When a problem shared is not a problem halved
I had never considered being a parent. I became one. Life then presented me with a realm of emotions I had not known existed.
I am a parent to three children; B, T, and G. Their other parent and I separated in 2016. I have not had any meaningful contact with our children for over three years.
Following our separation, I had a wide range of accusations made against me by my ex-partner. Due to the severity of these claims, the family court denied any contact between the children and me. This period lasted over three months. All claims made against me were found to be unsubstantiated. Services deemed me as not posing any safeguarding concerns.
Now was the time for me to re-engage with my children. But, my children were now refusing to see me. They all made claims that they hated me. I received letters from the children. Handwritten by them. At the time they sent me these letters the children were aged 7, 11, and 12. They expressed in detail how much they hated me. They also sent letters to the District Judge who oversaw the court proceedings.
Wounds in the mirror waved
I had a loving, healthy relationship with our children. I adored them. I was proud of them. I was proud to be their father. I loved every minute of being a parent. Like many others, I was anxious about parenthood. But when it happened, I faced it head on. I embraced the wealth of opportunities, emotions, and experiences that came with becoming a parent.
I had what I believed was an unbreakable bond with my children.
Time to emancipate
As a result of my ongoing pursuit to have a relationship with our three children, I have met many ‘professionals.’
I attended a meeting with a children’s in-reach worker. I will refer to her as Sarah. In my meeting with Sarah, she asked me numerous questions. Mostly in connection to the dynamics of the family life before separation.
I answered the questions to the best of my knowledge.
Sarah informed me that what I had described was domestic abuse. I responded by attempting to reassure Sarah. “I had never been hit,” I exclaimed. Sarah paraphrased what I had described. Sarah explained that such behaviours were illegal in the eyes of the current law.
Coercive control, threatening a severing of the relationship with the children, denying me a relationship with my parents. These and other tactics were now all features of domestic abuse. Sarah stated that there is a stigma attached to men that are victims of domestic abuse, but she reassured me that there were professionals out there who would listen to me.
On Sarah’s advice, I started to talk to professionals about the pre-separation family dynamics. I attempted to explain the abusive behaviours in the same way that Sarah had explained them to me. No one believed me.
A children’s social worker once asked me, “If your ex was that bad, why didn’t you leave before now?”
My response was simple. “Well, my ex kept telling me that if I ever left, I would never see the kids again. And I am now being denied a relationship with them.” The social worker said nothing.
The same social worker also asked me, “What is it you want, Lee?”
“I want a shared parenting outcome. Be it 60/40, 70/30, 50/50. Whatever it looks like, in practice, I want an evidence-based, maximised shared parenting outcome for my children.” I replied.
“That is an unreasonable expectation, Lee. In the majority of my cases, the children live with their mums.”
I’m not about to give thanks or apologize
I now understand that the toxic masculinity card was played against me. I have not been charged with any of the allegations made against me. Despite the allegations, services state that it is in the best interests of our children to have a relationship with me.
There are many more dynamics to this case. But they are beyond the remit of this story.
Forced to endure
I currently have no relationship with my children. The court case is closed. The only piece of mind I have is the flight ban that remains in place — implemented by the family court in 2016, due to the enduring risk of parental abduction. My ex is a foreign national. She has attempted to take the children out of the country. Permanently.
This abuse continues. My children and I continue to be denied a relationship with one another.
What I could not forgive
I am returning my case to court. I network with many parents who have lost contact with their children following separation. This includes mothers, fathers, step-parents, and grandparents. I network online with many of these individuals. I have been advised by many parents that find themselves in a similar situation to me. Everyone’s advice is the same:
“Do not mention the domestic abuse.”
The rationale for this counterintuitive response is remarkable: Family judges do not like it.
Judges find such dynamics difficult to manage. The difficulty lies in the archaic, adversarial nature of the family court. These insidious dynamics create a system that remains closed to public scrutiny.
I have considered sharing this miscarriage of justice in full detail. Via local or national press. I have journalists at the ready. But, I have been warned by services. Warned that I will feel the full force of the law should I choose to share the full story.
Saw things clearer
We currently have certain lobbying groups that are divisive, unhelpful, and making false claims based on gender. Such groups exist on both ends of the gender and political spectrum. Yet such divisive campaigns of ‘awareness raising’ is sending politically motivated and unsubstantiated claims into the newsfeeds of society.
As an experienced mental health practitioner, I am all too aware of the risks to children that go through their formative years with an absent parent — a sense of loss, abandonment, rejection.
There is a plethora of evidence from a wide range of sources that inform us of the dangers of such a toxic upbringing. Childhood exposure to such dynamics exponentially increases the risk of mental health issues. The evidence informs us that there is a high risk of substance dependency, criminal behaviours, self-harm, and depressive symptoms, including suicidality.
Once you were in my rearview mirror
When this social injustice came to my attention, I needed to take action. I co-founded an international non-profit lobbying group. We excluded no one. I spent hours on the phone to heartbroken parents, step-parents, grandparents. At our peak, we had a national support-line for victims of this form of abuse. We also had a head office in London and a satellite office in Ontario.
Sadly, it became too much for me to cope with. I had to let it go. I now occupy myself with other non-related interests, passions, and hobbies. Nowadays, writing a story like this is a rarity for me.
To write such stories, I need to drag up emotions and memories I prefer to leave pushed to the farthest reaches of my mind.
I’m far away
I carry on. Maybe my next court case will be successful, maybe not. Perhaps my children will reconnect with me as they grow older. I want to be the best version of myself if and when I reconnect with my children. This is not for me. It’s for them.
If you’ve made it this far in the story, thank you. It means a lot to me. So, I have disclosed that I am a male victim of domestic abuse. Do you believe me? With the utmost respect, it matters little to the safeguarding of my children, whether you believe my story or not.
The details of my case may be vague. But I have disclosed as much as is appropriate. I simply wanted to start a conversation.
I made a choice to put this part at the end of this piece. This is not a click-bait story.
If you take just one thing from this story, please consider this: This does happen. And there is a stigma. I have seen this injustice from many different perspectives. And the obstacles to reform are embedded in political and profit-driven resistance.
I have the capacity to understand that by making the above disclosure I run the risk of being viewed as an assailant. Not a survivor. I am prepared to take that risk. The above is a story of the unknown dynamic of domestic abuse.
I hope one day, as a society, we will look back and ask ourselves why it took so long to protect our children.
Originally published in Medium publication ‘The Bigger Picture‘ 22/08/19.