I have just taken a call from a man who was looking for some free advice, nothing unusual in that, I get anything up to 30 calls a day from people requesting such advice.
However, the nature of this call, and the gentleman himself affected me in a way that rarely happens. Usually my calls are about financial division, or advice on how to dissipate assets (those are short calls on my part) or how to fill in Form E – run of the mill, dry enquires. Sometimes the calls are more interesting – a complex case, a pushy new partner overly involved in her partner’s contact case, or those that say “I have a Final Hearing in 30 minutes what do I need to do to prepare for it”; or the downright bizarre calls I receive from time to time. Sometimes I feel frustrated at not being able to help enough, or exasperated that the caller won’t listen to the [free] advice being given, or relieved that a long call has ended. Never have I cried after putting the phone down – until today.
Halfway through this call, the gentleman said he hadn’t seen his 3 1/2 year old daughter for over two years – she was only 14 months old the last time he saw her, held her, hugged her, or heard her laugh. He had been “awarded” (awful word) one hour every fortnight in a contact centre – time hard fought for in the face of numerous false allegations of violent and abusive conduct . He told me that he sees his little girl for the first time next month, for one hour. We talked about this precious one hour, what it meant to him to just to be able to see her face again, and to talk with her. He paused and said “I don’t know her now, I don’t know what to do when I have that time with her”. I suggested taking colouring books, story books, a jigsaw puzzle, something that is interactive that Dad and daughter can do together. He said he didn’t know what story books to buy, that he didn’t know what she would like; he sounded broken and very lost. I hope that after our conversation, he felt that he wasn’t quite so alone in the world and promised to call me again after this precious one hour of contact had taken place. I will be looking forward to that call and wish him most sincerely that it is the best 60 minutes of his life in recent times.
I’m not sure why this particular call upset me so, I can speak to any number of fathers who are being denied contact in any given week, and while I find those calls difficult at times, it is all I can do to offer guidance and support. It isn’t enough. I am not a solicitor or a barrister, just a mere paralegal working for a voluntary organisation. I need to do more, much more than I already do. And I will. Watch this space.