The following interview appeared in McKenzie Magazine (issue #87, 2009, UK) which graciously granted permission to post it here. Sarah’s responses make it clear how much is irretrievably lost when a child succumbs to divorce poison.
McKenzie: Now an adult mother, Sarah was alienated from her father by her abusive mother and did not see him from the age of 7 to 21. Julius Hinks interviewed Sarah and she spoke of her experiences from childhood onwards, describing the damaging effects of parental alienation, and also of not dealing with it correctly. Her message to parents is “don’t ever give up” and her story pays inarguable tribute to this.
How old were you when your parents separated and can you remember what your relationship was like with your father?
I was seven, and we got sent to our auntie’s in Mapplethorpe for six months while they were sorting the marriage out – supposedly. One day out of the blue my uncle and my mother turned up in a car, got us and went down to London and that was it.
My relationship with my father beforehand is difficult to remember. He was a milkman. I can remember him coming home on his milk float. I can remember going to the park with him. We always used to have fun. It was happy. It’s when I look back after he left and my step-dad moved in that there were bad times. So I have better memories when my dad was there.
What was your mother’s attitude to your father after they separated?
This is where my mind starts to get muddled because we were told of all kinds of things: “your dad used to hit you”; “your dad used to do this…” You don’t remember any of this happening but you start to believe it because otherwise why would anyone tell their children that?
Then – that was it. No contact. She took the relationship away out of spite against him. She had the biggest weapon of all and she used us against him.
What do you think you missed out on?
I missed out on a lot. I have a youngest sister, Paula, from my dad’s second marriage who’s just turned 19. I see him with her in a really close relationship. When I got back in touch with him at 21 she was about six years old – probably around the same age I was when my parents split up. I used to see him teaching her how to ride her bike. Her mum worked in the city so he used to be with her all the time. They are very close and we’ve not got that. I can’t call him dad. I can say that he’s my dad but, to his face, I find it very difficult to call him dad because he hasn’t been a dad. Not necessarily through his fault, but I’m very uncomfortable with that word.
“She had the biggest weapon of all and she used us against him.”
How did you find out that what your mother was saying about your Dad wasn’t true?
Once my step-dad moved in it was a very violent house. There was drink. There were lots of beatings. I haven’t spoken to my mother for 15 years and you don’t stop talking to your mother for no reason. I didn’t have any bad feelings toward my Dad and I know what she said about him was lies. He says what she accused him of never happened, and my older two sisters said it was untrue; her trying to turn us against him.
As well as the beatings, do you think that her lies contributed to the breakdown in your relationship with your mother?
Definitely. I used to see other friends with their family and think that their kissing and cuddling was wrong because we never had any of that. I had a lot of resentment against her for what she did for no reason except to hurt him.
I think a lot of mothers do that nowadays. After being pregnant, and in the majority of cases, always being there for the child, a mother can feel she has a move powerful role in the child’s life and feels that she can use the child against the father. But nobody has the right to do that. A child has two parents and has the right to see them, whatever their problems. Using kids as a weapon shows you’re not thinking about the child. You’re just thinking about how to hurt the father. It’s just spite, sheer nastiness.
For how many years did he try to see you after the marriage broke up?
He tried for a few years and he took tranquilizers for depression which he ended up addicted to. After three years he remarried and packed his bags for the honeymoon and his wife had taken tranquilizers away. She spent her honeymoon with him going cold turkey. I tried for a couple of years to see him but he had a new life and moved on. He let a lot of years go by.
He says to us that he used to send cards and presents on our birthdays and Christmas. None of us ever got any of those. Maybe they came and we were stopped from having them but he then says that he stopped doing that after a couple of years because he wasn’t getting anything back and assumed that we weren’t getting them.
When Paula turned 18 she had a savings account of money that they had built up for her. He knew he had five other children. Why could he not have opened an account and put five or ten pounds in on each birthday and Christmas? There was nothing stopping him doing that to show us that he’d been doing something.
How is it when you spend time together nowadays?
Back then I think he’d pretty much given up. He’d been to the courts and back then it was hard to get any visitation rights at all. It was like he gave up and waited for us to go to him. If we wanted to come back one day then we would and if we didn’t, we didn’t – that seemed to be his attitude. I suppose that was his way of dealing with it but it does make it very difficult now. It’s not even the same as seeing other family members. When I go up to Lincoln at Christmas to see my husband’s family we have a laugh and a joke. With my dad I always feel a bit more on edge because he doesn’t know who I am really and he doesn’t put the effort in that I feel he should do.
I haven’t seen him since February last year and I’ve heard from him once since then. He doesn’t just phone up for a chat and I got to the point where I wasn’t going to be the one putting in the effort. What happened with the marriage wasn’t down to me and I don’t think that he should have left it.
When you and your dad got back into contact, initially how did you both try to rebuild your relationship?
My sister Gemma had been seeing him and she used to tell me he’d like to see me again. I was very nervous walking to his house and when he opened the door I remember feeling very awkward that he was my dad but I didn’t know him. You’re sat on the edge of your chair not knowing what to say. My little sister with her dolls was a distraction but there were awkward silences and as the years have gone on he’s put no effort in.
He doesn’t phone up just to say hello. He doesn’t remember my kids’ birthdays – and they’re his grandchildren. I know it must be difficult for him because he had all those years taken away but it was like he gave up trying, which is the worst thing you can do.
I don’t bother phoning him now at Christmas because I think “why should I be the one?” He only lives two hours away, and a phone call isn’t difficult. I wanted to try and see if I could build some sort of relationship with him. You have this romantic idea in your head that you’ll be able to get something back but the reality is you can’t get those years back. You can’t force a bond if contact is so minimal that you can’t build on it.
“Even if you think you’re going nowhere, don’t ever give up.”
Would you say that your relationship with men have been affected because of you being alienated from your Dad?
I think trust is a big one. I don’t let people in easy. But I think the main way that it affect me is when I got with Stanley, which was 15 years ago, I saw that his family were the complete opposite to mine. His mum and dad are still together. He dotes on his mum; he always gives her a kiss and a huge. The whole family is very close and I couldn’t deal with that. I was very, very uncomfortable. My brothers and sisters and I find it embarrassing to be like that with each other because we weren’t brought up in that way.
With other people I can be like that. I’ve accepted that you can give your friend who’s upset a hug and it doesn’t mean that you’re some kind of freak for doing so. I’ve had to discover that outside of the family I grew up in.
Do you have a message for a father who’s being alienated from his children and his tempted to give up?
Never give up – because you’re giving up on that child. You’re giving up on your relationship with that child and if you do that you can’t get it back. If you can’t see them, one way of showing that you do remember birthdays and Christmas is to set up an account for that child and keep putting the money in. Even if it’s just a bit, you’ve got an account there, stamped, dated, to show that you remembered.
Never just try and move on. You can’t start a new life thinking that when they’re ready they’ll come back because it’s gone by then and the damage is done.
Do you feel that that government makes strong enough law, the judiciary are effective enough or that the professionals are strong enough to protect children?
No. I don’t think they try. If they feel the child’s in a safe home they don’t really bother. My brother-in-law was told on October 9th by the court that his ex’s solicitor has to set up weekly contact with his baby at a contact centre and he’s still had nothing. Surely the courts should be phoning up her solicitor and saying “get it sorted now!” They don’t think about the children. They might say they do but they don’t actually sit down and talk to the kids and actually understand.
I think as well that there’s a belief that kiddies don’t need their dads, which I completely and utterly disagree with. A child definitely needs both parents. But I think that a lot of these people think that a child’s better off with their mother. Well I know that I wasn’t better off with my mother.