Originally posted on Men’s Rights Sydney
Seven Things Not to Say to an Alienated Father.
As alienated fathers we’re all too familiar with the evil of mothers who think it’s their right to take our children from us and to choose who gets to father our children. We’re also intimately familiar with the evil of those who pass and enforce the laws that keep us from our families, those who make it so easy for these mothers to steal our children. That said, there are a lot of amazing and good people in this world and being an alienated father brings some of these people, and the beautiful things they do, to our attention.
I for one am just over two years into my fight for my son and at this point there are two things which I know to be true: I would never have gotten this far without my family, and the endless support they have provided me, not just moral support but practical as well; and some people think they are saying something supportive or encouraging which is actually anything but. I’ve got amazing friends and family but as far as I know none have been through the fight I’m in, nor do too many really known anyone fighting the fight I’m in.
Some of these people have said things that I have no doubt was meant to be supportive though the reality for me fell short of that. The resulting conversations as I responded to their comments tended to be quite enlightening for all, I hope.
That said, this list is by no means definitive nor comprehensive, it is simply built from observations I have made when telling people my story and hearing their thoughts. If I’m honest I don’t think I could have done any better at trying to encourage an alienated father if I hadn’t been through this trauma already.
Another father may have a different experience to mine but I offer this list for two reasons: as an opportunity to communicate to our supporters what it’s like to hear some of these things, and an encouragement for fathers who may not immediately understand why some of the things our loved ones say don’t always sit so well.
So, to begin, this is to me possibly the worst one:
1. ‘Your child(ren) will come back to you when they’re old enough.’
Will they though? This is cold comfort to a father. I was heartbroken the first time I heard this. To me it’s the same as saying, ‘Oh well, better luck next time’. I am a father. To be a father I need my child with me. I have a physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and psychological need to have my child with me and to raise him like a father should. I love him more than life and every day I am not with him I am broken anew. When I’m at home and I think of him and want to see him knowing there’s no way that will happen, I die a little more. When I see fathers, or men who look to be grandfathers, on the street or in the local shopping centre with their children/grandchildren I die a little more. Why does he get to have what I’m stopped from having?
I have love to give and there is no one on this planet I have a built-in need to give that love to more than my son. I want him here and now. I want to raise him and guide him. I want to teach him. I want to make him laugh and I want to laugh at the funny things he does. I have an empty home full of children’s toys and I need my child to play with them. I simply cannot wait till he’s older, by then these toys will be long gone.
On a more ‘sciencey’ note I’d like to suggest people read ‘Divorce Poison’ by Dr Richard Warshak because not only does lived experience tell us that in fact, no, these alienated children often don’t come back to the alienated parent, but scientific research tells us the same thing. Dr Warshack’s research shows that the best thing for an alienated child is to be returned to the alienated parent. The brainwashing of some of these children can be so intense that if they are not returned to their fathers in the midst of their hatred for him, in fact, they don’t return at all. In even more fact, they blame their fathers for not being there. During these years of alienation the mother is given free rein to tell the children whatever she wants about the father, including the heinous and abusive claim that he chose to leave because he doesn’t want them. Does anyone honestly think a mother who alienates a father will tell the children he loves them and can’t wait to see them again?
I’ve heard these stories from older men as well. I’ve heard the unspeakable heartache in their voices as they’ve told their stories. The idea that I may have to wait another, what, fourteen, fifteen years for my now two-year-old son to come back to me is no comfort. In fact just thinking about that as I write this fills me with an emotion I doubt I will ever have the words to express.
What if that did happen though? What if I lost my son and didn’t see him till he came to me in fifteen years’ time? What of the years we lost? What of his childhood, schooling, sporting and personal experiences that I missed out on? Do you think it’s enough for me to just be told about these things after they’ve happened? Would you be ok with that for you and your children? None of us are comforted by the idea of not seeing our children till they’re adults so please don’t suggest it.
2. ‘Soon enough your child will be asking for the car keys.’
Now I’ve only heard this spoken by people in the family law system. People who are paid by the system and have no emotional investment in your child. They say it not really to encourage or affirm you but to shut you up and settle you down. The family law system works so painfully slow that fathers are missing huge chunks of their children’s childhoods but his lawyer just wants him to be patient while a bunch of strangers, people who don’t know the father nor his family, decide whether his children get to be a statistic.
The issue I have with this comment is that it is exactly the problem us fathers have and why we’re so impatient. Children grow up so fast and alienated fathers are missing out on that time. It’s time that disappears in a heartbeat. Unsurprisingly, the most grievous thing for me in this statement is that it flies in the face of what child care and parenting experts say, which is, to cherish every moment with your children because they will grow up so fast!
‘You don’t need to take that call now,’ they say. Pay attention to your child.
‘You don’t need to go on that business trip, do you?’ they ask. Stay home with your family.
‘Go on, take your children to the park.’
Because of busyness more and more parents today are having to be encouraged to spend more time with their children and take a larger interest in their lives (who are these negligent parents, bring them here so I can slap them), so why are alienated fathers being told the exact opposite? We’re being told to not worry about, and not rush, the time we’re spending without our children when it is exactly that absence that is causing the problems they will face as fatherless children. It’s that absence causing our heartbreak. It’s that absence pushing fathers to suicide out of hopelessness.
3. ‘The Family Court is fair and reasonable and have your child’s best interest in mind.’
This comment is made by possibly well-meaning though painfully ignorant people who have zero understanding of the court system. No father who has ever even been near a family court will believe this statement for one simple reason, it is profoundly and completely untrue. Look at the fatherlessness statistics then look at how many fathers are fighting for their children. The courts in this country are ejecting fathers from their children’s lives by the thousands every day.
The courts will look for any reason to remove a father from his children’s lives while looking for any reason to keep a mother in her children’s lives. ‘Did the father say something we don’t like? Get rid of him.’ ‘Is the mother addicted to drugs? Weeeell, the children need a stable home. Don’t worry about it.’ Children are losing fathers for no reason other than the mother doesn’t want him there. She’ll make up some of the most disgusting lies about his actions and with no proof the court will ban the children from having their father and you want us to believe they’re fair!
The courts are not fair to fathers. The courts are not reasonable to fathers. The courts do not have children’s best interests in mind. Even if I grant the point that the courts do actually operate with the best interest of the child, I will only grant that with the provision that the best interest is their end goal. You may say, ‘Case closed then, what’s your problem?’
My problem is that the best interest of the child should not be the end goal, it should be the entire journey. Some cases go through the courts for years but what the courts do is start with the assumption that the father must be removed from the family for the ‘protection’ of the mother and children. Then, and only then, will they bother considering whether to let him back in. That is pure evil. We state time and again in father’s groups that on family breakdown the presumption should be 50/50. Both parents should be equally involved unless there is clear and convincing evidence of danger to the children. Not just the mother’s say-so and not with the presumption that the father is the only problem.
You cannot deny children their father just because the parents divorced. All of this doesn’t even touch on the fact that making the above claim gives the father false hope that he stands an equal chance when the system is entirely weighted against him.
4. ‘There’s no hope.’
Even to me this one feels like a contradiction of number three and must, for the casual observer, feel like I’m serving up a dish of confusion. A ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ dichotomy, if you will. I feel I may really be addressing this point to other alienated fathers more than our supporters. The reality of our situation, and the fact that it often feels like it will never end, can really tear away every ounce of positivity the average man can pretend to have. It is this that can cause problems when we speak with other fathers who may be new into the fight.
I for one will put my hand up to say that at my lowest I felt the world pressing down on me and was barely swimming above the waves. If you were to have asked me then about it all I may very well have said there’s no hope and no point to fighting. The ease with which mothers control the courts and the police and the indifference with which those groups will remove a father from his children, we have too much against us; what’s the point!
Well, much of the above is true but fathers should be not only encouraged to fight, we must be armed with knowledge of our enemy. By all means, tell me about what I’m up against but please, don’t take away the fool’s hope I have that my son will come out of this without being a statistic of fatherlessness.
Sun Tzu is quoted as saying: ‘Know thyself, know thy enemy.’ Going into our fights knowing what we’re up against should serve to prepare us not deter us. The only time there is no hope for a father is when he gives up his fight before it begins. There is always hope even if it’s only that the father did everything he could and it was the court that stopped his progress.
Anger is justified, bitterness is unavoidable, but hopelessness is fatal.
5. ‘Just keep fighting.’
This one I feel really needs clarifying. If you say the above but don’t follow it up with ‘…and I’ll help you’, then you’re not helping. I often see memes on Father’s Rights and Men’s Rights social media pages that say, ‘You’ll never know what it’s like unless it happens to you’, or something to that effect. God bless whoever thought that up because truer words have never been spoken. If you’re a father fighting for his children against the Goliath that is everything you’re up against, you couldn’t possibly imagine the emotional and physical toll it takes on you.
During my fight it wasn’t unusual for me to just stop. Stop everything. Just stop. I couldn’t write another word of my affidavit. I couldn’t write another word of an assignment for my class. I couldn’t even write my thoughts down in preparation for an article about fatherhood and my experiences like this one. I just stopped. I wanted to keep fighting. I had every intention of it but I was only able to it with the help I got from my family. They drove me forward when I had nothing to get me moving.
I mentioned the help my mother has given me. She even went so far as to write things and make phone calls and organise things when she saw that I couldn’t. I can only assume she saw that I just didn’t have the energy and couldn’t make that phone call or write that word.
My brother, being the only family I have in the same State as me, was a saving grace as well. He could only do so much but what he was able to do added that much needed buoyancy to my struggle against drowning.
We want to keep fighting but no man is an island, as they say. Even the strongest of us can collapse when we see the insurmountable obstacles between us and our children. If you honestly want us to keep fighting we need your help. This doesn’t even address that we shouldn’t have to fight in the first place.
6. ‘Some father’s groups are just full of bitter men.’
OK, you got me there. This is undeniably true. However, that proves exactly how important these groups are and how helpful it is for men to know they aren’t alone in this fight.
Before making touch with father’s groups on Facebook I didn’t personally know a single man who went through what I was going through. And other than my own father, before he remarried, I don’t think I personally knew any single fathers. Certainly not anyone who defined himself as a single father. Right at the start of my fight I met a guy who told me about his experiences, in fact he is the perfect example of why the Number 1 entry in this article is so unhelpful. His adult children will speak to him but the brainwashing was too damaging, and from what I understood, they wouldn’t hear of their mother’s wrongdoing. I would question the sanity of a man who could experience the abuse that the family courts and other government organisations serve to fathers and not quickly become bitter.
Those ‘bitter men’ really didn’t change the issue that I needed to find men going through similar things. Like anyone else on this planet I needed to know I wasn’t alone and needed to hear the stories of those who had been through it and who were still going through it. To think an alienated father shouldn’t make contact with a father’s group just because some of them are bitter is to chop off his foot only to demand he run a marathon.
Further, not every man in these groups are the bitter and hateful people feminists and the media pretend we are. Some are there because they want to help other fathers. They want to be there for the exact reason why fathers like me need them, to help us through it. We need people who know what’s going on and the bitter men may very well be the ones most in need of these groups. Imagine telling someone they’re too sick for a hospital.
These groups are here to help and we’ll quickly know if they aren’t doing that, at which point we can be on our way and there will be another group out there more suited to our needs.
7. ‘Man up and take responsibility for yourself.’
I’m not sure there is a phrase that makes me as angry as ‘man up’. Could there be a more insulting term? Maybe, but this is a bad one. Here’s the problem with it just within the context of parental alienation. It’s usually said by people who think that if a man is to put his foot down about something and ‘be a man’ then he will get his way. Like I’m supposed to walk into court one day and make my demands before dropping the nearest microphone on the ground in ‘thug-life’ victory then walk out. That’s not how it works. That’s the surest way to lose.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that men acting like ‘men’ is often what’s used against us in court. What do I mean by that? No, I don’t mean men are inherently violent, I mean that, in relation to families, both the courts and the police hate men. If a man stands up for himself and demands to have access to his children that is literally considered domestic violence and may be the end of his relationship with his children forever.
The whole idea of this phrase suggests that it’s the man’s fault. That somehow he is lacking and if only he were a real man then he wouldn’t be in this situation. That is profoundly monstrous. The entirety of family law and the way it is administered by the courts is to disempower men. It is to literally take from him everything he values and everything he loves (everything that makes him who he is) and then tell him to beg like a dog for the possibility of a treat.
Alienated fathers not only don’t choose to be alienated, there is nothing they can do to expedite the process of fixing it. We are entirely, and without exaggeration, at the mercy of our child’s mother and whether she is interested or not.
Not long ago, to my horror, it was another father who told me that a time I was being abused in front of my son by his mother and her friends wasn’t abuse, it was a test. I had failed that test because it was up to me to put up with the abuse, not that he called it abuse, and respond in a way that showed they ‘weren’t getting to me’. No matter that I was being abused in front of my son. No matter that I’m a human being and don’t deserve to be treated like that. To him, I had failed as a man and the cause of that fight and the repercussions were my fault, even though they weren’t. It would take a poet to put into words exactly how much of an idiot that guy was and how wrong he was; completely and eternally wrong. Yet he was part of a father’s rights group. Amazing.
We have a massive problem in this society in regards to men and the value we place on fatherhood. It is painfully clear to those of us fighting the courts that fatherhood is entirely disposable. Sometimes a father is banned from his children just because the mother is causing so much trouble the courts want to pretend things will be better for the children without the father (cause it’s his fault the mother hates him).
It seems that no one cares about the children. No one stops to think that just maybe the children would be better off with the father full time until the mother receives serious psychological help. This attitude needs to change. This is why father’s rights groups exist. It’s our children who are suffering the most from this hatred and what makes it worse is that some of them will never see their father again, not just from alienation but because huge numbers of fathers every week in this country are committing suicide over family court issues. No one outside of father’s rights groups care.
This will change with us but we need our loved ones to help. Be sure it’s not just your encouragement but your involvement, active and passionate, that will get us moving forward. We know those in power don’t care. We know those within the courts don’t care. We know women’s groups are militantly against us and want to maintain their power and influence over family matters. None of this is good enough, so we must start with educating society since many of them are just wandering through a feminist haze naively thinking that what feminists say about domestic violence and custody matters is the truth.
We need to be the driving force behind the change in social understanding of fathers so that we can build our numbers. Then, and probably only then, will the politicians be concerned enough about our voting power to change what they’re supporting.
Let me reiterate. This list is not comprehensive. It isn’t offered to cover the whole experience of alienated fathers. A father reading this may already have a mental list of things people have said to him with the best of intentions that ended up causing more stress or concern than was meant. Maybe based on responses another list will be written but for now this is my list offered as a means to invite you into an alienated father’s experience. It expresses the concerns I’ve had communicating with people who struggle to find the right words to build me up. But built up and encouraged I must be and so must all other fathers who are experiencing this because none of us will fight a more important war.
About the author:
BK is a father and a freelance writer based in Melbourne. He’s currently studying writing
with a view to better put his thoughts and life-lessons into words.