Archive for December, 2011

Hope for the holidays

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

(This is part two of a two-part story highlighting how a formerly alienated child reunited with his Dad after parental alienation kept them apart for 18 years. Please scroll down to our December 15th entry for the first part of the story.)

When Oliver, Zach’s Dad, dialed Zach’s phone number on the dawn of the new millennium he didn’t know what to expect on the other end of the line. “I found out Zach’s Mom had separated from her second husband and left town,” Oliver explained, “so even though I hadn’t seen Zach in years I hoped the time might be right.”

Oliver’s hope quickly turned into disappointment when Zach refused to come to the phone.

“I was caught off guard and needed some time to digest things,” Zach said.

Zach often thought about his father growing up. As a teenager, Zach would get angry with his Mom and threaten to contact his Dad. “That would make her furious,” Zach recalled. “Then she would call Dad ‘the Devil’ and tell me to go ahead and contact him, but I never did. I guess I was afraid of the unknown. I also didn’t want to disappoint or betray Mom,” he added.

As it turns out, all Zach needed was about 30 minutes to make a decision. “Dad was shocked when I called back. I wasn’t sure what to say, but I was really excited. I was also really happy. I remember thinking, ‘Mom moved out of town so the pressure is gone,’” he recalled.

Oliver also remembers the conversation. “We talked for at least an hour. It was amazing. Zach sounded good. He was curious and also a little angry. I was flying high but cautious not to come on too strong,” he said.

Oliver and Zach began communicating on a regular basis. They also exchanged pictures – neither one knew what the other looked like. After a few months of emails and instant messages Oliver asked Zach if he could visit. “We were both excited to see each other,” Zach remembers. “The visit went really well,” Oliver added, “mostly because we had communicated so much via email.

Without knowing it, father and son followed a formula that many parental alienation experts recommend when a formerly alienated parent and child reconnect. Initially, Oliver and Zach focused on the present and did not address the reasons for their estrangement. As explained in A Family’s Heartbreak: A Parent’s Introduction to Parental Alienation, when a formerly alienated child is ready to discuss the past he or she will bring it up. Even then, however, targeted parents should remember that the conversation isn’t about them. The child is looking to understand what happened; and not, as many parents hope, validate Mom or Dad’s belief that he or she was treated unfairly.

Zach’s relationship with Oliver was back on track, but Zach still had one piece of unfinished business. “My first conversation with Mom was very uncomfortable,” Zach shared. “She was not happy. She tried to act like she was okay with it but I knew she wasn’t. But I was angry too. In fact, I think after I reconnected with Dad I was angrier that he missed my ballgames and school events than I was when I was young.”

Today, Zach is married and a father. He calls his relationship with his Dad “great” and his relationship with his Mom “rough.” “I still can’t say ‘I’m going to see Dad,’” Zach explained. “I have to say ‘I’m going to see Oliver.’” For his part, Oliver has also reconnected with his daughter even though repairing that relationship has been harder. They’re sharing their story to help other alienated children and parents avoid what they went through. “I’m here to tell alienated parents that miracles do happen,” Oliver said. “I would love to write a book or start a non-profit and reach people who are dealing with this tragedy,” Zach added. 

Holiday miracle gives hope to alienated parents

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

Whether you believe in the miracle of Christmas, Hanukkah or the Miracle on 34th Street, you hear the word “miracle” a lot this time of year. Many alienated parents pray for a very specific miracle during the holiday season – the miracle of reunion.

Zach White of Birmingham, Alabama knows a little something about miracles. Zach was alienated from his father when he was two years old. Nineteen years later, a holiday miracle brought father and son together. They’ve been together ever since, but in order to appreciate where Zach and his father are today, you should know where they’ve been.

In all honesty, their story isn’t unique. Zach’s Dad and Mom divorced. Mom interfered with Dad’s parenting time. Mom told Zach and Zach’s sister that Dad was mean and violent. Zach and his sister behaved badly when they were with Dad. The children were coached to say they wanted nothing to do with him. Dad sent presents and the presents were returned.  A court-ordered five weeks with Dad turned into a few days of drama before Zach and his sister forced their return to Mom’s house. Alienated parents could probably substitute their child’s name for Zach’s and insert his or her name instead of “Zach’s Dad.” As we said in A Family’s Heartbreak: A Parent’s Introduction to Parental Alienation, the examples that define parental alienation are remarkably consistent.

The last time Zach saw his Dad was 1991. Zach was 12 years old. During a court-ordered visit the children first refused to leave the airport, then locked themselves in a room at Dad’s house and wouldn’t come out. During the same visit, Zach’s Mom called the police and accused Zach’s Dad of abusing both children. A short time later, Mom and Dad were in court. The judge ruled that Dad didn’t have to pay child support and the children didn’t have to see him if they didn’t want to.

“My earliest memories of my Dad are him trying to visit me and my sister and my Mom not allowing us to have anything to do with him,” Zach remembers. “I was very confused. My Mom kept telling me he was mean and violent and I didn’t know enough about my Dad to know any better.”

All it took, however, was a couple of visits with his Dad for Zach to form a different opinion.

“I saw Dad was not the horrible person Mom said he was. At this point my life became very difficult. I wanted a relationship with him but knew I couldn’t let Mom know because she would be furious. I also felt a sense of loyalty to Mom. I knew she disliked Dad so I felt like if I liked him it would hurt her,” Zach also recalled. 

Zach’s sister complicated his life. She was three years older than Zach and he quickly realized that if he was too nice to Dad when they were together his sister would report back to Mom. “I felt like I couldn’t be myself around him,” Zach indicated. “I felt like I was walking a tightrope.”

Zach’s Mom promised Zach that he wasn’t going to have a relationship with his Dad and she was true to her word. Nine years passed. Zach and his father were living in different states, but for all the contact they had they could have been living on different planets. Mom, now separated from her second husband, moved away.  Zach was in college and returned to Mississippi for the Christmas holiday. Ironically, he was staying with his Step-Dad in the home they had shared when Zach’s Mom and Step-Dad were together. The date was December 31, 1999. While many people were worrying that the Y2K bug would stop the world in its tracks, an alienated Dad in North Carolina picked up a phone and placed a call that would jump-start a relationship that had been dead in its tracks for nine years.

Do you believe miracles can happen for alienated children and parents?  If you do, come back on December 22 and have your faith validated.  If you don’t, come back for a story that may change your mind.

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