Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Today, I have another hero

From Glenn Sacks: F4J Protester Mark Harris' Daughter: 'I'm Proud of My Dad'

Recently I wrote about UK Fathers 4 Justice's Jolly Stanesby, a divorced father of one, who has carried out numerous daring, creative protests.


Stanesby's partner in "crime" was UK fatherhood activist Mark Harris, who went through a terrible ordeal during his divorce. Below we reprint a blog post I wrote about Harris earlier this year.

F4J Protester's Daughter: 'I'm Proud of My Dad'

"Her life has been blighted by years of enforced separation from the father she clearly adores.

"'Most people look back on their childhood and remember family days out at the seaside and birthday parties,' she says. 'My recollections are of Mum, sour-faced in a suit, heading off for yet another court appearance and endless interviews with social workers and child psychologists, all telling me that I didn't have to see my dad if I didn't want to.'"

Glenn then goes on to quote this article in the UK's Daily Mail.

On Sunday morning, just hours before he scrambled on to the roof of Harriet Harman's home dressed as a superhero, Mark Harris kissed and hugged his daughter Lisa and set off from the South Devon home they share.

'I told him I was proud of him,' says Lisa, a 21-year-old wages clerk. 'I said that however long he managed to stay up there, I would be cheering him on and sending him my love.'

In the end, Mark, who staged his weekend protest with fellow Fathers 4 Justice campaigner Jolly Stanesby, stayed on the roof of Ms Harman's elegant period home in Herne Hill, South London, for ten hours - an hour for every year that his own case wasn't resolved by the courts.

When he climbed down on Sunday night, he was immediately arrested and detained by police, leaving Mr Stanesby perched precariously on the slates, stubbornly insisting he wouldn't descend until Mark had been released.

But then as Lisa points out, brushes with the law are nothing new to her 49-year-old father. During the decade he spent fighting for full access to his three daughters after his wife walked out and took them with her, the driving instructor faced 133 court appearances before 33 different judges, two stints in jail and went on a hunger strike.

The irony is that Mark's case is now resolved: Lisa, his eldest, now lives with him. So does his 17-year-old daughter. Another daughter, aged 15, lives nearby with her mother, but visits at least twice a week. He now has everything he fought for.

But he still donned Superman's leotard, tights and cape because while he is free to talk about the horrors he suffered at the hands of the British justice system, other fathers are not.

Last year, the Lord Chancellor ruled that family court proceedings must remain secret and therefore, argue some, unaccountable.

That, my friends, is a winner and one with big brass balls. To put your butt on the line when you've already won the game is courageous and deeply principled. Mark Harris joins his stuntmate Jolly Stanesby in my highest esteem. While these stunts might seem silly on their face, F4J has done a highly effective job of getting the problem with the UK's family courts into the public consciousness. Jolly is a veteran of dozens of these high profile protests, and he's currently serving 2 months in jail for the protest on Harman's roof. He won't be released until mid January, so please keep him in your thoughts over the holidays. I had the distinct honor of picking him up from jail after this stunt. He also once handcuffed himself to the UK's then Childrens Minister Margaret Hodge while she was delivering a speech. He further poked the system in the eye by then legally changing his name to Margaret Hodge and insisting on being addressed as Mrs. Hodge during court proceedings. Jolly was cleared at trial on false imprisonment charges for that one.

These guys have vowed that they will not stop until the custody laws are fixed and kids are guaranteed full access to both of their parents. Non-violent civil rights protest and civil disobedience has a long and distinguished history. Not only is F4J carrying that history on, they're doing it with passion and good humor. And kids love superheroes. I do too.

Keep fighting the good fight, Gentlemen.

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