Hope for the holidays

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.

If you’re an adult who was alienated from a parent as a child, there are resources for you. Amy J. L. Baker’s book is one of them: http://www.amazon.com/Adult-Children-Parental-Alienation-Syndrome/dp/0393705196. Also, see her article on long-term effects of alienation on children.

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