Saturday, April 01, 2000
"Father's suicide becomes
rallying cry for fairness in court "
BRANDON, Man. - Thirty-five
years ago today, Lillian White gave birth to her youngest son.
Yesterday, she knelt down and kissed his coffin at his
Darrin White committed suicide
two weeks ago in Prince George, B.C., after a judge ordered him
to pay his estranged wife twice his take-home pay in child
support and alimony each month.
In death he has become a
poignant symbol of family courts gone awry, of a divorce system
run by people with closed minds, hard hearts and deaf ears.
Across the country last
evening, activists held candlelight vigils in memory of men such
as Darrin. During his funeral Mass, Father Leo Fernandes of St.
Augustine's Roman Catholic Church urged Darrin's friends to
continue the struggle to which he succumbed.
Like those who completed
Puccini's last opera after his death, Father Fernandes said
people close to Darrin should ask themselves: "What are you
going to do about it? Hopefully, there is more. It is up to you,
his friends, to accomplish what he was unable to. If his dream
was to challenge the scales of justice in our country, then so
be it. Do it for his sake."
Darrin wasn't a complicated
man. He liked taking nature walks and enjoyed cycling. He read
books about the outdoors and loved animals. He was a certified
locomotive engineer who earned his living driving trains first
for Canadian National, then the British Columbia railway.
When his marriage fell apart
in January, Darrin found himself in a situation shared by many
men. While he had worked long hours doing what society told him
a father was supposed to do -- bringing home the bacon -- his
devotion became a strike against him.
In a country that still treats
children as prizes to be "won" in divorce court rather than as
human beings entitled to close contact with both of their
parents, the fact that Darrin had not spent as much time with
his children as his homemaker wife was deemed sufficient reason
to award her sole custody.
Suddenly alone, compelled to
leave his home with less than 48 hours' notice, expected to come
up with rent money as well as lawyers' retainers, and missing
shifts at work due to court dates, Darrin found himself
criticized for not paying his estranged wife (who, unlike him,
was eligible for social assistance) child support during this
Perhaps, during these weeks,
it began to dawn on Darrin how vulnerable his relationships with
his children, aged five , nine and 10 had now become (his oldest
child, aged 14, from a previous relationship lives with her
mother in Saskatchewan). Perhaps other divorced dads told Darrin
of former wives brainwashing their kids against them,
frustrating court-ordered child access while suffering no legal
consequences, and behaving as though the kids should call every
new boyfriend "dad."
All divorced mothers don't
behave this way, of course, but enough do to make such fears
reasonable. Yet society provides no services to help loving,
responsible, traumatized dads deal with such stresses.
Researchers have known for
decades that divorce is much harder on men than it is on women.
We know that men who undergo marital breakdown experience
significantly higher rates of suicide, mental illness, physical
health problems and accidents than do women. Yet we remain
indifferent to their anguish.
Suicides directly related to
divorced men's harsh treatment at the hands of courts and
governments have been taking place for at least a decade in this
country. In the words of Peter Ostrowski, an activist with the
Prince George-based Parent-Child Advocacy Coalition, who tried
to help him in the weeks preceding his death, men such as Darrin
"have nowhere to turn. They are an ignored part of society. If
they're older and they find themselves in such situations, they
develop health problems. If they're young, they'll often react
with either violence against others or violence against
At Darrin's funeral yesterday,
his relatives returned to one theme again and again. His death
was so unnecessary, they said. So pointless. "It didn't have to
happen," they said.
To echo Father Fernandes, "So
what are we, the Canadian people, going to do about it?"