through raising awareness.

Goodnight my Angel

I wrote the following essay shortly after my divorce.  I wanted to capture my emotions at the time as well as my thoughts regarding the alienation that was already taking place.

"Okay, now make him look sad," I said.
M-- contorted the stuffed animal's face to the appropriate expression, and then whimpered a little for added effect.  This made me laugh.

It was bedtime. I was tucking my daughter in.  We were lying side-by-side, our heads sharing the same pillow.

My wife and I had not yet fully separated.  I was still spending my evenings at our home, but I was sleeping at a little apartment I had rented.  There were no lawyers yet.  We were considering counseling.  But soon the violent episode between B-- and his mother would take place, and the days of utter chaos would begin.

"Okay, just one more and then I have to go... now I want you to make him look surprised."  M-- raised the animal's paws up in the air, perked up his ears, and then spastically shook his whole body back and forth.  I laughed again.

"That was perfect!  Okay, now it's time for you to go to bed."

"But you have to stay in my room until I fall asleep."

"No cutie, I'm sorry.  I can't do that.  I have to go."

"But then I won't be able to sleep."

"I'm sorry honey, but it's time for me to go."  I started heading out.  I didn't want her to see me getting choked up.

"I love you Dad," M-- said softly as I left her room.  "I love you too M--," I replied.

As I walked down the hall I passed the master bedroom.  The door was partially open, and I could see the dim shadows cast by my wife's reading lamp.  I was sure she was listening to everything.

"I love you Dad!" M-- repeated loudly as I headed down the steps. "I love you too M--!  I'll see you tomorrow night!"  Had I only known the storm that was coming, I would have savored her words even more.  After that night I would not hear them again.

I opened the front door.

"I love you Dad!" M-- shouted to me one last time.  I could barely get the words out of my mouth: "Goodnight M--!  I love you very much!  Go to sleep now, okay?"

I stepped out into the cold and I closed the door behind me.

I've replayed that scene in my head a hundred times, sometimes to the point of torturing myself.  It reminds me of the many mistakes I made during our divorce.  For example, I never should have rented that apartment.  My goal at the time was to diffuse some of the tension in our home—to have a place to go when my wife would lose control.  I wanted to finally set a boundary.  I was not going to tolerate her behavior toward me any longer.  However, the spin given to our friends and family, and even to the courts, was that I had just packed up and left.

The second, and by far the most agonizing thing that scene reminds me of is how deeply my kids used to love me.  Ask them about it now and they will deny it ever existed.  Show them old pictures of us working on projects together, or doing homework together, or me giving them piggyback rides with big smiles on their faces, and they will somehow minimize it.  Show them the countless videos I took of them at their concerts and ballgames and they will deny it was me behind the camera.  "You hardly made it to any of my football games last year," my youngest son said to me shortly after the divorce.  In fact, I had not missed a single one.  But my son would not be convinced.  History had been rewritten.

The third thing it reminds me of is how naive I was at the time.  I did not understand the dynamics taking place, or the underlying psychology.  I had never even heard of Parental Alienation.  I pictured my wife on the other side of that door listening to our daughter say "I love you" to her daddy, and I imagined my wife’s heart melting a little.  But I was wrong.  Her heart didn’t melt.  It hardened against me even more.

With every divorce there are deep wounds.  In most circumstances these wounds heal over time.  But with Parental Alienation there is an interruption of the natural healing process.  Parental Alienation is like an infection that seeps into the wounds of a divorce and causes them to fester.  It leaves ugly scars, and the scars it leaves last for a lifetime.