A father who is giving up after a four-year fight to see his daughters has written the two girls an emotional goodbye email, prompting fathers facing similar situations to say: "Remember, brother, you are not alone."
The email has been distributed as far as the US, Canada and Saudi Arabia.
The father, who can’t be named in order to protect the identity of his children, divorced his ex-wife in 2004. He told The Star that since then she has not allowed him to see his daughters, aged 8 and 11, except for a weekend visit with the eldest last year.
‘My dearest daughters, today I say goodbye to you’
"My dearest daughters, today I say goodbye to you, as I no longer have the strength to continue the four-year battle with your mother. I am mentally, physically and financially drained. Please always know that I love you, and that this is no decision on my part," the email reads.
The father said his ex-wife had prejudiced his daughters against him, resulting in "hate faxes" in which the girls said they didn’t want to see him. "I do not know you, I do not go to strangers," the eight-year-old wrote.
"Yes, you have become strangers to me too, but I have tried so hard to see you girls," the father said in his email.
He has kept a detailed file of his attempts, and said that if his daughters came looking for him one day, he would show them the file, so that they could make up their own minds about what happened.
He said that when he tried to make arrangements with his ex-wife to see the girls, she gave excuses, put down the phone, or wouldn’t answer the phone at all. The ex-wife told The Star that her attorney had advised her not to comment.
‘There’s no one to turn to for us men’
At the time of the divorce, a High Court order gave the father access to his daughters on alternate weekends and holidays. His attempts to have the order enforced by the justice system have been unsuccessful and so expensive that he has decided to give up.
It has left him feeling disappointed in the way fathers are treated. "I have to pay maintenance, otherwise they issue a warrant of arrest, but if she denies access, nothing happens. There’s so much support for her and I get nothing. There’s no one to turn to for us men," he said.
According to Dr Asif Suleman, national media liaison officer for Fathers 4 Justice South Africa, there is an ongoing maternal preference in family law that makes it difficult for fathers to get equal parenting rights.
"We believe all children have the right to be loved and cared for by both parents after parental separation, in an equal, responsible, committed and positive environment, with no one parent being better than the other, but rather having complementary rather than competitive roles.
"From the correspondence we’ve seen, it appears that the father has tried to be actively involved, and the kids have been alienated from inception," Suleman said.
Parental alienation is the indoctrination of negative thoughts and feelings in a child against one of his or her parents, usually the non-custodial parent.
According to A Guide to the Parental Alienation Syndrome, by Stan Hayward, children often claim their decisions to reject their fathers are their own, and deny any contribution from their mothers, who vehemently support this.
"In fact, the mothers will often state that they want the child to visit the father and recognise the importance of such involvement, yet such a mother’s every act indicates otherwise," Hayward writes.
"Such children appreciate that, by stating that the decision is their own, they assuage their mother’s guilt and protect her from criticism."
Hayward says that after a period of programming, the child may not know what the truth is, and come to actually believe the father deserves the vilification directed at him.
"I am tired of being accused and treated like a criminal, when what I’m doing is right," the father wrote in his email.
He originally sent the email to Fathers 4 Justice, and has since received messages of support from fathers all over the world who feel similarly maligned and frustrated.
"As your message spreads around the world, remember, brother, you are not alone," said one. "Fight until you die. What else is worth fighting for?" said another.
"At least now I know there are a lot of guys out there faced with the same problem. It makes me feel a little better because I’m not alone in this," the father said.
However, his decision to say goodbye, at least for now, remains unchanged.
"I’ve been fighting for so long and I’m not getting anywhere. I would love to see them, but it feels I’m never going to get there," he said.
In the email, he wrote that he has decided to end the struggle and focus on his new family. "I have to close this door and move on with my life. Please know that you will be in my mind and heart every second of the day, and that I love you. Until we meet again, love Dad."