March 1, 2001
Fathers' group takes family approachBy Herman Goodden -- London Free Press
I went out last Friday night to a borrowed board room at the Canadian Mental Health Association's (CMHA) Huron Street offices to attend a meeting of a London-area group, about 200 members strong, called Fathers Helping Fathers. The group's founder and president, Tim Ready, invited me to sit in on a session after he read my column a few weeks ago about the impressive network of support groups in place to help women and children fleeing crisis marriages and the utter dearth of such groups for men.
"There is only one group out there for men," Ready told me, "And we're it."
Ready was not disputing the main point of my column. There are no publicly operated shelters where men can seek sanctuary from abusive wives, no government-funded support and counselling services for men going through the agony of domestic meltdown and no legal or financial services to assist men in the daunting challenges of setting up a new home away from their spouse and -- more often than not -- away from their kids, too.
After trying for the better part of an hour to locate the correct building, I arrived and extended apologies for being late to Ready and the group of about 30 men and two women who had turned out this night. I was surprised and pleased to see any women at all.
Unlike most women's shelters and advocacy groups where men are vigourously excluded as if they were Satanic spawn or were just too darn icky to consort with, Fathers Helping Fathers welcomes any interested women to their meetings. The group is dedicated to improving relations among all parties in a broken family, believing one-party advocacy only breeds factionalism and demonisation. Children's interests are always put first by this group, and, except for that minority of situations where abusive louts of either gender must be kept away, we know children thrive best when both parents are deeply involved in their upbringing. This group also assists grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins who suddenly find themselves cut out of children's lives when one parent or another decides to snub their ex-partner's entire clan.
Completely unfunded by any source other than a modest annual membership fee and a coffee can for donations that sits in the middle of the table at every meeting, Fathers Helping Fathers is an admirably straightforward and open-ended organization. Whatever issues turn up on a given night are the issues that get discussed. The group offers a chance for ex-husbands (who too often find themselves cast in the role of ex-dads as well) an opportunity to "unload" as they call it, to share experiences and suggest strategies that might improve their situations.
There is also a family lawyer who offers free legal advice on questions and issues that the group brings forward.
Routinely hashed out at each meeting are the heart-breaking plights of men struggling under the double whammy of daunting custody payments and limited or no access to their kids. I heard the stories of men who, in complete violation of the custody terms set down by the court, haven't been allowed near their kids in years. Knowing that their "ex" is maligning them and poisoning their relation ship with their kids, they hold back from legal retaliation because they know how hard that process would be on the kids. All they can do is find some reason to carry on, keep sending off those support cheques for kids they can't even see and hope their children will seek them out on their own some day when they get a little older.
I mentioned the recent case in Stratford where the mother abducted her three children from their custodial father and took them to Mexico, where she was arrested and brought back to Canada. Did that bring the group any solace as evidence that, at least occasionally, the media don't play up the dad as the deadbeat and the villain?
I felt properly chastised when no one at that table was willing to express any satisfaction or judgment about that case. "We don't know what went on there," they told me. "Did that mother have any access to those kids at all? We've been there. We know how crazy and desperate that can make you."
Fathers Helping Fathers meets the second and fourth Friday evening of every month. For more information, call 657-8119.
Herman Goodden is a London freelance writer. His column appears regularly in Sunday's A&E section. He can be e-mailed at email@example.com.
Letters to the editor should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright (c) 2001 The London Free Press,