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'You missed nothing about your father'

In Verstoten Vaders, Elena Lindemans impressively highlights a major, tucked-away social problem: of many tens of thousands of children having to let go of one of their parents after a divorce.

Elena: 'While making 'Woman Beats Man' - a film about men who are victims of domestic violence - I came into contact with fathers who - almost - never saw their children again. When I started looking into this, I was shocked by the figures and while shooting the documentary I fell from one surprise to another. In the battle for the child, nothing is shunned.'

Lindemans had three men tell the harsh facts in exquisitely understated tones, their emotions undermined. Beneath hushed images of fathers on their way to nothing, in growing despair and especially helplessness. 'Because agencies such as youth welfare do not do truth-telling, it is easy to think: "where there is smoke, there is fire", Lindemans said.

Cultivating aversion in children

Parental rejection is labelled as 'fighting divorce', or 'complex situations'. This absolves Youth Care and family judges of the duty to protect the children from the hatred of the other parent above all else. Yes, and usually these are mothers, while even in Youth Care, women call the shots.

Because the pattern, Lindemans convincingly showed, is precisely simple: couple gets divorced, the mother (usually, sometimes a father) instils in children hatred and fear of the father, so that they reject him. Because children cling to the parent who is still there after such a drastic separation from their parents in a very vulnerable situation. Children are bigger victims than their fathers, which could not be addressed in this docu.

Often, the family court has to intervene, relying on Youth Care. It usually says that to protect the child and avoid further tensions, it is better to keep the father at a distance - for a while. Mission accomplished, because if all goes well, the mother can now tell the child: your father doesn't want to see you anymore and in no time the bond will be broken.

Abuse joker

And if that fails, the mother still has the 'abuse joker' up her sleeve, as father Armand aptly put it in the documentary: 'father abuses the child'. Reports follow. There is little resistance to this; on the contrary, Youth Care jumps like a buck to the oat box. Male police officers and judges fall for crying mothers with fabricated accusations, aided by confused statements from children in serious distress.

Thus, after a report from his ex that he would kidnap the child, Armand was apprehended by an army of policemen and taken away with his daughter by his side. Childlove, traumatised for the rest of her life, went to mother; father a night in jail. And not the other way around. Another point for mother: dad is in jail. Even worse: Armand fears for his certificate of good conduct (vog) and thus his job as a teacher. Then his ex got him completely knocked out.

Hockey stick

Deepak has to discover that when his daughter finally comes to visit, mother has fitted equipment in her clothes to make recordings of the intercourse. The child is under high stress and wants to go to mum. False behaviour goes unpunished, but often ends with advice from Youth Care to then have the encounters take place in a 'Omgangshuis'. Where it is completely impossible for father and child to build any kind of bond.

Gerard, the elderly father who did not see his son for several teenage years, was besieged by him with a hockey stick when he tried to catch a glimpse of him from a distance. 'Because I do want to see him a few times a year, so I'll still know what he looks like if I ever run into him in the supermarket.' That distressing wish often leads to accusations of 'stalking'; another - rarely investigated - point for mother at Youth Services.

Grandparents in splits

Grandfathers and grandmothers suffer along, even more helplessly and sadly because they see their child suffering and do not see their grandchildren again; often not at all until they are dead. In this, Lindemans showed a special element: Armand confronting his mother on camera about his own father's rejection. First, mother is stunned that the crime she committed now affects her as grandmother herself. Then she carelessly says: 'You didn't miss anything about your father.' This gets to the heart of the matter.

Besides despair and helplessness, Lindemans hints at another important element: the men's naivety. They just can't understand how the nice woman they loved so much can so ruthlessly psychologically wound both their children. Sometimes they have compassion that she is so screwed up. But even leniency does not help in the face of revenge. Parental rejection falls on the bad guys, men who hit or are drug dealers, but much more often the good guys who are crazy about their children.

No Batman suits

Armand, Deepak and Gerard are not activist men in Batman suits making spectacular climbing trips to attract attention. On the contrary, fathers who must make a silent, protracted and increasingly hopeless attempt to resist accusations from their ex-partners in the false hope that family judges respect the rule of law.

There are tens of thousands of fathers in the Netherlands who have had to go through this, with rationally understandable unwillingness on the part of their tormented children to meet them. In the end, they resign themselves to their fate, hoping that one day their children will find the strength and courage to visit their father against their mother's will. If that succeeds, it's great celebration too, and the past is better left to rest. The next docu might be about those children

Good to know Good to know
On Sunday, Outcast Fathers would premiere at the Movies that Matter Festival of Amnesty in The Hague, which shows films about human rights violations. That festival has obviously been cancelled, but the 2Doc was televised on Monday by BNNVARA on NPO 2 and is to be seen on NPOstart.

There, Elena Lindemans' earlier documentaries can also still be seen as Mothers don't jump from flats (2014), Woman beats man (2017) and I didn't (2019) about Romano van Dussen, in my opinion one of the best Dutch documentaries ever.

Photo: Fathers Armand, Deepak and Gerard; Photographer: Reza Harek

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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