By Douglas J. Manning, Partner, Certified Specialist in Family Law
In the vineyards in which I toil, Family Law, fathers often, undeservedly, get a bad rap. They are said to be more inclined to abandon their children, to not pay their child and spousal support, to refuse to pay their share of the family debts, etc, etc.. However, a recent movie being premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival sheds a new light on one man’s commitment to his “daughter”.
Canadian film director (and actress) Sarah Polley has released a deeply personal story of her life. It is part of the story of her own life and to that extent it is autobiographical. In this film Ms. Polley reveals that the man she had always thought was her “dad” wasn’t. It turns out that Ms. Polley’s mother (now deceased) and had an affair during her marriage to Michael Polley and Ms. Polley was the result of that extra-marital liaison.
The film reveals that Michael Polley was aware of the affair and was also aware that Sarah was not his biological child but this knowledge did not, in any way, affect his commitment, to “his daughter”. From Sarah’s perspective she was always treated by her father the same way her siblings were treated. In an interview, Michael Polley is also quick to point out that he did not want any of his children’s perception of their mother to change in any way as a result of learning of their mother’s infidelity. Mr. Polley takes some responsibility for what transpired during his marriage. He offers that at times he was less responsive to his wife than what she needed and this may have led her to seek out the affection of another person.
There is this popular misconception that men’s commitment to fatherhood is fragile and easily shattered. But this is not an absolute rule. Some statistics I have read is that between 10-15% of children are not fathered by the men they believe to be their dads. Fathers such as Michael Polley are to be commended for recognizing that their children did not choose how to come into this world and that the adults in their lives have a duty to raise them to the best of their abilities regardless of any biological investment in the child or children. Further, this commitment needs to transcend the continuation of the marriage or relationship with the children’s mother. Greater involvement by both parents of children who are raised in separated families is generally more desirable so long as it is appropriate involvement in which conflict is minimized and handled appropriately. We are all better off if the next generation is raised by positive role models who demonstrate parenting skills and motivation that will ensure that the adults of the future have the necessary skill sets to be contributing members of society and great parents in their own right.