Penelope Leach. 70’s parenting guru…

… and that should say it all.  But if it doesn’t, then this article in the Independent should provide further proof of her alleged guruism, where she argues that “under-fives are damaged by ‘sleepovers’ with their separated fathers”. Outrageous beyond belief.

But let’s be sensible for a moment and remove the outrage. And let’s take out the fact that psychology is still quite far removed from an exact science, especially when it comes to a toddler who is still unable to communicate properly. As far as I’m aware it is not yet possible to monitor the brain in order to gauge the outcome of events which occur every second of our lives. Observations can be made over time and a general conclusion reached but an infinite number of subtle factors affect the observed, so when it comes to a very young child, conclusion to these observations is probably equivalent to astrology – except, of course, in extreme cases, or where the child has been extensively influenced by one parent against the other. An adult can describe exact feelings of distress whereas a child between 1 and 5 can not.

So what does Leach propose in a situation where a mother of a young child moves in with a new bloke almost immediately after separation? Is this not damaging? And she (the mother) is obsessed with creating a new ‘family unit’, and the new ‘family unit’ becomes openly hostile towards the father? Leach should maybe spend some time researching the psychology behind the ‘family unit’ syndrome since this can be a precursor to parental alienation, and by now every man and his dog knows how utterly damaging for children this is.

According to Leach, shared parenting creates a tendency toward “unhealthy attachment issues”. So does she suggest that it is better for the child to be more attached to the new blokes and new husbands? My unprofessional guess is that surely, the unhealthy attachment issues would more likely be caused by being with one parent too much and not bonding with the other properly.

Moving onto Leach’s suggestion on brain development, I am not qualified to comment on this but my daughter is a good example of shared parenting. At school she is doing better than average and besides the various sports only we do together, she has learned another language and its script, and two musical instruments from being partially in my care, thanks to the joint residence order which was – thankfully – imposed when she was 3 as a result of a failed Leave to Remove application.  Had the shared residence order had not been imposed, my daughter would have missed out on the whole culture, family and language from her paternal side which she now loves, and had this happened, how good would it have been for my daughter’s development according to Leach? After all, no sleepovers would’ve taken place, and only god knows how many schools, cities and countries my daughter would’ve changed by now.  Leach’s energy might be better spent by explaining long term effects of things like this than sweeping dads away in one fell swoop.

But Leach’s gem which shines above all of her other nonsense is, when speaking in defense of her position, she announced that “being a father is not a reward for good behaviour”. I rest my case.

On child abduction and bad journalism

A bit late on the uptake here, but this story, about a Welsh mother who allegedly abducted her children, caught my attention like a car crash.  The BBC published a matter-of-factly version, whereas The Telegraph’s Richard Alleyne opted for a slightly more hysterical style; a quick search on the net uncovered an article from the Daily Mail too, but on this occasion lets refrain from scraping the barrel… although I can’t say that Alleyne’s attention to detail fills me with confidence either.  In one part Jennifer Jones is 45, but further down the article she inexplicably turns 46… and the timeline in this article is structured in reverse/from the bottom up; so in the upper part, Ms Jones is 45 and had already been caught by the police, but in the latter part she reverse-ages to 46 and is still on the run.

Away from the random timeline, Alleyne does a good job of describing Ms Jones and her supporters’ self-pity and proceeds to place great weight on how the children do not want to go back to Spain to be with their father.  By now, readers of all this will be divided into two main camps: Camp 1, who have not been through the grind of UK family court proceedings, and whose only experience of the family law machine is the occasional article like this; and Camp 2, people who have been through the family courts, quite likely including a large number of dads who have had to endure accusations of abuse themselves, and it’s this lot who will be screaming out “brainwashing!” and “parental alienation!” at the top of their voices whilst reading Alleyne’s article.

But the concepts of “brainwashing” and “parental alienation” are probably unfamiliar to Camp 1, so quite likely that they are making all kinds of unsavoury assumptions about the colleagues in Camp 2 who are speculating about “brainwashing” and the sinister sounding “parental alienation” whilst seemingly not giving a damn about the children’s distress.

Whilst Alleyne haphazardly stitches together a bunch of quotes from the children expressing their distress at having to return to Spain, he provides no background whatsoever on the father, Mr Pallacin-Cambra, other then the Jones’ accusations.  He writes that their father was granted custody in the Spanish courts – on what grounds was the father granted custody?  The Telegraph article indicates that the father was clever, powerful and cunning, and leads the reader to believe that after the couples “trial separation” he tricked the mother back to Spain and then (presumably with his alleged cunning omnipotence), managed to get full custody of the children.  Really?!!

Alleyne provides even less background on Jennifer Jones other then that she’s a teacher and that she’s in a relationship with John Williams whom she was arrested with.  What was it about Jones’ character or actions that made the Spanish judge hand over custody to the father?  Custody is not granted to fathers just like that.

No information at all is provided about Jennifer Jones’ partner, John Williams, other then that he’s a builder.  Another bloke involved in abduction of someone else’s children – or even “merely” attempting to assimilate someone else’s children as their own whilst pushing out the real father – should set off very, very loud alarm bells (admittedly this touches a nerve, bringing back a bad memory of a gimpish little man who, once upon a time, attempted to impose himself on my daughter, who was 4 at the time).  What was Williams’ role in all this?  Was he aware that the mother had lost custody of the children?  Did he ask pertinent questions instead of just blindly agreeing that this was an injustice?

One character in this whole story who barely gets a mention is the oldest daughter Sara, 16, and who “returned voluntarily to Spain in September”.  What assumptions then, are we as Telegraph readers supposed to make of this, and of Alleyne’s sketchy journalism?  He is happy to quote the other children’s distress, yet Sara barely gets one sentence at the very end of the article (which, rather comically, reminds me of those passages with the small print slipped in at the end, in with the hope that the reader will not notice it).  Where are Sara’s opinions and why did she want to return voluntarily to Spain when her siblings were allegedly distressed at the thought of going back to their dad?  If Alleyne’s article is to be taken at face value, then Sara must be a serial masochist who loves being verbally and physically abused by her father.

So I’m sitting with one foot in Camp 2, extremely disappointed that Richard Alleyne has published such a dismal, one sided piece… an article seriously devoid of factual information, concentrating instead on the drama.  Some more in-depth information would have been nice, especially details of the judgement granting full custody; instead all we’ve got is badly written sensationalism.  It may be that Cambra really is an abusive, controlling tyrant, and that the children’s distress in genuine, but until we know more, it’s a toss up between believing a Telegraph journalist who may have been slightly drunk (or worse) at the time of writing, or drawing my own conclusions based on my own experiences of family court proceedings (whilst being accused of allsorts of nonsense during the said proceedings).

Milos Stankovic – Trusted Mole

Like a good read?

Upon finishing this book, the conclusion about Milos Stankovic (pronounced Milosh Stankovich) is that, rather irritatingly, he is one of those funny and clever blokes who could probably write an entire volume about something really mundane, like different species of cabbage and make it sound interesting. Luckily, the subject of his book is much more meaningful; here he writes about his experience as a British soldier working for the UN in Bosnia during the war in the 90’s. If the subject immediately puts you off because you’re not that interested in the Yugoslav wars of the 90’s, please just read the rest of this paragraph before navigating away. This book is written with so much flare and humour that even a reader not in the least bit interested or knowledgeable about Yugoslav wars of the ’90’s is quite likely to find it fascinating just because it’s so engaging and well written. It’s a bit like one of those documentaries you stumble upon whilst flicking channels… about different species of cabbage, and end up soaking it all up purely because the presenter is so engaging. And despite the morbid subject matter, he masterfully weaves in that famous British sarcastic and dark humour.

About the author

The author’s history is too colourful to sum up in one paragraph (there’s info about him on the net), but for the purpose of this review: although born British, he’s of Serbian descent whose father was also a soldier in the old country and a Serbian royalist but not a Chetnik (Chetniks were probably the most infamous royalists / anti-communists from that region during WW2; they wore funny hats and big beards, collaborated with the Nazis, and committed atrocities against commies and non Serbs across Yugoslavia, but when the commies took over they were promptly dispatched. More recently in the Yugoslav wars of the ’90’s, Chetniks reappeared, this time as ultra nationalist Serbs, wore funny hats and big beards, and committed atrocities against non Serbs across Yugoslavia. If you really want to know more about Chetniks, see this wiki article). Therefore when the commies (winners in WW2) went after the anti-commies (losers in WW2), Mr Stankovic Snr made a quick exit, ending up in Southern Rhodesia which is where the author was born.

Fast forward a few years, and Stankovic Jnr joins the British Army, rising to the rank of Major. He serves in Bosnia with the UN as interpreter; whilst in Sarajevo, then under siege by the Bosnian Serbs, he smuggles non combatant muslim, Croat and Serbian families, referred to as “the little people” out of Sarajevo. Upon the end of his tour of Bosnia and return to the UK, he ends up being arrested by the MoD for being a spy for the Bosnian Serbs.

Whilst the arrest hangs heavily over the content of the book, this is actually about his experience as a British soldier with the UN in Bosnia. It’s kind of written in a style of a transcript from the author’s conversation with a shrink “Ian” who he saw after being released from jail to attempt to piece his life back together.

A disclaimer

Politically, Stankovic and me are on the opposite ends of the scale. His family background is royalist, anti-Tito, and anti-commie; I was brought up on a political diet of Tito’s utopian socialism, brotherhood & unity (ha!), lots of red flag waving on Labour Day, and other manifestations of love for our leader and country. Therefore, although I may appear to think that the sun shines out of Stankovic’s ass, I’m unimpressed on his views on Tito (if you don’t know who Tito is, check this out).

A perfect nuthouse…

… is the author’s conclusion, upon arrival in Bosnia and after being briefed on the situation on the ground, i.e. Serbs vs Croats on one front; Serbs & Croats vs Bosniaks (Bosnian muslims) on another; two Bosniak factions against each other on another; Croats and Bosniaks vs Serbs on another; plus the many non-combat non-ex-Yugoslav organisations with their own agendas and command structures. The conclusion is spot on. If you do therefore read this book, you won’t be expected to understand the situation either.

His job, since he can speak Serbo-Croat, is to act as a go between the UN and the Bosnian Serbs. He builds a good relationship with the Bosnian Serbs partially earning their trust, and thereby being able to pull all kinds of strings to get hostages released, and generally get things done. Inbetween, he risks his life smuggling innocent civilians caught in the middle out of Sarajevo.

Very skilfully, he takes the reader along the peaks and troughs through a really stupid war. Shortly after arrival, he is given a quick lesson in “neo-Croatian” by another British soldier with Serbian background (the Croats desperately wanted to distance themselves from anything Serbian thereby inventing a whole dictionary of neo-Croatian words so silly, that they wouldn’t sound too out of place in a Balkan version of a Monty Python movie). But despite his ethnicity, he is not swayed towards the Serbs, referring to the Serbian occupied territories as “The Dark Side.”

One enlightening revelation for me was about one Bosnian politician called Haris Silajdzic… who, after intervening in a hostage situation with the local mafia, Stankovic describes as “a true Sarajevan whose family lived in the city for 400 years; that’s why he did what he did.” (this chap Silajdzic used to make my blood boil whenever he appeared on TV… although, back then they all did).

NATO and the UN

Stankovic is scathing of the international community and its impotence. About the Srebrenica massacre he concludes: “Serbs were trigger pullers, but the international community loaded their magazines for them. Moral and physical cowardice equals death”. He makes a profound point about the hypocrisy of the international community: “how can you have a battalion of Turkish peacekeepers wearing blue berets sitting in Bosnia and representing the ideals of the UN while at the same time the Turkish Army is shelling the shit out of the Kurds and being roundly condemned for it by the UN.”

One particular part highlighting the kind of sleaze which went on, relates to a Norwegian officer, Oivind Moldestad, who reports strange aircraft activity at a Bosnian airport (believed to be NATO’s covert supplying of arms to the Bosnian muslims during a ceasefire; don’t forget there was an arms embargo against all sides during the war). In the end, to hush it all up, NATO and the Americans engineered a campaign to make Moldestad a liar, and upon returning to Norway, Moldestad received no support from his own country (shamefully scared of the Americans). His career left in tatters, he resigns. What no one gave him credit for however, is that, with Stankovic’s assistance as a translator, he managed to get flight clearance from the angry Serbs surrounding Srebrenica (angry because of the air strikes against them) to airlift a very ill six year old girl on her deathbed (Fauda Sukic). Having saved lives then also getting stitched up, this obviously resonates strongly with Stankovic, and he goes on to say: “Oivind was the UN and the UN was Oivind. On that day alone, for Fauda Sukic and for Oivind Moldestad, the UN mission was a success.”

A Balkan viscous circle

Stankovic correctly concludes why the Balkans will never remain peaceful when he describes a scene where a Bosnian soldier with a pregnant wife is killed by the Bosnian Croats: “I knew then that there was no hope. The baby, born out of grief would be tainted forever, would grow up being told that its father had been killed by the “filthy Ustasa” in the war – the next generation perfectly prepared, twisted and bitter, primed for the next bloodletting. There has been a war in the Balkans once every generation for the past fifty generations and I understood exactly why. They are doomed for eternity”. (The “Ustase” by the way, are the Croatian version of the Serbian Chetniks but perhaps a little more hardcore; they are proper fascists who didn’t wear funny hats or long beards in WW2, still don’t in their current reincarnation, and remain hardcore fascists. See the wiki page for more information).

Sir General Michael Rose

The author’s writing absolutely shines when General Michael Rose joins the fray, and between the serious parts, he goes on to describe Rose’s character in graphic detail with sublime humour. Think of Lt. Colonel Kilgore in Apocalypse Now, but much more refined, much more British, and with a higher IQ… but that’s where the differences end.

Whereas Kilgore was a keen surfer, Rose is a keen skier, dragging his men to the unpisted and landmined Mt Bijelasnica for a ski trip, and what ensued on the mountain had me howling in laughter. Rose is also a keen fisherman, so Stankovic, in his words, spends hours interrogating the locals for “trout intelligence”, plotting all the trout fishing spots carefully on a map. When a fishing opportunity arises, Stankovic produces the map with the “hard earned trout intelligence”, but Rose ignores it, jabbing his finger on a ribbon of blue right on the Serbian – Bosniak front line. “That’s where we’re going! Looks like a good stretch for trout!”

There are other hilarious stories, but I’m not giving any more away – get the book.

(By the way, Sir General Michael Rose also wrote a very good book on Bosnia “Fighting for Peace”, which I read in ’99 but can’t remember much of now… will have to dig that one out again).

Sadly though, General Rose was vilified by the Bosnian muslims for not doing enough, but by all accounts the UN had strict protocols on engagement… or lack of it, which is why the Srebrenica massacre happened.

Conclusion

Stankovic doesn’t divulge any details of who might have stitched him up as a spy. He does, however, mention an incident which hints that the second book, about the details of his arrest and the consequent court case against the MoD, might be on the cards. I really do hope that this is the case; given the author’s experiences (and stunning use of English language) it would be a great shame if it doesn’t materialise.

Other then that, I can safely say that this is the best book I have read about the war in Bosnia. It had me welling up in tears and it had me in stitches, but most importantly, it will give the uninformed reader an insight into the brutal destruction of a once beautiful and respected country.

Trusted Mole can be found on amazon.co.uk.

Open letter to David Cameron in response to the “Runaway fathers are like drink-drivers” article.

19th June 2011

Dear Mr Cameron

I read the article in the Daily Telegraph on 18th June titled “Runaway fathers are like drink-drivers” with great interest and even greater dismay.

It is rather unfortunate that you have chosen the day before Father’s Day to single out only the dads who allegedly take no emotional or financial responsibility towards their children.  True, some dads may not care about their kids, in which case they can not be made to feel something which they don’t.  This concept is alien to you and me… how can a normal human being NOT care about their children?  My late step father was one such person.  He had kids before he married my mother which he never saw nor wanted to, and speaking from personal experience, such people should not be MADE to give emotional support or be around their kids, because quite simply, they are incapable of doing so, and would probably cause more damage then good.  That said, I agree that they should at least pay maintenance for their kids.

My utter dismay comes from, first of all, your complete lack of understanding on family matters outside the scope of marriage; parents separate, and in most cases, carrying on as a family unit would most probably have been unhealthy for all concerned, especially the child.  I am happy for you that you have your little family bubble, however a lot of people don’t… and it’s outside this bubble where your ignorance screams blue murder, I’m sorry to say!

Let me, therefore, attempt to fill in a few blanks for you.  Believe it or not, there are actually dads who, after separation, desperately want to participate in their children’s lives.  Unfortunately, the law in this country is such, that upon separation it is perfectly acceptable for the mother to remove the child from dads care completely, imposing how often, if at all, the dad can see the child, and if the wannabe supportive dad feels that he sees too little of the child, he then has to instigate court proceedings.

Even worse, if the mother is hostile to the dad (and I do think that the psychology upon separation and after finding a new partner is in desperate need of a study)… or worse,  suddenly decides she wants to relocate out of town, or even worse, overseas… and even worse (can it get any worse?!!)… she has a new partner who is also hostile to the dad, and they together, put all kinds of spanners in the works for the dad, and lead the child into believing all sorts of nonsense (which, by the way, is very deeply damaging to the child and utterly heartbreaking for the dad).  Do you have any idea what dads in this situation have to go through, what kind of emotional and psychological hell it is to have your child removed from you, kept and being damaged in a lair of of abhorrent hostility, out of your reach?  This is the other side of the coin, which you have completely failed to mention in your interview in the Telegraph.

Now how do you think those dads, who are on the receiving end of being deprived of their children (and more importantly, their children being deprived of them) feel after reading your interview in the Telegraph?

There is NO mention of hostile mothers, or the family courts who mostly support them.

Children need both parents in their lives, which you imply that you also believe.  I strongly believe that it is every child’s basic human right to have both parents in their lives.

Unfortunately, the family law does not make this easy.  I know that your aim is to promote marriage, give tax breaks for married couples, and make happy little family units like your own, but like I said, it doesn’t always work like this.  Couples fall out of love with each other; couples break up.

Therefore my questions, Mr Cameron, are firstly… what are you going to say to those on the other side of coin, who brazenly block dads access to children for their own gratification, whatever that may be?

And secondly, what are you going to do for the dads who WANT to participate in their children’s lives – emotionally, not just financially – but are unable to due to family laws which belong in the dark ages?

Best wishes,
Bojan Timotijevic (Lily’s dad)