The patriarchal narrative
Richard: The simple truth was as the judge said in his own words ‘It is normal for
the children to live with their mother so that is where they will live.’ Frankly I think that is a load of rubbish. It is not normal for the children to live with their mother. It is normal for the children to live with their father; that is the normal thing. The family follows the father. Where the father has work, the family goes with the father. That is normality. However, I lost the children who were forced to go back home.
In this case, the father moved to work in another town and took his children with him, but he was made to return them to live with their mother. As he puts it, ‘they were forced to go back’. Elsewhere in this father’s account, he makes it clear that a mother who commits adultery should lose all her rights to the residence of the children. Not only did he argue that decisions should be made on the basis of matrimonial fault, but he argued that if they were, then women would not leave their marriages because they would not leave their children. In this account, there are very strong resonances of the debates on ‘child custody’ in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when it was argued that mothers should not be guardians of their legitimate children lest they felt able to leave their marriages. Here it is possible to see that children are the lever that some men wish to utilise to keep women from straying. Although, in a parallel register, such fathers can claim that they have the welfare of their children at heart, the slippage into this patriarchal rhetoric suggests that welfare concerns may be secondary.