PBS Declares War on Dads

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The
four-year-old boy is jumping up and down with joy.

“Daddy!
Daddy!”
Dad gets out of the car.
“Daddy’s here! Daddy’s here!”
The boy is behind a locked screen door. He tries to open it.
“Daddy’s here! Mommy, look, daddy’s here!”
Dad knows he shouldn’t open the door.
He waits for his ex-wife to open the door. She doesn't do it.
“This is my visitation time,” Dad says, waving a court document.
Mom still won't open the door.

The
boy jumps up and down, saying “daddy, daddy." He yanks on the
screen door handle but still can't get it open.

Dad
looks at his little boy. He pauses, takes a deep breath, and walks
back to his car.

The
little boy doesn't understand. Why won't daddy come? Why is daddy
walking away from him?

The
little boy disappears inside the house.

Dad
calls the police. When the officers arrive he shows them his court
documents. The officers go inside to investigate. They come out
a few minutes later.

“Your
son says he doesn’t want to see you," the officer says. "There’s
nothing I can do. You’ll have to deal with it in the court. I can’t
make him go with you if he doesn’t want to.”

Dad
finally gets to see his kids three months later. The children spit
on both him and their grandmother. Almost in unison they repeat
"I don’t want to be here. I want to go home with mommy."

After
Jim L.'s wife divorced him and moved his daughters out of state,
she sent the two girls fake or altered e-mails purporting to be
Jim. Afterwards, Jim's daughters refused to see him, explaining
only "you know what you've done, you know what you said, you
know what you wrote."

Once
when Jim flew to see his girls for his scheduled weekend visit,
his ex-wife decided at the last minute to block the visit. Jim flew
home on Sunday without having seen his girls. When he arrived at
the airport back home he checked his messages and found a message
from his ex-wife. On the recording his girls could be heard crying
in the background. His ex-wife said:

"Jim,
the girls are here at the restaurant waiting for you to come pick
them up. You said you'd meet them here for breakfast and spend the
day with them, and you didn't show up. The girls are very
upset. Jim, where are you?!?"

These
cases are examples of Parental Alienation Syndrome – the phenomenon
of a parent (generally the mother/custodial parent) turning his
or her children against the noncustodial parent after divorce or
separation. PAS is the focus of the controversial new PBS documentary
Breaking the Silence: Children's Stories which airs this
week on Public Broadcasting Service stations in dozens of major
cities.

In
it the filmmakers label PAS "junk science" and assert
that it "has been used in countless cases by abusive fathers
to gain custody of their children" by falsely accusing the
mothers of PAS.

Despite
the film’s claims, research shows that parental alienation is a
common facet of divorce or separation. For example, a longitudinal
study published by the American Bar Association in 2003 followed
700 “high conflict” divorce cases over a 12-year period and found
that elements of PAS were present in the vast majority of them.

The
most extreme examples of PAS are the false allegations of sexual
abuse which are often used for advantage in custody cases. Canadian
Senator Anne Cools, a prominent feminist who led Canada's battered
women's shelter movement during the 1970s, labels this tactic "the
heart of darkness." She says:

"I've
studied this extensively and I've placed on the Canadian Senate
record 52 cases where there was a finding that the accusations were
false, and there are countless more. Studies have shown that under
these circumstances false accusations far outnumber truthful ones."

According
to a study published in Social Science and Modern Society,
the vast majority of accusations of child sexual abuse made during
custody battles are false, unfounded or unsubstantiated. Cools notes
that in the 52 cases she studied "there were absolutely no
consequences at all for the women who knowingly made the false accusations."

In
a strange reversal, the filmmakers claim that the real problem is
that many mothers are losing custody for "revealing" that
their husbands have molested their daughters. Yet in the few
cases where a mother has lost custody for making false allegations,
the courts usually had good reason for acting as they did. The two
most famous cases – those involving model Bridget Marks and sociologist
Amy Neustein – are illustrative of the point.

Despite
widespread media sympathy, all five judges in Marks' case concluded
that Marks had coached her girls to believe that they
had been sexually molested by their father. Earlier this year Neustein's
now adult daughter, Sherry Orbach, publicly refuted her mother's
claims.

Breaking
the Silence is a direct assault on American fathers, and the
minimal, hard won gains they have made in protecting their children's
right to have their fathers in their lives. Courts still reflexively
side with mothers and often allow them to deny visitation, make
false allegations of domestic violence or child sexual abuse, and
drive fathers out of their children's lives.

As
a society we pretend that broken families are all men's fault, pay
lip service to the importance of fathers, and close our eyes while
millions of children are separated from the fathers they love and
need. Because that's what mom wants. Because it's easier to blame
everything on dad than it is to confront mom on her destructive
behavior. Because trying to hold a divorcing mother accountable
for her behavior is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall. Because
there's a high political cost to be paid for crossing mothers and
none to be paid for crossing fathers. Throwing objectivity, fairness
and reason to the wind, PBS and Breaking the Silence don't
merely ignore or minimize this problem, but instead turn it on its
head.

October
21, 2005

Jeffery
M. Leving is one of America’s most prominent family law attorneys.
He is the author of the book Fathers’
Rights: Hard-hitting and Fair Advice for Every Father Involved in
a Custody Dispute
. His website is www.dadsrights.com. Glenn
Sacks [send him mail]
is a men’s and fathers’ issues columnist and a nationally-syndicated
radio talk show host
. His columns have appeared in dozens of
America’s largest newspapers. He invites readers to visit his
website
.

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