there were no factors involved besides some evil need to revenge himself on his wife.

If you follow the link to read about John Hogan, you'll also find discussion of Linda Parmeter who killed her son Ryan. Not only was it carefully premeditated, she left some truly horrifying souvenirs for her husband to find. It would be another act of spectacularly willful blindness to say that she was not spiteful nor motivated by revenge. (Nevertheless, there are those who inexplicably leap to her defense.)

And yet, bizarrely, Carol Sarler claims: "Women, in short, love their children differently".

Trying to think like that gives me a headache.

Different forms of love generate different motives for child murder, and some are permissible, but some are not? Truly she confuses sickness and evil.

When things like this happen, I want people to think about it, to talk about it, to explore all of the possible factors. These include, whether you like it or not, the spouse, the courts, and all the people around them. It also includes how these people normally behave in the far more common cases where there is no catastrophic failure. Is there anything they do which encourages a borderline character to go over the edge? Or are they all saints? These people often behave according to false premises, their arrogant prejudices dictate some of the outcomes and they should have the humility to explore that and make some corrections.

Collective, unacknowledged guilt is the most powerful driver of denial and injustice that there is. Righteous indignation at a challenge to your prejudices will not prevent it happening again. It will make it all the more likely. It is the double outrage of monsters like Brian Philcox and harpies like Carol Sarler who prevent us from doing what is really in our children's best interests.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

If you hate your father…

…or if you're just mad at him because he left, consider this:

It is possible, but unlikely your father spawned you with the intent to make your life miserable. Few people are deliberately evil (although there are some). Mostly, people are just trying to do what seems best at the time. Including him. Including you. Unfortunately most people, including him, including you, are basically selfish. Most will cop out, most of the time. Few will put up a fight they know they are going to lose anyway. Few people can take much humiliation. Few will put effort into something for which they receive no reward. Fewer still will do something for which they are punished. Trying and failing to defend your rights in court feels like punishment. Trying and failing to protect your rights in everyday life feels like punishment. For the ignorant, it looks like that too. Mostly people try to avoid punishment.

The modern world has little respect for fatherhood. (By hating your father, you are participating in this.) It is acceptable to ridicule fatherhood and manhood in public. It's almost a sport. It's not even politically correct, it's so ingrained it's almost invisible. That doesn't mean you can't see it. You just don't see it that way. You just don't think it will happen to you. When it does happen, victims' reactions differ. Your father saw it and probably thought it couldn't happen to him. He wanted to be proud of himself, just like you do. Maybe he decided that he didn't care what the world thought and behaved according to stereotype anyway. Maybe he struggled to avoid the stereotypes and had them forced on him, anyway. After all, if enough mud is slung, some will stick. To everyone.

Few will object to the derision of an absent father within the earshot of his children. Many will listen avidly while a mother complains, enjoying the scandal. This is not the same as sympathy for her plight. They’ll egg her on. Many will listen agog while you describe your father's sins, enjoying the soap opera, helping you raise the suds. This is not the same as helping you deal with it. They are enjoying your pain.

The world will not reward your father for trying to stay in your life. (If your mom doesn't want him to try, or if she enjoys tormenting him, most likely the world will try to hurt him.) There is no reward for paying child support, there is only punishment for not paying it. Punishing someone for not doing something that is expensive or difficult will drive them to seek escape from both the punishment and the cost. (Listen, putz, I give you a choice between two things that are bad for you, which one do you want?) For this reason alone divorce law is idiotic. Did your mother thank your father for what he did pay or do? Your mother is unlikely to be objective, even if she's still married to him. Have you ever shown any real gratitude for what good he did do, or do you just complain about the bad you think he did?

If you hate your father, are you sure it's not because it's more fun to be that way? (Is that really such a perverse idea?) Or that it isn't what the people who are still in your life want? How convenient is it to hate him? How inconvenient would be not to? How much have you invested in that hate? How much do you enjoy it? (It can be so much fun picking at a wound.) How embarrassing would it be to stop?

Tormenting an animal will cause it to attack you. Feed a dog and he'll be your pal, stroke a cat and maybe she'll purr. Dogs that bite get kicked out. Cats that scratch don't get fed. People are animals. Including him, including you. You do the math.

(This post was inspired by the answers to the Fark question on Fathers' Day: "What would you say to your father today if you could?". Don't read them unless you want to learn about all the myriad ways that a child can hate his or her father. There seem to be rather fewer ways to love him.)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Happy Fathers' Day

Oh boy, here we are again, Fathers' Day. Time to trot out the dad-hating axe-grinders. Last year at about this time, I found several articles having a go at fathers in general. This year, I haven't really looked all that hard, but Gill Hornby (guess the gender) really takes the cake. The Daily Telegraph, a major, right-leaning paper, publishes an appallingly vitriolic rant on the uselessness of fathers, in which Fathers' Day is argued to rank alongside Watergate for notoriety. Thanks Gill, I hope you get a lump of coal for Mothers' Day, assuming you've done the world the disfavor of reproducing.

Friday, June 06, 2008

A couple of comments

To one who asks if I don't think my experiences make me a better person: if they have, the price was too high.

To the custodial father who thinks it's OK that his ex wife has no custodial nor visitation rights, who thinks he feels my pain. You haven't a goddamned clue.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

England's author says it for me.

Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form.

William Shakespeare, King John.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Child custody is not a ball game.

Glenn Sacks said: "in child custody cases the baby is like the football in a football game—whoever has possession is in control."

And I commented:

If this is the case, and it very certainly is, then the rules of the game need fundamental change. In fact, the game needs to be called off completely. The quickest way to do that is to preserve possession by both sides in the game. What's the point in playing ball if taking it from the other side is against the rules?

"The best interests of the child" doctrine is based on out of date, bad pseudo-Freudian "science". It is a simple-minded ideology which seeks to preserve the child's relationship with one, and only one, parent. Pretty much all the malignancies of child custody develop from this one cancerous idea. When there are suitable penalties for attempts to obstruct or disrupt the relationship between a child and either willing, adequate parent, then and only then will we see excrescences like the above receding into an embarrassing history.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Hungry yet?

Imagine a country where, under certain circumstances, stealing food has become effectively legal.

This country, of sane, well-intentioned people, has decided that anorexia is a sufficiently serious problem that all efforts should be made to help those who suffer it. Various government programs have been put in place to succor the poor victims of this terrible fate; there is counseling available for free on request, dieticians are on 24 hour standby, nutritionists make fortunes from writing "gain weight quick" books. Various pressure groups have field days wrecking fashion houses in expensive shopping districts and organizing protests outside women's magazine headquarters, all standing proud against the ravages of propaganda designed to make women want to be as skinny as they can be.

Panic has set in, the dreaded scourge of self starvation becomes a social anathema. The merest suggestion that one should perhaps restrain oneself at the dining table becomes positively offensive. Every self respecting citizen will pick up the club and shout down the poor fool who thinks maybe we're all getting a bit too overweight. Diet drinks become dusty relics in the corners of museums, a vaguely revolting reminder of a horrendous past.

And for those poor few who remain skinny, no matter how hard they try, society positively bends over backwards to help them, to fatten them up, to save them from themselves and the danger of wasting away into wraith-like nothingness.

Then one day, a young shoplifter finds herself in front of the beak. She was caught red handed with that crimson appendage jammed in the cookie jar while trying to half inch a box of fancy chocolates from, oh, I don't know, the local equivalent of Fortnum and Mason's (does Macy's compare?). It’s her third strike, too, what is she going to do?

Luckily for her, she's got a couple of things in her favor - first, due to an unfortunate dalliance with certain hard drugs, she's only got the one spare tire. And there's the rich daddy, who while disgusted at his daughter's fall from grace is sufficiently protective of his family's good name (and nagged by his missus) that he would rather not see her go to jail. So he plonks the greenbacks down for a decent lawyer.

Said Shylock ponders carefully and comes up with a novel defense. Yes, yer honor, the young lady admits to her crime. She did indeed, with planning aforethought, make off with exhibit A, a box of Cadbury's Crème Delight, special edition, with Egon Ronay's 5-star fillings. Unfortunately, she neglected to pay for said item and got nicked on setting off the store's alarm. But your honor, please take a careful look at her, she's as skinny as a rail! This crime was no ordinary crime, it was a cry for help from one of society's truest victims! She is almost, and I near dare not say it, anorexic! You cannot possibly convict!

The judge, who has just had a very nice lunch courtesy of a couple of friends at the local law school, is digesting comfortably, emitting the occasional wee burp, and has taken a considerable liking to the defendant's heaving cleavage, wakes up at this and declares "Good grief! You're right! The poor thing! Case dismissed!" Whack! "And someone give her a leaflet for anorexics anonymous, this minute!"

Lawyers being lawyers, word quickly gets around. Pretty soon, courts up and down the land are letting off one lefty after another. Food, after all, is a God-given right and who are these grocery and supermarket owners to so selfishly deny such starving sisters who daily cheat death with no more than a crust of bread with their three course meals? Few judges dare convict. Once in a while, someone will be sent down for lack of excuse - a kilo of caviar under the coat of a 400 pound gentleman is pushing it just a bit too far - but as long as you limit yourself to a carrier bag or two and manage to look drawn in the dock, by and large the judge waves a hand and lets you go.

(In the background, no court staff will waste time making sure any shopkeeper who has the temerity to bring charges is very aware in just how low esteem he is held. Better just to go away and work all the harder to put more food on the shelves for any poor dear who might happen to feel peckish while passing by.)

Pretty soon, the population at large catches on. Behind the smokescreen of all these dismissed cases, small industries develop revolving around cleaning out one superstore after another. Gangs strip one store to stock another, one bag at a time.

They have to be careful, of course, it's hard to justify that DVD jammed between the bread and the pastrami, the beak definitely won't like it. Society, too, still looks askance. Nobody you know would stoop so low. Or if they did, it must have been because they were really hungry, or perhaps other things justify such an obvious and forlorn cry of help. While everyone thinks such reassuring thoughts, supermarkets are forced to their knees, corner shops gutted, lawyers get richer by the hour and advocates for the anorexic sit around being pleased with themselves secure in the unquestionable knowledge that theirs is a righteous and godly cause.

Have you figured it out yet? You live in this country. Oh, yes you do. Anorexia is domestic violence, food is a man's children and his living, the store-keepers are non-custodial parents and the courts are, well, the courts. Oh, yes they are.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Guilty pleasures

'Ever read b3ta? They have a question of the week. One was: "What are the little things you do for fun when nobody else is around?"

I'm still snickering over this one:
"Sometimes, I like to sneak into the girl's toilets when nobody's around and lift up the seats."
Oh, OK, go on, whatever, call me a misogynist.

(I never really got it anyway. I have to lift it up, you have to put it down. What is the big *&$% deal?)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Hijacking feminism

I've often felt that the men's and fathers' rights movements have a lot they can learn from feminism. Today, I ran across this line, in a feminist context: "Here's to good women: may we know them, may we be them, and may we raise them." Hmm, OK, 'sounds good to me. Then I thought, in which case then why not:
"Here's to good men: may we know them, may we be them, and may we raise them."?
Yes, that sounds about right, don't you think? So, with an evil twinkle in my eye, I started switching genders in a few feminist quotes. It didn't always work, some classic feminist quotes are just too sexist (here's a good list) for any sort of intelligent discourse, but surprisingly many produced decidedly thought-provoking results. Some are just plain sensible:
"The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of males begins when the doctor says, 'It's a boy.'" (c/f Shirley Chisholm).
"Women, their rights, and nothing more; men, their rights, and nothing less." ~ c/f Susan B. Anthony
"Men are not inherently violent or aggressive. We're not inherently anything but human." ~ c/f Robin Morgan
"Whether men are better than women I cannot say - but I can say they are certainly no worse." ~ c/f Golda Meir
Others apply equally well without gender specification:
"Never let the hand you hold, hold you down. " Author Unknown
"Don't compromise yourself. You are all you've got." —Janis Joplin
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." —Margaret Mead
"Remember no one can make you feel inferior without your consent." —Eleanor Roosevel
Some expose their general silliness by applying equally falsely to either gender:
"Men are the only oppressed group in our society that lives in intimate association with their oppressors." ~ c/f Evelyn Cunningham
"Men who seek to be equal with women lack ambition." ~ c/f Timothy Leary
"A man reading Cosmo feels a little like a Jew reading a Nazi manual." ~ c/f Gloria Steinem (original referred to Playboy)
Then there's good, healthy tit-for-tat:
"You don't have to be anti-woman to be pro-man." ~ c/f Jane Galvin Lewis
"One of the things about equality is not just that you be treated equally to a woman, but that you treat yourself equally to the way you treat a woman." ~ c/f Marlo Thomas
And many hold more truth than some might find comfortable:
"Most men are one woman away from child support." ~ c/f Gloria Steinem
"Women will often admit other men are oppressed but not you." ~ c/f Sheila Rowbotham
"Not only is men's work never done, the definition keeps changing." ~ c/f Bill Copeland
"Any intelligent man who reads the marriage contract, and then goes into it, deserves all the consequences." ~ c/f Isadora Duncan
"In my heart, I think a man has two choices: either he's a masculist or a masochist." — c/f Gloria Steinem
And finally, my personal favorite:
"A man needs a woman like a bicycle needs a fish" - c/f Irina Dunn
Damned silly, no matter how you write it.

Happy Easter, everyone.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

"I got depressed today because I got the overwhelming feeling that girls will always be more important and men's feelings will never matter."

A comment I wrote on Glenn Sacks' blog, I repeat it here as much for myself as those of you who do me the honor of reading my blog.

"George" said: "I got depressed today because I got the overwhelming feeling that girls will always be more important and men's feelings will never matter."

It is a question of personal environment. If yours is like that, then either leave, or change it.

Either way, I suspect it will be difficult. Probably we have to take a few leaves from the feminists' battle book (none of them are really new anyway). Learn to be assertive and act locally while thinking globally. If you encounter a situation where a woman is being treated as more important than a man, then carefully and firmly point it out. You may not have any effect and quite possibly will come under attack, but being right and maintaining the position will eventually win out. (There is a manly trait for you, is there not? Don't stand down in the face of adversity). The more of us that do this, the faster the change will be effected.

If you have the feeling (!) that your feelings don't matter then perhaps you need to learn how to express them. We now live in a culture where a woman can express any "feeling" she likes, how she "feels" can override any intelligent discussion. First. remember that men are no more entitled to that privilege than are the women who get handed it by default. Neither sex has the monopoly on appropriate expression of emotion. Men do not express themselves well for a variety of reasons, not least that it is dangerous for them to do so. Women do not express themselves well for a variety of different reasons, not least that they are not educated to prioritize them appropriately.

Make sure your feelings are reasonable, (you're a man, you start with the advantage that you're supposed to be able to reason), be sure that they should actually count, and then insist that they be recognized. You may experience some belittling or other attack. Do not get mad. It's OK to feel mad, say, don't shout, "that makes me angry, don't do it". This may bring on more childish behavior. Recognize it for what it is, do not give in. Acquaint yourself with some of the tactics, use them yourself. If you know that your feelings matter, then others will learn this too.

All worthwhile battles involve periods of hard fighting, retreat, apparent defeat, nervous waiting and despair in the face of adversity. Even victory is never permanent. If you're in the right and stand your ground, you will prevail.

It's a war, soldier. It won't be won unless you fight.

Friday, March 07, 2008

New tricks.

Well, ladies, if you live in Wisconsin, you've just acquired another way to screw with your ex. All in the name of protecting the vulnerable, of course. Here's just a short bulletin on the issue, but the upshot is that your pets can be named on that restraining order you bring against your ex to get him out of the house so you can claim full possession of it, the kids and, well, now his dog too.

Perhaps it's hard for you to see what's wrong with this? I could hold forth on the rubber-stamping of restraining orders in general and how they are used and abused to control the movements of pretty much any poor sap preparatory to relieving him of everything he holds dear. But no, how about a graphic example (from here):
I work at a boarding/kennel facility and we recently took in a German Shepherd who belonged to a couple going through a nasty divorce. The husband moved out but couldn't take the dog with him, so the wife apparently had been starving the dog for two weeks to get back at her husband. He's doing better now (the dog that is)
Maybe you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but you can sure use them on him.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Marriage, schmarriage.

(Not another anti-marriage post.)

I started out thinking that this link would make for just a one-liner along with the others at left, but got to thinking more as I read it. Carolyn Graglia reviews a couple of books from the conservative press on the decline of marriage and in doing so she illustrates a number of the problematic aspects of the topic and in particular the inability of either side to think straight.

I was first arrested by the astonishing quote from Hymowitz, "nothing could be more natural than a sixteen-year-old having a baby".

First off, a pregnant 16 year old is, by definition a rape victim. If we take the claim at face value, then we have to conclude that criminalizing sex with a 15 or 16 year old is unnatural. I don't particularly want to get into a discussion of the ethics of an age of consent and what it ought to be, let me just say that I do believe that a line needs to be drawn somewhere.

This will inevitably conflict with the idea that pregnancy at any given age is "natural", especially if "natural" is extended to include anything found in nature as that also includes murder, for example.

Context, of course, is all. Among primitive tribes and the generally uncivilized (whatever that means - as I get older I become less and less impressed with what we are pleased to call civilization), early pregnancy enhances survivability. Call me an old fuddy duddy, but I think that with a modicum of societal development, survivability is a little more complicated than an ability to pop sprogs.

Graglia's comments on Hymowitz conclude with:
Revival of a marriage culture depends on convincing women on both sides of the divide that marriage should precede childbirth and that children need their biological fathers at home. This culture would re-stigmatize illegitimacy, reform divorce laws, and enforce mores that uphold sexual intercourse as the reward of marriage. Citing evidence of disgust with the sexual revolution and the determination of children victimized by divorce to do better than their parents, Hymowitz concludes that Americans are now "earnestly knitting up their unraveled culture."
This may be so, but I think that, as so often happens with these arguments, marriage itself is considered as the intrinsically beneficial starting point rather than first providing an argument first defending marriage. If Hymowitz does follow the rational sequence, it does not come across in Graglia's review. In the absence of an argument support the intrinsic benefits of marriage, the result is an apparently nostalgia-driven wail for a return to something that I am not at all sure ever really existed - the 50's family unit and leave it all to Beaver.

Personally, I think the issue is far more critical over the issue of the simple presence of a father in a child's life, but then you knew that.

Blankenhorn, on the other hand, is said to be defending marriage starting with an opposition to that perennial red-herring, same-sex marriage. This comes from the view of marriage as a vehicle for the production of children.

Warming my heart, he says:
What children need most are mothers and fathers. Not caregivers. Not parent-like adults. Not even ‘parents.' What a child wants and needs more than anything else are the mother and the father who together made the child, who love the child, and who love each other.
I could not agree more.

But I do take issue with "redefining marriage to include same-sex couples, Blankenhorn argues, 'would eliminate entirely in law, and weaken still further in culture, the basic idea of a mother and a father for every child,' the precise purpose for which marriage was created.".

I disagree because I do not believe that marriage was consciously created for the purpose of procreation. That point of view puts the cart before the horse. Logically, it implies that before marriage, human beings were not very good at producing children which is an obvious fallacy. No, the social contract of marriage may have been found to have been conducive to the healthy production and raising of children, but it is basically just a reflection of modern man's need to systematize, control and, well, govern his own behavior which, by and large, happens, er, naturally anyway.

It seems that Blankenhorn does much the same as many conservative theorists and argues from authority for the protection of traditional marriage, quoting philosophers and anthropologists. The trouble is that this is no more than opinion piled on opinion. Just because a thinker is eminent does not make him or her right.

Graglia gives us:
Bronislaw Malinowski, one of the founders of anthropology, established that in every culture there is "the rule of legitimacy," requiring a father and a mother for every child; "in all human societies...the group consisting of a woman and her offspring is not a sociologically complete unit." "The human family," says Malinowski, "must consist of the male as well as the female," and because the "father is defined socially," "in order that there may be fatherhood there must be marriage."
What is this "social definition" of which he speaks? There is a growing wealth of biological evidence, besides what will smack any intelligent observer squarely in the face, that fathers and their children have links which transcend any social connection - Blankenhorn even cites a couple of examples, albeit limited to indirect biological bonds between parents and thus inappropriately channeling the links through the mother (the big dicks, female orgasm and oxytocin thing).

Let me put it simply: my son and I look alike, we think alike and our emotional constitutions are alike. (One day I fully expect him to be told "You're just like your father!", and not kindly either.) I really don't care what society thinks about our relationship, especially as that society has done nothing to protect it.

There is a fair chance he will experience the close company of a number of adult men during his growth to manhood, none of them will be as appropriate to the job of leading him along that road as I am, none of them will have anything like the investment in him that I do. No amount of social definition of fatherhood nor marriage to my son's mother will change that. (Are you listening, stepfathers?)

Fundamentally, I think that fatherhood is now "defined socially" only so that "society" can have an inappropriate hold over the father and his children. In this sense, "society" has become a despot and needs to be brought to heel. In other words, Malinowski's arguments are incorrect because he confuses the individual father's historically difficult job of assuring that his children are his own with the inevitably flawed societal mechanisms he helps put in place in order to facilitate that job. Consequently he arrives at laughable and highly dangerous ideas like fatherhood having marriage as a prerequisite. It's a short step from there to the claim that you're not the child's father unless you're married to the mother and from there to: if you're divorced, you're not the kid's father any more.

These days, we have a radically different situation because fatherhood can be proved beyond doubt. Thus we have no excuse but to defend true fatherhood to the hilt. There is no longer a need for any "social definition".

Blankenhorn thinks of marriage as "a social institution to meet social needs". That may be so, but then to take that as a starting point for the defense of marriage as a vehicle for the production and protection of children again confuses the largely ignorant society's point of view with that of the very individually knowledgeable parents. I say protect a father's investment in his children and you will automatically protect society's propensity towards those institutions which help him do so. That is, protect his rights with respect to his children and I'd happily bet that the divorce rate will fall as mothers are made to realize that ejecting the father from the home does not automatically eject him from his children's lives.

Graglia further exposes Blankenhorn's woolly thinking with:
Blankenhorn himself bows to political correctness in using the female pronoun as a general referent. Why would the author of Fatherless America adopt this academic conceit and patronize the feminist belief in ongoing female oppression? He knows that our problem is to fortify the declining male, not the ascending female. Young women, who graduate from college at much higher rates than men and earn more than men in our largest cities, do not need to have the female pronoun waved in support of their cause.
Hear bloody hear! (A woman wrote this, folks.)

In short, it seems that Blankenhorn wants to protect children by protecting marriage and thinks that allowing people to marry who won't or can't have children somehow conflicts with this. I think he'd be better off by truly identifying who best protects children and their interests (their fathers, you damned fool!) and work from there.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Some numbers

I found this in a comment on Glenn Sacks' blog and thought it bore repeating:

• 79.6% of custodial mothers receive a support award

• 29.9% of custodial fathers receive a support award.

• 46.9% of non-custodial mothers totally default on support.

• 26.9% of non-custodial fathers totally default on support.

• 20.0% of non-custodial mothers pay support at some level

• 61.0% of non-custodial fathers pay support at some level

• 66.2% of single custodial mothers work less than full time.

• 10.2% of single custodial fathers work less than full time.

• 7.0% of single custodial mothers work more than 44 hours weekly.

• 24.5% of single custodial fathers work more that 44 hours weekly.

• 46.2% of single custodial mothers receive public assistance.

• 20.8% of single custodial fathers receive public assistance. [1]

• 40% of mothers reported that they had interfered with the fathers
visitation to punish their ex-spouse. [2]

• 50% of mothers see no value in the fathers continued contact with his children. [3]

• 90.2% of fathers with joint custody pay the support due.

• 79.1% of fathers with visitation privileges pay the support due.

• 44.5% of fathers with no visitation pay the support due.

• 37.9% of fathers are denied any visitation.

• 66% of all support not paid by non-custodial fathers is due to the
inability to pay. [4]

1 Technical Analysis Paper No. 42 - U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services - Office of Income Security Policy
2 "Frequency of Visitation" by
Sanford Braver, American Journal of Orthopsychiatry
3 "Surviving the Breakup" by Joan Berlin Kelly
4. 1988 Census "Child Support and Alimony: 1989 Series"
P-60, No. 173 p.6-7, and "U.S. General Accounting Office Report"
GAO/HRD-92-39FS January 1992

I believe the numbers apply to the US.

To this, I would add: 40% of non-custodial fathers lose all contact with their children within 2 years.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


In my quest to comprehend the disastrous mess that is modern marriage and divorce, and the particularly disastrous mess of my own marriage and divorce, I do occasionally find myself brooding on some quite extraordinarily morbid cases.

A professor I knew once advised me that it is the extreme cases which shed the most light on our general understanding. He wasn't talking about human relations, but the comment has some relevance nevertheless. (I also wouldn't put him forward as all that much of a wise man, indeed he turned out to be something of, to use his own word, an "operator", but we're all human no matter how fancy our office or high our ideals.)

The extreme cases I'm thinking of today are those of parents who kill their own children and often themselves, while in the throes of separation and divorce. It was brought to mind by two cases that are recently in the news. In the US, there is Tim Parmeter, a basketball coach coming to terms with his wife's murder/suicide with their child Ryan. (Nod to Glenn Sacks.)

On December 29, 2006, after an emotionally traumatic evening with Tim, Paula shut herself in the garage with 2 year old Ryan and gassed the both of them with car exhaust. She left no less than 6 suicide notes, one to Tim, and took photographs of Ryan as he died from carbon monoxide poisoning. One of the notes was addressed to Tim and it is unequivocal:
"Don't ever try to convince yourself otherwise -- this event is absolutely, completely your fault. You created it. You could have prevented it. You encouraged it. You found our pain funny. ... If I have the opportunity to haunt you, I will. ... I pray you will see our faces in your mind's eye and wonder what Ryan could have been and what we could have had if you had only chosen love."
The motivation is clear, it is pure hate. Is it evil, or is it sick? Are the two the same? Should we be angry or pity her? (Is it possible to do both?)

It gets worse.

There is some child's scribble at the end of the note to Tim next to Paula's signature. It is annotated with the comment "That's Ryan saying bye-bye, Dada."

Think about that. She wanted to hurt Tim worse than anything possible, more than she wanted her child to live. She wanted him to scream in pain for the rest of his life. It is a wonder that the man did not go irretrievably insane.

The act took planning. Never mind the time it took to write 6 suicide notes, she also plugged the gaps in the garage walls, remembered to take the camera and had toys to entertain Ryan while she killed him. It was certainly premeditated.

I have heard it said that suicide is the most violent thing one can do to the world. The suicide can be trying, with an inverted logic, to destroy everything but themselves. I don't think that's always true, but it seems a very reasonable hypothesis in this case. In Paula's twisted fantasy, she was destroying Tim by killing herself and Ryan.

(The semiotics of these cases can sometimes be intriguing. The police describe the murder-suicide as "initiated" by Paula. That is a peculiar choice of words for people who normally have no problem with describing crimes as "perpetrated". Do they speak of bank robberies being "initiated" by the accused? It is almost as if they do not want to face up to the possibility that Paula actually carried through what she did, she only initiated it.)

One reference I have found claims "Most types of murder-suicide involve morbid forms of attachment between perpetrator and victim, especially when the relationship is threatened with dissolution, and/or impulsive personality traits." In the Parmeter case, Tim was trying to leave Paula and the details we have certainly corroborate Paula's very strange approach to the end. She was unable to cope with Tim leaving and ultimately dealt with it by destroying him through destroying herself and Ryan, requiring it all to be his fault, not hers.

The second case is that of John and Natasha Hogan of the UK, who went on holiday in August 2006 to Crete with their two children. This was an attempt to salvage their marriage and it turned tragically sour when, in the heat of argument, John picked up son Liam (6) and daughter Mia (2) and leaped off their 4th floor balcony. John and Mia survived, Liam did not.

Since then, John has tried to kill himself 4 times. It is relevant background that both his brothers had killed themselves and that he himself has been treated for clinical depression for much of his life. It is completely clear that he was already a deeply troubled individual.

Today, the news broke that Hogan has been found not guilty of murder, it is characterized as a psychotic breakdown. That doesn't mean he gets off scot-free, he'll probably be spending several years in a secure psychiatric hospital. Personally, I don't think he'll last it out and eventually will go the way of his brothers. I honestly don't know if that would be best or not - perhaps only forgiveness from his daughter, sometime in the far future, might have a greater human benefit.

John Hogan's actions carry a very different flavor to that of Paula Parmeter's. For starters, they weren't premeditated, and he has shown no inclination to blame anyone but himself. The closest he gets to trying to avoid responsibility is to say:

"I feel no guilt because I didn’t do it," he said. "I feel no guilt whatsoever." "This person sat before you isn’t the person who jumped from the balcony on the fourth floor. I already have my son’s forgiveness, and I have God’s forgiveness."

The "I didn't do it" isn't literal. He means it figuratively, psychologically.

He goes on, to Natasha in court: "You know that a sane John Hogan would not have done what he did so please do not judge me on one action. If I could do anything to bring my son back I would." As far as he personally is concerned, I would hazard that this is about the most healthy position we could expect from such a man after 18 months of psychiatric treatment and under heavy medication.

Bizarrely, the judges wanted to know why he had tried to kill himself 4 times. Perhaps it just had to go on record.

Two cases, with gross similarities and significant differences. Paula Parmeter planned and executed a diabolical revenge. John Hogan blew a mental gasket and destroyed himself more thoroughly than he could have done if he'd died along with Liam.

What conclusions can we draw? The crimes were horrible and tragic, and yet I do not feel inclined to condemn the people, only their acts. There's no point in condemning Paula, she's dead. What she did was purely grotesque and should be condemned utterly. We could condemn John, but to what end? He's already condemned himself and will punish himself for what's left of his life. As he himself has said, there is no punishment that could compare to what he has done to himself. (Please note that I am absolutely not trying to defend Paula Parmeter nor John Hogan.)

Better to look at the causes of the incidents and think about what might be done to prevent it happening again. Many of the writers on the topic point out that prevention is exceedingly difficult because the acts are so rare and so sudden and so unpredictable. The best comment I've seen was "the most successful preventive approach involves diffusing the intensity of the spousal relationship" (from here) which, given these two cases, seems eminently sensible.

One thought that struck me is that these look like extreme fight-or-flight responses. In both cases, I think both factors were operating, but "fight" was stronger with Paula and "flight" with John. In both cases, the perpetrators found themselves in situations they could not tolerate and their reactions were pathologically extreme. They fought and they escaped, to horrific effect.

"Fight-or-flight" is what animals, including humans, do when cornered, when mortally afraid, when under attack. If the threat of divorce is felt as an attack, then I think it behooves us to look at some of the reasons why.

A divorce can be an attack on someone's identity. Marriage used to be for life, for many it still is. It was supposed to be an investment of life. To have an investment fail implies a loss. The bigger the investment, the bigger the loss. If the investment is life, then so is the loss, and that is by definition an attack at the animal level. The only way to diffuse this is to devalue the investment in the first place, which is essentially what is done as divorce becomes more and more acceptable and common.

I am not arguing for further devaluation of marriage, I think we've gone pretty horribly far already, I just wanted to point out that maintaining the value of marriage is in conflict with "diffusing the intensity of the spousal relationship".

A divorce can be an attack on a parent's relationship with his or her children. Indeed, the threat to remove children from a parent's life is visceral on so many levels one might reasonably think of it as a far greater threat that the simple loss of the marriage and cohabitation with one's spouse.

This strikes me as a pretty likely factor in the Hogan case. Being from the UK and having a very troubled background, John didn't have much hope of maintaining a proper fatherly relationship with his kids if Natasha decided not to play ball. All she would have to do would be to claim fear of him and the courts would roll over for her. Awareness of that might well have contributed to the vulnerability of his stability of mind.

There's a trivially easy way to remove, or at least ameliorate that source of stress - protect both parents' relationships with their children in the event of a divorce. However, this is not a strong argument for the protection and equalization of parental rights in the event of a divorce, and I wouldn't use it that way on its own. We have extreme examples here and while they may illuminate some of the darkness, they should not be used to dictate larger policy, although they may reasonably inform it.

This is further underscored by the fact that mothers commit the majority of filicides. "Often such filicidal mothers view their infants as extensions of their own tortured psyches and hence claim the altruistic motive of rescuing their children from future emotional torments" (ref) and there is definite resonance here with Paula Parmeter. But we wouldn't use that as an argument against maintaining the mother's connection with her children after divorce.

Nevertheless, the very sanctification of the mother's bond has a sting in its tail - the psychological pressure on a mother who, however unreasonably, fears losing her children is therefore all the higher. Not to mention the opportunities for tormenting a father by a mother who has no such irrational fears.

All that being said, if you wanted to generally reduce the "intensity of the spousal relationship" as it breaks up, which is usually considered a good thing as "intensity" applies to conflict just as it does to harmony, then protecting parental relationships might be a good way to begin.

But then again, are the family courts and their hangers-on really interested in "diffusing the intensity of the spousal relationship"? From where I sit, I'd say far from it. They thrive on conflict. It is a common argument that the family courts profit from ramping up the intensity, from reducing the father to a visitor with a wallet, completely undermining his ability to be an adequate parent and milking him for all he's worth. Any sensible human being should fear this walking into the court, most especially the father, who will pay for it all anyway.

It seems incongruous to run a discussion from murder-suicide into the preservation of parental rights in family courts, so I'll backtrack a little into a final and possibly more consequential thought which occurred to me. It is that murder-suicides like this, where a parent kills themselves and their children, are at the very far end of the same spectrum of pathological human behavior which includes child abduction and parental alienation.

All three of the actions are designed to attack and destroy the other parent, they are inextricably linked. To the target parent each one is a version of killing their child by the alienating parent. We have no difficulty condemning the act of murder-suicide, but child abduction, both court-sanctioned and illicit, and parental alienation are treated with near indifference. Why is that?

UPDATE: I am astonished to have found a "Tribute to Paula Parmeter" web page. I think it's referring to the same woman. I am particularly struck by the quotes "She will be incredibly and deeply missed not only by her family and friends, but by her business colleagues, peers, and most notably, her clients." and "she performed her job, as she lived her life, with incredible integrity, commitment, passion, and strength. She touched many lives, both professionally and personally, and we will all miss her dearly." Just, well, wow.

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