Boy biker sends courts a message
By Emilie Astell, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, August 11, 2001
His father, he said, would not agree to pay legal fees incurred by his mother during divorce proceedings, so a judge ordered the father out of the picture. Clayton was 8 years old at the time. Now the youth, who talks about child custody as if he were a seasoned professional, wants to help other children avoid the same fate.
Clayton is near the end of a 3,600-mile bicycle trek dubbed ``Journey for Kids,'' from Calgary to Washington, D.C., advocating for shared parenting and family court reform in both countries.
He stopped at Elm Park yesterday as part of his campaign, spending time inside an air-conditioned recreational vehicle where he was interviewed. He and supporters along the way are gathering petition signatures to deliver to the Canadian Parliament, state legislatures and the U.S. Congress. He plans to present the American petitions to President Bush next month.
So far, Clayton and followers, many of whom are divorced fathers, have collected about 10,000 signatures in Canada and an estimated 2,500 in the United States.
``When I was 4,'' Clayton said, leaning back on a cushioned seat, ``my parents got divorced.''
The boy had been close to his father and missed him terribly between the ages of 8 and 11. Clayton attributes his problems in school and thoughts of suicide to those dark days of living without his father.
He said he wanted equal time with both parents; his father now has custody. He blamed a Canadian family court for not allowing him to voice his preference. The teen went on a 19-day hunger strike in January to get his point across.
``When I was on the hunger strike,'' he said, ``I got e-mail from kids all over the world. They couldn't speak in court, either.''
The teen agreed that child custody is often used as a weapon in divorce cases. He said his mother, but not his father, used custody in that manner. He is not on good terms with his mother, he added.
Clayton pedals 20 to 90 miles a day on his 27-speed racing bike, depending on road conditions and the weather. Sometimes, other riders join in for a few miles. He also has received police escorts when entering communities.
Supporters follow his adventures on his Web site, legalkids.com, cheering on the teen, who enters 10th grade this fall.
The bike ride is financed through Legalkids Inc., a Canadian corporation established by Clayton and his father.
Members of CPF/The Fatherhood Coalition, a Massachusetts organization, were at Elm Park yesterday helping to collect signatures.
Coalition member Joseph Dunbar of North Billerica said divorce often leaves one parent without access to his or her children.
``I'm lucky,'' he said. ``I get to see my kids.''
PHOTOG: SEAN DOUGHERTY
CUTLINE: Clayton Giles with the bike that he is riding 3,600 miles to raise awareness for shared parenting
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