Fathers Mix Picnicking, Politicking
By Jack Dew, Berkshire Eagle Staff , Sunday, Augustt 11, 2002
Press release for Good Ol' Fashion Picnic
"A Tremendous Success!" ... picnic comments
PITTSFIELD -- As children spun yo-yos, threw Frisbees and shot each other with squirt guns onthe shore of a small pond at Camp St. Michael yesterday during a Berkshire Fatherhood Coalition picnic, spokesman Rinaldo Del Gallo argued that the state's trial and probate courts deprive fathers of access to their kids, to the detriment of both.
The coalition-sponsored gathering, funded with contributions from corporations like K-B Toys, Pepsi and Price Chopper, was a blend of late-summer picnic and politics. Del Gallo and the other members of the coalition are asking the state to revamp its child custody laws and erase what they say is a bias against fathers.
The coalition wants the state to support its shared-parenting platform, which it claims would level the playing field by giving divorced or unwed parents equal rights to their children.
"Shared parenting is the best approximation of an intact family, which we all know to be the best.
It also reduces the sense of abandonment that children have later in life. It also reduces the cost of litigation," Del Gallo said.
The political fight has been a difficult one for the Berkshire Fatherhood Coalition and similar organizations around the state. Despite their lobbying, the issue has failed to grab the attention of the state House and Senate, where bills have been filed but died quietly over the past few years.
If yesterday's attendance is any barometer, the fight will continue to be difficult. The coalition expected U.S. Rep. John W. Olver, D-Amherst, and Pittsfield Mayor Sara Hathaway to attend, but neither were there in time for Del Gallo's 45-minute presentation on shared parenting.
Lenox Selectman William "Smitty" Pignatelli, candidate for the state House, made an early appearance and said he is still researching the issue. "This is something I'm going to have to learn a little more about," he said. "If I'm fortunate to be the next state representative for the 4thBerkshire District, this is obviously one of the hot-button issues that are going to have to be addressed."
Barbara Johnson, an independent candidate for governor who has garnered no attention from the mainstream media, said she not only supports shared parenting but believes that judges and the Department of Social Services should be held liable for separating families.
State Rep. Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams, was the only current state politician to appear and give his support.
He told the crowd he sympathizes with fathers who feel wronged by the system and denied access to their kids.
"For 16 years, I've been in the state Legislature, and in all of that time, I'm not sure exactly what works when parents divorce. But I can tell you the present system doesn't work," he said, adding that he hopes that legislation to change the system will be introduced next session.
Richard Donnelly rearranged his weekend visit with his 5-year-old daughter, Laurel, so he could take her to yesterday's picnic. He said he joined the Fatherhood Coalition six months ago as a source of support when he was struggling to find work in the area so he could stay close to his daughter, whom he sees twice a week.
"Now I'm trying to get involved helping other fathers, just trying to be involved in the efforts of the group. I had never been in court before, other than for a parking ticket once in my life, and it was a real awakening when I first went into court and just felt like I was a criminal, before they knew anything about me, just because I was a father," Donnelly said.
Jack Dew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.