2 AM 29 March 2012 Nunhead Heights

My Israeli friend whispered to me that the man at the table near the window in our Chinese restaurant looked like he was taking a photo of us.

I looked over. I didn’t think so but who knows? We were in gay Soho and I still think I got it. Or maybe I am famous in Soho?

My friend revealed that his in-laws had spent maybe a million dollars on private investigators to follow him around. He didn’t carry a smart phone because they are easy to hack.

Had he gone crazy?

My Israeli friend is a professor of engineering at an English university. A lovely man. But he is very sensitive and has been through some hard times. I know it is difficult to think of an Israeli as sad or sensitive but he is both.

I met him at Families Need Fathers. We were both going through a spot of bother, as the English say, regarding our children. Our children’s mothers had a disagreement over our roles in our children’s lives.  They were both very unhappy with us and we went to the self-help charity FNF to get help. When we met maybe six years ago I was on my way out of FNF. He was on his way in.

Families Need Fathers is often confused with Fathers 4 Justice. FNFers are NOT the guys who wear superhero uniforms. The F4J guys dressed as Batman and Robin and climbing up Buckingham Palace are sensible compared to FNFers.

FNF’s philosophy is this: If you say the Right Words in the Right Way in the Right Court to the Right judge at the Right Time they’ll let you see your children.

Well, a Libyan had as much chance of speaking his mind to Gaddafi as a father has of getting justice in an English family court.

Families Need Fathers gave me the single worst advice I ever received: Go to court, ask for full custody of the children and settle for half.

At the time I was looking after my boys 82% of their waking hours – I was gigging three, four, evenings a week at the time. I know the percentage because I kept a diary to show the mother so she’d let me sleep. That, and to explain why I wasn’t doing well as a comic in England. Looking after babies is the most exhausting task a human can do, if done properly, and it is impossible do anything else very well while you’re at it. At least that is my excuse.

Half sounded good. And isn’t that way you negotiate – go to court, ask for more and settle?

Anyway, telling a dad to ask for full custody is like advising a man to punch an angry Grizzly bear in the nose. It’ll just make the bear angrier. And man has a better chance with a bear than with a mother in England.

It took me 18 months to realize things were getting worse the longer I was in court and I bailed. It was another 18 months before I stopping going to FNF meetings.

Along the way I had discovered an online book by a 77 year-old Texan psychologist appropriately named Homer McDonald called “Stop Your Divorce”. His advice was simple: Stop punching the bear. The book came too late to stop my relationship from breaking up.

My friend didn’t buy into Homer McDonald.

He thought his wife was different from mine. He kept going to court in England, and then to court in the two European countries where the mother had fled. He kept trying to say the Right Words in the Right Way in the Right Court to the Right judge at the Right Time.

Over egg fried rice, my friend told me how, after six years in court, he is only allowed to see his seven-year-old son for seven hours every two weeks in the European land the mother ran to. The mother insists on being there during his only contact. He has been unable to see his daughter for five years. She is nine. The case is now in the highest court in one of the European countries.

I cried a bit. Not seeing your kids can make you crazy, I thought.

A couple of years ago I would have shouted that the system is unfair. I would have screamed how hurtful it is for children to be denied the love of a parent. And that the English hate children. And that it was waste of energy and money for everyone and the only people who gain are social services, the courts and lawyers. And that children need to their fathers and that men have feelings, too. And that it makes people crazy.

I still think all of that is true.

But I told my sad Israeli friend that hoping to say the Right Words in the Right Way in the Right Court to the Right judge at the Right Time doesn’t work today. Maybe it never worked.

If I had known this when the mother of my children was deeply unhappy with me – unhappy with me as a father and a husband and a friend – I wouldn’t have gone to court. I would have told the mother of my children:

“I’ve had the children 82% of the time. You can take them. I’m going to sleep.”

That is something that I am sure that Homer McDonald would have approved of. And that is the only approach my friend could take with his horrible situation. It is sad day when a man has no other option than to walk away.

He needs to tell the mother “You can have them”.

And pray, pray, pray, she brings them back. In the meantime, go to sleep.

@lewisschaffer

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