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The hidden half of domestic violence

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Why fathers become our scapegoats
The Irish Times
3 September 2001
Why fathers become our scapegoats
By John Waters <>
If our assumption in disposing of family breakdown was that fathers were
incapable of loving their children, we would scarcely make our
arrangements any differently. In the vast majority of cases, the breakdown
in parental relations results in the family unit being redefined as mother
and children, the father sent away to make his own arrangements, begin a
new life, become a new person, find a new meaning. This is what confronts
men who find themselves at the end of the life with the loves of their
life, whether they like it or not.
We should hardly be surprised when awful things happen. But we are
because, consciously or not, we do believe that men are incapable of
loving their children, or at least not in a way as to cause these men
unbearable pain when they lose the possibility of sustaining that love, or
at the very least not to the same extent and with the same intensity as
mothers love their children. We do not state this, but the system we have
created says it with each of its actions, decisions, recommendations and
Our family courts, without authority from God or Constitution, sit in
judgment on the very essences of people's lives, dispensing "custody"
and "access" on the word of people you would not allow into your house
to clean your chimneys. Yet, in the Constitution it is set forth that: "The
State ... guarantees to respect the inalienable right and duty of parents
to provide ... for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and
social education of their children." "Inalienable" means "not able to be
transferred to another". Thus, the rights of parents, without distinction
as to gender, cannot legally or morally be interfered with, except if they
have failed in their parental duty.
When awful things happen we are left with a stark choice: either we
entertain the possibility that what we believe, and what we do on foot
of our beliefs, is wrong, is causing this awfulness; or we jump to the
conclusion that what has happened is a vindication of our beliefs.
Needless to say, we take the option best adapted to protecting our
beliefs: e.g., a vengeful, rageful, hateful man has lost control and done
something beyond human comprehension.
Sometimes events threaten this tendency. A mother stops her car close to
a pier, checks her two daughters are strapped into the back seat, and
drives into the water. The episode merits a subdued silence. Another
mother snatches her son during a supervised visit, brings him to a beach
and holds his head under the water until he is dead. She is admitted to a
psychiatric hospital and there is some talk of depression. The silence
Since time began, mothers have been more likely than fathers to kill their
children, but this fact, like many others, is inconvenient to our
collective beliefs.
The unspeakable deaths of Deirdre and Christopher Crowley raise many
questions about this society and its capacity for human decency. In
truth, this case is unique only in its horrific culmination. Every other
week, children are snatched by one of their parents, more frequently by
mothers. Most of those who have their children taken away from them in
this way have the greatest difficulty in persuading the authorities to
help them. Frequently, the abducting parent is protected and vindicated by
alleged public servants motivated by ideological agendas. Invariably, such
parents are women.
At the launch last year of the Irish Centre for Parentally Abducted
Children, I asked the assembled panel of Irish women who had associated
themselves with this issue about the guiding principles relating to
parental abduction. I was assured that the watchword must be compassion,
not just for children and the parent left behind, but also for the
abducting parent. One of those present was Mary Banotti, who last week,
stressing she was "gender neutral", said she knew of no situation where
there were fears for the life of a child abducted by his or her mother,
but of several in which there had been cause for concern when fathers had
abducted their children. Perhaps she confines her reading of the
newspapers to articles with headlines about "killer dads".
Compassion? Dead or alive, in the absence of his version of events,
Christopher Crowley was spoken of as though he were self evidently a
criminal. A few weeks ago, one Garda officer said of him: "If a
four-year-old girl was taken by a stranger, the whole country would be
up in arms. But because it was her father, people don't seem to be as
concerned. They say that the case is sad, but tend to think that she is
safe with her father." This man, if he has children, must know in his
heart that the essence of what he said was wrong, that children are
nowhere as safe as in the company of their natural fathers. But, in
suggesting that a child's father, once he has been removed from his
family, is a stranger and a danger to his child or children, a potential
outlaw with no rights except as dictated by the society, he did
unwittingly summarize our collective public beliefs.
Believing this, can we be surprised when our beliefs are so
comprehensively, appallingly affirmed?
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