The First Article

This article was first published in The Guardian on 12 June 1974


Fathers need their families

Keith Parkin

It is time society decided that children need two parents, irrespective of whether the natural parents are married, separated, or divorced.

That such is the case would not be disputed by qualified experts or by laymen guided by basic human feeling. But cases concerning custody, care and control which come before the courts after a divorce usually meet with the private preconceptions of the presiding judge, against which the ritual of assessing the individual merits of the case is farcically irrelevant.

Most judges fondly believe that the only real love and empathy for the child comes from its mother and that therefore she should have custody, care and control. What nonsense. If it were true, then the fabric of society would crumble even faster than many pessimists predict. But it is not true, because men are more than the biological means to female ends. Women have not cornered the market in spirituality, morality, or sensitivity.

Under common law, it was the father who took precedence; under statutory law it is now the mother who takes precedence. Such are the whims of social fashions. Previously children were regarded as appendages of the authorative father figure. Now they are romantically viewed as extensions of the all-enveloping maternal ego. One day soon, fact will supplant fiction and they will be seen as beings in their own right with uniquely individual needs.

The ability to give love, warmth and stimulation is not the prerogative of females alone and by these standards the father will frequently be the more suitable guardian. If the myth of a mothering instinct persists, then there is no reason to suppose that a fathering instinct does not exist as well. Whatever the case may be, children need both a mother and a father and this need does not cease when parents separate.

In this belief that attitudes concerning custody, care and control are riddled with ignorance and prejudice, a society called Families Need Fathers has been formed. It will campaign for equal parental rights in cases of custody, care and control, and for realistic positive access for the unsuccessful parent.

To achieve these aims the society will seek to change opinion by dialectical processes, supported by findings of preliminary scientific research. By these means the society will increase harmony and reduce discord by making men and women more aware of the complex needs of children. As a result of the public debate and the growing realisation of just how many Stone and Desmerault cases there are, research will be carried out for the benefit of children and parents. Facts are infinitely preferable to opinion and wishful thinking.

Questions of custody, care and control should not be matters of law. To try to assess children's needs in a litigious context only exacerbates a situation which is already complex and very sensitive, and the whole process is an affront to the dignity of men, women and children. The relevant facts and needs of such cases are not discernible by legal procedures, but require skills of a different order. These questions should, therefore, be taken away from the judiciary system and decided by appropriately qualified people in the more sympathetic atmosphere of a family court.

Such a court would create a system of communications which in itself would do much to improve the prospects of divided families. The ambience of care and concern, allied to the relevant expertise, would also create new understanding of the problems involved, which would help to ensure that directions regarding access were a frequent reality.

These are the roads towards a goal of greater happiness for families divided by divorce. To begin the journey requires a fundamental reappraisal of customary attitudes. Everyone currently connected with decisions concerning custody, care and control pays lip service to the principle that the interests of the child are paramount. But what precisely do they mean? What are the grounds for assessing those needs? How valid are they?

Families Need Fathers will prick the social conscience and will ensure that sense prevails over nonsense and that custom accords with truth.

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