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North Adams Transcript (MA) – June 27, 2012

 

This ran as “Attitudes changed, not the law” in the Berkshire Eagle.

 

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For the first time in a dozen years, the Berkshire Fatherhood Coalition will not be participating in Pittsfield’s Fourth of July parade.

Our parade appearances have totaled well over 30.

Since 2001, we have regularly appeared in Pittsfield’s Fourth of July parade, Pittsfield’s Halloween parade, and the North Adams Fall Foliage Parade. We even had one appearance in the Holyoke Saint Patrick’s Day Parade. We do hope to appear in the North Adams Fall Foliage Parade for the 12th time.

There was a problem this year – the annual application to be in the parade was not received on time. In all likelihood, the error was our own. But one wonders why calls or emails were not made to a group that had participated for the last dozen years, but suddenly seemed to disappear. Were I them, I would have shown greater lenity to an organization that had contributed so much to the parade over the years. It is not my design, however, to write a Philippic against the parade committee.

Our group is a rarity: Most fathers rights groups engage in numerous protest activities.

We thought it best to participate in community events such as parades to foster awareness and to build community support by giving. Viewers are not quickly driving by someone holding a sign on a sidewalk as in a protest, but are sitting comfortably in a lawn chair – and there are much more people. They appreciate our contribution to the community.

Of course, this requires toning it down a lot. Signs cannot be political. The most “political” the Berkshire Fatherhood Coalition gets is “Kids need their dads.” The first time we were in the North Adams Fall Foliage Parade, we were a little over the top with our signs, but we quickly toned it down the next year.

Parades take sacrifice. It is a lot of work to build the floats. It is also the timing: You can only be in the Fourth of July parade on the Fourth of July, and many people would rather be doing other things.

As I approach my 50th birthday this August, I remember the first time I participated on a float. I was in my late 30s. With the exception of my 18th birthday when I went to Hampton Beach, I have attended every Pittsfield Fourth of July Parade held during my life.

My sister and I had developed the routine of taking a neighborhood girl to the parade, starting when she was about three years old. We did not stop until she was in her mid 20s when I started marching with the Berkshire Fatherhood Coalition in the parade. I broke the tradition, one that meant a lot to me, because I understood the importance of reuniting children with fathers after a divorce on an equal basis as with the mother.

Attitudes have changed over the years. When we first marched, we were booed a significant amount of the time. But as the years passed, the boos quickly dissipated.

By our fourth year, they were rare. We have not been booed in years, and with a little priming from the microphone we get a lot of applause. The audience dances to Rodney Atkins “Watching You,” an upbeat country song about a dad raising his son.

Granted, the surfeit of patriotism that is our float makes it difficult to protest.

Our float is typically bedecked with American flag bunting that has torn over the years and is host to 10 American Flags.

Like the Uncle Sam Chorus and the Shriners, we quickly learned the value of using the same float every year – we just didn’t have the budget to continually come up with new floats. This year would have been rough. Our float was stored outside of Pennell Construction and disappeared without explanation after the building was razed.

It is sad that there is a continued need for our group. In 2004 – a year that is starting to be “a long time ago”- we were able to put a shared parenting question on the ballot as a nonbinding referendum in about 25 percent of all precincts in Massachusetts. Eighty-seven percent of the public voted for a rebuttable legal presumption that there should be joint physical and legal custody in child custody cases.

It became clear that not only was the fathers’ rights movement not extremist, it was our few isolated opponents that constituted the extremist element. Most normal folks believe that, barring a good reason otherwise (which may rebut the presumption), children should spend approximately equal time with mom and dad after a divorce. Shared parenting would have taken this common sense notion and turned it into law.

It is 12 years later from that first parade. The tragedy is that for many of those that started with us, their children have grown up by now without a meaningful father’s presence. Not by the choice of the father, but by the courts. They have been reduced to every-other-weekend fathers, plus a few hours on Wednesday. While public attitudes have changed, the law has not. And that has hurt our children while crushing the hopes of many fathers.

Rinaldo Del Gallo III, a frequent contributor to the Transcript, is spokesperson of the Berkshire Fatherhood Coalition.

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