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The Silence of the Damned

Filed under: General — John F. Smith @ 8:49 pm Sat 3rd June 2006

The Silence of the Damned
by John F. Smith, Founder, World Fathers Union

Just a fortnight from now I, like so many other fathers around the world, will exercise my right to think about my son thinking of me, while each of us sits estranged from the other on Father’s Day. Thinking is the one thing they haven’t yet figured out how to take from us, and I suppose I’ll have to be grateful for that. Beggars can’t be choosers, I am told.? ?

I haven’t laid any plans, but I’ll probably take a part of that Sunday and sit quietly somewhere, possibly holding in my hand the small, red, plastic heart my son gave me for St. Valentine’s Day when he was four, and which is worn smooth and dull from rubbing against the change in my pocket all these last four years. I’ll try to think of happier Father’s Days; of Father’s Days from a misty past, before things got this way without our quite understanding how. It’ll be difficult, but I’ll try not to think too much about why I’m alone. Dwellling upon my own misery won’t do me, or my son, any good at all.

I’ll be likely, too, to daydream of the future we both hope will be; a future wherein some miracle brings my son home. And then, inevitably, I’ll start to worry once again how it will be after all this time. Will we know each other anymore? Will my son have changed so under his mother’s vindictive tutelage that I won’t know how to react to his new ways? Might he no longer care to go fishing or walking in the woods with his old dad, and not hear me ask because he’s too busy with some electronic gadget his mother’s given him?

If I’m smart, I’ll catch myself quickly and stop all that destructive fantasising and go do something. Perhaps I’ll wash the car? No, that’s mindless work and my thoughts will drift to how much my little boy loved to help me do that. My word, but we’d be wet by the time the car was dry….

Stop it! I’ll say harshly. Get ahold of yourself, man! That way lies madness, and it is a too, too tempting madness only fathers such as we can understand. I must find something better to do, something useful, something essential. Isn’t there something that each of us can do on this coming Father’s Day, no matter where we are, no matter how rich or how poor?

Well, there is. But it’s not easy. It’s thinking of others, instead of ourselves.

Instead of falling prey to our own fears, instead of thinking bitterly of the sons and daughters from whom we are riven by an unjust system, we can each think of someone else who needs our good thoughts, someone else who knows what it’s like to be alone on Father’s Day. We can each think of each other–of all the other fathers like ourselves struggling with that sorrow and anger. And we can think of all their children crying for them from wherever.

So that is what I will do this Father’s Day, and I will do it sitting quietly on the steps of the courthouse which stole my son from me. I will sit there from Noon until One O’clock, and I will spend that hour thinking of others like myself, and of their children, and of their pain. I shall wear a black veil of mourning to hide my face and my tears, and carry a small token of my own son, and I shall not speak. I shall be silent.

I hope there will be others to come quietly and sit with me on courthouse steps all over the world, and join hands in the Silence of the Damned. You don’t need to tell me you’ll be coming; just come. Bring a friend, and a veil of mourning, and your heart. We shall all be John Smith, the Anonymous Father, on that day. Perhaps, if there are enough of us, the world will notice something’s amiss.

–John F. Smith
May 31, 2006


  1. John,

    I know words cannot do your situation justice so I will be silent.

    Comment by julie — Sat 3rd June 2006 @ 9:06 pm

  2. John,
    I’m blown away by your idea of sitting on the ‘court’ steps for an hour draped in black on Father’s day meditating about the painful fatherlessness caused there.

    What a splendidly concieved and heart tugging thing that will be. Those who remain unmoved by such a thing must surely be cold and heartless IMO.


    I can’t be there, but will definitely be thinking of you and other alienated dads on the day.

    You are all in my prayers.

    Comment by Stephen — Sun 4th June 2006 @ 4:21 am

  3. I know some will not be able to be there in person but will be there in spirit nonetheless. Do tell your friends and pass the word. This wasn’t conceived as an event in the first place; I just started writing down some of my thoughts and that’s where they took me. But it’s touched an immediate chord with people who’ve seen it all over the world.

    Each father who goes to keep this vigil may find himself alone at his little courthouse, but that doesn’t matter. One man letting the truth speak for itself can sometimes have a more profound effect than a thousand shouting slogans.

    Comment by John F. Smith — Sun 4th June 2006 @ 11:45 am

  4. Very well spoken John F. I’m not quite ready for shouting yet (though not far off). silent protest on father’s day sounds just the ticket. I’ll have to think about how when and where, but I’ll be there in solidarity.

    Comment by PaulM — Sun 4th June 2006 @ 1:40 pm

  5. I think what I will do is print out some copies of my essay with a short explanation appended, and take them along with me in the event someone asks what I am doing. Then I can just hand them that silently.

    As is apparent, I’ve posted this on a number of websites around the world in addition to our own. My idea was to let fathers everywhere know what I would be doing and hope they’d do the same at their own courthouses. But now John T. (our News Editor) is threatening to send out a press release about this next week. He said since I had this idea it would be a crime to let it go unnoticed. He thinks it will be particularly effective in the wake of the high-profile, noisy events staged in the last month by F4J in England and Canada and the Fathers Coalition in NZ. He calls it ‘contrast’ and points out there’s a time for everything if one can just find it. I thought the time frame from now until Father’s Day might be too short to make it work, but I won’t argue with him; he’s very good at this sort of thing.

    Silence can be so powerful; people who spend their lives talking or writing for a living (I’ve done both) sometimes forget that.

    Comment by John F. Smith — Sun 4th June 2006 @ 4:29 pm

  6. Brilliant John,

    Best wishes

    Comment by Stephen — Tue 6th June 2006 @ 3:38 am

  7. i will join you here in OZ to highlight problems back at home.

    Comment by starr — Thu 8th June 2006 @ 5:49 pm

  8. Thank you, starr. You’ve just added another country to the list. According to e-mails and posts such as yours, there are now fathers and supporters in New Zealand, Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Ireland, and Australia, who will be participating in this silent vigil.

    Comment by John F. Smith — Fri 9th June 2006 @ 3:14 am

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