"Super dads or duds?"




Wed, May 25, 2005

Their covert actions have begun. Further high-level targets assessed. Risks evaluated. Police action anticipated.

"We will get the prime minister's attention," vows the splinter cell's spokesman, Steve Osborne.

Caught between my line and Osborne's east coast cell phone, you can almost hear the hum of a spy computer kicking in and picking up on this subversive chatter. It would all seem threatening and risky to national security, if he weren't talking about fed-up dads in baggy super hero tights.

Across the country in May -- which Osborne's associates have dramatically dubbed the "Month of Mayhem" -- members of the child custody lobby group, Fathers 4 Justice, have been pulling off stunts after pulling on comic book leotards.

Their antics may seem silly and more than childish, but they also speak volumes about how far the court system has pushed many fathers. Facing huge restrictions or simply banned from seeing their own kids altogether -- when all many have done is get a divorce -- the extremists among them have finally banded together in a group that could be called the "Ex-men." Pow! Bang! Zoweee! The newest social anarchist is a pudgy and balding Boy Wonder who just wants to see his kids.

Yesterday, two men appeared in a Quebec court, after one of them dressed up as Batman's sidekick, Robin, and climbed onto Montreal's Jacques Cartier Bridge.

"If I am here climbing a bridge, it's because I have no other alternative," Benoit Leroux told a French TV network. "The family courts don't recognize our rights. I haven't seen my children for two years."

His daring deed came after another Fathers 4 Justice activist, dressed as Spider-Man, climbed the cross on top of Mount Royal on Saturday. He stayed up for two hours.

On May 6, local father Brad Mastin -- in a Superman cape -- shimmied up scaffolding outside Old City Hall.

Across the country, like-minded dads have been climbing cranes in B.C. and Toronto and tossing packets of purple-dyed flour at Yellowknife politicians.

And last week, the group set loose thousands of live crickets in MPs offices and court houses, including around the GTA.

"They represent voices which are lost (in the courts)," says Fathers 4 Justice spokesman, Osborne, a New Brunswick dad who hasn't seen his two teenagers in six years.

They now live in the Toronto area, after he was denied visiting rights.

For years, fathers -- in North America and the U.K. -- have complained about inequities in custody battles. Osborne says, in many cases, fathers have no hope of having custody, and are "treated as nothing more than a wallet."

No one cared to listen -- until they pulled superhero suits from closets. Last year, the main branch of the father's rights group gained world attention, when a man dressed as Batman climbed the front of Buckingham Palace. After that, St. Paul's Cathedral and Downing Street were next.

Suddenly, people were at least looking up.

"You have to ask yourself, 'Why would someone do that?" says Kris Titus, a 32-year-old Orono mom.

Last December, during a Fathers 4 Justice stunt, and dressed as Wonder Woman, she crashed a family law Christmas dinner. Along with a man garbed as Batman -- and as annoyed lawyers looked on -- they took over a balcony on the second floor of the University Club, in downtown Toronto.

Both still face mischief charges for the non-violent stunt.

Having gone through a divorce, and seen her new husband wrestle with the system with his first wife, Titus -- who works in an accounting office -- wanted to lash out.

"This is not just about men -- how many women, second wives and grandmothers, are being hijacked here," she asks.

"How would you respond if someone came to you and said, 'I'm now going to take your children away?

"Now ask why people are putting on these costumes."

Their Month of Mayhem continues, marking a deadline for the federal government to take their plight seriously.

Next month, they'll rest for the next round, says Osborne, a onetime ship builder turned activist.

"We have 15 more people prepared to be arrested," he says.

They are a misfit legion of social avengers. And while they don't fill out the tights as well as they might, it's been forever since divorced fathers had anyone to look up to for help.