He Said, She Said
Bob stood awkwardly in the doorway, still in two minds, as the sounds became louder and filled with a rising fever. The room was packed with a torrent of men; gently bobbling blazers lined the farthest wall of the community centre, which overlooked the remaining jackets, jumpers and sweatshirts buzzing with conversation. A brown and green checked blazer made its way over to a raised platform at the end of the room and steadied itself on the ledge.
Quiet! Quiet please. This meeting is about to start. Bob slid into the room and stopped short of the welcome table, which had name badges and meeters and greeters eyeing up the incoming traffic. Thank you for coming to Fathers for Justice’s first general meeting of the year. I know each and every one of you has their own appalling story to tell and we’ll try to work some of these cases into our meeting here this morning, but we have a very clear agenda today. The government still does not accept that we as parents, as fathers, have rights when it comes to our children. We are ignored in the court process, ignored in our own divorces and worse still, ignored when we dare, yes dare, to give input on the welfare of our own children, whilst mothers are given an unfettered audience and given the final say. The crowd surged with approval accompanied by the almost deafening sound of heated clapping.
Well, the government cannot ignore us, any longer. Because, the government’s plans to introduce a shared parenting policy is what we’ve been waiting for. And fathers are not going to stand idly by, while legislators find clever ways of limiting those rights. We are going to ensure that our rights are enshrined in law and implemented in the family courts. Make no mistake: this fight starts with you. Every single one of you. It’s up to us to stop our exes from manipulating our children, to bring us up to equal status with mothers and to bring the British family courts into the twenty-first century.
The powerful thunderclaps made the brick walls in the room feel like they were burning. A man in his forties stood up and shouted at the speaker, My ex is completely unhinged, doing God knows what with our son but she got full custody! How in the hell does that happen? I’m never going to stop fighting to be with my beautiful baby boy. Never. He needs to know that I love him. More thunderclaps and cheers of agreement echoed around the community centre’s main hall; the speaker shifted on his ledge and raised his arms to quiet the room. Thanks Rex, yes, we’ve all been there. The system is run purely for the benefit of mothers and us fathers can just rot. And the system wants us to pay maintenance for children we’re not even allowed to see. Fuck off!
The opening speech had created a frenzy in the room and it wasn’t long before members of the audience began to interrupt each other. It’s a conspiracy! We are being blatantly excluded from our kids’ lives- This isn’t a democracy! Our family courts have more in common with North Korea’s government!
The speaker raised his hands again to beckon silence in the hall. Look, the new provision for shared parenting isn’t going to be enough on its own. We need to take action. We need compulsory mediation for every case. We need to remove the secrecy of the courts, to make it more transparent. The law is going to continue to be used to discriminate against fathers. They talk about shared parenting being possible if there’s no threat of any risk to the child. We all know what that means. We all know it’s dads in the main who are going to be tarred by that particular brush. And the nod to dads currently is a dodgy one-liner probably being slipped into the Children Act. A lousy sentence, that’s all fathers get, but what about mothers? They get an implied presumption in their favour! But we will get our justice!
Bob felt himself being pushed out of the room by the painful clamour of palms in outcry. Before he realised it, he had walked himself out of the hall and into the iced sun of a January mid-morning. For what felt like the first time that morning, he breathed out. The noise and the anger in the hall had left him feeling drained and anxious, so he made his way home.
An email from his brother was waiting for him on the desktop when he got in. How are you doing, Bob? How was the meeting? I hope you got the support you needed. Let me know how it went. Ed. The delicate hum of the computer was reassuring. Bob sat down and began to type. I’m doing okay. A bit overwhelmed. The meeting was interesting but quite angry; seems like they were decent enough blokes but I don’t agree with their view of the system. They think women have the advantage in every respect, but I have a feeling that’s not right. Remember Jane? She told me last week she lost her sons in court to their Dad, Steve. Steve’s been going in and out of rehab for years; Jane was always their rock. Anyway, I’m not sure that I want to get involved in the politics. I just want Sally back. There’s an agency of McKenzie Friends in London, whatever that means, but they’re supposed to be good so I’m going to give them a call tomorrow. Catch you in the pub later for a pint. After the morning I’ve had, I’m going to need it.