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The Gauntlet - March 2002 - Gauntlet Men's Supplement
Fighting for fathers
by Andrea Bundon
When a family separates, it's usually the children who
It's hard to argue with that statement. It's
easy to forget the suffering of the thousands of parents denied
access to their children.
When marriages turn acrimonious, it's often
left up to the courts to figure out the details, including who
gets custody of the kids.
Unfortunately, modern society undervalues the
role of the father and frequently decides it's in the best
interest of the child to live with the mother. Fathers are
granted weekend visits or even denied access to their children.
For fathers in this situation, there is hope.
The Men's Educational Support Association was created in 1994 to
level the playing field between divorced parents in the courts.
"There was a need to establish something to
help men and fathers to deal with gender issues and equality,"
explains MESA President Gus Sleiman. "We developed this to
strike a balance between the rights facing men and women. There
is a lot of support mechanisms for women in society."
The initial public reaction to MESA wasn't
always positive. Although pro-women's groups are popular and
numerous, the idea of men needing support is still foreign.
"If we had a conference, the guys were
labelled as disgruntled or angry men," says Sleiman.
"We've made headway on these levels. We
haven't reached where we have to be but it takes time, this is
not an overnight change."
MESA is based in Calgary and regularly hosts
conferences dealing with gender issues, fatherhood, domestic
violence and much more. They have approximately 75 registered
members and provide support to thousands of parents each year.
They've expanded the program to include support groups for
fathers, a 24-hour crisis line, legal advice and much more
including some very creative events, such as the Father's Day
Picnic. The annual event started out as a group of men taking
their kids to the park and discussing issues important to
"I saw a need for a large event to get the
message to the public that fathers are very important in the
life of their children," explains Sleiman. "We developed the
Father's Day Picnic to help fathers spend time with their
children and to celebrate Father's Day."
Unfortunately, MESA handles other less
glamourous issues. The Web site contains a section full of
stories of fathers believed to have committed suicide as a
direct result of the frustration and despair they felt after
being denied access to their children.
"The government does not keep stats on stuff
like that," says Sleiman. "There are many [suicide cases] we are
working on but the families denied us access and didn't want
their cases covered. There are so many things that are happening
to these men that are not known by the public."
Another concern is the discrepancy between
the portrayal of fathers and mothers who commit infanticide.
Fathers are more likely to serve jail time, whereas mothers are
often treated as mentally incompetent.
"It's not only the reporting but the
perception of the public on how men and women do these things,"
says Sleiman. "This is one of the major problems we are facing.
Society and the media and the entire system [think] that women
are victims and the men are the perpetrators. The reasoning for
that is society looks at the children as property of the mother
she has a mental problem, but the father is criminal."
MESA is currently developing peer support
programs, counselling referrals, educational seminars, an access
monitoring program and a child access centre.
More information is available at www.mesacanada.com.
Men's Supplement index
Men's Supplement Introduction
Reading for the masses
Good life or rough gig?
Beauty is the beast
Men in the other trenches
Girding up and coming out
Suck it up, princess
The male LCD
Pride of piddle
Getting it back
Giving it up
The men you never hear about
Fighting for fathers
Modding your rod
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