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Keynote Address: 19th Annual International Fatherhood Conference, Kansas City, Missouri

. . . a child, more than all other gifts                                                                                            That earth can offer to declining man,                                                                                       Brings hope with it, and forward-looking thoughts,                                                                            —William Wordsworth1


Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to be here today, in Kansas City, at the 19th Annual International Fatherhood Conference, organized by the National Partnership for Community Leadership (NPCL Inc.).

I wish to quote some touching and relevant words from a famous theologian named Jacques Gillet.  He wrote much on personal discernment and the quest for self-knowledge and peace in one’s soul. Jacques Gillet wrote:

There’s the darkness in man himself who is incapable of seeing his own heart clearly, incapable of grasping completely the seriousness of his actions and the results deriving from them.2

Sir William Blackstone, the great master of the common law, in his book Commentaries on the Laws of England, Volume 1, chapter 15, headed Of Husband and Wife, wrote:

These are the chief legal effects of marriage, joint or coverture, upon which we may observe that even the disabilities which the wife lies under are, for the most part, intended for her protection and benefit; so great a favorite is the female sex of the laws of England.3


In Ontario, Canada, until the 1970s, there was a statute called the Deserted Wives and Children’s Maintenance Act.  I come now to the definition of a deserted wife.  This statute, in subsection 2.2, says:

A married woman shall be deemed to have been deserted within the meaning of this section when she is living apart from her husband because of his acts of cruelty; or of his refusal or neglect, without sufficient cause, to supply her with food and other necessaries, when able so to do; or of the husband having been guilty of adultery that has not been condoned and that is duly proved, notwithstanding the existence of a separation agreement.4

I come now to The Married Women’s Property Act 1874, at section 6, says:

.  .  .  any married woman .  .  .  , may obtain an order of protection, entitling her, notwithstanding her coverture, to have and enjoy all her earnings and those of her minor children, and any acquisitions therefrom, free from the debts and obligations of her husband, and from his control or dispositions, and without his consent, in as full and ample a manner, as if she continued sole and unmarried, .  .  .  .5

I come now to the unique protection of women from criminal prosecution, and the diminution of their responsibility for murder.  So I shall go to Canada’s Criminal Code, section 233. I speak of the crime infanticide.  Many believe that the term infanticide means the killing of a child, but it does not.  It means the killing of a child by a female person.  Few people are aware of this distinction, but the object of this Criminal Code provision is to diminish responsibility for women who have killed their children.  I have made it my business to study and research these issues and the position of the law.  The Criminal Code, section 233, says:

A female person commits infanticide when by a willful act or omission she causes the death of her newly born child, if at the time of the act or omission she is not fully recovered from the effects of giving birth to the child and by reason thereof or of the effect of lactation consequent on the birth of the child her mind is then disturbed.6

I come now to the Greek playwrights. Around 431 AD, Euripides wrote his famous Greek tragedy, Medea, about Medea and Jason.  It is also about Medea’s murder of their two sons.  Medea was a Greek enchantress who had helped Jason to steal the Golden Fleece.  When Jason deserted her for another woman, she planned and willfully carried out the murder of their two sons.  This is what Medea said:

Let no one think me a weak one, feeble-spirited, a stay-at-home, but rather just the opposite. One who can hurt my enemies and help my friends; .  .  .7

Her maid was most distressed about the murderous act that Medea was about to commit. Medea pledged her distressed female to silence on her plans.  Medea said:

Say nothing of these decisions which I have made.  If you love your mistress, if you were born a woman.8

I come now to Sally Miller Gearhart, who wrote an article called The Future, If There Is One, Is Female.  It was published in her 1982 book, Reweaving the Web of Life: Feminism and Nonviolence. Gearhart writes:

To secure a world of female values and female freedom, we must, I believe, add one more element to the structure of the future.  .  .  .  The ratio of men to women must be radically reduced, so that men approximate only ten percent of the total population.9

Ladies and gentlemen, on observing human behavior, the inescapable conclusion is that human beings, both men and women, are afflicted by their own imperfections, frailties and injured psyches.  This condition seems to govern much human behavior.  It seems that the more imperfect and wounded a person is, the less tolerant that person is of others’ imperfection and woundedness.  Human capacity for misunderstanding is great.  As a frontrunner in Canada in the field of domestic violence, and having worked for many years with countless families in conflict and often violence, I learned and concluded that men and women are equally capable of vice and virtue, and that vice and virtue are human failings, not gender characteristics.  I have politically repudiated the two prevalent but most false notions introduced into the public discourse by radical gender feminist ideology, which said that women are morally superior to men, that men are morally inferior to women, and that somehow men may be morally defective.

Ladies and gentlemen, the false proposition of women’s inherent virtue and men’s inherent vice has dominated and deformed family and criminal law policy for the past several decades. Much public policy on domestic violence, particularly arrest, charging, and prosecution policy, has been founded on this deformity.  Needless to say, these policies have wreaked havoc in the lives of people.

A 1993 report called Changing the Landscape: Ending Violence – Achieving Equality gave its own explanation of patriarchy thus, at page 17:

Patriarchy is not just a central concept in feminist analysis.  For many women it is also a daily reality – the most violent and profound expression of patriarchal power sits at their dinner tables every evening and sleeps in their beds at night.10

The report also described heterosexism, at page 16:

Heterosexism is the assumption that a woman’s life will be organized around and defined in relation to a man.  .  .  .  Canadian society is organized around compulsory heterosexuality.  .  .  . Heterosexism is imbedded in all state institutions that women are likely to call upon – the police, the justice system and religious institutions.11

These concepts had more to do with constructing an ideological framework and little to do with assisting families in crisis. This was a sorry example of money wasted on ideologically-driven initiatives to the neglect of families.

I come now to Supreme Court of Canada Judge Justice Bertha Wilson’s 1990 speech titled Will Women Judges Really Make a Difference.  Justice Wilson mentions the work of Carol Gilligan, a US feminist professor and the author of the 1982 book, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development, at page 20:

Gilligan’s work on conceptions of morality among adults suggests that women’s ethical sense is significantly different from the men’s.  Men see moral problems as arising from competing rights; the adversarial process comes easily to them.  Women see moral problems as arising from competing obligations, the one to the other, because the important thing is to preserve relationships, to develop an ethic of caring.  The goal according to women’s ethical sense, is not seen in terms of winning or losing but rather in terms of achieving an optimum outcome for all individuals involved in the moral dilemma.  It is not difficult to see how this contrast in thinking might form the basis of different perceptions of justice.12

Ladies and gentlemen, I come now to the use of false allegations against men in divorce and separation cases, and in domestic violence.  I call this a heart of darkness, as a false accusation by women against men, as a way to imperil men in divorce, with the result the women would get full custody of the children, spousal support and child support.  At the time, one judge described such false accusations against men as a weapon of choice. Needless to say, false accusations against a man who is a good father is a crippling tool. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I shall cite two famous cases. The first is the case of R v Ghanem, from Canada’s Provincial Court of Alberta.  This is a criminal proceeding in which the wife made false accusations against her husband.  Mr. Ghanem’s wife, supported by her mother, had him charged in an effort to imperil him in their divorce proceeding.  Mr. Ghanem, the defendant, had been charged with assaulting his wife even though he was elsewhere with a friend when the assault was alleged to have taken place.  He was tried and acquitted of any crime.  Judge Fraser, in acquitting the husband, said about the wife, at paragraph 19:

I find the evidence of the complainant and her mother to be contradictory, confusing, contrary, conflicting, irreconcilable, and quite frankly, false.13

Judge Fraser also questioned the Zero Tolerance policy at paragraph 21 that:

I want to make two further comments, because one is curious as to how a man could be falsely accused in these circumstances, right up to and including a trial. The reasons are quite clear to me, and disturbing: First, the police apparently have a policy of zero tolerance in domestic-assault cases. Any zero-tolerance policy is dangerous. It is especially dangerous when it is not properly applied.14

Ladies and gentlemen, now to the second case.  Dr. Grant Brown, a lawyer in Edmonton, Alberta, in his article about prosecutorial and judicial responses to intimate partner violence, titled Gender as a Factor in the Response of the Law-enforcement system to violence against Partners, published in the 2004 journal Sexuality and Culture, cites Justice Saunderson in a British-Columbia case.  Dr. Brown wrote:

In finding Darryl Arsenault not guilty of assaulting his common-law partner Susan Himmer, B.C. Provincial Court Judge Brian Saunderson said, “There are far too many prosecutors declining to make the hard decisions, lest they offend some interest-group, or incur the displeasure of their superiors who themselves are subjected to pressure from the same groups. The result can be made to work hardship in individual cases.”  The judge ruled that Arsenault was defending himself when he slapped Himmer after she verbally abused and assaulted him. Himmer testified that she was drunk and in an “out of control” rampage after Arsenault’s ex-wife insulted her.  Judge Saunderson criticized the Crown for not charging Himmer for her assaults, saying it created a double standard.  The mere fact of this prosecution sends a very clear message: A woman in a relationship with a man can provoke him, degrade him, strike him, and throw objects at him with impunity; but if he offers the least physical response, he will be charged with assault.15

Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to cite one example of a famous father, Sir Thomas More, an extraordinary man, with an extraordinary relationship with his children.  A great lawyer, a Lord Chancellor in England, Sir Thomas More was charged, tried, found guilty of treason and executed in 1535 because he morally and politically defied King Henry VIII.  His unstinting devotion to his children, particularly to his daughter Margaret Roper and to his son-in-law William Roper is legendary.  On his way from prison to the scaffold, Sir Thomas More met his family members.  His efforts to comfort them are well known.  He looked at the weeping face of his beloved daughter Margaret.  She embraced him.  This was a terrible moment of a most terrible ordeal.  He said farewell to her and asked her and not to watch him be executed.  As a father, he could not bear that.  He said:

. . . This, my child, is not kind of you.  You should let your dear old father die as he has always tried to live, bravely, my child.  Go, my daughter, beyond the tower where I shall not see you, and you will know when a hush falls upon the people that your old father has passed beyond the voices of this weary world forever.16

Saint Sir Thomas More loved his children deeply.  Most fathers feel the same.  Sir Thomas More’s daughter’s voice was a woman’s voice for fatherhood.  Fathers are important in their children’s lives.  Misguided social policies of the last many decades have been reckless with children’s lives.  Misguided policies have created fatherlessness.  Misguided policies in social welfare law, in family law, in divorce law, in child welfare law, in abortion law have resulted in national problems, in our crises of father alienation and fatherlessness.  Fathers, men, face courts, laws, and systems that will not hear their voices.

Ladies and gentlemen, I shall share with you 3 cases studies of men, fathers before the courts seeking to love their children.  These cases are first a divorce, second a birth father challenging the adoption of his child, and third a father’s tragic suicide.  These are three cases among hundreds of thousands where fathers face courts that do not hear fathers’ pain, their needs, their love for their children or their voices.  The first is the case of Oldfield v. Oldfield, a 1991 Ontario Court of Justice (General Division) divorce case in which the ex-wife asked the court to allow her to move their children from Canada to France to marry her boyfriend.  About the children’s relationship with their father, the judge, Mr. Justice Blair, said, at paragraph 5:

That this is a loving and caring relationship is apparent.17

About the mother’s wish to move the children to Europe away from their father and close to her boyfriend, her prospective husband, Mr. Justice Blair said, at paragraph 6:

Is it ‘in the best interests of the children’ to make an order which effectively defeats this prospect and leaves them in the daily care of a mother who loves them dearly but who is shackled by her discontent?18

The judge ruled.  The judge permitted her to move with the children to France.  This case revealed the exaltation of an adult’s, the mother’s, personal love life, personal happiness, over the children’s need for their close relationship with their father.  Interestingly, the marriage to her boyfriend never ensued.  Later, in 1995, in another proceeding, the same Mr. Justice Blair increased the father’s already large child support payments to finance the children’s trips to visit him in Canada.  Certainly the term ‘best interests of the child’ does not mean the mother’s or either parents’ romantic interest.  Certainly the first interest of the best interests of the child means the child’s interest, its own relationship with its two parents, both its father and mother.

Ladies and gentlemen, the second case is about an adoption.  The birth mother favoured adoption but the birth father opposed the adoption from the start.  He offered to either marry or live with the birth mother and raise the child together with her, or failing these, he offered to raise the child himself.  She, the birth mother, was adamant. She placed the child for adoption.  He went to court and challenged the adoption.  He won.  In a British Columbia Supreme Court judgement of January 4, 2000, British Columbia Birth Registration No.99-0733 (Re), Mr. Justice Paris said, at paragraph 6:

She testified that she now feels that she made a mistake in placing the child for adoption. … She now feels, rightly or wrongly, that the social worker from the adoption agency with whom she dealt was effectively pushing her in the direction of adoption by warning her that if she named the father his consent to the adoption would be necessary.19

The judge took the child from the adoptive parents and gave the child to the natural birth father. Many men, fathers, have faced enormous legal and systemic challenges.

The third case study is the tragic suicide of a 34 year old man from British Columbia named Darrin Bruce White.  He had been, as had his ex-wife, a railroad locomotive engineer.  He was on disability with a disposable income of about $1,000 per month.  On March 1, 2000, the court ordered him to pay his ex-wife a total of $2, 071 per month, being $1,07l in child support plus $1,000.00 for spousal support for herself, with the first payment due immediately.  He was ordered to pay twice his real income on disability.  He disappeared a few days later and was found dead in the woods shortly thereafter. He had hanged himself. Two weeks before he killed himself, a doctor had indicated that Mr. White was suffering from divorce related depression, cognitive impairment and an inability to concentrate, and that he was not fit to work even part-time.  The doctor was obviously correct.  One ponders why the court could not discover this fact. The court documents reveal marked harshness to Mr. White and also disregard for his personal emotional state and needs.  His income level seemed to be the court’s major concern.  In the March 1, 2000 judgement, Master Baker stated, at paragraph 11:

I must conclude that the current interruption to the defendant’s income stream is temporary and of short duration.20

Yet the same court defended his ex-wife’s right not to be expected to work and to receive financial support payments from him, though she was also a locomotive engineer.  Master Baker stated, at paragraph 5:

It may be that the plaintiff can return to her former employment as a railroad engineer or perhaps trainman, but it is not reasonable at this time to expect a quick return to that or similar employment in the immediately foreseeable future.21

This young man was overtaken by despondency.  The number of suicides of fathers like this is high and climbing.  This was a case of yet another father crushed by this grinding system of family law, family support payment regime.  This man’s feelings, like many men’s feelings, were not received by the system, as money they do not have is extracted and gouged out of them. His voice is silent.

Ladies and gentlemen, I come now to the well-known 1965 Moynihan Report, entitled The Negro Family: The Case for National Action written for the United States Department of Labor’s Office of Policy Planning and Research by Daniel Patrick Moynihan the then Assistant Secretary of Labor.  The Report stated:

At the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of Negro society is the deterioration of the Negro family.  It is the fundamental source of the weakness of the Negro community at the present time.22

In the next paragraph, the Report continued:

It is more difficult, however, for whites to perceive the effect that three centuries of exploitation have had on the fabric of Negro society itself.  Here the consequences of the historic injustices done to Negro Americans are silent and hidden from view.  But here is where the true injury has occurred . . . 23

The Report cited testimony saying:

Both as a husband and as a father the Negro male is made to feel inadequate,  .  .  . 24

and that:

The Negro wife in this situation can easily become disgusted with her financially dependent husband, and her rejection of him further alienates the male from family life.25

Moynihan’s Report hit hard, declaring that:

Negro children without fathers founder—and fail.26

Children without fathers will founder and fail.  We should dust off this Report and re-examine it.

Ladies and gentlemen, all social science tells us that fatherlessness is a major social problem as do the public opinion surveys.  A 1996 Gallop Poll on fathering entitled "Fathers in America" commissioned by the National Center for Fathering based in Kansas, reveal that 79.1% of Americans agree that the most significant social problem facing America is fatherlessness and father absence.  In a 1990 article entitled A Progressive Family Policy for the 1990s published by the Progressive Policy Institute, social scientists Elaine Ciulla Kamarck and William A. Galston addressed the enormous social consequences of fatherlessness. They said:

The economic consequences of a parent’s absence (almost always the father’s) are often accompanied by psychological consequences, which include higher than average levels of youth suicide, low intellectual and educational performance, and higher than average rates of mental illness, violence, and drug use. . . . Equally suggestive is the anecdotal evidence of the difficulties many young single mothers experience in raising their sons. The absence of fathers as models and codisciplinarians is thought to contribute to the low self-esteem, anger, violence, and peer-bonding through gang membership of many fatherless boys.27

Elaine Ciulla Kamarck and William A. Galston continued:

Nowhere is this more evident than in the long-standing and strong relationship between crime and one-parent families. . . .  The relationship is so strong that controlling for family configuration erases the relationship between race and crime and between low income and crime.  This conclusion shows up time and time again in the literature; poverty is far from the sole determinant of crime.28

The connection between family structure, fathering and the well-being of society is the burning question of the day.  Governments, courts, and the law should adopt this position.  In 1993, then Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, in an article Defining Deviancy Down, published in the American Scholar, revisited his 1960’s work.  He wrote:

In 1965, having reached the conclusion that there would be a dramatic increase in single-parent families, I reached the further conclusion that this would in turn lead to a dramatic increase in crime. In an article in America, I wrote: “From the wild Irish slums of the 19th century Eastern seaboard to the riot-torn suburbs of Los Angeles, there is one unmistakable lesson in American history: a community that allows a large number of young men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any set of rational expectations about the future – that community asks for and gets chaos. Crime, violence, unrest, unrestrained lashing out at the whole social structure – that is not only to be expected; it is very near to inevitable.”  The inevitable, as we now know, has come to pass,  .  .  .29

Ladies and gentlemen, many in this room work in their communities to correct this massive human problem called fatherlessness.  I encourage them to persevere in bringing fathers and children together, in mending broken families.  This is the work of the heart and soul of any nation.

Ladies and gentlemen, at the outset, I cited Ephesians.  I said that in parenting and fatherhood God’s divinity is joined to our humanness.  I believe that parenting, fatherhood, is redemptive, as God the Father redeemed us in Jesus Christ the son, there is redemption in good fathering. Fatherhood is redemptive and regenerative because of the remedial and restorative influences of the natural and pure human relations, that is, the father-child relationship.  I searched for an articulation of the redemption that is fathering and fatherhood, wishing to express the depth of the father-child bond, of the father-child attachment and affection.  I found it in a woman’s voice for fatherhood.  I found it in fiction in a literary classic, in a 19th-century novel written by a woman, George Eliot, the pen name for Mary-Ann Evans.  This novel, Silas Marner, is the story of the miraculous healing and redemption of Silas Marner, a weaver.  Silas was a broken, closed, selfish, unhappy hermit, with a hoard of money.  In his isolation, he shared nothing, neither his goods nor his being.  His sad, inadequate life worsened when he was robbed of his money.  One night, during a bad snowstorm, a woman and her small child struggled, on foot, on the road near Silas’s cottage.  Exhausted and freezing, the child’s mother collapsed and died.  The child, desperate, frightened and alone, crawled into Silas’ cottage, and simultaneously crawled into his life.  Silas took this child as his own daughter.  He adopted her and named her Eppie.  He viewed this child not as a burden but as a gift and a blessing.  He cared for her, raised her, and loved her. This child, Eppie, transformed Silas Marner into a fulfilled and whole human being.  The novelist, George Eliot, showed in fiction, in literature, that it was only by fathering and by love that Silas could shed his past wounds and failures, and be restored.  In this transformation, he found meaning for his life, his redemption.  George Eliot wrote:

Silas might be seen in the sunny mid-day, . . . strolling out . . . to carry Eppie . . . till they reached some favourite bank where he could sit down, while Eppie toddled to pluck the flowers, and make remarks to the winged things that murmured happily above the bright petals., calling ‘Dad-dad’s’ attention continually by bringing him the flowers.30

About Silas’s regeneration and rebirth, George Eliot continued:

As the child’s mind was growing into knowledge, his mind was growing into memory: as her life unfolded, his soul, long stupefied in a cold narrow prison, was unfolding too, and trembling gradually into full consciousness.31

The novelist had Silas tell his daughter Eppie:

If you hadn’t been sent to save me, I should ha’ gone to the grave in my misery.32

I end now with George Eliot’s most beautiful description of Silas Marner’s transformation and redemption through fatherhood by the love and care of this child, Eppie and her love of him, her father.  Eliot wrote:

In old days there were angels who came and took men by the hand and led them away from the city of destruction.  We see no white-winged angels now.  But yet men are led away from threatening destruction: a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth gently towards a calm and bright land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child’s.33

I repeat, the hand of a child can lead men from the city of destruction.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I close with Ephesians, chapter 3, verse 14-21,

The Love of Christ                                                                                     

For this reason I fall on my knees before the father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its true name.  I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith.  I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love.  Yes, may you come to know his love – although it can never be fully known – and so be completely filled with the very nature of God.                                                                                              To him who by means of his power working in us is able to do so much more than we can ever ask for, or even think of: to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus for all time, forever and ever!  Amen.34

Ladies and gentlemen, I urge you all to place the hands of America’s children into their fathers’ hands, so that God’s love, the love of Jesus Christ, can do its work.  I urge all women here, particularly all Black women here, to take the lead in America in politics and in public affairs to uphold a new definition of womanhood, which includes the love of men and children.  I urge you all to support fathering as a pressing public and social policy issue, a major political initiative, and to vindicate the entitlement of children to the love and support of both their parents, both mothers and fathers, public policy that supports fatherhood and that is father friendly.  I urge you to place the hands of children into the hands of their fathers.  I thank you for listening to my work on behalf of fathers and their children.