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Helping Dads Get Their Rights

By Meir Rinde, Staff Writer, Lawrence Eagle Tribune, Saturday, June 14, 2003

ANDOVER -- Barbara Johnson, the former candidate for governor who campaigned on a platform of fathers' rights, drove a hearse out of downtown Boston today on her way to a Washington D.C. rally called the Million Dads March.

The Appletree Lane resident planned to head a procession of cars in her 1972 Cadillac hearse to protest a legal system she describes as biased against divorced fathers who want to see their children. She has also criticized the state Department of Social Services and other child-protection agencies.

Johnson planned to attach a casket, hobby horses and strollers to her luggage rack as symbols of the deaths of justice and fatherhood, she said yesterday. Hundreds of people from Massachusetts and other states were expected to join the procession on its way south.

"Agencies pick on folks who they know cannot afford to be represented by competent counsel," said Johnson, an attorney. "These are folks who do not have the financial ability to fight the system. I want to cry when I hear their stories."

One of several Merrimack Valley men who planned to drive in the procession to the nation's capital is 48-year-old Chris Matses, a Lawrence systems analyst who said he has campaigned on behalf of fathers' rights for a decade.

Matses works with the Coalition for the Preservation of Fatherhood, a Milford-based group that says custody laws, restraining orders and domestic abuse laws are applied unfairly and should be changed, he said.

He was also involved in the Fathers Group, which successfully pushed for a state law four years ago allowing non-custodial parents to see their children's report cards.

His activism began in 1992, when he was living in Florida and getting a divorce, he said.

"I was scared of the court system," Matses said. "Fathers weren't taken seriously in the courts. I didn't know what was going to happen."

Matses' ex-wife, his 7-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter still live in Florida, he said. But the children will come to Lawrence next week to spend the summer with him, and he sees them during school vacations.

The Topeka, Kansas-based Million Dads March organization hoped to draw supporters from around the country for events in Washington D.C. that will continue into Father's Day tomorrow, according to the organization's Web site.

The organization says it is trying to change various laws and social service agencies that mothers and fathers use against each other in custody battles and that governments use to take children away from their parents.

The groups says it is not a fathers' rights group, but its issues appear to focus on alleged bias against men.

"Discrimination against men and fathers is everywhere," the Web site says. "Fathers are told that mothers are more important to children and that (fathers) are only good for the paychecks they bring home."

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