A week ago, I took the fateful decision to climb up St Pauls Cathedral in protest against the state of children’s and father’s rights in the UK. In many aspects it appeared cool and daring, especially as the whole thing was live streamed on Facebook, however in reality it required a great deal of planning and was the cause of a lot of stress.
The fact that one moment of mental laziness could lead to a fatal accident was rigorously drilled into my head by my rock-climbing father – I couldn’t simply take this as a fun day out. For over a month, my fellow protestors and I had to practice abseiling, create a plan of action and rehearse everything to precise timings. During the protest we were perched on a 3ft wide ledge with a sheer 90ft drop to the bottom. At times we experienced high winds and rain, which led for a both frightening and thrilling time at the top. Although I had to spend 15 hours in Bishopsgate police station after I came down and stressed myself out over the fine details of the protest, it was certainly worth it.
So what is the issue?
My gripe is specifically with the family courts system in the UK. These courts primarily deal with matters arising from the breakdown of a relationship, of which the custody of any children borne from the relationship is by far the most important issue. In child custody cases, more often than not, near total custody is retained by the mother. The best deal that fathers can hope for is seeing their child on every other weekend and that’s if everything goes smoothly.
This is absolutely crazy. To see your son or daughter every other weekend relegates you to a more visiting relative rather than a fully-fledged parent. Understandably this has a disastrous impact on both parties, with children largely losing touch with their loving fathers and fathers experiencing intense emotional distress at not being able to see their children regularly.
A lot of people brush this off, saying that a mother often plays a much more important role in a child’s life than a father does.
A father is just as much a parent as a mother is and often cares for their children just as a mother does. Over the last century, we have done much to relegate traditional gender roles to the past. Indeed, women are no longer simply seen as homemakers, but as being capable of pursuing any career path in life they choose – quite rightly as well. It is a shame that the same cannot be said of the traditional male role in life. More often than not, men are considered to be incapable of the emotional capabilities needed to bring up a child well, with mothers been seen to be much more caring and affectionate than fathers. For a father to be viewed as less worthy than a mother is soul destroying and has no logical basis in modern society.
But above all, I was compelled to do what I did due to my personal experiences as a child. At the age of five my mother and father split up. For approximately two years after this date I had sporadic contact with my father, mostly in the form of weekend visits for a few hours arranged through a child contact centre. From the ages of seven to 14, this changed. I did not see my father at all during this period. To describe this as rough would be an understatement. I had almost no meaningful fatherly influence in my formative childhood years. Indeed, I viewed him as a general delinquent and to a large extent forgot that I even had a father. While I watched my friends playing or camping with their dads on the weekend, I was sat alone playing video games by myself, left to my own devices while I yearned to reconnect with my dad.
One particular event that stuck with me was the annual father-son cricket match that my school hosted every summer. One year I decided to go with my friend and his dad as I was tired of missing out of the fun. It was a disaster. I put on a brave face during the event, but seeing all my friends having such a great time with their fathers just reminded of the lack of a similar experience in my life. While they all looked so happy in the summer sun, I kept on asking myself “why can’t I just have a daddy like normal kids?” I cried myself to sleep that night.
Every day, more and more children are suffering the same fate that I suffered. No child or father deserves this. It must stop.