Father’s Expectations Left Son Feeling “Bullied” – Court Orders Unconditional Love
The parents dated for a year and were not living together when the mother became pregnant with their son. Although the father was initially not happy about becoming a father, he showed clear interest in his son and had regular access. This was made official in a 2001 court order.
However, more than a decade later, the mother went to court to change that order so that the father’s access rights would be eliminated entirely, or else that they should be governed by the child’s wishes.
The reason for this request was that the boy – who was now 14 years old – no longer wished to see the father. The mother testified that as early as age seven he had shown reluctance to go on scheduled access visits, and on a few occasions had outright refused to do so. In 2009 matters started to deteriorate noticeably over a matter of months, and by 2010 the visits had become sporadic at best.
The court reviewed all the circumstances. First, it considered the detailed evidence of experts, who indicated that the child suffered from “unnecessary anxieties”. But the court also focused heavily on the father’s parenting style, and the effect it had on the boy’s desire to spend time with him:
The father is not blameless in the problems that have happened. He has been frustrated with the child’s decision and put him under pressure about why he did not want to go to access. Further he does not seem to understand that this child may have different interests that he does. While I have not met the child, the evidence would suggest that the father and son are different in personalities. The father’s frustration at the son’s lack of interest in activities may have caused the child to feel somewhat bullied by the father.
The court described the father as having a “rigid” approach to parenting. As one example: he had apparently concluded that the boy needed to be more outgoing, and had placed him in a team sport against his will. The boy tried out for track and field on his own, but the father was “not satisfied”. In the end, the court offered the following reproach:
The attitude expressed by the father in court on this issue would not be conducive to a positive and nurturing relationship with a child. The father should be focussed on being supportive of a child during their limited time together, instead of implying that the child was not living up to his expectations.
The father has demonstrated that he has a difficult time not expressing his frustration to the child about the child’s decisions despite the court’s admonition not to do so to in an attempt to help make the access successful. In 2011, he was warned by the court prior to some trial access not to challenge the child but he did anyway and upset the child a great deal. Indeed, as the child put it, the father sometimes does not know when to stop.
The father has to take responsibility for his part in the problem. He should not be critical of or challenge AES at any time. He should not focus on the fact that the child is perhaps different from the way he is; instead, he must celebrate his son and his time with him, paying close attention to what his son, now fourteen, is interested in.
The court concluded that the father needed to show his son that “he loves him just as he is and show that love by developing a relationship based on mutual respect and non-critical two-way communication.”
With that said, the court also observed that the mother had been too passive in the past, by essentially allowing the boy to dictate when and whether he wanted to see the father. She needed to take a more active role in encouraging the boy to see the father and have a relationship with him. It was not in the boy’s best interest, even at age 14, to give him unfettered discretion as to the timing and duration of access visits.
In the end, the court adjusted the once-a-month access order to make it more flexible, and included terms that allowed the son to express some input in terms of the timing of each visit.
For the full text of the decision, see:
Fannon v. Spooner (2013), 2013 ONCJ 384 http://canlii.ca/t/fzncx
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