Fathers helping fathers
Barbara Kay, National Post Published: Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Seven years ago, Ken Sandall's wife walked out on him with their two young children. At the time, Ken was making $2,250 a month. A judge ordered him to pay $2,000 a month in spousal and child support. (Crazy allocations like this happen a lot in family court. But nobody does anything about it, even though lives are ruined.) He slept in friends' basements and lived like a tramp, but he paid until he was forced to declare bankruptcy.
Ken was subjected to more humiliations, including false allegations of sexual impropriety with children. His further trials would make good reading, but so would all the other hundreds of stories I have on file about men who get a raw deal from angry women. Instead, I'd rather tell you what Ken went on to do after he got his life back together again.
Ken became a father's rights activist. From experience, he realized that the one thing men suddenly deprived of their homes and families need more than anything else is relief from the intense loneliness they face. Typically, they have no clue as to their legal rights or obligations and are ill-equipped to negotiate the women-friendly family law maelstrom into which they've been sucked. Ten days ago, under Ken's direction, a new fathers rights support group -- "Ottawa Fathers" -- opened its doors for business. Ken had fairly humble expectations, but before the first day of business ended, he had fielded over 100 e-mails of interest, warm encouragement and petitions for assistance from the Ottawa area and beyond.
A core group of 20 has already formed. The first meeting of the group has been set for April 7. What makes Ottawa Fathers different from other father support groups, which focus on information-sharing, is that it offers peer support -- they "walk the walk" of the family law journey on a case by case basis, as well as offering a temporary safe house for men who have been thrown out of their family home or who are escaping domestic abuse (yes, it happens more than either side likes to admit). They'll help with paperwork, accompany a man to court, seek a sympathetic lawyer and, in short, just -- you know --be there for them.
To my knowledge, this is the first Canadian initiative that is trying to duplicate for men services like shelters, counselling and paralegal guidance that are widely available for women, all generously funded by charities and government. Needless to say, Ken's group will depend entirely on private funds. No men's groups I know of receive a cent from government or charities.
A lot of the men Ken deals with are suicidal or victims of domestic abuse. About 800 men in Ontario kill themselves every year. Around half of them are at the time of their suicide involved in the family law system. If women were killing themselves in such numbers and had this factor in common, there would be a national outcry. But there seems to be little public interest in knowing why men feel so tortured during a process that is purportedly even-handed in its judgments. Of course it isn't, the suicides are proof of that, and still the beat goes on. Last summer, as an experiment, I asked a male friend of mine to call up Ontario organizations listed by Health Canada as recognized bodies dealing with "family" needs, including help for victims of domestic violence. I also called some, pretending to have a brother with a battering female spouse. Neither of us could get to first base in terms of actual service. There was help on offer for abusing men, and for abused women. Nothing for male victims of abuse by women.
Several of these organizations were funded by government and by The United Way of Greater Toronto. I spoke to the director of allocations at United Way. They have no intention of researching or funding domestic abuse by women against men for the foreseeable future.
Ken Sandall's group is filling a gap that shouldn't be there. You can learn more about Ottawa Fathers at www.ottawafathers.piczo.com.
© National Post 2007