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'My children felt my sadness' - Christmas is a gloomy time for separated Irish dads

Many fathers in Ireland will not see their children at all today.

THIS MORNING, PARENTS across the country are being shaken awake by excited children, with a (long) day of festive fun with their little ones ahead.

For many fathers, however, it was a sombre morning, as they faced spending what should be a happy day away from their children.

Access issues for separated fathers have not disappeared and the bitterness of failed marriages and relationships on both sides continues to stand in the way of children seeing both their parents on special days.

“The first Christmas was very difficult – all of those occasions like birthdays, Christmas, Easter, they’re all tricky,” one dad, Michael*, told “The kids stayed with me on Christmas Eve but at that stage things were not good. My ex-wife told the kids that Santa might not be able to land at my house – not that I was an angel either, but that made things hard.”

Then you’re faced with where to go yourself for Christmas Day, you feel very lonely and vulnerable.

Presence, not presents

Eamon Quinn, one of the coordinators at support organisation Unmarried and Separated Parents of Ireland (USPI), said his organisation has been “shouting about this for years”.

“Children need presence, not presents at Christmas,” he said. “Cards and gifts are nothing if you can’t see the child.”

Quinn said separated fathers can often suffer from depression and issues with alcohol or drugs following the heartbreak of their relationship ending and their inability to see their children.

As we see now, most of the homeless people on the streets are unmarried and separated fathers with no help, support and understanding. They don’t need the drugs or alcohol – the medicine they need is access to their children. It will give them a purpose and a reason to live but when they can’t see their kids they’re facing into a lot of uncertainty.

Christmas is a time when separated fathers can be left feeling completely helpless, Quinn explained. The family courts are closed over the holidays and men have no where to turn if access is denied or arrangements are changed at the last minute.

“The guards have no powers, they’re not going to go to a mother’s home on Christmas Eve and take the kids out,” he said.

Quinn, stressing that he was not looking to blame mothers for creating the tense situations, said that there has to be greater equality when it comes to court treatment of parents, pointing out that refusing access often goes unpunished while penalties for failing to pay maintenance can be severe.

We’re going to have to look at better ways of putting manners on both people.

‘They felt my sadness’

For Michael, the realisation that seeing his children was more important than any of the petty bitterness that followed his separation was the piece that helped him in the end.

You have to remember that children pick up on not just what’s said but what’s being felt. My children felt my anger and my sadness on those occasions and you don’t want a six or seven-year-old spending Christmas worrying about her dad. I remember she asked: “Will you be okay dad?” That meant she knew I was hurt.

His advice to other men in his position is to acknowledge they are in pain, “don’t react” when provoked and be careful with alcohol and drugs.

“I didn’t want to shake my wife’s hand outside the court and say thank you for giving me 45% access to my own children but it was the right thing to do and men have to ask themselves what do they have to do to be able to see their kids, and then do it.”

*The identity of the father mentioned in this article is known to the author but he asked to remain anonymous.

Read: Separated man awarded €4,000 after being told not to attend his daughter’s sports day>

Read: A Week in the Family Court: Judge warns parents that he wants no ‘point scoring’>

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