As the title to this blog suggests, my daughters’ childhood with me and my fatherhood with them have been interrupted. The purpose of this blog is to provide my daughters, Kaitlyn and Skylar, with memories of their childhood from my experience as their father, a role I cherish to this day, and, hopefully, an understanding of how much their father loves them.
With that said, this first post sets forth the foundation of the situation my children and I faced during the divorce and in its aftermath. Subsequent posts will start at the beginning of their lives and my fatherhood and then progress to the present. In full disclosure, I cannot rule out some random posts interspersed here and there along the way.
About a week ago, I journaled for the first time about the steady and slow destruction of the relationship with my daughters over the past four years due to parental alienation. After countless discussions with family, friends, pastors, counselors and others throughout this time, this was my first attempt at a simple account of the most traumatic and horrible experience in my life to date: my ex-wife alienating me from my daughters, the family court system paying nothing more than lip service to the issue and the loss of my relationship with my two daughters as a result. As anyone who has been the target of parental alienation knows, there is no simple account of such experience or easy way to recover from it.
First, a little background.
On August 31, 2013, my ex-wife walked out on me and gave our two daughters an ultimatum to decide right then and there if they were coming with her or not. This was the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend 2013. The following Wednesday, September 4th, my ex-wife said she wanted a divorce a half hour into our first couples counseling session. At that point, right then and there in front of the counselor, I agreed.
After the session, we grabbed coffee, walked around town together and agreed on an amicable divorce. I even said I would be the non-custodial parent, as our girls were not property to fight over. My ex-wife reciprocated my sentiment suggesting we would still be friends and the four of us could even celebrate holidays and vacations together, schedules permitting. That was the first and last day our divorce was amicable. Instead my ex-wife, the mediator (in a failed mediation), her lawyer and others involved in our divorce dubbed our case a “high conflict divorce.” After thirteen months of fighting over the terms of custody, my wife and I divorced in Hartford, CT family court in October 2014.
Since this is the first Father’s Day I am unable to contact my girls, I decided to begin this blog as a gift to them. Someday they may want to know my side of the story and stumble across this blog. Here is the journal entry I wrote last week:
When I shared this picture on Facebook a year ago, it had been almost a year since I had seen my daughters, Kaitlyn and Skylar. After spending a couple of weeks with them in Ocean City, NJ in July 2015, they relocated to Raleigh, NC in August 2015 for a fresh start. Unbeknownst to me, two adults, not one, relocated with the girls, which was confirmed almost a year later last summer. While I was given many reasons for the move, I was never told there was going to be a second adult living with the girls by anyone (including, my ex-wife) before or after the move. Rather, like many other things over the past four years, I had to find things I should have been told all on my own….
That being said, a year ago I still got to call and text my girls. However, most of my calls whether to the girls directly or through their mother resulted in me leaving a voicemail and hoping the girls got to listen to it, and most of my texts to the girls’ iTouches, iPhones and other devices were unreturned.
I readily admit, the frequency with which my attempts to communicate with my girls “failed” really took a toll on my morale. (I believe it would for any parent in a similar situation.) Being unemployed for the most part during the past four years did not make it any easier. It compounded the sense of hopelessness the alienation caused as well as depression and other emotions one experiences with grief from a job loss, divorce and other traumatic life events.
Going to bed night after night not hearing back from your children was tough. Learning things were kept from you or are different than you were told (such as seeing your children named as grandchildren in someone else’s father’s obituary, dated two days after your divorce was final; yet, with overwhelming evidence to the contrary, your ex-wife vehemently denied a relationship with such man throughout the divorce proceeding) was tough, too.
Ultimately, the only temporary comfort for me was to let it go, give my concerns outside of my control to God, and pray God watched over, guided and protected Kaitlyn and Skylar in my absence. (Please note: I purposely used the word “temporary” because letting it go didn’t change what was going on. It allowed things to continue unchecked and even get worse.) In short, parental alienation is a form of torture and abuse no parent or child should have to endure and makes co-parenting with the alienating parent an impossible exercise in futility.
From the moment the first ultrasound confirmed their existence, I have loved Kaitlyn and Skylar as only a father can. For the first eight and a half years of Kaitlyn’s life and the first six and a half years of Skylar’s life, I was able to do just that all the time without anyone ever questioning my parenting or my love for my children. And, I get reminded of this almost every day with Facebook’s “On This Day” reminders in my Newsfeed, which often include my ex-wife’s comments to my posts.
As my marriage headed to divorce, my love for the girls, their love for me and our relationship was put to the test time and time again by their mother. Over the past four years, my love for Kaitlyn and Skylar has never diminished let alone failed. Yet, my relationship with them over this same period has slowly declined to the point that I am simply their father on paper and in the eyes of God. The girls have been forced to choose their mother (and another man) over their father, which is completely contrary to the custody agreement that both their mother and I agreed was in the best interests of our children.
The last sentence in the foregoing paragraph is critical to understanding parental alienation. With a custody agreement granting both parents joint legal custody and a father trying to exercise his agreed upon “parenting time,” how does the relationship with his children deteriorate to the point his children ultimately reject him absent someone else undermining the father’s relationship with his children? The answer to the question is simply, “It shouldn’t. It makes no sense.”
Children love their parents, not hate them. In divorce, the parents divorce each other, not their children. Only the marital bond is dissolved. The parental bond of both parents with the children is supposed to remain intact.
Under the circumstances I have faced at a given point in time, I have tried to remain in contact, spend time with Kaitlyn and Skylar (even if only a phone call, FaceTime or text) and be their father as best I can under the circumstances, all to no avail. Some things were in my control (such as moving closer to them (even tried it last summer without a job), being more assertive rather than trying to take the high road, and traveling to show up for things just to see them from a distance or for a moment because it wasn’t my “time” (did this once in 2014 for a soccer game, my ex-wife made it an issue and an advance notice requirement was put in the custody agreement)). However, many things were and are outside of my control (such as unemployment, finite finances, distance & logistics, and other people’s words, actions, inactions and desire to have me out of the girls’ lives altogether or my involvement in their lives significantly curtailed).
After the divorce, I expected to be the father to Kaitlyn and Skylar as agreed and approved by the court in my custody agreement. To put it mildly, I was apparently naive to think this would be the case. I had hoped that, once an agreement was in place, the disruptions to the girls’ and my relationship (call these disruptions acts of bullying, alienation, contempt or whatever else you want) would end and allow our “new normal” in the custody agreement to take hold. There was nothing to be gained by me taking a different approach.
As I alluded to already, my relationship with the girls has eroded to the point that I am simply the girls’ father on paper. In fact, I am unable to even unilaterally communicate with Kaitlyn and Skylar now. Hence, another reason for this blog. Maybe someday they will stumble upon my writings and learn their dad tried to be a part of their lives to the point it almost ruined him emotionally, professionally, financially and spiritually.
What I have learned from my ordeal is that there was never agreement between the girls’ mother and me on the so-called “new normal” after our divorce. My understanding was memorialized in a court-approved custody agreement. My ex-wife’s understanding was not. To use someone else’s analogy, I was playing a game of checkers while my ex-wife was playing a game of chess. My attempts to be in Kaitlyn’s and Skylar’s lives post-divorce was not what their mother wanted for Kaitlyn, Skylar and me….
….It took less than four years to have it all stripped away. Had I just walked away from my children, I may likely have been left alone by my ex-wife and able to move on with my life. This would not have prevented my heart from being broken due to my fatherhood interrupted. Giving up custody literally or figuratively was not something I could do. My love for my girls was my Achilles heal, which I let my ex-wife know from Day 1. She then exploited my kindness and love for our children to my detriment time and time, again. So, it is no surprise to me, looking back over the past four years with the benefit of hindsight, that my attempts to be the long-distance, non-custodial father I agreed to be ultimately led to this unwanted and unintended outcome.
I have thought long and hard about how I could have done things differently. No matter what other approach I could have taken, my ex-wife wanted the same result (namely, me out of our children’s lives) and would have used parental alienation as her means to achieve it.
I just want Kaitlyn and Skylar to know their daddy never stopped loving them “to the end of the universe and back, and then some.”