So, what exactly makes a bad father?

Much has been written online recently about a judge in Oklahoma finding a convicted child sex offender a “good enough” to award him sole custody of his 6-year-old daughter. He was allowed to move the child to the state of California, and away from her mother, despite having been convicted of sexually abusing his stepdaughter when she was 6. In Australia, a man who pled guilty to repeatedly raping and sexually assaulting his young daughter from the age of 5 was let out on a “good behaviour” bond. The only condition: he attends a residential treatment centre for men convicted of incest.[1] In Ireland, a 52-year-old man was given a suspended sentence for the conviction of the rape of a 14 year old girl. The judge ruled that jailing a convicted child rapist would cause serious hardship to his current family.[2]

Andrew Parsons was labelled a “good father” by Judge Patrick Eccles.[3] He was convicted of the brutal murder of his ex-wife Janee at the Oxford Crown court; a conviction based on the taping of the murder by Parsons himself. He stalked his ex-wife before murdering her. Parson stabbed his ex-wife Janee to death in front of their young son but, somehow, he is still a “good father”. Parsons, according to Judge Eccles, was “overwhelmed … by jealous rage” because his ex-wife ended their marriage after falling in love with another man.

Apparently, being jealous of your ex-wife ending your relationship constitutes a mitigating circumstance that makes murder understandable. Parson’s QC David Hislop continued the victim-blaming language[4] by suggesting that Parsons was under “the most extraordinary pressure” and that Parsons “loved his wife, perhaps too much”. The clear use of victim-blaming[5] language designed to minimise Parson’s responsibility for committing murder by labelling the murder a “tragedy” rather than murder is fairly typical. Two men a week[6] in the UK murder their current or ex-partner and we minimise this behaviour with language that blames the victim. Labelling these three cases as aberrations is to wilfully ignore the structural misogyny in our culture.

Yet, these four cases bring up another question: when did we change the definition of ‘good father” to include men who murder the mother of their children in front of their children and men who are convicted of child sexual abuse? When did being a “good father” limit criminal responsibility?

I wrote an article for Father’s Day asking exactly what makes a “good father”.[7] Unsurprisingly, I received a lot of misogynistic abuse and suggestions of violence from men about my article, men angry at my suggestion that the current definition of a “good father” was so low as to be completely pointless. When the definition of a “good father” includes a man who refuses to financially support his children to men who commit domestic violence, I have to wonder what the definition of a bad father is?

What does a man have to do to be labelled a bad father? If a conviction for child rape isn’t enough, what is?

More importantly, why aren’t more men angry about this? Why aren’t more fathers writing complaint letters every time the media claims that a child rapist is a good enough father?

Why aren’t men challenging this patriarchal theory, which claims that a man is “good enough” as long as he sends a birthday card once a year? There are millions of good fathers across the world, so where are they?

The following is the list I wrote for Father’s Day which I felt was the bare minimum to be a “good father”. Why was my list controversial when labelling Andrew Parsons a “good father” isn’t?

Do 50% of the parenting.

Do 50% of the shit work.

Get up in the middle of the night with your sick kids.

Take the day off work when your kids are sick.

You don’t ‘baby-sit’ your kids. You are a parent.

You don’t get rewards for acting like an adult. You shouldn’t get one for being a parent.

If you can’t name your child’s teacher, best friend or medication, you need to re-examine your priorities.

If you can’t name your child’s favourite toy, you need to re-examine your priorities.

If you need to be told what time your child’s school starts or the names of their after-school activities, you need to re-examine your priorities.

Pay maintenance. Not paying maintenance is child neglect.

Show up for contact. There is nothing more important than your children. Do not cancel to attend a football match.

Domestic violence makes you a bad father.

Abusing your partner in front of your children is child abuse.

Good fathers do not kill the mother of their children.

Violent men who assault or murder their partners do not deserve contact with their children.

Good fathers do not murder their children to punish the children’s mother.

If the definition of a “good father” includes men who murder the mother of their children, what is the definition of a bad father?[1]

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