Posted by Vi Hughes on Sep 24, 2019
Last Tuesday we heard from Dr. Shawn McMurtry, Branch Director and Shane Hudson, a volunteer for the Canadian Centre for Men and Families. Dr. Shawn McMurtry, a local cardiologist, spoke about why it is important to think about men more than we have traditionally in the past. Why do more men die younger than women when there is no obvious biological reason. Could it be that their lifetime experiences are very different from women. We know that more men die from cardiac disease, liver disease and suicide. For some reason men are more vulnerable to these preventable outcomes. The reason in some cases could be the stress brought on by the inequalities our justice system visits on many men whose marriages have fallen apart.  
The impact of separation and divorce on their lives that happens with the division of property, child custody, and the financial burdens of child and spousal support. When we look at the decisions of the judicial system we can clearly see that most of the time the woman gets custody of the children. In most cases where there is unequal access to their children this in turn means there is also a greater financial burden placed on the father for child support.  This also places these men in a precarious position if they happen to lose their job or experience a change in their physical or mental health that affects their income. Even large incomes can be insufficient to support mortgage payments and support payments.
The government is very punitive in its treatment of men (or women in some cases) who fail to make their support payments, regardless of the reasons. In turn when these individuals also lose their connections to their children and are more vulnerable to financial pressures, the stress can lead to mental health issues, changes in sleep patterns, and sometimes may lead to substance abuse, violence and criminal behaviour.  This can also have an effect on their work lives as safety can be an issue when they are preoccupied by family worries. This is one of the things that can send men’s lives off the rails in mid life. These types of situations are also not good for the children involved.
We then heard from Shane Hudson, a volunteer with the centre and a local ergonomist. Shane told us that he is happily married with five children, but his childhood was greatly affected by the separation and divorce of his parents when he was eight years old. At the time he was told his father was going to move out and take their dog with him. He did not really understand why his dad left, why they had no money or why Christmas was never a good time. Some of his siblings took it very hard and even now do not have a relationship with their father. In theory they had shared custody but the reality was very different.  His dad missed out on all kinds of events in his life, both big and small, good and bad. His conversations with his children were awkward. The lasting effects on his family meant that his father has never even met some of his grandchildren. Shane now wonders what their lives would have been like, if his father had been able to be the dad he could have been.
The Canadian Centre for Men and Families was founded in Ontario in 2014 by the Canadian Association for Equality to provide support for men and families. They provide therapy and counselling, peer support, legal programs, fathering programs and many more services for male victims of trauma and violence. They also provide research, outreach and public education on all aspects of men’s issues. The branch in Edmonton has not been active for very long and is just in the early stages of organisation. They just recently managed to secure a consistent meeting place. They are looking for support in whatever forms we can offer, volunteer time, financial support or any other way that we can help.
In closing Shawn said that we need to remember to show compassion for people who are going through this as it is not an easy thing.