Saanich News

03/21/2001

Euphemia Redden
A Saanich man says many single fathers have had their hands tied by a gender-biased justice system

Diary of a DISPOSABLE DAD

By Ingrid Paulsen
Saanich News

Trent Mills (not his real name) has gone over in his head repeatedly what it would be like to run away from his problems.

"If every time I go to pick up my kids it is going to be a knock down drag 'em out in front of them, that is not good for them," he says. "I begin to think if I'm only 10 minutes away the kids ask to see me, but if I leave the province eventually they will stop asking."

Being told by the courts in no uncertain terms that he is an irrelevant, disposable entity in his children's lives has pushed Mills into a despair that came close to consuming him.

Moving wasn't the most drastic measure he contemplated to escape his troubles.

Mills knows something about stress. "I was going to school full-time and looking after four kids. I would cook everyone dinner and get the four kids in bed and then start doing homework. That is the kind of stress I can handle."

But he says he couldn't cope with the manipulative and coercive tactics of his second wife.

"I couldn't handle the yelling and screaming in front of the kids. Or if I'm 15 minutes late, I'm not allowed to see the kids. Or, if I dare to toot the horn when I drive up, because the kids see me from the upstairs window - I wasn't allowed to see the kids," he contends.

The emotional toil during a battle for custody of his two youngest children almost completely drained his inner resources. He started flunking out of his second year courses in computer engineering technology.

"The day I quit school I was planning on coming home and doing something drastic," he says. Mills confesses that he considered ending his life just as Darrin Bruce White did. White was a Prince George man who committed suicide after the courts imposed child support and alimony payments that left him with nearly nothing left to live on.

"Sometimes I think the conflict is so high that without me around, the conflict will go away and the kids will be happier," says Mills.

When love sours

Mills already had two boys when he fell in love for the second time.

His oldest boy has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) and needs a lot of positive reinforcement, because the harder he is pushed against the harder he pushes back. He says his boy doesn't respond to consequences in the normal way. Instead, he will always oppose authority especially when he is told what to do. Mills is convinced his son's opposition disorder was likely a factor in the strained relationship between the boy and his second wife.

Mills has a letter from the Ministry of Children and families dated August 21, 1998 ordering him to leave his second wife to protect his oldest boy.

"She became abusive to my two older boys and it became quite severe," says Mills. "I was ordered to leave but there was no place for me to go. If I was a woman leaving there would have been halfway houses for me to go to, but I asked for help and was told it was not available."

Mills can't understand why there isn't more support for male victims of domestic violence.

He has researched the matter and quotes a 1999 study by a university of Wisconsin psychology professor that suggested that Canadian women are just as violent as their spouses and three times more likely to initiate violence in a relationship. He adds that last September, a study by John Archer at the University of Central Lancashire suggests that women are slightly more likely to use one or more act of physical aggression and to use such acts more frequently. But men were more likely to inflict injury and overall 62 per cent of those injured by a partner were women.

Falling through the cracks

In Mills' opinion those men who are in abusive relationships are falling through the cracks. "I don't care if it is one guy in 10 women, that one guy needs help. Any person who needs help should be able to get it," he argues.

Mills is not a small man. He has the stature to be intimidating if he chose to, but he insists he has never considered violence.

When fights broke out between his ex-wife and him, Mills maintains it was he who called the police out of concern for his physical safety.

"I'm frustrated because I'm singled out as a male. If she goes off on me and I call the cops, they come and look at me and look at her and say 'well you are not afraid of her are you?' I say, 'I'm not afraid of her. I'm afraid of what she's going to get you to do to me. If I defend myself, she would have you arrest me,'" he recalls telling the police.

Despite his ex-wife's alleged tendency toward violence against him and his two older boys from his first marriage, Mills is convinced she would not harm their two children. "They are not in danger from her, but they are in emotional danger of losing their father and I'm in emotional danger of losing my children," he says.

Mills claims that cutting him off from the two children has been his ex-wife's agenda from the day they split up. "Before we were separated she said I had to put (my two oldest boys) into foster care or she was leaving. I talked to (the Ministry of) Children and Families about the option. They said if (my oldest) lost the only stable influence on his life he'd be worse off."

Mills says the ultimatum made him feel an eerie kinship with Meryl Streep's character in Sofie's Choice when a soldier forces her to choose which one of her two children will be sent off to a firing squad.

"(He) is my son, I can't abandon two children for the two others. How can anybody make that demand of me?" He asks.

It took many months and several postponed court dates for Mills and his ex-wife to settle on a temporary visitation agreement.

"I never wanted to take the kids away from their mother, but her stated agenda was to eliminate me from my kid's lives," he contends.

Less than a month into the interim visitation agreement, things took a nasty and unexpected turn.

"Three weeks after the visitation agreement the RCMP came to me with a report from my ex-wife that I was molesting my daughter," says Mills.

His youngest child went through a series of examinations by three different doctors and Mills says no evidence was found to substantiate the charges. "They closed the case as much as they close them. They didn't say 'you're innocent' they just said 'we're not laying charges,'" adds Mills.

After that ordeal, a judge was assigned to their case. After reviewing all of the evidence, the judge posed a question to Mills - 'would you say there is something wrong with a person who would disagree with extra supervision for their children?'

"So I agreed to supervised visits," Mills says.

He weathered a period of supervised visits and more delayed court appearances to get to where he is today. His ex-wife and kids are moving to Parksville and he can't do a thing about it.

In the final hearing, the judge ruled that because his ex-wife had care of the children for the interim period, it would be in the best interest of the children to continue with the status quo. His ex-wife was granted sole custody in July, 1999.

Mills is classified as a guardian, but he's found that means very little in terms of his rights as a father.

The two adults have worked out a schedule for visits, but his ex-wife has the power to cancel the visits at any time for any reason. Mills is concerned that the distance between Victoria and Parksville will make those cancellations that much more frequent. He inquired about getting assistance from Legal Aid to try to prevent the move, but he says the agency replied that because his children are not in imminent danger, they couldn't assist him.

Gender biased system

Mills was a stay at home dad when his children were babies. It was he who got up to wipe the tears when a child cried in the middle of the night.

Today, he feels he has been cheated out of being a father to his two youngest children.

"It is devastating to have no official rights to my children," he says.

His job is seasonal and he relies on social assistance during layoffs and the matter child support on a limited income is a whole other dilemma that usually requires Mills to take money away from one set of children to support another.

Yet, last year the Christmas Bureau declined his request for some money to buy gifts for his two youngest children because he doesn't have custody.

Both the Ministry of Children and Families and schools have refused to provide him with any information about his children because he doesn't have custody.

"I have fought long and hard to stay in my kid's lives because I think they deserve to have a mom and a dad. All I ever wanted was week on, week off access," he insists.

Mills contacted the News after he read an article about a suicidal young man whom police officers managed to save before he threw himself off a bridge.

"People don't commit suicide on a whim. It is something they've built up to until they reach a point when they think there is no point," he e-mailed us to say.

He says his relationship with his younger children is floundering because of the lack of contact.

Raising his children should be his number one priority, he says, but now his own values have been undermined.

"I've always been raised to believe in equality and that as a dad I should be involved in raising the kids."