My first marriage failed in 1995. We had two young daughters who were 3 and 1-years old at the time.
I take full responsibility for my part in that failure.
In 1997, my ex-wife remarried and had another child with her husband a few years later. I remarried in 1999 to Jeanne who had two children from a previous marriage as well.
By most accounts we had a well-rounded, blended family. My daughters would come up for weekends, spring breaks, summer vacations, and alternating holidays. I called and talked to my daughters a few times every week. Our kids got along great.
When my oldest daughter, Taylor, turned 13 years old, things started to change. She started missing some weekends due to “birthday parties”, “sport activities”, and “sleep overs”. My younger daughter didn’t want to visit by herself, so our every-other-weekend visits started diminishing and slowly slipped away completely by the time Taylor got into high school. It was during this five year period that the alienation really ramped up. A few signs included:
- When I would call and their younger half sister would answer the phone, she would yell to them “Tom is on the phone!” (instead of “your dad”)
- Whenever we would go to sporting events to watch my daughters, if the step dad was around they would all act quite differently than if he was not in attendance.
- When the girls would come to our house, their mom and step-dad would call, text, and basically harass them the entire time they were with us.
Calm Before the Storm
A tipping point happened when Taylor was a Junior in high school. She was on the swim team and had practice before school, after school, and every weekend. They had a holiday meet right after New Years in Terre Haute (about an hour away). It was a weekend meet, which required an overnight stay at a local hotel. Their entire family was going, which wasn’t unusual. I decided to drive down for the final day and watch Taylor swim the 50 meter freestyle, backstroke, and then return afterwards. I was communicating with my ex-wife the entire time to get updates on how she was doing, and then magically on the day I was going to drive down, no communication on when she was swimming, if she was even in the finals, or if she was even still in Terre Haute. I got a message later that evening from their mom saying that it all happened fast and they didn’t have time to let me know any details.
After that weekend, I didn’t hear from my daughters for four months straight. I would call and leave messages on their home answering machine: no response. Texting was relatively new, but I did try sending messages to their phones with no response. My youngest daughter, Tory, was running track for the high school as a freshman and I had to call the school to find out if she was on the team and when their next meet was.
Summer of Contempt
At my whits end, I finally confided in a local attorney friend that specializes in family law. I told her my situation, she encouraged me to reinstate our visitation which we all agreed to years earlier in our divorce decree. I drafted a letter, sent it via certified mail to their house. In that letter, I told my ex-wife that I was going to start picking my daughters up at 6:00 pm every other Friday night, returning them by 6:00 pm on Sunday, and gave her the weeks I wanted to have the girls during the summer. Visitation was going to reconvene on May 6, 2009. I arrived at their house, expecting a huge confrontation with their step-dad (which is a whole other story), but instead no one was home. I took her to court to see my daughters, and the judge ruled my ex-wife in contempt and fined her and made her pay my legal fees.
What transpired after was a summer of court hearings, visits with daughters, and more parental alienation flags than I could have ever imagined. The stress it was putting on my daughters, not by me necessarily, but by my ex-wife and her family, was just not worth it anymore. In August, I finally sat my daughters down and told them that I loved them and I only wanted to see them. I told them that I wouldn’t “force” them to come see us anymore, they could come when they wanted, but I hoped that it would be more often than it had been prior to the court case.
For the next four years, we all seemed to be in a better place. They responded to messages and calls again. We didn’t get to see them on holidays, but they would always make time to get together for dinners, come up for a birthday party, and invited me to their sports, graduations, or other important events. Family vacations, extended stays, and extended family birthdays were out of the question, but we didn’t want to push too hard in fear that we would go back to the dark ages like we experienced in 2009.
Taylor went to college, Tory graduated from high school, and the struggle for their time became even more convenient for their family. My ex-wife’s family used to be cordial, now they would ignore or avoid me at all costs. When Tory turned 19, according to Indiana laws, she was emancipated and I no longer needed to pay child support on her. I had continued to pay child support on Taylor until she was 21 to help her with some of her college fees. I sat down with both of them individually that summer after I had paid my last payment and told them I wanted to help them financially – direct. My wife and I took their bank information and started making monthly deposits to their individual accounts that they could use for whatever: rent, tuition, food, whatever.
After three months of no response from them, I called and texted them about the holidays and again, no response. No “thank you for the money” texts, no nothing. After New Year’s, I decided that I wasn’t going to direct deposit money into a thankless pit anymore. Instead, I told them that I wanted to have dinner with them once a month and that I’d give them the money over dinner. When they didn’t respond to my invitation, and after a few months of non-contact, I decided to not transfer any money to them unless they at least “tried”.
What I received next was the last correspondence from my daughters. Tory sent me a lengthy text message fueled by the fact that I didn’t transfer the money to her sister in college. She made a lot of accusations in that text, all of them false and preposterous. That text message was not only the last I heard from my daughters, it was the icing on the parental alienation cake.
For months, I tried to make sense of what happened. It was in the months following that I came to know the term “parental alienation” and started finding books, blogs, and resources about the cause and affect of this syndrome. When I read “Breaking the Ties that Bind” (see Resources page) for the first time, it was almost as if my ex-wife read this book as a “how to alienate your ex-spouse for dummies” manual. Everything that happened to me and my family is spelled out in this book!
Like anything else, if people tell you that you are a terrible person long enough, you start to believe them. However, this book changed my perspective on my relationship with my daughters. I realized that it wasn’t me that caused this alienation. Against a strong headwind, I tried as best as I could to maintain the relationship. In the end, their family had no financial reason to keep me in the picture because their 18-year “gravy train” of child support dried up, so “good riddance to me.”
It might be tough to see at first, but my motives are pretty straightforward.
- Educate other dads before they find themselves 100% alienated.
- Find other parents in my same situation and form a support group.
- Set the record straight, counter all the lies propagated by my ex-wife and her family.
- Bring parental alienation out from under a rock and expose it for what it is: child abuse.
- Reunite with my daughters.
- Educate children caught in the middle of parental alienation.
Note to My Family
First of all, I’m very sorry if you feel exposed or vulnerable due to me taking my story public. This is a very difficult subject matter for all of us to talk about. It conjures a lot of bad feelings, emptiness, and sorrow. My alternative is to let this stew in my head and deal with it quietly, forever, which is how I’ve dealt with it thus far. It’s my hope that we can all heal and go forward with a new found understanding while living with this elephant in the family room that no one wants to talk about.