Read an Excerpt
John & Jane have a child.
They both love him very much.
John & Jane are not getting along.
They fight a lot.
When John and Jane break up,
You don't belong in here!
Get out of the house!
I want to divorce you, not him!
The child doesn't say much
But he's all torn inside.
Look what you're doing to him.
Jane goes crying to the Judge.
Look what he's doing to my child.
The Judge says:
It is the best interest of the child
That the fighting stop.
John is relieved:
The Judge will get Jane to see
A child needs both parents.
But the Judge goes on:
And for the fight to end,
There is but one way.
It is that you, John, go away.
After John and Jane break up, John wants to share the parenting of their child, and Jane doesn't. They go to court. The custody fight is long and fierce. In the end, the child stays with his mother.
As you read this story, you probably feel uneasy. Such a thing couldn't possibly happen today. Maybe, a generation or two ago when it was more the norm for the mother to stay at home with the children. But, nowadays? When some department stores put diaper-changing stations in the men's bathrooms? These days, diapers are disposable, not dads!
DOE VS. DOE
You may think an important part of the story has been omitted. There may be something the matter with John after all, where there's smoke, there's fire - something in his behavior, past or present, that justifies relieving him of his parental duties. Or, maybe John is a good parent, but his lawyer is grossly incompetent?
But let's say I tell you what happened in court. Let's say I tell you more about John and Jane and their child, Joey� and you start getting a sense of who they are, what their life is like� Let's say that, having heard all that, you are reassured that John is not a bad guy. Now, you'd feel that the judge's decision was really unfair.
Well, you'd be missing the point.
Because the point is not that a particular individual is being unfairly treated. The point is that, under the current divorce system, fathers are being systematically removed from their children's lives.
This book is about John, but it is not the story of any one man. It is the story of millions of fathers in this country. It is time for all to know that a divorced dad is still a dad. Time for public discourse and public policy to go beyond gender stereotypes and the fears that perpetuate them. Time to change the laws and practice of divorce in such a way that both parents can be actively involved in their children's lives after divorce.
Even though there are so many of us, we each experience the loss, the injuries and insults of divorce in isolation which makes it hurt all the more. One purpose of this book is to validate the feelings we experience we wouldn't be human if we didn't feel pain, anger, resentment, self-doubt, even despair� These feelings are difficult to deal with, but they are normal. There is no gain whatsoever in denying their existence.
Through all this darkness, there is a guiding light: the conviction that, regardless of circumstances, we are still our children's dads. From this comes the hope that overcomes discouragement and sustains the efforts we make to stay involved in our children's lives. This book describes the personal journey that takes us from the shock of being treated like disposable parents to rebuilding ourselves, feeling whole as individuals and as fathers.
I experienced what, for me, was a difficult divorce. This was almost a decade ago. I have since come to meet many, many people compared to whom my own troubles were relatively minor. Yet, what happened to me was enough to affect me profoundly, to propel my life into new directions.
I began to seek out the company of others who were in similar situations; I started support groups for fathers and became an activist for shared parenting.
I became deeply interested in psychotherapy, as a client, then as a student and a practitioner.
I have been struggling with pain and anger as well as questions such as: How can I be the more of the father I want to be? More of the person I really want to be?
Like everybody else, I have had to deal with these issues in the midst of many pressures, wishing there was a way to escape these pressures just long enough to hear myself think. I have come to understand I couldn't do so, any more than anybody else could. We make up our philosophy of life moment to moment, as we deal with life by making choices big and small.
Life is terrifying if we see it as a series of senseless struggles, a chaotic succession of obstacles hurled our way to block us or destroy us. No sooner have we managed to escape one, that another comes out of left field.
It helps to have a roadmap a sense of what to expect and of where the road goes. My own journey became easier the moment I started to realize that I was not alone, that I could draw on the experiences of others people I could talk to in person, as well as people throughout history who had written about dealing with adversity and life in general.
The purpose of this book is to offer such a roadmap, based on my own experience as well as those of the many fathers I have been getting to know through the years.