John Maguire has written three important articles on the DV industry in Massachusetts News. The content closely parallels the situation in Australia.
1. The Booming Domestic Violence Industry
2. Are Women More Violent than Men?
3. Twenty Dollars an Hour to Visit Your Child
The Booming Domestic Violence Industry
The Social-Work Movement that Fights Domestic Violence has Grown Large on State and Federal Tax Monies
August 2, 1999–All across Massachusetts, the social-work movement that fights domestic violence is booming.
Only ten years ago, the women’s safety-advocates were a small group of idealists, operating on pennies. Today the movement has grown large on state and federal tax monies.
Every month, it seems, it spawns new sub-programs, clinics, shelters, research institutes, counseling centers, visitation centers, poster campaigns. The state disbursed about $24 million for domestic violence services last year, but that certainly is not all the money spent. Today domestic violence is a big industry in Massachusetts.
Mapping the full extent of the domestic-violence industry is not easy, because it’s a cottage-industry, spread out in hundreds of places. State and federal money goes to well over a hundred institutes, clinics, programs for counseling or outreach or coordination or training, computer databases, coalitions, shelters, PR agencies and other groups.
Most would say that’s just fine: Domestic violence is ugly and ought to be dealt with. But others are beginning to wonder if the huge industrial cure is as bad as the disease.
One of many critics is John Flaherty, co-chairman of the Fatherhood Coalition. “This industry is an octopus,” he said recently. “It’s got its tentacles in more and more parts of everyday life. It’s a political movement. Many of its employees are, directly or indirectly, damaging children. This industry doesn’t answer to anybody. They’re in it mainly for the money — and the children be damned.” The industry’s problems may be about to increase, because it is becoming clear through scientific research that the whole premise of the movement and the industry it spawned — that “domestic violence” means bad men hitting helpless, innocent women — is just plain wrong.
The truth about violence in the home is that it’s pretty much a 50-50 thing. Respected social scientists Murray A. Straus and David[sic] Richard Gelles have been publishing research for years that shows the standard Only-Men-Batter story–probably visible on a billboard near you — just doesn’t match reality.
Women and men attack each other about equally in the home. Solid research now shows that women begin the physical fighting in their homes about half the time. Equally solid research shows that mothers are responsible for 65 per cent of physical abuse of children.
Although the words “domestic” violence are commonly used, some commentators say that a better description would be “shack-up” violence, because violence is most common, especially where children are involved where the woman is living with a boy friend. In a piece in the Weekly Standard last December by John A. Barnes, he cited four studies which show “that the incidence of abuse was an astounding 33 times higher in homes where the mother was cohabiting with an unrelated boyfriend than in a stable nuclear family.”
The uncomfortable truth is spreading. The very liberal, if not PC magazine Mother Jones ran a news story last month admitting as much. “A surprising fact has turned up in the grimly familiar world of domestic violence,” reported Nancy Updike. She wrote: “Women report using violence in their relationships more often than men. The research disputes a long held belief about the nature of domestic violence — that if a woman hits, it’s only in response to her partner’s attacks.”
The writer admitted that 20-year-old myths in the movement were starting to fall. The study of 860 men and women, she said, “suggest that some women may be prone to violence — by nature of circumstance — just as some men may be.”
Looking at the Bottom Line $$$
In 1999, the state spent $24 million of its own and federal tax dollars “fighting has grown large on state and federal tax monies violence.” Thebudgets have risen steadily every year. Slightly more than half of that money ($13.6 million) goes to pay for 37 battered women’s shelters and to pay their staff. There are no shelters or services for men who are victims of domestic violence — only women or homosexual men get these services.
About a fifth of the money ($5.3 million) is spent in and around the courts, paying for prosecutors, legal representation for women, and training for court personnel.
Of the remainder, at least $1 million goes to posters, ads, and other “outreach” campaigns telling people not to be violent. The high-school campaign gathers teen-agers to watch a play called “The Yellow Dress.” Its point is that dating can end in murder, and men should not be trusted. It costs the state $500,000 each year.
“Massachusetts and the Boston region have been very successful in winning federal money,” said Clare Dalton, of the Northeastern University Domestic Violence Institute.
“We’ve got some federal money here. The Police Department has also been very successful in getting federal money.”
Federal money for domestic violence programs flows into the state inseveral streams. One large source is the Victims of Crime Act money, which is disbursed by the Massachusetts Office of Victim Assistance. Another source of big federal dollars is the federal Violence Against Women Act, which is administered by the Executive Office of Public Safety (EOPS). Both MOVA and EOPS are located in state offices at 1 Ashburton Place, next to the State House. MOVA’s on the 11th floor, EOPS is on the 21st.
Getting answers even to simple questions on how much money is being spent is not easy. Three weeks of repeated calls and visits to staffers in the Cellucci administration brought sluggish or no response. Jean Hurtle, the Executive Director of the Governor’s Commission on Domestic Violence, when asked repeatedly for a fact sheet on how much money was being spent in this field produced nothing. Jason Kauppi, an executive office press aide, failed to respond to roughly ten phone calls requesting information on the domestic violence budget. The figures above and in the accompanying box came from the staff of Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, D-Lowell.
According to Cam Huff of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, budgets at the Department of Social Services have risen almost seven per cent per year, since 1993. Compared with the overall budget, he says, this is “significantly higher than average.”
Restraining Order –How Many is too many?
If the domestic violence industry were an old-fashioned textile mill, the central power-shaft turning all its machinery would be the 209A restraining order. Judges issue them at the rate of 145 a day, according to the Boston Globe. Without the steady roll of restraining orders, all the machinery of the domestic violence industry would grind to a halt.
To the activists, the 209A law is almost a magic sword that saves women’s lives. “There’s almost a religion of restraining orders among women’s advocates,” commented Ray Saulnier, a fathers’ rights activist from Maine.
But a growing number of men, their relatives, and lawyers find the 209A law grossly unfair — almost a police-state tool that destroys families and saves very few. Recent efforts to reform the law have gained sympathetic hearings in the Legislature.
On the books for 20 years, 209A became the tool of choice for the activists in the early 1990s. Almost every year since then, that scope of the law has been expanded, and the grounds for defense diminished. Activists have sought and gained almost draconian powers for women, on the argument of a “crisis” in domestic violence.
As the law has expanded, its enforcers have multiplied. Today this state has hundreds if not thousands of 209A specialists who have been trained.
Training in getting restraining orders, and in helping and urging women to get them occupies a significant amount of the curriculum at Northeastern University’s Domestic Violence Institute internship program. Federally paid advocates in many if not all district and probate courts in the state are also trained to assist women in getting restraining orders. To the movement/industry, the restraining order is a shining sacred sword of power that can never do harm, but magically protects women and children at all times.
The restraining orders bring the police power of the state immediately tothe woman’s protection, and the man she says she is afraid of is immediately thrown out of his house, if not arrested.
Tool of Police State?
But to others, a restraining order looks an awful lot like the tool of a police state. Attorney Sheara Friend, of the Wellesley firm Kahalas, Warshaw & Friend, estimates that about half of all restraining orders are merely legal maneuvers, where there is no real fear of injury on anyone’s part. If she’s right, about 20,000 of this state’s restraining orders each year have nothing to do with domestic violence — other than to claim it. If each of those phony orders harms seven people (a father, two kids, two grandparents and two other relatives) then 140,000 Massachusetts citizens suffer needless disruption and emotional pain each year.
About ten years ago, some evidence was required. Someone had to show bruises, or bring in testimony to support the accusation.
The legislature has loosened the standard. Now the person seeking the order need only state he or she is “in fear” of the other person.
It doesn’t take a cynic to point out that when a woman is getting a divorce, what she may truly fear is not violence, but losing the house or kids. Under 209A, if she’s willing to fib to the judge and say she is “in fear” of her children’s father, she will get custody and money and probably the house.
“Mediation and communication counseling are critical in a divorce,” says Sheara Friend. “The 209A non-contact order prevents that. Especially if it’s a divorce that involves children, you need the parties talking with each other. The 209A completely stops that. It’s a very divisive thing to do right at the time the parties need to talk. You can’t even get the parties in the same building.”
Bad For Fathers & Children
Long-term emotional damage to children’s fathers — surely not good for children — often begins with a restraining order, she says.
“A man against whom a frivolous 209A has been brought starts to lose any power in his divorce proceeding. They do start decompensating, and they do start to have emotional issues, and they do start developing post-traumatic stress disorders. They keep replaying in their minds the tape of what happened to them in court. It starts this whole vicious downward cycle.
They’ve been embarrassed and shamed in front of their family and friends, unjustly, and they totally lose any sense of self-control and self-respect.
They may indeed become verbally abusive. It’s difficult for the court to see where that person was prior to the restraining order.”
This is a different era from the 1950s, she points out, and many fathers are very close to their children, and bond closely with them from an early age.
“In this day and age, we have fathers who take an extremely active role in parenting — sometimes more than the mother.”
“I call them mother-dads,” she says. In many restraining-order cases, she says, “These fathers are completely frustrated because they can’t co-parent their child because of a restraining order. They have been raped of their parenting relationship with their child.”
While Friend and others see false restraining orders as enormously destructive, and permanently traumatizing, the $24 million domestic violence industry is built on the restraining order. Most of the activities that people get paid for in the domestic violence industry cannot start until a restraining order has been issued.
Permanent Lifetime Record
The restraining order is entered into the state’s restraining order registry on a computer in downtown Boston. It is never deleted. Police officers, probation officers and judges have the right to check the database.
What will it do to someone’s career if they are in there indefinitely and an employer somehow calls in to check? “We can’t respond to that question,” said Coria Holland, press person for the Mass Probation Service. “Probation is just the conduit for getting the information into the system. We’re just the recording arm.”
Supervised Visitation: Paying $120 for 90 minutes with your kid
“Supervised visitation” is a booming part of the industry today. In 1994, only three visitation centers existed — they were pilot projects in Springfield, Roxbury and Brockton. Today, there are 13 state-funded centers absorbing nearly a million dollars a year. These centers not only get state funding, they also charge fathers for the privilege of seeing their own offspring. Rates go as high as $120 for ninety minutes.
The assumption “is that a lot of dads are abusing their children and their access to their children must be supervised,” declares Michael Ewing, a fatherhood activist. Though research suggests this assumption is completely false, the supervised visitation industry has skyrocketed anyway.
The centers strongly assume that children’s fathers are guilty of some unnamed crime. Caring fathers with the bad luck to be accused often endure insulting, exploitative treatment to see their children. They complain rarely, because the social workers can and do end visitation for little or no reason.
Pamela Whitney, a social worker who came to the Massachusetts Department of Social Services in 1986 as a consultant, has been Director of Domestic Violence and Family Support Services since 1994. Her office is at 24 Farnsworth Street in Boston. She supervises a budget that was $13.6 million last year, and may go higher.
She says supervised visitation is recommended “where there has been a separation between the parents and a history of domestic abuse.”
When challenged, she backtracks and admits she meant to say “accusation of domestic abuse.”
She says her department pushed for visitation centers, beginning with three pilot centers in the early 1990s. The department recommended expansion, “because the courts found it so helpful and useful.” Now there are 13. She said her goal was to have at least one in every county. More are probably coming.
“The feeling on the part of the courts and others was it was often unsafe for children to visit with their offending parent,” she said. She acknowledged that when she said “offending parent” she meant a parent who had been accused of an offence.
Each state-supported visitation center is funded by D.S.S. to such a level that it has at least $75,000 to work with. The money goes to fund staff and a “budget coordinator.” The coordinator “does outreach to the courts and other agencies.” D.S.S. funds also pay, she said, for “the people who are actually doing the visit between the parent and child.”
“Some visits don’t need to be supervised,” she said. “But in other cases where there is higher risk involved…this provides supervision for those who are doing the actual visit.” The observers are trained according to “guidelines” developed by the central nexus for DV policy in the state, theGovernor’s Commission on Domestic Violence.
She acknowledged that the same accusation that forces a man into a center, also forces him to pay both his and his wife’s fees. “If A says that B is abusive, then B has to pay the money,” she said.
Ms. Whitney said she thought the sliding scales ranged from $1 to $5, and that an indigent parent could do community service to pay for his
But in reality, at least in Robert Straus’ center in Cambridge, the sliding scale runs from $20 to $40 or $80 per hour, and any parent who cannot pay cannot see his children.
Asked her reaction to the case of the father of three who recently had to pay The Meeting Place $120 to see his children for 90 minutes, she said, “I’ve never heard of such a thing. One hundred twenty dollars a visit is extraordinary.”
“All these visitations have been ordered because the children involved are at risk,” explains Robert Straus, a lawyer and social worker, and currently director of the Meeting Place, in Cambridge. Straus has been a key figure in our state’s development of professional supervised visitation. Asked to explain “at risk”, he says: “You have a range of physical and sexual abuse situations where the parent is either alleged to be, or been proved to, abuse the child.”
“As you know,” he adds, confidentially, “there have been a number of deaths in Massachusetts.” When asked to name an actual child’s death he was referring to, however, he said he could not remember.
Straus has been part of an informal matrix of lawyers, judges, social workers, academics and domestic violence activists since the early 1990s.
These people, some idealistic and some merely pragmatic, have networked, talked with each other, served on various commissions, boosted each other’s careers, and helped to expand the definition of domestic violence, and the size of state and federal funding massively.
Straus is a leader now, and heads what is called the Supervised Visitation Network. He described the growth of that group in glowing, emotional terms during a phone interview.
“The Supervised Visitation Network started in 1992. A group of people met in New York through the Ethical Culture Society, which had started a supervised visitation program in New York City. At that point it was just 30 people from around the country, most of whom had never met anyone else doing supervision. We had all been working in isolation. It was an extremely high energy meeting. It was very much an informal association of people helping each other out. It began with a handful of members and now has over 400 members throughout the U.S., Canada, and Australia. It’s a fascinating field…because when it began it was virtually without funding.”
But not any more. Though The Meeting Place began in 1991 with only a grant from the Boston Bar Foundation, and continued to 1998 “without a penny of public money” that public money is starting to flow now, Straus admits with a tone of satisfaction.
The major state source is through the state DSS Domestic Violence Unit, whose budget of over $900,000 “has been an immense advance over the last few years..”
What if the father doesn’t have enough money to see his kid in a given week? “Difficult question,” answers Straus, who pauses and then says the father gets “a week’s grace” and then the child-father contact is cut off.
His program never tries to get husbands and wives to talk out their problems privately, he said, but urges them to go back to court instead. He said children are in visitation for long periods, from nine months to many years. He said that no matter how well, how happily, the father-child interaction is going, his program never recommends to the judge that supervision should end and normal parent-child contact resume.
These programs have sprung up all across America ” entrepreneurial tricks and ideas spread easily each summer at this industry’s conferences.
Wherever supervised visitation has appeared, criticism has followed.
In Virginia, Michael Ewing, president of the Virginia Fatherhood Initiative, has an unusual perspective. He is one of the few pro-father people ever to run a “visitation center.” His non-profit organization applied for and got a federal grant to negotiate access and visitation issues between divorced parents. He hoped to show that in situations of conflict between divorced parents, supervised visitation was not necessary.
He sees such programs as “designed to humiliate men.” In his program’s first year, the Norfolk area courts made more than 700 case referrals. “We solved all of the problems but two,” Ewing said. “Only two families required supervised visitation.”
“There are many ways to handle the exchange of children without having parents supervised. We ran a neutral pickup and drop off program and there were no problems. We made clear to parents that they had to be ‘model citizens’ during drop off, or they would be reported to the court.”
He said the supervised visitation idea has been ” beefed up with phony statistics” and there is very little need for it.
Solid research shows that most physical child abuse is done by mothers, or by mothers’ live-in boyfriends. Ewing is one of many in the fathers’ movement who wonder why natural fathers ” who in reality are quite unlikely to abuse their own children ” are targeted for the humiliation of supervision “I think there’s another agenda here,” he says. “Some special interest women’s groups think that males in general are disposable. We’re great sperm donors and paychecks ” but beyond that there’s not much need for good fathers or good men.”
He said he thinks supervised visitation came about “because women wanted to control the dad’s access to their children, and to humiliate them by making them see their children in the presence of a social worker and pay for the privilege of doing so.”
Perhaps because of its success, Michael Ewing’s non-visitation-center approach to family conflict lost its funding in the second year. He said he thinks a local social worker who had lost clients due to Ewing’s success complained to an influential state senator.
How many of these supervision cases really require supervision for the safety of the children? Michael Ewing doesn’t think very many: he found two cases out of 700.
But the domestic violence entrepreneurs and state officials live in a different world from us. A sense of nameless vague threat is always in the background. To hear the pros talk, all the men they deal with are batterers, sexual abusers, or virtually time bombs of violence. Repeated cliches like “at risk” and “a safe place” and “maintaining safety” pepper their sentences. Yet, in many cases, there is no evidence of violence or any kind of serious harm to children ” merely an accusation by the mother.
But in the DV industry, when the accusation is made, the case is closed.
At least some of the men interviewed for this story are devoted fathers. It is clear that some have heroically maintained contact with their children over a period of years, despite having to pay a small fortune in cash and endure repeated harassment by petty, vindictive state officials. During a dozen hours of telephone interviews, not one supervised-visitation official spoke any word of praise for any man’s love of his children.
Here’s the second of the three artilces in the August edition of Massachusetts News:
Violence Against Men is Ignored
Massachusetts News – John Maguire
August 2, 1999. — Women are just as violent to their spouses as men, and they are almost three times more likely to initiate violence in a relationship, according to a new Canadian study, as reported in the National Post.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the study, however, is the source of the data — a 1987 survey of 705 Alberta men and women that reported how often males hit their spouses.
Although women were asked the same questions as men in 1987, their answers were never published until now. When the original study was published in the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science in 1989, it was taken up by feminist groups as evidence of the epidemic of violence against women.
It was cited extensively in a 1990 House of Commons committee report “The War Against Women”, which ultimately led Brian Mulroney, the former prime minister, to call a two-year $10-million national inquiry into violence against women, according to the National Post.
The inquiry’s 460-page report made 494 recommendations aimed at changing attitudes in governments, police departments, courts, hospitals and churches. It also led to a torrent of lurid news features about battered women.
Violence Against Men is Ignored
The current study, which appears again in the Canadian Journal on Behavioural Science, says that while the need to stop violence against women is obvious, violence against men is being ignored.
“Our society seems to harbour an implicit acceptance of women’s violence as relatively harmless,” writes Marilyn Kwong, the Simon Fraser University researcher who led this study.
“Furthermore, the failure to acknowledge the possibility of women’s violence jeopardizes the credibility of all theory and research directed toward ending violence against women.”
The study shows roughly that 10.8% of men in the survey pushed, grabbed or threw objects at their spouses in the previous year, while 2.5% committed more severe acts, such as choking, kicking or using a weapon.
By contrast, 12.4% of women committed acts of minor violence and 4.7% committed severe violence.
The violence is seldom one-sided. Of those surveyed, 52% of women and 62% of men reported that both partners were violent.
When questioned about who initiated the most severe conflicts, 67% of women believed they had started it; only 26% believed it was their male spouse.
Research is Manipulated
“It happens all the time. People only tell one half of the story,” says Eugen Lupri, a University of Calgary sociologist whose research shows similar patterns of violence against men.
“Feminists themselves use our studies, but they only publish what they like.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Here’s the third article:
“I Call This Place Auschwitz for Children”
Massachusetts News – John Maguire
August 2–Jim O’Brien, 49, of East 9th Street in South Boston is pacing a little on the porch of a huge yellow house in Cambridge. It’s a Saturday morning, almost 11, a warm day in June. He smokes a cigarette, waiting for his time to start. His daughter Michele is eight going on nine, and this is the only way he gets to see her: at a visitation center. He pays $20, and he gets to see her for 50 minutes.
The yellow house in Cambridge is on Sacramento Street, off Massachusetts Avenue midway between Harvard and Porter Square. It’s in a residential neighborhood. During the week, it houses a counseling program. Lesley College is nearby.
On Saturdays it’s taken over by The Meeting Place. It’s one of at least 18 such “visitation centers” in the state. More are being formed every month–visitation is a rapidly growing business. Many are supported by state funds from DSS, which paid nearly $1 million for these services last year.
The Meeting Place, like all visitation centers, is basically a cluster of employees who supervise the visits of children with parents they cannot live with. Most of the time, the visiting parent is a father, and often a man who has been accused — though not tried or convicted — of some form of abuse.
If your luck brings you a visitation-center relationship with your child, this is what happens. You have an appointment, every week or two, to see your child or children. You arrive first — you pay your money to the desk clerk — and you then go to the room where you wait. Your ex-wife, or ex-girlfriend brings the child to the center . Your child is escorted by a “center employee” in to see you. There you visit under observation.
Here are two profiles of men who use The Meeting Place. The reporter hung around outside the center one Saturday looking for people to talk to: these two men spoke.
Jim O’Brien and his daughter
Jim O’Brien, who waits on the porch of the yellow house, is a maintenance worker and a father. He has sandy hair, a reddish complexion, stands about five foot six, leans a little to one side, as if he has trouble with his back. His jacket is a tan, wrinkled and worn NFL warmup jacket. His blue work shirt has a white ID patch on it: Post Office Square. His shoes are loosely laced black combat-style boots.
“I call this place Auschwitz for children,” he says, as an opener. He’s not that eager to talk, but when he starts he keeps going. How did he wind up having to visit his daughter on Saturdays while a clipboard-carrying observer watches every second? He never married the mother of his daughter.
As he tells it, she refused his ring, threw him out, didn’t want anything to do with men, just wanted to be pregnant. When pregnant, she dumped him.
Asked if he was ever charged with misusing his child, he says, “I had two false charges against me — I was found innocent.”
He lost touch with his daughter for some time, but later decided she needed to see him, and he asked the Visitation Center to arrange the visits — for his own protection. He thought if he spent any time alone with his daughter, he could be charged all over again. He says he doesn’t know where his daughter lives, and he doesn’t want to know. “As long as I don’t know where she lives, they can’t blame me for anything.”
He used this place six years before, but now, he says The Meeting Place has become harsher.
“People yell at you in front of the children. They try to degrade the father in the child’s eyes and put up the mother. No matter what you do, you’re doing it wrong. I wish I’d never come here. They try to discriminate against fathers. They belittle you.”
“I have no rights to know about my daughter’s First Communion, her school, her grades — nothing.”
When he asked his daughter if she’d made her First Communion in the six years since he had seen her, the social worker jumped in and said, “You’re not allowed to ask that!”
All the observers except one are women. “Some are nicer than others, but they all discriminate against men.” His other complaints? You can’t get the same “observer” every week; they are assigned at random. Sometimes two people sit in the room with him and his daughter, because one is being trained. Women have a free ride in this center he says. “If anything don’t comply with what the mother wants, you can’t do anything. Nothing’s ever done to the women.”
When asked what was good about the last visit, he says, “My daughter gave me a big smile.” He smiles himself, remembering it.
Yaz and his son
A thin man of middle-eastern complexion leaves the yellow building by a side door, walking next to a small boy of dark round face, black hair, and dark, laughing eyes. The man bends over the child, talking with him eagerly. The boy seems to be showing off as he peddles his red plastic tricycle, his eyes leaping up to see if his dad is watching.
Ten feet behind them walks a woman with red curly hair, wearing a white blouse and blue jeans: she’s carrying a clipboard and a plastic bag with a water bottle in it: she’s the observer. She limps a bit. The threesome disappears down the sidewalk.
Later, when the visit is over, the man comes out alone. He sits in the shade on a playground bench and talks.
His name is “Yaz.” He’s thirty-five, his son three. He won’t give his last name or his son’s name.
He wears blue shorts, and a not-in-fashion business shirt, white with red lines, open at the collar. He wears black rubber sandals. His deep tan says Mediterranean. His close-cropped crinkly hair is receding. His narrow face is full of feeling. He’s trying to make a point, get something across. He repeatedly expresses gratitude that the Visitation Center “gave me an hour to see my son” but he hates supervised visitation anyway.
“I am not happy with supervised visitation in general,” says Yaz. “I didn’t commit any crime. I did nothing that can be proved. It is unfair to give me supervised visitation for the child that I love.
“I’m a full time graduate student in computer science at BU. I am not a culprit.” He’s in a masters-doctorate program in network communications.
How did this happen to him and his son?
“I’m a victim of my background,” he says. He came from Iran via Germany ten years ago; he became a US citizen in 1994. But his dark skin and his background were a liability in court. His wife, a Puerto-Rican American, filed for divorce. “She discovered she could limit me by saying I could steal the child back to Iran.”
He says his wife knows he has no intention of taking his son to Iran. Iran has a military draft. “I know that doing anything like that can jeopardize my child’s future. I have no interest in anything that will destroy my relationship with my child forever.”
“I love him. He is my soul. He is the heart of my life. He is the jewel I live life for. ”
None of this feeling for his son apparently registered on Judge Dufley at Cambridge Family Court. “She didn’t want even to listen to me. It seems she made her decision before she came in the courtroom. Because of my background, she just … put me in the guilty side.”
Now he is a stripped man. He can’t see his son without an observer watching. He can’t visit or talk with any of his friends, because the restraining order –like many these days — prevents him from having even “indirect” contact with his wife, and that means he can’t talk to anyone she knows. So he is isolated. Yet struggling to be the father he has always been.
He is forbidden even to keep track of whether his son is breathing or not. “I called his doctor when he was very sick.” Because of the restraining order, the doctor refused to tell him anything about how serious his sickness was, unless a judge ordered it. So Yaz — worried sick about his ill son — had to make another trip to court, and to get a motion from the judge to order the doctor to tell him how his beloved son was. With the court order in hand, he found out.
“That is totally unfair.” He is clearly a close-bonded Dad, a mothering Dad, an empathic father whom the child is bonded to. He carries food with him to the visits: rice and chicken, the way his boy likes, the way Daddy cooks it.
He tries to get across how closely he took care of his son. “From the moment he was born, I took care of him, I gave him the bottle, I wiped his butt.”
“And now they take away all that joy,” he says, “Not my joy, his joy.”
The Center insists that he get permission in advance from his ex-wife for anything out of the ordinary. His son’s third birthday party took place at the center. He brought a friend with him so it would be something like a normal party for the little boy. But the friend was turned away — no advance clearance for him.
Yaz lives in Somerville. He can’t afford a car. This time, he came in a car that he borrowed from a friend — but he used to come here every Saturday by taking three buses.
He has to pay to see his son, as everyone does at The Meeting Place — and it’s expensive for him. “I don’t make that much money,” he says. On a grad student salary he has to buy food, clothes, books, insurance, research materials, and he pays rent and pays The Meeting Place. For Yaz, as for everyone, no payment means no visit. He is going into debt, putting $200 to $250 on a credit card each month. “This is my only option.”
We look up from our bench. A normal Cambridge father, a good-looking white guy with grey in his beard, wire-rimmed glasses and good quality clothes, appears. He looks like a relaxed professor. His son and daughter, who seem to be between six and eight, meander along beside him. They are going to the park.
What will Yaz say when he sees Judge Dufley again?
“Don’t put me in a box, so I cannot have any influence on his life! It is destroying me! That is the child I call the Light of My Eyes, and her court order takes all the joy out of …his life! He can still remember how he played horsey with me!”
Does the boy come with his mother in a car? asks the reporter, but Yaz has not heard the question and doesn’t answer.
“Every time I meet with him, he says, ‘Daddy, I miss you every day.'” He is looking away from the reporter, and is silently crying.
It’s a few tears; he wipes them with his index finger.
“It breaks my heart so much. It is mentally destroying me. But I love my child so much. The court system is totally unfair, a very vicious system.”