Dad, teen daughter both lose
By MINDELLE JACOBS
28th April 2009, 3:24am
http://www.calgarys un.com/comment/ columnists/ mindelle_ jacobs/2009/ 04/28/9274291- sun.html
This is the tragedy of a messed up mom who couldn't parent, a stable dad who wanted to but was overlooked and a troubled child who's been raised by the state.
Some men don't want anything to do with the children they've fathered. Others, like David, do but end up shut out of their kids' lives because of hostile ex-partners, government bureaucracy and legal fees that sap their spirits as well as their bank accounts.
I'd like to identify David (not his real name) but I can't because his daughter, almost 17, is in foster care in B.C. She has been a permanent ward of the state since age 8, when she was removed from her unfit mother's care.
When a child is taken into protective custody, both parents are supposed to be served with court papers. Somehow, David, 44, an Edmonton computer systems analyst, was never contacted.
So a father who'd been looking for his daughter for 15 years was denied the right to parent and a child who had often wondered about her dad grew up angry and suicidal in state care.
David and his ex-girlfriend had a brief fling in 1991 and then broke up. The following year, she called him to say they had a baby girl. For a few months, things were fine. He visited them regularly but when he broached the subject of joint custody, she cut off access altogether.
Shortly after, social services came to him for child support which, after DNA tests to confirm paternity, he gladly paid, figuring it would get him joint custody. He assumed wrong.
He spent two years and $10,000 fighting in vain for joint custody. Then his ex-girlfriend and daughter vanished. Even maintenance enforcement officials couldn't find them. The child support cheques were being returned as undeliverable but David still had to go to court to stop the payments.
He hadn't seen his daughter since she was about 18 months old. "I basically just gave up," says David. "I couldn't do it financially and I couldn't do it emotionally and that really destroyed me."
But it gnawed at him that he had a daughter somewhere and he tried to find her over the years. He always hit a dead end. Then he got an Internet hit in December. She was tagged on a Facebook photo.
They e-mailed back and forth and he went to visit her in B.C. in March, with the permission of social services officials. "It was very surreal," says David, of seeing her after 15 years. "For her, I've never been there. I'm a stranger," he says. "I could know her for the rest of her life and I don't think I'll ever get that time back. You can't."
His daughter contemplated committing suicide last year and is struggling with feelings of abandonment, says David. "I don't know what it's like to have a father and I've always tried to imagine who you were and why you weren't ever around," she wrote him in a January e-mail.
David probably wasn't contacted by social services when his daughter was taken into state care because officials weren't aware of his existence, a B.C. social worker explained to him in a recent e-mail.
"Oftentimes, mothers are angry/resentful at the child's father or do not want the father to have the child if they can't have the child," she wrote. "Sadly, your situation is not unique."
Laments David: "They could have found me if they'd wanted to." Now all he can do is try to build a relationship with a mistrustful daughter he's never known.
Whether she wants to live with him or just open the door a crack for a meaningful connection is now her decision. "I think I was robbed," says David, bitterly. "I think she was robbed."
mindy.jacobs@ sunmedia. ca