> No More Secrets And Lies: Never Got to Say Goodbye

Monday, March 11, 2013

Never Got to Say Goodbye

It was a late summer day. Goldenrod and asters were coloring the hill. The days were growing short, the birds were gathering in flocks, and there was a feeling in the air that school would be starting soon.
                                                — From Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace 

Grace with flowers

When you tell a child her father is evil and that she should hate him you're telling her that everything she once thought to be true about a person she loves more than anyone, was wrong, and that she was wrong. And in a short period of time, the bond she once had with her father will be severed, the effects of this will negatively affect her the rest of her life, and in the end, she'll hate herself.

"I thought I was right about Dad. How could I have been so wrong? I can never trust myself again."

And she won't trust herself again. She may never trust anyone again. And every day she'll see something that reminds her of her father but she'll painfully ignore it because it feels so horrible -- because she feels so horrible about what happened . So horrible, in fact, that she won't be able to think about her father anymore. She won't want any reminders of him because they'll be reminders of the saddest, most terrifying thing that's ever happened to her. She's horrified about what happened to her father and about what she's supposed to think about him, and she can never see him again. He's dead to her.

"Something happened to him, and then a big part of me died too, and I had to let go of all those memories I had of him, which was most of my past. I was so stupid not to see this! I was sure Mom was wrong. I have to be the most stupid person in the world. I don't ever want to tell anyone about this. Let's never talk about this again."

And she won't talk about it again. I know Grace. She won't talk about things that bother her much anyway – she often avoids these things. And she won't talk about this because her confidence is now undermined and she'll no longer feel safe letting anyone question her — something she had always done before but won't now. She's hurt more than we can imagine. And as the maligned parent, it's hard to imagine she could be experiencing anything like I am: the worst pain I've ever had, lasting longer than any pain I've ever had. It's why parental alienation is called the sickest of the abuses.

The trauma associated with her experience will be nearly impossible to heal because she's lost her trust in people – especially adults, and especially her parents. And anytime she learns something new – no matter what it is – that nagging memory of the time she found out she was wrong about the biggest thing in her life will haunt her. She'll no longer believe she's as smart or as capable as she once was, tremendously affecting her ability to do almost everything else in her life. And she'll avoid anything she thinks might cause similar pain, but she won't know that is — she'll just remember the hurt associated with trust and never know the answer to the big question she'll always live with:

"Why didn't I see this? How could I not have?"

The moment she lost her dad will be the biggest event in her life not made any easier by what was said about him or by being told he didn't love her anymore. Like all children who think a parent doesn't love them, she'll think it's her fault.

"Why did he quit loving me? Why does he still love Josie, but not Mary and me? What did we do?" she'll ask the mother.

And this will have to be answered with even bigger lies, until the day she finds out she was lied to about him. But by then it will be too late for her to have any relationship with her father.

.   .   .

In Josie's little note to me (Josie and the Dogs), she writes that her mom wanted her to believe there was something wrong with her if she got any enjoyment out of being with me. She almost didn't catch this ploy for what it was, and for a moment even considers whether it might be true before she's, once again, forced to do the thing that makes her feel "kooky" — try not to think about any of it.

"If I believe Mom, I'll hurt Dad. But If I don't believe Mom, she'll get mad at me."

This twisting and turning of children's emotions inside and out is nothing less than severe emotional abuse. It creates such a huge shift in their world that it physically affects them. The only world they've ever known is suddenly cracked in two leaving them in such a state of distress that they can no longer function the way she once could. It's the most painful thing they'll ever experience. Worse than death. We all know this. And we also know that these children, while trying to avoid anything similar in their future, will bring into the their own families these same dysfunctional dynamics without even realizing they're doing this. It's a cycle that keeps repeating from one generation to the next.

My girls have all learned to avoid talking about their feelings now— the one thing I tried to model for them so they might grow up with some emotional stability in a world that seems to be less stable all the time. We're all terribly hurt from this. They lose their father. I lose my children — both of us cast out of each other's lives and damaged by something neither of us did.

Love You Googleplex

My relationship with Grace ended soon after my relationship with Mary did. It died out once I was no longer able to see her and was no longer able to balance the negative views she was being fed about me with the truth of who I really was. The less she saw me, the more she hated me — something that can only be understood and is only possible when a child is separated from a parent and living in an environment where that parent is being constantly disparaged. After a while she was no longer able to hold these two opposing views of me in her head, and like all children in positions like this, she had to let go of the father she loved and replace him with the image of a father she was supposed to hate. There was nothing I could at that point but sit by helplessly and watch her slip away — my presence in her life being only a painful reminder of the turmoil she was trying to run away from.

At first, I tried to reason with her about what was happening to her. I tried to talk to her about how, like with Mary, she too was a victim of the bad-mouthing and the lies she was told about me. But she was different now and her defenses prevented me from getting close to her. She was cold and distant and not at all the Grace I had raised or even known a few months earlier.

Something had dramatically changed in the way she now saw me, and we couldn't talk about the most important topic at the forefront of both of our minds: our relationship. Her thinking was now the victim, and even though she had always prided herself on her thinking, this topic was no longer on the table. 

That selfless honesty, which was once a hallmark of her personality, had been replaced with the impossibility of any honest reasoning on her part, at least in regards to me. She was as alienated from herself as we were from each other. I was no longer the father she had known, and Grace didn't know how to think about this except to not think about it. In a mere matter of weeks, we had grown light-years apart.

.    .    .

Only a year earlier she and I were having one of our typical great times together the kind only Grace and I ever had. We were tossing a juggling ball back and forth in my living room, while talking about life and all kinds of things and laughing and asking each other questions, when she suddenly stops, gives me a hug, and says:

"I really love hanging out with you, Dad. We have so much fun together."

"I know, Grace. I feel the same way."

"You know, this might sound kind of weird, but I really love my brain. Isn't that funny? I was thinking about this the other day, though, how I love how it comes up with all these ideas and makes me think about so many things and ask myself so many questions.  And I love you Dad."

"I love you too Grace. I love you googleplex."

.    .    .

Those days were gone, though, and no matter how hard I tried to re-kindle our relationship during that summer of 2011, I never had any luck.

On a typical afternoon that summer, I rode my bike over to her mom's house to see her. Her mom's boyfriend's pickup was parked out front and the lights were on in the house. I knocked on the door, looked through the little window in the door, and saw Grace. When she noticed it was me, a look of fear came over her.

"What do you want?" she said.

"I want to see you, Grace."

Her mom appears and opens the door.

"What are you doing here?"

"I came over to see Grace."

Grace moves closer and I say Hi to her.

"Hi Dad."

"Grace, I'd like to talk to you. We haven't seen each other for weeks."

"I can't talk right now. I'm too busy doing homework."

"But Grace, I just want to see you for a few minutes. It's been forever since we've even seen each other. What's going on?"

I turn to her mother, "Can you tell me what's happening over here with Grace?"

"She says she doesn't want to see you."

"I know, but can't you help us work this out? Something is seriously wrong over here."

"She obviously doesn't want to talk to you so you should leave?"

"But I want to see Grace. She's my daughter and I hardly see her anymore. What's going on with Grace and Mary anyhow?"

"I don't know. You'll have to ask them. I don't want you coming over here anymore, and if you don't leave I'm going to call the police."

"For what?"

Grace then grabs the door, slams it in my face, and screams, "I hate you," at me.

Never Got to Say Goodbye

The last time I saw Grace was in August of 2011. My girlfriend was in town visiting and I suggested we drive over to see if Grace would like to go out for ice cream. We drove over to her mom's house, and while my girlfriend waited in her car, I walked up to the house and knocked on the door. Grace and her mom both came to the door.

"Grace, would you like to come out with Paula and me to get ice cream?" I asked her.

She got extremely angry with me:

"Dad, why are you harassing me? Why are you doing this to me?"

This is how she saw the situation. My invitation to her to get ice cream was seen as me harassing her. Part of me knew she had no choice but to see it this way, and yet another part of me wanted to confront this misconception of my intentions.

"Grace, I only asked you if you wanted to get ice cream. I'm not harassing you."

"You know what you're doing," she replied while her mother watched.

She then asked me if she could go out to the car to talk to my girlfriend. She knew Paula well. Later Paula told me what Grace said to her.

"Why did you bring him over here? Why are you guys doing this to me? He only wants to harass us!"

Grace came back into the house and stood next to her mom. Her mom, then, once again, told me she was going to call the police if I didn't leave.

"Why would you call the police? What am I doing?"

"You're harassing us."

Grace slammed the door in my face. It was the last time I saw her.

.    .    .

In October of that year the worst news came. One evening I went over to her mom's house again to see Grace. When I noticed she wasn't home, I called her. I had my caller ID turned off so she answered her phone and told me she was at school and couldn't talk. A couple of minutes later I got a call from her mom:

"What do you want?

"I want to see Grace."

"Well there's something I have to tell you. Grace has requested that you have no further contact with her."

My heart sank.

"What are you talking about?"

"Grace doesn't want to see you anymore."

"Is this Grace's decision or yours?"

"It's her decision."

She hung up, and I cried all the way back to my apartment.

For two weeks, I couldn't do anything by lay in bed. I didn't want to do anything else. I didn't want to go on living. Grace was now gone from my life like Mary was, and I couldn't bear this. And even though I knew my relationship with Grace was probably coming to an end, I wanted to believe it would be different with her. I thought she might get away like Josie did. But she didn't, and I haven't seen her since that day in August of 2011 when I asked her to have ice cream with me.

A few days later, I emailed her mother to tell her that I still had Grace's things at my house and to see if Grace wanted them. I still had all of her clothes, personal items, books, toys and dolls from her childhood, the dream catcher she made that was still hanging above her bed, science projects and crafts we'd made together, and all the other things she'd accumulated from a lifetime of growing up at my house. And as odd as it sounded, I really wanted to know if she wanted her things now that we weren't going to see each other again.

I then asked her mom something else. I asked her if I could say goodbye to Grace, and I meant this too. I honestly wanted to tell her goodbye because I knew I probably wouldn't see her again. I never got a reply to my email.

This is difficult for me — that's true — but I try to remember that it's even more difficult for Grace. I also try to remember that her rejection of me is really a rejection of a part of herself — a part that she can't understand or deal with because it never existed in the first place. It's anxiety created in this little girl by someone else for that person's personal needs. And it's an anxiety Grace now has to live with and deal with for the rest of her life. Pushing me away is her attempt to push away a memory of me that she can't possibly make sense of because it doesn't square with any reality she's ever witnessed. How could she understand this. How could any child?

I can only hope that some day some trusted adult might reach out to her and help her understand the truth about what happened to us. Unveiling these secrets may not be easy, but then truth isn't always easy, and secrets seldom stay hidden — they often reappear later in our lives in a different form, and Grace shouldn't have to live with this. She deserves better.

She deserves to have an emotionally stable life free from the turmoil that was imposed upon her. She deserves to know she's not alone in the world. And she deserves to know she's a worthwhile, lovable person with father who loves her immensely. She needs to know all of these things before it's too late so neither of us will ever have to say goodbye.

Picture Grace drew of us holding hands


Anonymous said...

May God be with you and your daughter. we have to do something about this. I see this over and over! these kids are being abused! The kids suffer and the Dad did nothing but want to love and be with his child. wow this is absolutely heart breaking!!

Chelsey Williams said...

Beautiful. My heart aches reading this, for I know this walk all too well. And while I know that there are just no words to ease the pain that this experience brings over and over again, I want you to know that I care that this is what happened to you and Grace. It makes me so angry that good loving parents like yourself and myself are cast out of our children's lives in this vicious and heinous manner. I promise to keep doing what I can to bring awareness to this issue and healing to parents unfortunate enough to suffer through it. Bless you John.

John Brosnan said...

Thanks for the comment, Chelsey. You're right, there might not be words to ease the pain, but hearing them at least gives you hope. I'm glad you're committed to bringing awareness of this problem on your web site: Parental Alienation Global Directory of Resources.

Cindy said...

As tears fall down my face I have to tell U My Husband and I are going thru the same thing and both of his boys have turned against us because of BM! We have managed to mend fences with the oldest who is 17 and now we are going for custody of the 15 yr. old. With Gods grace maybe we can get him and let him know that we have known all along that he was made to do the things and say the things he said to and about us! I Pray that God will lift U up and sooth ur mind and body to deal with this horrid abuse! God Bless You!

Anonymous said...

It's hard for me to believe these are the same girlls I've known who loved their dad and knew he was their safe person and place. John, remember when you and the girls came to my farm and how much fun that was? And when you and the girls came to my place and we all practiced for open mic night....and of course open mic night at Coffee Hag with the girls on stage. They adored you! I have to believe love overcomes evil, and I pray for a miracle for the girls and for you. Love you, my friend! Cindy Reinitz Jackelen

John Brosnan said...

Thank you, Cindy, for the wonderful comment. I do remember these times very well. I remember how you coaxed Mary into getting up on stage with you to read her poems. You read your New York poem, I played my songs, and then when it was all done, Grace decided she wanted to get in on the act as well, and volunteered to tell a story or something (don't remember what it was now) and everyone applauded. Grace was so young then, but she loved doing things like this. That's probably why she went on to act in all those plays. Thanks again. Great memories. - John

Anonymous said...

All of your girls got on stage! It was so fun! Josie played some musical instrument - was it the flute?

John Brosnan said...

Yes. That's right, she played her flute.

Anonymous said...

I hope and pray that Mary and Grace come to know the truth (again)in your lifetime, John. You have so much love to offer. If the world weren't crazy, the girls could recognize you as one of the coolest people they knew.

John Brosnan said...

Thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

PLEASE get a lawyer and fight for your daughter. If you don't, she will grow up believing that you didn't care enough to fight. You are a victim of parental alienation syndrome, which is I see more of every day as a domestic relations lawyer. Good luck. Let that little girl know that you will ALWAYS be her father and you will fight to the death for her.

John Brosnan said...

Thanks for the advice, but I spent nearly $15,000 ten years ago just keeping joint custody of my children. See "John Meets Family Court." My lawyer still tells parts of my story to his clients. I spent $3,000 just a couple of years ago only to find out there was nothing the lawyer could do considering how this county operates. His words were: "It's lawlessness here in this county when it comes to family court and judges don't like to deal with this kind of stuff." See "The Tornado in Our Lives." My way of fighting for my kids now is to tell our story and hope they learn the truth or someone in the community helps us. I don't see judges here doing this --- they won't even enforce our parenting plan. I will discuss this with you, however, if like. 507-304-3383 - John

Anonymous said...

John I live in Sydney Australia and my daughter is 16 & son 15 who I have no contact with since June 2011. I read you story and can relate to every word. Have raised my kids to know and love their dad since they wer 3 & 2 when he left me for another women. Their dad is eldest of 6 and he has not spoken to his own family in over 12 years. My children had 12 days with me & 2 with dad and half of every holidays with dad. We both live in Sydney. They came home from school 2 years ago & said we are going to live with dad as it his turn. They moved within 2 weeks, unknowingly to me it was planned for 6 months. My kids go to new schools but have no contact with any family on both sides and any friends. By June on the weekend before my daughters birthday I was on my way to pick them up and my son called and said in a low quiet voice, "mum its not working with you & Maddie & I dont like your personality so we are not going to see you anymore". I said this is not ok I need to speak to dad and he said no no no dad never has to see, speak or deal with me again. So thats it no more contact with my beautiful children. Its a living grief. I go to award nights, parent/teacher interviews where my son ignores me but my daughter walks up and demands that I leave. Your words resonate with me and over 20 women I have met. Fiona

John Brosnan said...

Thank you for the compliment. I'm glad you can relate to this. I feel so bad for you. Have things improved at all?

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately not at the moment. 3 months of no contact so I attend opening mass at school and my daughter ignores me. My son did not even attend his opening mass where he was going to be honoured with becoming a school leader. I have no idea what my children think or feel. Last week I learnt that their dad sold the house I thought they have been living in. In 16 months they have lived somewhere else but I do not know where they live. Just when you think there is no way of hurting any further. Its like my children have been abducted in the same city that we live. I know what schools but not where they sleep each night. Each night I visualise and say a prayer to them telling them I love them and I will always be herer for them. I must wait patiently and one day I hope they seek me out. My love is unconditional and my bond with my children is for life. I may not phsically see them but one day I hope to hold them in my arms and they get to feel my love. A child does not deserve to be torn like this, it is not their fault. Its like their childhood never existed and they have just started a whole new life. Yes you can share on your blog. Kindest regards, Fiona.

Anonymous said...

My dear god I thought my boyfriend and I were alone.

Anonymous said...

My God this kills me as my face is covered in tears I feel like I am reading my own story, I am soooo terribly saddened for you,its disgusting

Chuck said...

John, the name of your daughter could practically be replaced with my daughter's name. The heartache is felt across the miles and tears filled my lap. I am fortunate that my daughter has not yet said she doesn't want to see me, she just doesn't answer. Occasionally every 3 or 4 weeks she might answer if she needs to sell girl scout cookies or something. I text everyday, I call though she doesn't answer. I drive by the house and I tell her I am outside if she wants to say hello. I send her cards, and I resend her the emails she sent to me of how she loved our time together. I am saddened, but because of stories like yours I started a Meetup group in East TN and joined with Parental Alienation Support Intervention (PASI) to begin a chapter locally. I wish you well and health. Do not stop seeking her, for your sake and your daughters, never give up. This is about you, but it is MORE about her and your love for her. You know this and act on it as such. If you find it possible let me know how things go. If it brings any hope to you, my 17 y/o son has come around a little - but he needed a car :) That was good enough for me; big smiles of the heart in little victories.

John Brosnan said...

Nicely written comment, Chuck. I know how difficult this is for you to write. It's sad just reading about it. And while it's comforting to know what's happening to our kids so we know where to start, it's also terrifying when we find out they're victims of parental alienation syndrome. The prognosis of PAS is bleak and some of us never see our children again. We also know this only happens to good parents who are very involved with their kids. If nothing else, we should feel good knowing we've helped others by bringing awareness of this to others, like you are.

Daughters said...

I wasn't aware that I hated myself, or that I can't trust anyone anymore. Thanks for informing me, pops!


John Brosnan said...

I could be wrong, Grace. I want to hear what you think. Let me know and I'll add your story here. I'm just glad your commenting. Love Dad.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I read your post about your tragic situation. I felt compelled to respond because I can relate not as the adult in the situation but as the child. I'm 24 years old now but still feel the lingering effects of this. My situation is a little bit different but figured i'd share my story just the same in hopes it can provide some comfort. My mom and dad were not married when they had me and split while I was still one I believe it was. My whole life it's been every other weekend type thing with my father who lives about 2 and a half hours away from me. As I got older things became tougher for me, between school activities, friends, and the distance apart I got used to my routine at home with my mom. I began to stop going every other weekend with him and slowly it grew further and further apart. He never stopped and still has not stopped trying to be with me even though i'm being a crappy son to him even right now as I write this. It's nothing he ever did to me though, it's my own shortcomings and self issues. My mom passed away 6 months ago and he's trying harder to be with me and I have been pushing him away still, even though you'd think I would appreciate him more right now... I honestly can't explain what it is, I love him to death, have so many fond memories, i'm in a lot of pain and feel like it's tough to break the barrier after more time passes. There's quite a bit more to story than this obviously and meant to shorten this up more than what I have but it's difficult. I just want you to know that if your daughters are feeling at all similar to how I felt and you guys have a lot of memories together, she will come around and will always love you, divorce or seperation's are a lot harder on kids then people are told and us kids don't know how to handle having two households all the time I think is what it is and it builds and builds until it crashes on you and don't know what to do anymore, and it's easier to hide from all of the pain. I do plan in the near future to search for a job and hopefully an apartment/home near my father so i can rekindle what I've missed out on and make more memories. Again I don't know your situation so if this doesn't relate i'm sorry, but keep your head up and know that you are thought about no matter how it seems on the outside. And sometimes it would bug me at the time how hard my dad would try to be in my life, but as I get older it makes me so thankful that even how I treated him he never gave up and I know that's real love. Bless you

John Brosnan said...

The previous post is an email I received from a young man who's been estranged from his father for years. I replied to his email discussing the similarities and differences in our situations and asked him if I could post his email. He told me I could. I tried to convince him to contact his father, telling him that it would probably be the best Easter gift his father has ever received, even though I realized there still existed a barrier separating them after being apart for so many years. He told me he was seriously considering doing this and would let me know how it goes. I'll try to post his response if I get one. I'm very excited to see how it goes for him and his father. - John

John Brosnan said...

I received an email back from the young man who previously commented here about how he's been estranged from his dad for years. He told me he did contact his dad and they made plans to get together. I thought this was great. He said it was awkward at first, like he thought it might be ("tough to break the barrier after more time passes," like he says). But it went well and his dad was very understanding, telling him that he knew he (his son) wasn't trying to hurt him even though he missed him for all those years.

I told him this was great news and that it gives me hope that someday I'll be able to reconnect with my daughters.

Anonymous said...

Hi John --
I sure wish I could directly address Mary and Grace. I grew up with a somewhat similar situation -- except things backfired on my Mom. My parents divorced around the time I turned 14, my siblings were 11, and 8. We were continually put in the middle and used as pawns or as a way for my Mom to try to get even with my Dad. We were made to think if we visited my Dad and his wife (he got remarried not long after the divorce) we would be excommunicated from our church and all sorts of bs.

My Mom decided Dad shouldn't have visitation and it went to court. The judge sat with all three of us and could easily see what was going on. He asked us a few questions, asked if we wanted to visit our Dad and asked us to be honest. He also told us that if we ever had any problems -- to call him up anytime. It was wonderful for us to have that as leverage -- and as the oldest, I was the one to take steps to stand up to the garbage and even warn my Mother, "Do I need to phone up the judge?" at times.

Having been through that, it upsets me to know end to see other kids get sucked into this situation where one parent is painted evil incarnate. Neither of my parents were perfect -- but we are all human and deep down, we want our parent's approval and love at all stages in life.

Mary and Grace -- I went to college with your Dad. I think he is genuinely a nice guy, was very intelligent, and was a good friend. His heart was always big and he was accepting of a wide variety of friends. There is no doubt in reading this that he cares for you and is heartbroken over what seems like -- well, kids being played as pawns.

In later years, I grew more disappointed and angry with my Mother for using us. When someone is so hell-bent on destroying and holding influence on their own kids and causing them pain and forcing them to choose sides -- and when one can look back on that with more years and wisdom -- I feel very thankful for that judge to make our path easier. I get along ok with my Mother, though I had rocky moments because of her short sighted and selfish motives. I remain very close to my Dad -- though he is now battling lung cancer and I treasure each time we get together. I can tell you, I never, ever would put my kids through what my siblings and I went through. There is no reason to pit a child against their parent.

I feel very bad for all of you. I wish some of my pain or survival could somehow help you. I do hope that you kids can find your true inner voice and stand up and say "He's my Dad. He might not be perfect, but he loves me enough to continue reaching out, so why not repair or heal what needs to be healed?"

Life is too short.

Sorry if this comes out as rambling. You are all in my thoughts and prayers. As I read John's blog, I think he is still one of the good guys.

Sincerely, Jackie (a.k.a "Fifi" from NSC days)

John Brosnan said...


Thanks for the nicely written comment. You were a good friend in college. Sorry to hear about your problems growing up, but I think it's good to understand these things and talk about them, even if it's years later. Sorry to hear about your father too.


Anonymous said...

I too am alienated from my now 12 y/o dd by her father & sm. Family Court destroys families and enables alienators 2 get away with their abuse! Allowing our children 2 suffer! Grace u loved ur father so much once, dig deep & recall those memories! And then recall how those memories were taken from u! You shouldnt be forced to choose between which parent you love more. You should be free to love them both equally.

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