Last month, Spider-Man
was arrested in London after spending five days atop a cloud-kissing crane
next to the historic Tower Bridge.
In donning the costume of his daughter's favorite cartoon character, 36-year-old
David Chick tried to draw attention to the misery of estranged fathers who
have been denied access to their children by a family court system he believes
Was Spiderman fighting the forces of evil? Or, by snarling London traffic,
did Chick's "frivolity" damage the serious complaints of an internationally
surging father's rights movement?
I vote for Spiderman. The mayor of London disagrees, comparing Chick and his tactics to Usama bin Laden.
Between these diametrically opposed responses lies a question: at what point
do you give up working within "the system" and step outside of it to achieve
change...to demand justice?
That question haunts the most passionate issues of our time. For example,
abortion: some pro-life advocates go so far outside the system as to advocate
violence against clinics and doctors who provide a legal procedure. For example,
protecting molested children: some mothers go so far as to kidnap their own
children and live "on the run" rather than return them to abusive situations.
At what point do you give up on the possibility of the law providing justice?
People who go outside the system usually do so in the belief that the system
has become part of the problem. In other words, the system -- whether you
are speaking of family courts, the Child Protective Services, or some other
bureaucracy -- is acting to perpetuate the injustice rather than to solve
This belief creates a Spiderman who looks at the family court system and
perceives no chance of seeing the two year-old daughter from whom he has
been estranged for close a year.
Most of those who agree that "the system" is severely broken do not sit on
150-foot cranes in the middle of London. To a large degree, Spiderman's decision
was determined by the issue he was confronting. For Chick, there was and
is no possibility of compromise or of avoiding conflict.
Other rebels are luckier. They are able to withdraw from the system and provide
for their own needs. Homeschooling parents remove their children from what
they view as a hopeless educational system even though they are forced to
continue paying for it in taxes. Those approaching retirement privately fund
their own futures even though they are forced to pay into Social Security.
Spiderman can't similarly withdraw. Withdrawal means abandoning his daughter.
Given the high stakes, confrontation becomes inevitable.
Chick could have confronted the system through letters to the editor, petitions
to lawmakers, and appeals to the court. But estranged fathers in the UK and
North America have been pursuing those strategies for decades now and they
are still estranged.
According to the English Lord Chancellor's Department, mothers are granted
custody about four-fifths of the time. Moreover, English courts have become
infamous for failing to enforce visitation rights for fathers. In commenting
on Spiderman, Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips observed, "some
senior judges recently acknowledged that with so many...[visitation] orders
being flouted by mothers, the law is being brought into disrepute."
The absurdity of Spiderman is nothing compared to the obscenity of a system
that deprives fathers of their children and children of parental love. In
the same vein as theatre of the absurd, politics of the absurd is emerging
on the issue of child custody.
It should be applauded as a benign alternative to the open violence that could easily replace it.
Politics of the absurd began on Dec. 17, 2002 when 200 men in Santa Claus
outfits descended on the Lord Chancellor's offices in London to dramatize
the plight of "father" Christmas: that is, of fathers who would not see their
children over the holidays. Then, last Valentine's Day, fathers dressed as
Elvis Presley crowded "Heartbreak Hotel" -- the London family court -- in
an attempt to present officials with a 20-foot inflatable heart.
This Oct. 22, hundreds marched to London's Royal Courts of Justice where
family law decisions are handed down; the crowd discovered two men, dressed
as Batman and Robin, perched atop the structure.
And, yet, the message is far from absurd. Competent fathers want and deserve access to their children.
The message has attracted support from celebrities such as Pierce Brosnan,
who recently directed and starred in an Irish film, "Evelyn," in which a
father loses custody of his three young children after his wife leaves with
another man: the movie is based on a true story.
Rock star Sir Bob Geldof has pleaded for mothers and fathers to share equal
custody. Speaking from bitter experience after his wife left him for another
man, Geldof declared, "I was handed a piece of paper saying 'you may see
your children on this day and every second weekend.' Why? What had I done?
I saw them every day, I took them to school, I bathed them, fed them, cooked
for them...Why now was the State and all its instruments of justice...aimed
Commenting on the law restricting a divorced father's access to his children, Geldof added, "This law ridiculed me."
Now divorced fathers are going outside the system to ridicule the law. They
should be applauded. Of all possible responses, laughing with scorn in the
face of injustice is one of the best. And infinitely preferable to violence.
Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com
and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. Her
new book is Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century.
Reprinted with permission of ifeminists.com.