When I was growing up, I knew a fair amount of kids whose parents were divorced. For most of my years growing up, I was one of those kids. Dad was remarried and had a new family that I visited. Mom was remarried for part of that time, but for most of it she was a divorced “single” mom. Most of my friends lived with their moms, but I knew they were able to see their dads and I just assumed that’s how it was with divorced families. I recall one of my girlfriends in junior high school who told funny stories about her dad. The two things I remember most about Mr. Bjornestad: 1) that he was Norwegian and 2) that he made “adult-only” brownies that we were not allowed to eat. It was the seventies, so I understand now what that meant.
Not once did I ever hear any of my friends talk negatively about their dads. It was California in the seventies, trust me, there were a lot of divorced families. My own parents had been divorced for a long time by then. I spent my earliest years with my maternal grandparents, after my parents first divorced, and even later when I started college. I never recall hearing anything negative about my father. Not from my grandparents. Not from my mother. I never recall a fight. Ever.
After I moved to California to be with my mother, she encouraged me to spend time with my father and frankly, I think she enjoyed having the time to herself. If they ever argued, I never heard it or heard about it. Children should not be involved in adult situations. Growing up without a father was difficult enough. I believe that daughters who grow up without fathers in their lives have their own issues, but I’ll save that post for another time. My mother was far from perfect, but she was smart enough to understand that as her child, I shouldn’t have to deal with any part of her divorce.
I never had children of my own. Without going into all the details, the fact remains that I was basically single until it was past the time for me to have children. I decided God would be in charge of that department and if I was meant to have children, they would likely come in the form of a husband’s existing progeny. It wouldn’t be until I was 52 years old that I would hear the term “Parental Alienation” and become a witness to it. I married my husband at 54 and knew that his four children would not be attending our wedding. It wasn’t because I didn’t want his children to be a part of our new life together. It was because of Parental Alienation.
What is Parental alienation? Wikipedia says: [it describes a process through which a child becomes estranged from a parent as the result of the psychological manipulation of another parent. The child’s estrangement may manifest itself as fear, disrespect or hostility toward the distant parent, and may extend to additional relatives or parties. The child’s estrangement is disproportionate to any acts or conduct attributable to the alienated parent. Parental alienation can occur in any family unit, but is believed to occur most often within the context of family separation, particularly when legal proceedings are involved, although the participation of professionals such as lawyers, judges and psychologists may also contribute to conflict. Proponents of parental alienation assert that it is primarily motivated by one parent’s desire to exclude the other parent from their child’s life. Some assert that parental alienation should be diagnosable in children as a mental disorder. Some propose that parental alienation be recognized as a form of child abuse or family violence. They assert that parental alienation creates stress on the alienated parent and child, and significantly increases the child’s lifetime risk of mental illness.]
Today is Father’s Day. I am fortunate enough to have a father who is still alive and who is also active on social media. I get to call him and know that he will be delighted to receive my phone call. I get to post photos of our times spent together and know that he will respond positively. Which he already did! Thanks, Dad! I get to visit him anytime I want and I know that I will be welcomed into his home and his wife will make me feel comfortable. We will go places and laugh. We will share stories and memories. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for my husband. And this is because of Parental Alienation.
I’m going to share a story with you that I’ve not publicly revealed before. First of all, it wasn’t really my story to tell. Second, it isn’t a nice story. I think that Father’s Day should be a day where social media is filled with lovely photos of fathers with their children, some alive and some filled of memories past. This is a story of a memory, but it isn’t a positive one like all the others. I hesitate to share it because it’s the story of my husband’s Father’s Day four years ago. A day we both remember vividly, although we wish it never happened.
When you join groups on social media that fight for the rights of fathers and mothers who have been alienated from their children, sometimes the stories get rough. I’ve read many of those stories. I don’t mean to sound pessimistic, but I get tired of reading about them. They’re sad. They’re depressing. I want redemption for everyone and it just doesn’t happen as often as I’d like. So sometimes I just take a break. I hide from the fight for a time. I talk to God. I pray for those dealing with the pain of not having their children in their lives. I can tell you, I never expected to be someone who would be put in this position. My eyes have opened to those hurting from this type of a loss. And it is a great loss. Although your children are still alive, you don’t have them in your life. These children often act out. They often become the surrogates for the other parent and speak as if they ARE the other parent. This is what my husband experienced. His children became hateful toward him (and anyone associated with him). They believed the lies that were told to them. The false stories became their new narrative. It was because of Parental Alienation.
“Experts” and those more experienced with the medical and psychological side of the mental disorder called Parental Alienation sometimes advise you not to mention the children or the alienator in a negative light. If you do, you become the target of many things, including appearing to be a villain yourself. Because targeted parents see others’ situations through their own lens, they can say hurtful things to you or give advice that may – or may not – be right for your situation. The idea is to help and support others. I truly understand this. However, sometimes because hurting people are dealing with their own pain, they cannot help you. You have to do your own due diligence and make your own decisions. It may work. It may not. It’s a chance that one takes.
I’d like to share this story. I realize that some people won’t believe it. Some people might disapprove of my sharing it. Others will think I’m telling it for sympathy (and I won’t lie to you… I am). Some of you will ignore it and move on – and that’s okay – because it isn’t happy like everyone else’s story. It is the truth, however. It happened four years ago on Father’s Day. Four years have passed and some days the events of that day are as fresh as yesterday.
June 19, 2016. We had been married almost a year and we knew that Eric would spend part of the day with his three youngest children as his oldest, Alexandra, was already “emancipated” and would now refuse to spend time with her dad. She legally changed her name to that of her mother’s maiden name earlier that same year, on her 18th birthday in January. A day that was celebrated at the courthouse in a Facebook post by her mother designed specifically to inflict pain on Eric and further distance his children from him. If there was any way she could distance the children from their father, you’d better believe it was on “Liza’s” radar. What other ways are there? Why not indoctrinate them into her Greek culture. Eric isn’t Greek, you see, so in addition to removing his name why not erase his complete heritage from his children’s records? Change all the children’s names to your Greek name and get them to claim only YOUR heritage. (While Eric and Elizabeth were married, she wanted Eric to use his middle name of “Alexander” because it sounded more Greek.) I often wonder what her strategy would have been if Eric had actually BEEN Greek?
As Eric’s custody case ensued, the visits with his children got worse. (I hate to call them “visits” because I believe in 50/50 Shared Parenting and that no parent should ever have to “visit” their own child…) Because Parental Alienation is about brainwashing children to believe the narrative that the “Alienating” parent has created, the Alienating parent retells a story to their children – and everyone – so as to make themselves a hero (or heroine). The other parent, the “Targeted” parent becomes a villain. Eric started recording his time with his children and the “exchanges” solely to protect himself from false accusations. Unfortunately, they got wise to the recordings and pleaded with the judge to make him stop as it caused the children distress. By now, his children were fully brainwashed, even calling Eric by his first name. “Daddy” & “Dad” as they had always referred to him was never used again. This is only one incident in a series of events that occurred after Eric’s former wife filed for divorce and with their children, moved into the home of her boyfriend.
Although Eric and Elizabeth were married for over 18 years, her new narrative was that he was an absent father and that he abused all of them, but especially their youngest son, Dimitri, who has some special needs. It’s still her narrative on her business page (although the abuse allegations were retracted in court when she realized he had a strong case proving otherwise). Since she’s a newly licensed counselor, claiming she was abused evidently makes for a better story and hides the fact that she was, herself, accused of felony theft. (She was charged and convicted of misdemeanor theft and was placed on probation for two years.) It doesn’t matter that she posted on FB what a wonderful father Eric was up until about a year before their separation and divorce. It’s insignificant that he had teachers, friends and acquaintances comment how involved he was in the lives of his children on social media, because that no longer fit the narrative of a “dead-beat dad”. Forget the photos of the ski trips, lavish birthday parties for the children, adorable family photos, kind words written in cards, notes, books. The fact now is that he didn’t deserve to be in his children’s lives because he was “never there” and he abused his wife by pinching her. (Her words from court documents.)
While it almost seemed comical when Eric and I first began reading the accusatory long emails and text messages, believe me when I tell you it was a living nightmare all the years Eric (and his entire side of the family) had to endure this craziness. In fact, portions of my side of the family were targeted. My mother and step-father made the mistake of moving here just as Eric was going to court to fight for custody of his children. My parents were called to testify in court (including my step-father who has dementia) and they were even followed home by Eric’s former brother-in-law who claimed my parent’s condo was actually Eric’s “second home” and the location where he evidently tortured his special needs son. No, I’m not making this up. It can be found online in court records. It was because of Parental Alienation.
Because the few visits Eric had were bad and increasingly getting worse… (His children would run away, call him names, make up accusations in letters to the court – stories made up of 90% lies by mom and possibly even her female attorney – damage property, namely MY vehicle with $3,500 worth of ripped leather seats, pen marks, and torn out cupholders, spit at us, strike out, and scream… Eric was dreading his Father’s Day visit.
We devised a plan that would protect Eric from further accusations and hopefully allow everyone to actually have a nice time together. We decided that Father’s Day 2016 would include a trip to the beautiful Dogwood Canyon park. The park includes horseback riding, a tram ride to see wildlife, restaurants and just lovely scenery. Eric would invite his good friend – and a “single” father raising his own son – to join them. It helped that his friend, George, would travel to the park in his own vehicle with his own sophisticated camera equipment hooked up to the front of the vehicle as he followed Eric and his kids in MY (already severely damaged) vehicle.
George tells the story from his view driving behind Eric: “I could see Eric’s car swerve several times off the side of the road. I could tell he was getting punched repeatedly in the head by one of his kids. I was afraid he was going to crash.”
Eric’s two middle children, Isabella and Nicholas, were directing his youngest son, Dimitri, to hit, spit on, and yell obscenities at Eric. As he was repeatedly punched in the head, encouraged by his older siblings, the vehicle would swerve off the highway. As George videotaped the erratic driving, they somehow managed to arrive at the park safely. Yet once they checked into the park, Eric’s three children ran off into the woods, with a plan to find a park ranger and complain that their father abandoned them. Eric found his children hours later, while they were attempting to call their mother to pick them up. Eric had marks and bruises on his head, neck and shoulders from the repeated hits he got in the vehicle. He never once touched any of his children, yet he would be accused of it in court documents, nonetheless.
This would be his very last Father’s Day with any of his children. This visit, along with others, would be used against him in court to claim that he abused them and that he could not properly take care of them. The final judge (after having a series of judges, one who recused saying: ‘You are both screwing up your kids, I’m retiring and have no intention of hanging around to deal with this mess’) ordered reunification therapy with a licensed psychologist for Eric and his children. The plan was after so many months of therapy, Eric was to have overnight visits with his children. As had previously occurred, the children’s mother did not comply with court orders. After a couple of visits with Eric’s children, the psychologist stated that he felt the children were so brainwashed, he didn’t have any hope there could be a restored relationship with their father.
Eric’s eldest daughter, Alexandra, has created her own personal blog where she shares much of this new narrative that her father was a bitter and sad “leech” who cheated on her mother and had addictions. Her blog entry dated February 27, 2018 claims they (as a family) had nothing. (I guess she forgot their yearly ski trips, her private piano and golf lessons, her mother’s brand new Escalades and their nice home.) This narrative has also blinded her to her own mother’s cheating that eventually lead to their moving in with mom’s boyfriend. Mark, the boyfriend is referred to as “dad” and is proudly displayed in family photos on the blog. These blog posts abruptly end with no explanation when Mark (via sources) removed them all from his home.
Eric has never stopped loving his children or fighting for a relationship with them. Eric and I have spoken at Parental Alienation and 50/50 Shared Parenting events in the U.S. and have been hosts on the Dad Talk Podcast. We’ve donated and participated in PA walks, such as the one sponsored by Parental Alienation Speaks.
Eric founded the Facebook Group “Parental Alienation Education and Support Group of the Midwest” and is planning his own podcast and book. If you or anyone you know is effected by Parental Alienation, please reach out for support at one of the various PA groups on Facebook and Instagram or see a licensed Psychologist who specializes in PA. I also recommend reading some of the excellent books on Parental Alienation by Dr. Amy Baker and other experts in the field.
Sindy Kimmis Farris lives with her husband, Eric A. Farris, a former attorney, in Branson, Missouri. She is the owner and founder of https://twomargaretsbeauty.com a skin, bath and body care business and beauty blog.