Angry men of America, I feel your pain. Boy, do I ever! One little wrong turn-of-phrase and you’re fitting me for lead boots. Forgive me, my brothers! As one angry man to another, I assure you we are on the same side. To prove it, I stand ready to eat serious crow.
At issue is a statement I made in my cover story two weeks ago, “Brawl in the Family” (SN&R Feature Story, February 5). The story documented the experiences of six Sacramentans, four men and two women, with the local family-law system. In it, I described Parental Alienation Syndrome as “a discredited, pseudoscientific malady.” Angry men of America, I apologize for this poor choice of adjectives.
There, now. I’ll bet you feel better already.
For the uninitiated, PAS describes behavior that is fairly commonplace in contentious child-custody cases: One parent consciously or unconsciously attempts to turn the child against the other parent. The child becomes preoccupied with criticizing said other parent. When there is no factual basis for the child’s persistent criticisms, then the child has been psychologically “alienated” from that parent.
It’s worth noting that when PAS first came into vogue in the 1980s, it was thought that the alienating parent was the mother 90 percent of the time. It’s now believed—big surprise here—that fathers can be just as alienating as mothers. Nevertheless, PAS has become the legal weapon of choice for men fed up with a family-law system that grants custody to mothers far more often than it does to fathers, even when the decision obviously isn’t in the child’s best interest.
Which is why every angry man in America (or at least those with pending child-custody cases) came unglued after my story with the offending adjectives was posted on the Web sites of several men’s rights groups. I was giving myself carpal-tunnel syndrome trying to keep up with their e-mail, before opting to write this column. Reader Alan Becker best summed up the deluge of derision:
“Many credible scientists have studied the issue in detail and they agree on the causes and effects of this horrible syndrome,” he wrote. “Perhaps it’s existence doesn’t fit into your world view and that is why you deny it. Do you also deny the existence of the Holocaust? PAS is an American holocaust, a holocaust of fatherlessness for children.”
Like I said, Alan, I feel your pain. When I wrote that PAS is a “discredited pseudoscientific malady,” I was not implying that such behavior doesn’t occur in many contentious custody cases. In fact, from the cases I’ve read, it appears to be the norm. However, that doesn’t make it a “syndrome,” and neither the American Medical Association nor the American Psychiatric Association recognizes it as such.
That’s not to say PAS isn’t worthy of scientific inquiry. As Dr. Arnold Robbins, a practicing psychiatrist from Cambridge, Mass., pointed out in an e-mail exchange, “There are many syndromes well recognized in psychiatry that are not included in the DSM, if that is what you are gloating about.”
You know, he’s right. I was gloating! Confronted with my own pettiness, I at last realized what I was trying to say in the story. It’s not that PAS is discredited or pseudoscientific, even though some scientists say it is. It seems plausible that there’s a distinct constellation of alienating behaviors in such cases that can classified as a syndrome. Still, the theory seems like a work in progress, and I asked Robbins if he thought the courtroom was an ideal place to carry out experiments.
“I am a physician,” he wrote. “The issue for me is not what goes over in court. The issue is that PAS is tragic and painful. It should not be tolerated either when a man or a woman is the recipient. It is the worst sort of suffering and has horrible effects on the child.”
Fair enough. I’m willing to grant that PAS exists. But even if it doesn’t, all the negative behaviors described by it are supposed to be considered by the court in the first place. In many if not most cases, they are not. That’s something worth getting mad about.
Sent: February 21, 2009 2:33 PM
To: 'firstname.lastname@example.org' Cc: 'Glenn@glennsacks.com'; 'jeremy swanson' Subject: Compliments to you on your response on Parental Alienation
I did not write you to criticize the first article as I figured correctly many of my USA colleagues would step into the breach as my plate was full at the time even though I strongly disagreed with your description. As a Dad who is alienated I know first hand the excruciating agony that a loving father goes through when his children turn on him. Parental Alienation is as real as snow in Canada in winter, except in Victoria and Vancouver where it falls occasionally. :)
I just read your follow-up column, via Fathers & Families, Glenn Sacks and I want to thank you for reaching out to those of us who were hurt by the first one. It takes courage to do this and tens of thousands of dads and moms thank you. For those who don’t think PA is real and damaging I always suggest they read some of the passages on the many blogs of adult children who were previously alienated. Dr. Amy Baker has done compelling work on this and she will also be presenting at a major Parental Alienation Syndrome Conference in Toronto, ON, for the 3 days March 27-29/09. Many other well known mental health workers including psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, child advocates, lawyers and parents will be attending.
I’m going to post it on my blog which gets a reasonable amount of traffic and has been a big help to other men and women who have been alienated from their children. On some days the smallest of reassurances mean getting through that day for many parents in our situation.
Fathers Rights Activist
Posted 02/22/2009 12:12PM by MikeMurphy
I always wonder why these so called "Protective Mothers" (PM) whatever that is never have the courage to leave their names but assassinate peoples characters from behind anonymity. It is an oxymoron because mothers either alone or with another male partner who is not the bio dad are the most likely of either gender to abuse and kill their children in your country and Australia, perhaps others. Interesting isn't it! This women, unfortunately, has become embittered, and lost her perspective. She has been brainwashed by gender feminist propaganda that has no basis in fact. Let her tell her story to the thousands of moms who have lost contact with their children through alienation. (She even appears to be one - so go figure) These gender feminists have yet to explain to me what the malady is called when a man alienates his children from the mom and gets custody. The courts and others in my country call it Parental Alienation no matter which gender does the despicable deed. You can read into the comments of this woman her emotions running way ahead of rational thought. Its too bad. When the courts decide that the defacto standard for custody of children on family breakdown for fit parents is shared and equal with no support by either party then we will see less of these terrible custody disputes. The other factor the PM leaves out is the false allegations of abuse taught by the gender feminist left, unscrupulous lawyers, and DV industry staff. They indoctrinate their clients to get a "leg up" on custody by explaining an allegation of abuse will be helpful and indeed with mandatory arrest policies a criminal record is easily the ticket for a dad not able to see his children very often, if at all. I guess this mom is a loser on all counts. She lost her progeny, gets alienated from them, gets all kinds of alleged abuse, makes wild accusations about people like me, (she automatically gets a credibility rating of zero for that) but doesn't seem to be able to figure out why she is out in the cold. Hmmm...