Road to Father's Day Stories

Some fathers never tell their stories. Some, like Michael Sullivan in Road to Perdition, keep their professional life separate from their family life as a protection. Most of us do not have excuses of such dramatic proportion but there are an ever large number of men and women who have divorced and find their stories lost or ignored in the emotion of separating a marriage with children. Many marriages end with the adults' alienation thrust into the core history of the children.

Parental Alienation Syndrome, PAS, was first described in the 1980's when therapists started seeing children of divorced families who were severely alienated from one of the parents for little or no apparent reason. Dr. Richard Gardner wrote the first articles and continues to be vilified and praised almost 10 years after his death. The scientific validity of PAS likely would not be such a big issue if it had not made its way into the same custody battles that foster the condition to begin with.

Fortunately, there is less dispute about the value of a parent's stories. Sadly, there are many parents who cannot tell their stories as no one is left sitting around the family campfire. I know because I lost the ears of my two children something less than 30 years ago when their mother came home from a business trip and announced that she had fallen in love with a co worker. Shortly after we separated, we agreed that the children would live with their mother and scheduled a time when they would be packed up and ready to be picked up to live with her. The two young people waited by the front door with suitcases, boxes and bags for hours without any sight of their mother. When they finally talked to her, she explained that she did not pick them up because I would not have allowed them to leave. In the months that followed, in all the arguments with attorneys, in all of discussion of options to finalize the divorce, it was never proposed that their mother would be the custodial parent. It was years later, when I became involved with a woman that the first custody battle began. By then, my children were in high school and were permitted to make own decisions.

Those years had done their damage. I knew that their mother and her family were unrelenting in defending her and demeaning our life as a single parent family. I saw the conflict that was created in my children and made the conscious decision to “take the high road” in the hope that it would stop when the emotions became more controlled and that some normalcy would be possible. It did not happen. When my son got married, I was invited but excluded from the planning or participating as anything other than “guest”. When my daughter got married, I was not even invited as she explained it, “for obvious reasons.” More than 20 years after the day their mother came home with her announcement, I sat down with my son. For four hours I listened to his anger about things that never happened or events that had become so distorted with the passions of a divorce that, for me, were long forgotten. I listened to his anger over the stories his grandparents and mother told him as if those stories were real, as if they had not waited with their bags packed for the ride that never came.

Alienation of children and parents happens. The Parental Alienation Awareness Organization is one of many groups that provide support for people like me who have seen the systematic alienation of their children. I have lived with this anger for close to 30 years. It is only in the last four years that a real dent has been made in the walls that were built. Choices that adults made years ago continue to inject anger and resentment into the lives of my children. The PAAO maintains pages of letters from adults and their children telling similar tragic stories. None of these stories is an entirely accurate account of any family in turmoil, but when there is only one version of a story available, the meaning of events takes on a distinct flavor. With a bitter divorce as the seasoning, that flavor cannot benefit anyone but the spiteful.

Archives of stories can help all of us. I know that I am not the only parent who would love to wave a magic wand and change the years of suffering. Just having a different perspective of an event can begin the process of reducing the anger, the irrational alienation. Story Chip is a home for those of us who are prevented from having our stories heard. Some of the stories are easy to tell, while others require gritted teeth and a deep breath. There is some small satisfaction in knowing that my grandson, Raymond, can Google himself or me and find a different version of his life and know more about his grandfather.

The Road to Perdition is a story told by a son as he learns horrifying truths about his father the mob hit man. Michael Sullivan Jr. points out that when he is asked if there was any good in his father, he always replied, “He was my father.” There are more stories of fathers, mothers, sons and daughters on Story Chip. There is still time to add a story about your father before Father's Day or add a story about being a father.

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