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In Defense of Spiderman
By Glenn Sacks

The mayor of London compares him to Osama bin Laden. He's been dubbed a "menace" holding a city for "ransom," as well as a lunatic and an extremist.

What has 36 year-old David Chick done to arouse such anger? He loves his little daughter, from whom he's been forcibly separated, and he had the courage to do something about it.

The now world famous Englishman recently ended his traffic stopping, six day, one man protest atop a 150 foot high crane near the Tower Bridge in London. Dressed as Spiderman because he is his two year-old daughter's favorite comic book character, Chick says his daughter's mother has not allowed him to see his girl for eight months and has tried to alienate her from him. Interviewed by English newspapers, the ex-girlfriend admits blocking the standard yet paltry twice a month visitation which English courts have granted Chick. To date, she has declined to offer a reason publicly.

Chick is one of hundreds of thousands of English fathers who have been cut off from their children after divorce or separation. Their voices have crystallized into a widely popular campaign by the activist group Fathers 4 Justice. This campaign seeks to reform the family law system to allow divorced and unwed fathers to play a meaningful role in their children's lives.

The English Lord Chancellor's Department admits that mothers win custody in about four-fifths of all cases in English and Welsh courts, and English courts are notorious for their failure to enforce fathers' visitation rights. According to Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips, "some senior judges recently acknowledged that with so many contact [visitation] orders being flouted by mothers, the law is being brought into disrepute."

When one judge recently did transfer care of a child from the child's alienating mother to the father, it was such an event that it merited inclusion in Phillips' column. In reality, these types of transfers should be more common, and would no doubt have a salutary effect on the behavior of parents who try to prevent their children from seeing their exes.

Chick's plight will sound familiar to many American fathers. According to the Children's Rights Council, a Washington-based advocacy group, more than five million American children each year have their access to their noncustodial parents interfered with or blocked by custodial parents. And while politicians and the media hammer away at absent fathers on both sides of the Atlantic, they too often fail to examine the critical role that family courts and vengeful exes play in creating the problem.

To the minimal extent that defenders of the current system have been forced to justify mothers' actions, they claim--as the mayor of London now does--that these men often should not have access to their children.

This is no doubt true on occasion, but is inaccurate in most cases of access and visitation denial. Those opposing fathers' rights claim they are defending women and children from abusive fathers. However, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, the vast majority of child abuse, parental murder of children, child neglect, and child endangerment are committed by mothers, not fathers. In addition, decades of research, including that carried out by the National Institute of Mental Health, show that women are just as likely to be violent towards their spouses as men are.

According to Carol Plummer, Chick's sister, "David would never harm his daughter or Jo [the ex-girlfriend]. He doesn't want custody of his daughter, he just wants to see her. But Jo is making him suffer by depriving him of seeing his daughter, who is his life."

Though one can sense a smear campaign against Chick on the horizon, two weeks of digging for dirt on him have turned up little. He was convicted of cannabis possession three years ago and of public indecency (for consensual sexual activity) while a teenager. According to Chick's brother Steven Reed, in the cannabis conviction David took the rap for his ex-girlfriend.

Chick says:

"[My daughter] is the most precious thing in my world. I was there for the scans when she was still in the womb, I was there for her birth. I fed her, bathed her, got up in the night with her, cuddled her when she cried.

"Now I'm just another statistic--another dad who has no part in his daughter's life. For me, it is a living bereavement."

Today fathers in England, America and most of the Western world stand upon a foundation of sand, knowing that our loved ones can be ripped away from us and there is often little we can do about it. We invest our lives in the children we love and tell them that we will always be there for them. But in the back of our minds we can't help but think of a question which Spiderman no doubt considered before he began his ascent up that crane hanging over Tower Bridge: will we be allowed to?

This column first appeared on Cybercast News Service (11/11/03).

Note: David Chick went on trial for the Tower Bridge protest in May, 2004. During the trial it was revealed that he had been to court 25 times and spent the equivalent of $30,000 in unsuccessful attempts to get English courts to enforce his visitation rights. He was acquitted by the English jury, some of whom were reportedly moved to tears by his testimony.

Glenn Sacks' columns on men's and fathers' issues have appeared in dozens of America's largest newspapers. Glenn can be reached via his website at www.GlennSacks.com or via email at Glenn@GlennSacks.com.