Bobby Smith is a lorry driver who campaigns for fathers’ rights. Last week he made headlines by staging a protest against Birmingham’s new “real family” statue that features two mums, two sons and no dads. Here he explains why.
—This is article #51 in our series of #100Voices4Men and boys
In September I spoke with Nick Clegg about how men are treated differently to women in the family courts simply because of their gender. I explained all the details of my case to the Deputy Prime Minister and cases of other people I know. He seemed to listen and begin to understand that men really are getting the short end of the stick.
Then he agreed to be photographed in the Feminist T-shirt. At this point I realised there is no hope for my generation and maybe I should give up hope.
About a week later I saw in the national news Gillian Wearing’s “Real Family” Sculpture being unveiled celebrating “A family that is not nuclear”. For me this was the final straw. Over the past four years I have been excluded from my children’s lives completely, simply because I was not needed anymore. The government have done nothing to help me or my children.
This statue embodied everything about my situation and was, in my view, paying homage to the fact that after seperation children are only seen as needing the mother. The father is optional. I decided I had to go to Birmingham and do something about this.
I prepared myself for verbal abuse
I was joined by a friend, Carol Wheeler, who has also experienced the family courts. Although she’s a mother, she was adamant she wanted to come and protest about this statue. I thought at the time that she is probaly the only woman who objects to it. I was soon to learn that in lots of women are just as offended about this as the men I know.
We arrived at the statue at around 8 am on Saturday morning, I immediately put pictures of me and my two Daughters on the faces of one of the mothers and the two children and covered the remaining mother with a white sheet. The reason behind this was that if it is so acceptable to depict a real family with no father then there should be no problem with the exact opposite.
My intentions were to take a picture of this set up then when the police arrive to hold onto the statue for as long as possible in a non aggressive manner. This statue would be here for hundreds of years with no father, but for that day whoever saw or photographed it would see it in the way it should of been, inclusive of a father.
I expected to get a lot of verbal abuse especially from women, But I was prepared for that and had my arguments in defence ready to repeat to everyone who opposed what I was doing. I was adamant I had to let Birmingham Library know this was an unacceptable use of public money and it was sending out the wrong message.
The man who commissioned the statue shook my hand
The police arrived then quickly left without removing the pictures on the statues or threatening arrest. Over the next eight hours I did not stop talking. So many hundreds of people wanted to hear why I had done this. Nearly everyone I spoke to regardless of age or gender agreed that the statue should have a father.
Most were very angry that the cost of this will come from their council services. Jonathan Watkins the Gentleman who commissioned the sculpture came out shook my hand and said he was glad that I came there as it gives rise to debate about what the actual statue means.
I also met Richard Hay who was part of a family who were in the final 4 runners up, The Hay/Wooldridge family. Ray is a black man in a relationship with a white woman. They have a mixed race daughter. He seemed completely confused as to why the sisters were picked over his family and so was I.
They would of been a true representation of Birmingham in 2014, much more worthy than the eventual winners. It is worth pointing out that when the process started she would of not been pregnant, By the time they won and the measurements were taken she was by then pregnant yet no mention of the Dad, almost as if he was not relevant.
Two parents are better than one
Apart from around 10 people, everyone we met over the days we spent in Birmingham were fully supportive and were disgusted at the absence of a father in the statue. A number of local and national papers printed the story of my protest and also ran articles online. Thousands of comments were in complete agreement with me and my reasons for the protest.
The council missed out on the perfect opportunity to promote a strong family unit or at the very least reinforce the undeniable fact that a child is better off with two parents and for a normal upbringing actually needs two parents.
Instead they allowed Gillian Wearing to use this as a self promotion platform for her latest “controversial” piece of artwork. No doubt she is smiling now at the many articles in national and local press her sculpture has generated and I dare say already doubling her fee for the next one.
By now she has settled back into her life and condemned Birmingham with a lasting memorial that is a permanent reminder that if the whole city was to be summed up in one statue, it would be of two single mums. This type of family is no longer considered out of the ordinary. Thanks to Gillian Wearing this is now something for young people to aspire to, it is after all a “real family”.
—Picture credit: Birmingham News Room
Bobby Smith campaigns for New Fathers For Justice.
You can find all of the #100Voices4Men articles that will be published in the run up to International Men’s Day 2014 by clicking on this link—#100Voices4Men—and follow the discussion on twitter by searching for #100Voices4Men.
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