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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 suffer.

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 fathers.

"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

• Reforming academia

• Fighting for fathers

• Modding your rod

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