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David, Leeds

Yes, it’s Fathers Day again, which I have to say, has not been a great experience for me over the last decade.  Like so many who may be reading this, this day is a reminder of what could have been and what still can be in the future.  A day of frustration, but also a day when I remind myself that things can change for the good, even after a long time.  And indeed it has, at last.

About a decade ago I was happily married with two young children and a house and a job, living in the South of England. Joe was about 8 and Sarah was 6.  I was a happy, hands-on dad with a great relationship with the kids.  Within the space of a few weeks a lot changed.  Triggered by nothing very substantial or obvious, suddenly there was a torrent of lawyers’ letters in all directions, shortly followed by dramatic accusations, CAFCASS reports and the gradual dawning that divorce was not something quite unfortunate that only happened to others or that could be quickly sorted.  Someone suggested FNF who were very helpful on the phone and in branch meetings where the real picture of what was about to happen was revealed to me – fortunately, in advance.  No simple legal adjudication and a just and reasoned outcome was likely if the separation was acrimonious. There would be no simple partition of our assets followed by  responsible if more distant parenting of our by now distraught children.  It was not a nightmare – it was real and it was happening to us!

The initial legal process of separation,  took only a few weeks and although acrimonious in the extreme, with my post often being binned and sudden competition over the school runs which we had always shared, as well as many other quite unbelievable scenes.  Eventually mother in law turned up for the weekend and I knew my hopes of sharing our house in some new way was going out of the window.  I stayed home from work to be with the kids and suddenly pantechnicon vans turned up unannounced to empty the house.

It was a terrible day and the children were more devastated than I was, but it was very fortunate that I had stayed home.  Stories  abound of a dad returning from work to the shell of a home with no children, no furniture except for a bed and a favourite mug shattered on the floor – or worse.  I was lucky.  I had a good order for contact and still had a house – even if I had to sell it and split the proceeds.

Contact was remarkably good but handovers were terrible.  And whilst I was rebuilding my life and seeing our children every week, it was clear that my ex felt I ought to suffer far more.  And indeed I did.  After about a year I received letter from a school nearly 300 miles away with details of the arrangements for the start of term.  I had never heard of this school nor even visited that part of England.  I certainly was not expecting the children to be going there.

Of course a person is generally allowed to move and move they did, despite a flurry of court hearings over moving, changing schools, and contact.  More accusations, more CAFCASS, more pain.  And the realisation that to see and support the children, I would be facing huge travel and accommodation difficulties – all gleefully anticipated by my ex who objected to everything right down to the way I washed the sports kit, in her attempts to show that I was not a reliable dad.

But I was and remain a reliable dad.  I never missed a contact visit (through my own fault!) or phone call and after a generous settlement I paid truly vast sums towards maintenance and private school.  Despite the generous terms and my ex eventually remarrying, things got worse as the children reached their teens.  Eventually I moved to the same town as them despite the horrendous commute which then followed.  Not to mention the disruption to my new partner and her two children (and to their dad – with whom we all got on and continued to get on).  Did things get better now that I had moved nearby?  No.  My ex was determined to airbrush me out of the children’s lives, and eventually the tentacles of parental alienation slipped in. 

Within a few months I was told the children no longer wanted to see me.  This was not the children’s view and more court hearings followed to enforce contact but gradually communication and contact with my son stopped and I had absolutely no idea why.  And that continued for almost seven years.

Contact with my daughter continued, but gradually she came under pressure and suddenly the same thing happened.  All contact stopped.  No explanation, no falling out – just silence.

This phase was definitely the hardest – I simply had no idea what they were feeling and why communications had stopped.  Not knowing was the worst.  Gradually after some time, I began to receive texts from my daughter, but my son remained silent.  I never stopped texting and emailing them both every so often - with jokes, interesting things and what I felt was fatherly advice but I was rarely aware if the messages had been received.  Sometimes my messages showed a little anger – why did they not at least have the courtesy to respond even occasionally?  Thankfully I restrained myself though, and eventually learned to come to terms with my anger and suffering.  I met with other people in my situation and we bided our time.  I always avoided blaming the children for their apparently unkind behaviour.  I knew they could not help it and that for them, facing the problem was probably even harder than it was for me.  I did my best to show them I didn’t blame them and that my door was always open for them, whatever happened.  Gradually my daughter began responding to my texts and even eventually began to express strong wishes to see me again.  But any attempts to set a date were met with long silences.  And nothing at all from my son.  Then my daughter began dropping off cards for my birthday and also for Fathers Days.  And I would catch sight of the children at school sports events or parents evenings.  But no responses in person apart from the odd wave from my daughter at parents evenings when her mother was looking the other way.

This went on for years and it was only recently that on my birthday, having so far heard nothing, I decided to call my daughter who had just dropped a card through my door and who despite this was nowhere to be seen when I rushed to open the front door.  To my surprise she answered the phone and we had our first conversation for about four years.  It was lovely.  A little stilted in places, but it was clearly a relief and a happy occasion for both of us.  We agreed to meet sometime soon and catch up.  School was fine and A-levels were looming, but life was ok, and we just talked.

After that I thought, this really is a great birthday and despite knowing that I would probably not get through, I decided to call my son who was now living away from home and at uni.  I left a voice mail for him saying, half in jest, that I had just thought he might like the opportunity to wish me a happy birthday! And I left it at that.

What seemed like ten minutes later I received a text from him wishing me happy birthday.  The text ended with an “x”!  I could hardly believe my eyes.  It was as if life was suddenly brighter and lighter and full of hope now mixed with overwhelming relief.  He had replied.  And not just replied, but the 19-year old lad had added a kiss!  It really seemed like a miracle and I was overjoyed. 

In due course we spoke on the phone and then arranged to go away together for a long weekend where we got to know each other again a little.  It was great.  We’ve been in touch frequently since then and I’m really pleased to say I’m expecting him today, Friday for this Fathers Day weekend.

My daughter has almost finished her A-levels and has promised (in text messages) to visit me after her exams.  We still haven’t set a date, but she sounded so enthusiastic in her texts that I’m sure it will be soon.  I hope so.

So that is the happy ending to a long and at times very painful story or episode in our lives.  I’ve written it in the hope that it will serve as a small reminder for all those who I know are out there and who are still waiting for a glimmer of love from their absent loved ones.  You are not alone.  Also, times “they are a-changing” - and there is always hope. 

Happy Fathers Day – Remembering that we are good fathers.  Just don’t give up, and try your best to keep your heart and mind open – miracles do occasionally happen.

Names and locations changed.


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