His name was James Shields Jr. Never met the man, but media reports indicate parallels in our lives: Divorced father? Check. Non-custodial parent? Check. Desirous of more time with the children we love? Check, check, check! We each even know the level of desperation that would prompt a proud man to set up a GoFundMe page to stop a slide down a greased tube into financial ruin.
I should write that I know that level of desperation. As of July 30, 2018, Mr. Shields knows nothing because on that date, he chose to end not only his life, but those of his wife, ex-wife and son.
Though Mr. Shields and I had much in common, what we did not share is the ability to fully adapt to life as a non-custodial parent. That is no judgment. Losing custody of my children simply because I am not their mother has been the single greatest crisis of my life. Any hands on dad who has been chewed up and spit out by this nation’s pathetic family court system knows the searing pain of that struggle. Thank God the majority of us learn to cope. But even of us, there are many walking wounded, to say nothing of what the children endure.
The Shields tragedy seems to be a spin on a tale told too often these days; a devoted father determined to love his child in the face of mounting debt, systemic sexism and public apathy to his plight implodes under pressure and does the unthinkable. One distinctive element of this story, however, is the GoFundMe page. The media has covered it extensively, but only for its evidentiary value to a case already closed. What I have yet to see, hear or read is how the page is an allegory of what a father faces when battling for the right to be…a father.
The page had been up since April and Mr. Shields received not a single donation. This man cried out to the public for help to be the opposite of the kind of deadbeat dad the public so loves to vilify, and that same public—who would fall all over themselves to help a mother in a similar situation—could not be bothered. Nobody gave a damn, not even to share the post like they would some clip of a kitten batting around a toy mouse, let alone donate. And once the mess is all cleaned up in Astoria, most people, especially the troglodytes running our “family” courts, will go right back to not giving a damn…until it happens again.
About two years ago, I had set up my my own GoFundMe page for reasons similar to those of Mr. Shields. Even tried to raise the same figure: $30,000 (which I reduced to $10,000). That seems to be the going rate to cover the cost of unethical lawyers, thoughtless judges and support figures based on cryptic formulae. I had a little more luck than him, but not much. Had I known about his page, I would have donated. His cause was at least as worthy as sending a cheer squad from Sandusky, Ohio to a national competition in Honolulu, but somehow, it didn’t go viral.
I might reopen my page, but not for money. The only donations I seek are public acknowledgement of the utter failure of family court on a national scale, the damage it routinely does to otherwise well-meaning parents and their innocent children, and a sweeping overhaul of the entire mess.