What I Couldn’t Do
By Rob Fitzpatrick
Dunedin Single Dad Rob Fitzpatrick had once been false accused of abusing his son. He couldn’t stand the humiliation of being supervised while seeing him. Now he is working towards making Supervised Access a meaningful experience for others, both fathers and children.
There are a variety of reasons why some parents need supervision and assistance with their kids, physical and mental handicaps, inappropriate sexual desires, drug and alcohol abuse, violence or a lack of knowledge in the needs of kids.
Family law requires that the needs and safety of children are Yo be paramount in custody and access. cases therefore protection from abuse from a parent may be necessary. To ensure protection can be given without delay the law requires no proof to be presented.
Claiming that the possibility for abuse during access exists is enough for the court to order supervision. Unfortunately the need for immediate protection of children has produced a new set of victims.
Any time a low allows guilt without proof being required, it is open to abuse by anyone wishing to
cause harm or embarrassment.
The breakup of a marriage brings out emotions of bitterness and anger, and creates the desire for revenge and to hurt more than anything else in our social structure.
As most women retain custody of children in marriage dissolutions. with men given limited access it is easily recognised that herein lies the easiest or maybe the only weapon to satisfy that need to hurt.
During my divorce experience in California I was ordered to undergo visitation with my 3 year old son at a police station as my ex claimed I intended to take flight with him to New Zealand. This was only an ex parte order for 30 days when the full case had to be presented before a judge, before any permanent orders could be given.
I refused to see my son at all for a month rather than go through the humiliation and suffer the indignity of being watched while being with him. The case never proceeded as it was purely an attempt to use the system to hurt me.
I felt by accepting the conditions I was admitting that it was somehow warranted. The idea that I could be thought of as a father, who could harm his own son if not supervised, hurt me more than any of the many negative insults and put downs during the 3 year battle.
So when I was approached to give input into creating a centre to provide access service in Dunedin, my mind went back to my experience which enabled me to view the issue from a different perspective.
The image most people have of a man who is ordered by the court to be supervised while visiting his own kids is that of a violent drunk, a gang member or a hardened drug addict. Not some average guy who loves his kids with no history of violence.
My experience, however, showed me that a “supervised father” is a guy who loves his kids so much that he would rise u -ve the stereotypes of others, put up with the suspicious attitudes of his watchers and the gloating from a vindictive ex, just to spend a couple of hours with his kids.
A guy who could do what I couldn’t, although I knew I had only 30 days without seeing my son. I still wondered if I could allow myself to be treated in such a degrading way over a long period.
What long term impression would my son have of me? He wouldn’t understand the real reasons but probably accept that dad was a bad person that he required protection from, even though he had never felt afraid or had been hurt by him.
This could also instill a lasting impression that dad (and men in general) is hiding a dark side of Jekyll & Hyde proportions in the fertile child’s mind.
In Dunedin there are plans currently being drafted to obtain premises for the sole purpose of operating an access centre which will cater for the needs of children and parents involved in conflict.
The Father & Child Trust (Otago) is involved with Barnardos, the Family Court and some local lawyers to provide a facility which will be designed with fathers’ needs and concerns considered with the same importance as the children’s and mother’s.
The discussions that have taken place over the past few months have shown that fathers’ needs are not being met, but maybe more due to the absence of input than the presence of malice.
And current providers may be appreciative of the concerns fathers have about the way that they are treated if approached in a positive way and modify programmes and attitudes to help all partners benefit from the negativity that is currently felt by being under observation while attempting to enjoy the father/child relationship.