As bad as much of the journalism on divorce and custody issues routinely is, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen anything as bad as this piece by someone named Bilbo Poynter (Montreal Gazette, 8/1/12). Put simply, Poynter’s goal is to do as much damage as he can to children’s rights to meaningful relationships with their fathers and he goes to extremes to do so. The original article (now changed) identified Poynter as “an investigative journalist,” but if this is his idea of investigation, he needs to consult a dictionary.
Poynter’s loathing for fathers would be a tough sell to most readers, so he does what every demagogue does – he finds some intemperate dads and lets them stand in, not only for fathers generally, but for any father who would dare to criticize the apparently pristine workings of Canadian family courts. So Poynter finds a father who, terribly and tragically, murdered his own children and then took his own life. He also located some quotations from angry fathers about how they’ve been mistreated by family courts and, according to him, that’s the fathers’ rights movement in a nutshell. Just to gild the lily, he chats up two women who have nothing to do with fathers’ rights, apparently under the assumption that their comments are the unassailable truth.
But did he once inquire of a fathers’ rights advocate like, say, Ned Holstein or Glenn Sacks, just what the movement is all about? No, he didn’t. He spoke with one Canadian man about the murder-suicide case mentioned above, but not a word about why there’s a movement afoot to change how courts rule in custody cases. To read Poynter, you’d think fathers have nothing to complain about and, if they do, they’re insane and probably dangerous. Indeed, according to Poynter and his female interlocutors, organizations promoting fathers rights are “fringe groups.” Hmm, that’s funny. I guess that makes 75% of the population of Canada – the 75% that regularly say they support equal parenting post-divorce – a “fringe group” too.
Of course addressing that entirely obvious point would have taken some actual investigation of the topic, so we wouldn’t expect “investigative journalist” Bilbo Poynter to have done so.
I suppose Poynter didn’t think he could completely avoid the fact that custody decisions by Canadian courts are radically skewed against fathers, so here’s how he “deals with” the subject:
The long-held complaint of fathers’ rights groups is that the family courts are weighted against fathers in favour of mothers, but family law in Canada encourages shared custody arrangements between parents wherever possible, according to Susan Boyd, a law professor at University of British Columbia. Boyd acknowledges that the majority of sole custody awards do tend to go to mothers, but says the courts also seem to be awarding shared custody more often than in the past.
Notice that there’s no mention of the fact that 90% of Canadian custody cases are decided in the mother’s favor. Investigative journalist Poynter prefers to overlook that inconvenient fact in favor of Boyd’s unquantified and at-odds-with-the-data claim that things are changing for the better. They should be, but they aren’t. As in the U.S., Canada’s maternal custody figures have proven astonishingly consistent decade after decade. If he wanted to talk to Canadian experts, why didn’t he ring up Edward Kruk who knows more about the value of shared parenting than possibly anyone? Or what about Paul Millar who’s done the most exhaustive study of the raw StatsCan data on custody and child well-being? Nope, our intrepid investigative journalist didn’t get around to that.
Then there’s the little matter that, while Canadian courts often order mothers to give fathers some token access to their children, those mothers are at almost complete liberty to abide by the orders or not as they choose. Like Australia and England, Canadian judges routinely ignore mothers’ violations of their own orders. As one appellate court judge so memorably put it, “it’s not my job to punish mothers.” No, actually that is the job of family courts when faced with mothers who flout their orders, and Canadian statutes give them plenty of power to do so. But they don’t. That allows mothers – not the law, not the dad and not the kids – all power to decide whether the children have a father or not. Poynter’s all for that.
Poynter’s piece is more disgraceful than most. He completely ignores the real issues surrounding custody and access, never mentions mothers who murder or otherwise abuse their children, hasn’t a word to say about mothers who abduct children and of course never peeps about the mountain of social science showing the value of fathers to children. Indeed, about one thing, he’s just flat wrong. Poynter claims that figures showing that mothers kill children more often that fathers do are “just not there.” Actually, they are. Here (Administration for Children and Families, 2009). That publication shows every year that mothers kill about twice as many children as fathers do. But who’d expect Poynter to know?
And what trashing of fathers would be complete without playing the abuse card. According to one of Poynter’s sources whom he believes without question, ”People will view these groups as fringe groups that don’t require serious attention, when in fact they’re using the abusive and intimidating behaviours they used in their relationships.” Fascinating. I had no idea that I’ve been “abusive and intimidating” all these years. But maybe he’s not referring to me; maybe he’s talking about Molly Olson in Minnesota or Warren Farrell or Holstein of Sacks.
Or maybe he’s speaking out of another part of his anatomy. After all, how is blogging to change public perceptions about the need for family court reform or lobbying state legislatures for same “abusive and intimidating?” Poynter doesn’t explain for two reasons. First, there is no explanation and second, he’s not trying to be honest, he’s trying to denigrate fathers.
Doubtless Poynter’s style of yellow “journalism” will appeal to those who already agree that children should have as little contact with their fathers as possible. Somewhere out there, there’s a choir to which Poynter is preaching. But you have to wonder about a person who is so caught up in his own anti-dad ideology that he seems not to care that, if his nonsense has any effect at all, it’s to harm children. Me? I couldn’t sleep at night if I knew that that’s what I had accomplished during the day.
So Bilbo, tell me. Given all we know about the value of fathers to children and the social disaster that is fatherless children, how does it feel to go to bat for the dysfunctional status quo? How does it feel to help keep children and fathers separate? Maybe those questions can give you something to investigate – with the help of a good therapist.