On expedition in Sweden with my son last year, something that I thought would never happen.
Over the last couple of days I have been reading a lot of the comments about George Kay, former husband of Kerry Katona (90’s girl band star).
George had been fighting to get access to his 5 year old daughter, and whilst also dealing with mental health issues and drug problems, he died tragically from an overdose at the weekend.
There has been a level of backlash on this from various sources, and although none of us know the reasons or the actual details of this case or what George and Kerry were going through, it has highlighted once again issues around children, fathers, relationship breakdowns and the family courts system in the UK.
I penned this article a while ago as a way of expressing my experiences of the Family Court system over the last 15 years, and I am publishing it now so that readers can hear a view of this, from someone who was embroiled in it and has experienced the system, the emotions, the highs and lows, who was broken by it, and have come through it, stronger and with a really key relationship with at least one of my Sons.
For me this is about one emotion- Pain!
Don’t get me wrong I know and am not too fazed by physical pain- I have been beasted on tough military physical training sessions, fallen 50ft in a climbing accident landing hard and breaking bones, been stamped on by a couple of bouncers after a nightclub fight rendering me unconscious with serious head injuries (not the best decision I have made!), I have suffered a serious burn of my inner thigh caused by scalding water from a defective boiler in a rented flat which has probably been some of the worst physical pain I have ever experienced, I have been through days without sleep on long mountain climbs, one of which resulted in frost nip in one of my toes, which took a year to heal!!, I have crashed cars, fallen of motor and mountain bikes, been bitten by dogs, and even stubbed my toe on the table leg a few times!!
But the worst pain I have ever felt was in 2004 when I drove away from the house I had lived in, leaving behind my 2 young sons.
When relationships breakdown, hurt and pain come hand in hand, the arguments, the fights, the recriminations, the separation impact on all involved. At the time when you’re in the trenches, the fog of self-preservation and confusion, It drags you down into a deep, dark hole, but you can climb back out, you can inch your way back, come back transformed by the experience, a better person, a better man for it!
The death of a relationship sends you spinning, the world you created and gave you identity crashes down around you, your comfort blanket that has kept you grounded is pulled away.
Coming home from work, from all corners of the world or just from the office to spend time with my children has always inspired me as I journey home, it warms me on the inside and allows my brain to calm, to help forget about the work I’ve been doing, it makes life purposeful and worth living. When that collapses around you it is like a death and you feel utterly useless.
The pain seers through your mind, you can’t concentrate or focus clearly, your brain moves into panic mode, it struggles to comprehend what has happened. What is this gaping hole that has opened in your life? Your emotions bounce from high to the lowest of lows.
It’s an emotional chasm that enters your life and the pain finds ways of welling up inside you from time to time, until it pours over the sides and manifests as raging anger or just rolling tears.
I remember one occasion sitting in a bar having a pint on my own, when suddenly this pain just erupted from deep inside me and tears began pouring down my face. I couldn’t stop them, the bar staff had no idea what to do and I just sat there until I was able to control them and return to my beer! You try to cope with this, to push these feelings down, you try to grip it each time it appears, and you try not to think about it. For me the hardest part was the inability to predict when this pain and loss would well up inside.
Initially I thought I was mourning the loss of the relationship, but over time I came to realise that it was the loss of being a father that was causing this pain. In the whole debacle it was being around my children that I missed. I was stuck, I was still a father, a dad, but I wasn’t because I wasn’t with them every day, I was a single bloke who every other weekend became a father again. It was this loss of identity that actually was the root of my confusion and pain.
Realising this was eye opening, it meant that I had to re process my role, what I was and how that would look in the future. Re-establish a new identity. A bit like when you mourn the death of a loved one, you shout and scream, you cry, you deny what’s happening, but over time the pain becomes more manageable, you recognise what sets you off, you start to visualise where you want to be, the fog clears and the sky appears, you have control and you are able very slowly to deal with it.
Whilst on expedition in 2008, 4 years after I left, sitting in a fishing village in Northern Venezuela, I read these lines by boxing legend Mohammad Ali –
“You never lose when you fight for what you want, you only lose when you fail to fight for what you care about!”
This quote resonated with me, it deeply resonated at a time when I was embroiled in some of the hardest parts of the break up.
Following our separation my ex-partner took an incredibly negative path, and used the children as a weapon in both our divorce and our interactions, so I was kept out of large part of my children’s lives, and refused access. Ali’s quote echoed in everything I did.
I become embroiled in the UK family court system, which was a demoralising experience in its own right, a system that sees fathers as negative influences in their children’s lives. The court system is crippled by its own political correctness and a deep bias, which can be used to justify decisions that protect themselves from being seen as bias, though actually continues to perpetuate their bias!
The Family Court system and a ridiculous organisation called CAFCAS (Children And Family Court Advisory Service) are institutionally geared against men, a mother only has to claim “abuse” of any sort against a father and this organisation totally and utterly work to conspire with them to keep fathers out of their children’s lives. A mother has to provide no evidence or corroboration, just an allegation, and the system works fundamentally to remove men from their children’s lives, this is the 21st Century!!
I decided to fight! It is draining mentally and emotionally, but all the time I focused on what I cared about, and I believed that by doing this I would always win, whether I succeeded or not. Fighting to stay in my children’s life was important, if I gave up I would have been cut out of my children’s life, and never seen them again, if I lost my fight I would have at least used every fibre and resource available to try and be included, and I would have had to get back up again, but I would not have lost, as I had fought for what I cared about.
I attended court appearances, was interviewed like a criminal, had home inspections, had to constantly provide evidence that I was a “suitable” father, all the time while my ex partner just laid on further “ allegations”, weaponised the children and worked consistently to turn my children against me and over the 15 years of this I had to fund the cases myself.
Constantly over these years I was the one treated as the villain, even though I had brought the actions so that I could see my children!! It’s almost like they think that by bringing the case I was a “nasty and Manipulative man “, how dare I? or maybe even that only a nasty piece of work would endeavor to bully their ex-partner to see their kids (CAFCAS actually suggested this in their reports!!)
Looking back at those years, I am so glad that I fought through, I faced that emotional and mental pain of separation and identity loss, and came through it.
I never knew that I could be so resilient, it’s sometimes the case that you don’t know what’s in you till you’re in the crucible of fire and emotion. It was definitely the case that I didn’t realise that I could keep moving forwards and keep focused and be that resilient.
Whatever the physical pain I have experienced or might experience in the future, it will be nothing like the emotional pain I have experienced. I know that facing forwards when in deep emotional pain, realising what it is that I care about, what it means to me, and knowing that it will end, means that I can fight for what I care about, and know that I will never really lose.
So if you are in this mess, you never lose when you fight for what you care about, you only lose when you allow it to get the better of you or if you give up,its about finding a way through the storm, finding your hidden resilience and driving forwards. It is horrendous that the system is abused and doesn’t have the rights or interests of the children at its heart, which allows some mothers to be supported in denying fathers and children a chance to have a relationship. The fact that George Kay was one of many men involved in custody battles that felt so low and demorolised that they felt they had no other course of action other than take their own lives, is an indictment of this system. It has been proposed that up to 10 men a day commit suicide, and that separation from children and family is a leading cause of this (https://www.fatherly.com/health-science/psychological-effects-divorce-fathers-men-suicide/ ).
I feel that this system needs a complete re shift in its focus, operations and powers, it needs to place children at the heart of its operations and treat mothers and fathers equally, with the concept that children have a right to have both parents in their lives, and if either parent tries to restrict the others access then proof must be provided and punishments for obstruction must be upheld.