Rodney Hide: Dads define our future

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Union of Fathers members make their point. Photo / APN
Union of Fathers members make their point. Photo / APN

Last week my Dad had a massive heart attack. His heart stopped but thanks to the sterling work of St John Ambulance and Auckland Hospital he's alive and doing well. My Dad is 85.

It made me think, sitting with my Mum outside intensive care with my Dad fighting for his life. Memories from long ago filled my mind and reminded me again of my good fortune in having such a good dad.

My Dad's a great man. He's not great like he was once prime minister or something. He wasn't a great sportsman, a celebrity or an activist. He is a great man in the way all the good men of his generation are.

He worked hard all his life. He looked after his family. He enjoys every day. I have never known him to say a bad thing about another person. I doubt he has ever had a bad thought. The only thing he can't abide is laziness. His measure of anyone is how hard they work.

He doesn't study. Or read books. And he never lectures people. I don't recall him ever telling me off.

But, again, like all the good men of his generation, he sets a standard, not by talking about it but by living it. He is a role model for me; one that I have always aspired to live up to but haven't always succeeded. The values that guide him are basic and good, handed down from his parents and their parents before them.

They are simple values but these days they appear impossibly hard to live up to.

My good fortune in life is to have had that standard set and to have been inspired always to try to live up to it.

We now have entire neighbourhoods that have no dads. That's never happened before, even in wartime. The welfare system has made dads economically redundant. In the raising of children they have become an optional extra.

The DPB cheque each week provides the financial support for the raising of children but it can't substitute for a father to look up to and to learn from. Young boys learn from their dads how to be good husbands and fathers. Young girls learn what to look for in a husband and father for their children.

There are 225,000 adults not living with one or other of their children. Most are men.

We know there are deadbeat dads. But there are plenty of good dads, too, made redundant from family life by the DPB.

It's not just the welfare system that has knocked fathers out of their children's lives. The law and its operation also is upended against dads.

The saddest cases I ever had to deal with as an MP were those in which the law was used as a weapon in a fight over custody and money. In our haste to protect women and children we have upended the law and chucked it hard against dads.

I have had many a constituency case in which a dad had come home from work to be greeted by the police, told he's got 10 minutes to pack his things and get out. He was not to say goodbye to his children. He was not to go near them.

That's the effect of a "without notice" protection order. The Family Court will grant one immediately following a complaint. There doesn't have to be abuse. Just the risk of it. Understandably, the court errs on the side of caution and readily grants these orders.

The first a dad knows there's a protection order against him is when he's told to get out. I have known a dad spend that night sleeping in his car and discovering the joint account cleaned out.

I have had dads lose their jobs because of false complaints of sex abuse. One dad was told if he went to anger management classes he might have a chance of seeing his children again.

He turned up each week. That class is the only time he has ever lost his temper. The rapist beside him explained that he was truly sorry for being a bad man and now felt pity for his victims. The murderer said he had found God. Our dad explained that he had done nothing wrong and shouldn't even be there. He was the only one to fail the course. The course facilitator concluded he was "in denial".

I have witnessed fathers fall apart when denied access to their children because false allegations that were never tested in court were made against them. I have seem them dedicate years and years and everything they had just to see their children.

Mothers are important. But so too are dads. All my life I have strived to make my Dad proud of me. That's the way it should be. But what of those sons whose dads aren't there? What becomes of them? Sadly, I think we know the likely answer.

- Herald on Sunday

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