Ring, ring, ring, ring. This is a typical evening as I try to call my children to see how their day has been. So often it’s never answered, despite several attempts throughout the evening.
My name is Glenn Chapman. I’m 38, a dad of two and live in one of the most spectacular corners of the world: Cumbria. Family is such an important part of my life, I cherish the time spent with them, especially with my children. Being outdoors is my next great passion, one that I have encouraged my children to enjoy too.
I have a son who’s 15 and a daughter who’s 10. They both live with their mother. In 2004 my marriage ended when my then-wife (the mother of my children) left me for another man. I left the family home as I thought children should be with their mothers, a foolish decision I have regretted ever since. At the risk of sounding melodramatic my world imploded; I lost everything I’d worked for, my home and my wonderful children.
Fortunately I ended up living only 30 minutes drive away which allowed me to keep in regular contact with them; having them stay most weekends, picking them up from school, taking them swimming and for walks in the Lake District. Then the next bombshell came on a Wednesday afternoon last August. My daughter told me they were moving to Berkshire that Saturday! Three days later they’d moved. 5 hours drive away. This was a huge blow for me. How could I continue to be a positive influence in their lives from so far away? And why didn’t their mother tell me? Why didn’t the school tell me?
It seems the non-resident parent has no rights at all. For example just the other day my daughter was taken to hospital. Her mother didn’t phone to tell me, nor did her family. Instead a friend who just happened to read her mother’s Twitter feed spotted a tweet about the situation my daughter was in. Understandably I was shocked and worried but most of all angry for not being informed. I decided to shelve the anger and concentrate on finding out how my daughter was. I tried to call her mother, no response. So I called the hospital. The person I spoke to was abrupt and unfriendly and stated that they couldn’t tell me anything due to patient confidentiality. I told them I was her father but they maintained they couldn’t tell me anything as I could be anybody posing as her father. I asked if they would put me through to her bedside or get her to come to the phone so I could speak to her myself, “sorry, I can’t do that”. I still don’t know what she was in hospital for however I did manage to speak to her when she was home. I asked her why she had been admitted to hospital and she told me “you have no right to know”. I said I was her dad and did have a right to know and she replied “no you don’t” and put the phone down. She is 10 years old, this response was clearly orchestrated by her mother.
Contact is always on my ex-wife’s terms and she continues to prevent me from being a positive influence in their lives.
In September 2011 my children went missing. For 4 days neither I nor my ex-wife’s family knew where they all where. I called her phone and mobile only to be met by an automated “sorry, this phone is switched off” message. I phoned both my children’s schools who told me they hadn’t turned up and that it had been reported to the police, which is standard procedure. So, I contacted the police with the case number to find out if they had any information. They said they hadn’t and that I would be the first to be notified as soon as they did, which incidentally is what the schools told me as well. Eventually they did turn up; my ex-wife’s sister called to tell me they had been found in Nottinghamshire where my ex-wife had been staying with her new boyfriend and my children in tow. Neither the police nor schools contacted me as promised. I was, in fact, the last person to know they were safe.
Not only is contact with my children difficult because of their mother but as you can see other agencies such as schools, hospitals and the police pay no credence to the fact that I am their father.
Despite the fact that the separation with my children was brought about by my ex-wife’s adulterous behaviour I am the one left out in the cold, regularly unable to speak to them or see them.
I am a good person and a good father, I can offer so much to my children and be a positive influence in their lives, even from such a long distance. If I could guarantee speaking to my children every night (or at least be aware that they’re unable to talk), easily get information from the schools, doctors, hospitals and so on I would feel so much more apart of their lives.
I can only hope that the proposed changes to the family justice system to give the non-resident parent the right to be in regular contact with their children and vice versa will make a difference and be properly enforced. I know I’m not alone, there are many fathers being shut out of their children’s lives. Children need both parents, even if they’re separated, and the resident parent must encourage a strong relationship with the non-resident parent, they owe it to their kids.
Glenn Chapman is a 38 years old senior ICT officer for a local authority. He has 2 gorgeous children and a beautiful fiancee. He considers himself as a proud Cumbrian with a passion for photography and the Lakeland Fells.