Letters to My Son

June 25, 2020.

Dear Son,

I was out walking Popsicle tonight and I could feel you, your mom and all our people as I looked up into a cloudy summer night at dusk. The puffy clouds and light breezes reminded me of being back in Ireland. It’s been a good week so far here at our house. Last night, I made avocado toast with fresh parmesan and sliced tomatoes. Both Jordan and Chiara loved it. Cooking snacks and treats for the kids has made us closer as a family, which is good given all the changes around here. Even though we are still dealing with the pandemic, life goes on. Jordan has a new boyfriend, a nice guy named Jonah (you’d like him – he plays hockey). Evan and Chiara are playing ball, and Melissa and I are both busy with our work.

June 23, 2020.

Father’s Day

It was another great Father’s Day in which I was blessed to spend the whole day with my wife and our youngest daughter. We had a nice lunch at Raised Grain Brewery in our neighborhood and made time for some pickleball at Banting Park. In the evening, my two stepchildren came home and helped my eat Buffalo wings from our brand new air fryer. They loved my recipe and my technique for saucing the wings just right. That was perhaps the most fun – we were all together in the kitchen enjoying a meal together.

But there was one thing missing. One big hole in my heart that will never go away. Our oldest son from my first marriage was not there to celebrate Father’s Day with me for the very first time. What made it worse was that he did not even call or send a text.

There are hundreds of other dads – and moms – out there who have it far worse than me. Before the pandemic, I could at least drive down to the Chicago area where he lives with his mom and take him out for a couple hours every week.There are those who have not seen their children in years.

This is what has become known around the world as parental alienation, or targeting. In some countries, it has become a criminal offense punishable with jail time. When a marriage or a relationship fails, one hope that for the sake of the children involved that the parents can remain civil and even amicable in allowing for equal parenting and equal visitation. Unfortunately, there are those who feel that they have to punish the other parent for their part in the failure of the marriage, and they manipulate their children into believing that the other parent is bad – even abusive.

NOTE: this is not a tirade against my former wife. Before the pandemic, she was agreeable to weekly visitation. Again, some parents have not had contact with their children in years. However, there are things she simply will not allow – my son calling me without her permission, me not being able to call, text or Facetime him without her permission, and in the past year, he doesn’t even turn on his phone that we gave him (and pay a lot of money for). Decisions on his upbringing and development are made unilaterally by his mother (and grandparents that he lives with).

I get his grandparents are elderly, and that there is a higher density of cases in Illinois, but his mother won’t even allow him to meet me at a nearby park where we can stay socially distant. And there has not been any contact between us for well over two weeks. In fact, since the shutdown started in mid-March, we have spoken only three times on the phone.

It is easy to demonize the parents doing the targeting, just as they have skillfully demonized us targeted parents in the minds of their children. That is not the purpose of this blog. Rather, I would like to dedicate this space for letters to my son, that he can someday read when things get better.

I’ve learned through my research that my son still loves me, in spite of all that he has been told and all that he has expressed to me in anger and disappointment. I also know that kids who survive this re-connect with their targeted moms or dads, and the relationship can be re-built.

But what a fucking shame that anyone has to live through this, and the family courts in America do not offer any solutions, nor do they even care. There has been progress in some states, but many of us parents don’t have the time to let the slow legislative process play out. – and neither do our kids. And at the end of the day, it should be all about them and their best interests for a healthy childhood.

It is easy for many of you on the fringes to say “it’s his bed, he’s go to sleep in it,” or it comes with the territory when you get divorced. No matter what the parents’ shortcomings are (except of course for any documented history of violence or criminal behavior harmful to the children), their rights to be in the society of their children should be iron clad. In the current law, if a parent can’t pay child support because he/she lost his/her job, he is still entitled to his/her visitation rights.

As for me, I can only control what I can. I will use what leverage I have as a local legislator and as a writer to raise awareness. I am building my network of advocates to help build a stronger awareness and make this issue more front and center. But most importantly, I will use this blog to express to my son how much I love him – that he is always on my mind and always with me in my heart.

I will re-live fond memories we had together from when he was younger. Memories with me, his baby sister who he always adored, and his two step siblings and his stepmother. I will chronicle all the things we are doing together as a family in his absence, so he can someday catch up and know that he is still a part of our family. And I will say a little prayer to ask that God keep him healthy and safe, but also youthful and adventurous. If nothing else, I want him to be passionate about life so that he has stories of his own to share when we are re-united.