“Happy Father’s Day!”
On the third Sunday in June, those words are welcomed by loving dads across the country. But for far too many of those dads, the annual celebration of fathers is a bitter reminder of what was taken from them and of the hole in their lives that cannot be filled.
I’m not talking about all fathers who are divorced or separated from their children’s mothers. Most of these fathers have been sidelined by our family courts that still see fathers primarily only as financial resources, not as loving and capable parents. But in most cases the standard parenting schedules, cruel as they are to children and fathers, at least allow the children to spend Father’s Day with their dads. These dads at least get to hear “Happy Father’s Day” from the children they love.
I’m talking about the dads who have been, either through court action or through court inaction, largely erased from their children’s lives.
How does this happen?
Sometimes courts, after awarding full custody to Mom, allow her to move the children far from the father. Sometimes there are compelling reasons for the move; tough choices have to be made. But often judges simply reason that the court can’t tell adults where they can live and, of course, Mom can take the kids with her because … guess what? … she has custody.
These fathers might at least get a phone call from their kids on Father’s Day. They might hear the words “Happy Father’s Day” through the tinny speaker of their cell phones. They won’t, though, be able to take their kids to the park, hug their kids, or feel their kids’ arms around their necks.
But some dads have it worse. Sometimes their children’s love and affection have been turned to hatred or fear by a selfish and destructive campaign of parental alienation by the other parent. Parental alienation goes far beyond an occasional negative comment about your children’s other parent made in front of the children. Parental alienation is a concerted effort to enlist the children to one’s own side of the divide by portraying the other parent as unfit, uncaring, or dangerous. It is horribly damaging to children. It is a form of child abuse. Sometimes when these children reach adulthood, the scales fall from their eyes and they reconnect with the targeted parent and blame the alienator. But, all too often, parental alienation leads to a lifetime rift between the children and one of the parents who loves them.
The sole physical custody arrangements still favored by our courts in contested custody cases contribute to parental alienation by designating one parent the primary parent and limiting the time that the other parent has to maintain a relationship with the children.
Some dads’ kids have been abducted, taken far away, sometimes to foreign countries, in violation of court orders. These dads won’t get even a phone call on Father’s Day and their separation from their kids may well be permanent.
Our courts and family law system don’t cause parents to abduct their children from the other parent. But they do precious little to help locate the child who has been abducted. There is an enormous governmental bureaucracy working to track down child support obligors who try to hide by moving away. We’re willing to go to great lengths to ensure that children are not deprived of the financial support that courts have ordered. And that is a good thing. But when parents’ children have been abducted in violation of courts’ orders, parents are largely on their own to try to correct this problem.
To those dads who can share the day with their children, National Parents Organization says, “Happy Father’s Day!” And, to those who have been wrongly deprived of this joy, we say, “We understand your pain; we understand the harm that is being done to your children; and we’re working hard to change the laws and court practices that made this destruction possible.”