Tell Me About It: ‘Everyone I have spoken to – guards, therapists, doctors, clinical psychologists and lawyers – openly admit the Irish legal system is unfair against fathers’
My wife left the family home after a row while I was in work four years ago and never returned. She was pregnant at the time. I feel I have tried everything with my wife over the last 15 years and now we want a divorce, but she still won’t let our daughter, who will be four this year, visit me or have any proper relationship with her daddy.
I tried everything I can think of, including the legal route, and got weekend visits but only for my son. I have a wonderful relationship with my son. He is just like me, he just wants to play and have fun and play football and give lots of hugs. I just want to love my daughter the same. Why would a mother persistently prevent her own daughter from being loved by her daddy for no good reason when she sees how good it is for our son?
My wife is mostly silent, but sometimes she explodes in either tears, crying or in anger, with no warning, so even when she is quiet, I am always walking on eggshells around her. She still has custody of the kids, and I cannot sleep worrying about them when she has her episodes. My doctor has put me on sleeping tablets, but I feel so sick in my stomach worrying about my kids that sometimes I still cannot sleep, even on the tablets. She is actually a lovely person when she is in her right frame of mind, but when she is in her other state, she is impossible, nobody has been able to cope with her episodes.
Everyone I have spoken to over the last four years, all the guards, therapists, doctors, clinical psychologists, lawyers, fathers, even the mothers, openly admit that the Irish legal system is unfair against fathers, to the extent that some fathers just give up and cut all ties with their kids and start over.
I did the Parentline – Parenting While Separated – course which stresses the importance of communications between co-parents, but my wife refuses to communicate with me properly.
Also, how can a man deal with an impossibly angry woman? She is lovely and polite and quiet and comes from a good family, but when she explodes, she is a different person. She is scary. How do you treat false allegations? When she starts shouting at me or when she used to hit me, as a man I feel defenceless against a woman’s aggression. I know how to stand up to an aggressive man, but how does a man protect himself from an aggressive woman?
How does a father in Ireland have a relationship with his children when the mother prevents it? How do you help someone who refuses help?
And, please do not tell me that I’m angry, I am years beyond anger. Now it is anguish. Anguish for my children’s futures. I have been to several therapists, most of whom were good, but I do not see the point in doing it any more. I’ve had enough CBT, I just need my daughter.
To date, you have been consistent in your effort to gain access to your daughter and even though it has been extremely frustrating, this will mean a huge amount to her as she grows up. She will know that her father did not lose faith in his effort to parent her, and this will allow her to feel loved, even in difficult circumstances.
You are obviously very frustrated and despairing from all your unsuccessful efforts, and this is having a huge effect on your own wellbeing and on your relationship with your ex-wife, your children, in-laws, and probably on your friends. This attitude or approach is about the only thing you have complete control over and therefore worth pursuing – you probably know this from all the therapy you have done. We often hang on to our suffering (anger, rage, frustration, defensiveness etc.) in a belief that it somehow will get through to those we are trying to impact, but there is little evidence that this has a useful effect other than to lose any sense of functioning for ourselves.
Your children need a father who has a life worth living, ie a life that is broad and somewhat fulfilling with reserves for the difficult times. It sounds as though your reserves have run out and anger (even though you say it is anguish) is the only fuel that is giving energy to your life, this will take its toll on you and on your children. You will need to consider how you begin to include and grow other aspects of life that will give you pleasure, confidence and joy. Even if these feel like a charade at the beginning, they will build into something real in time and will help you be the person your children will have a relationship with.
Continue with your legal efforts to gain access, your perseverance and determination will gain you (and perhaps already has done) the respect of the professionals dealing with the situation and the tide may turn. Your fears and frustration with your ex are palpable and each encounter may be exacerbating the lines of battle – perhaps you could reach out for the good parts of her, that you have so heartfully written about above, and take down the tension a notch or two.
You may be reacting to the idea of all the effort being on your side, but this is the only side you have control over and the alternative is more sleeping pills, an ever-decreasing circle of attention and children who have two parents focused on the destruction of the other.
This is a huge challenge, but you already seem to have a great relationship with your son and the man you are with him can be the basis for expansion.