Defending Dads

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Leah Remini’s Scientology and the Aftermath

Leah Remini, best known for her portrayal of Carrie Heffernan on the CBS sitcom The King of Queens, co-produces and stars in the limited A&E series Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.

The show documents alleged abusive policies and egregious misconduct by Church officials, including a practice known as “disconnection”, which dictates that active members of the church cut ties with family members who are not.

As Ms. Remini states in the premier episode’s introduction, she thought she would simply be “documenting stories of families that were torn apart by the Church of Scientology’s policies and practices”, but, she continues, what she uncovered was much deeper and darker than she ever expected.

Though the intro is compelling, I was into the show 10 seconds into the advanced promo I saw weeks ago. In that promo, Ms. Remini boldly stated her goal of exposing the church as a well-financed cult that, as cults are known to do, asserts control over its members by isolating them from their families.

Let’s see: A powerful institution purporting to be something it certainly is not that destroys families? The analogies between the Church and family court should be manifest to any alienated parent or divorced dad.

For your consideration:

I. The Self-Anointed Lording it Over Hapless Peasants

SCIENTOLOGY: Ms. Remini and former Church members allege that Church officials routinely abuse their authority and lower-ranking members of the Church, going so far as to commit acts of physical and sexual battery that go unpunished because they are never reported to law enforcement.

FAMILY COURT: Divorced dads and alienated parents express daily via social media our frustration with the monolithic, often corrupt family court system, the constituents of which routinely make formulaic, arbitrary and/or uninformed decisions on matters of custody and support that go largely unchallenged by victims ignorant of how to navigate the system.

PARALLEL: Some Church and family court officials suffer from the delusion that they have absolute power.

II. The Casual Severance of Family Ties

SCIENTOLOGY: Ms. Remini and former Church members allege that the Church destroys families by forcing active members to cut ties with relatives not involved with the church, including parents and siblings.

FAMILY COURT: Divorced dads, alienated parents and our children have for decades lost incalculable, invaluable time to thoughtless custody decisions. The resultant emotional devastation suffered by non-custodial parents and our children often goes unaddressed and contributes to the steady decline of the nuclear family and related values.

PARALLEL: Neither the Church nor family court demonstrates genuine regard for the natural family ties or long-term emotional health of the people over whom they hold dominion.

III. The Mainstream News Media Ignores Victims

SCIENTOLOGY: Ms. Remini and former Church members express that the media has underreported or ignored mounting evidence that all is not well in Gilman Hot Springs, California (Scientology headquarters), and its satellites.

FAMILY COURT: Divorced dads, alienated parents and our children suffer in silence as a Google news search for “family court reform” will show the lack of mainstream news media coverage of the growing outcry for exactly that.

PARALLEL: The Church and family court officials have long enjoyed the luxury of acting in a media black hole.

IV. Conclusion

Ms. Remini has taken a step that we divorced dads and alienated parents have not yet managed: She brought her fight to network television. She has done so with the spirit of a street fighter outnumbered, outgunned and determined to go down swinging. But unlike that street fighter, she’s got resources: She is savvy, has credible allies and the backing of a network.

Ms. Remini’s direct involvement in telling the stories of ex-Scientologists is an indictment of the news media’s continuing failure to expose major social injustices taking place in plain sight. Unwittingly, she is blazing a trail for those of us living under the heel of a terribly flawed system that affects too many and is called to task by too few.

I have no idea how to make inroads to network shot callers, but there have to be alienated parents or divorced dads who do. People, what are we waiting for? let’s take our fight Hi Def.

 

The Quest for Cheese

Rebuilding a life at middle-age is an unpleasant chore. This is a fact younger people cannot fathom, my contemporaries know all too well and older people try to forget. One has no choice but to schlep through each day like a lab mouse working its way through a maze to a hunk of cheese it can smell but not yet taste. The key to making it is to hold on to the grain of hope intrinsic to that statement: The mouse can smell the cheese. It works its way through the maze because it knows the cheese is there.

cheese_maze

Some days, I can’t detect a whiff of queso in the air. No swiss, no Muenster, no provolone. Other days, I think I might have a few slices stuffed inside my pillow case.

Cheese is tasty, wonderful and one of life’s great pleasures, but the metaphor grows strained. What I’m after is renewed contentment, specifically, a kind of freedom that can only come from carving out for myself a new career, new routines and new interests. What might the average day of this renewed contentment be like? I got it so cold, I can lay it out in military time:

0400 HRS: Wake up, pull back an 800 thread count sheet and make my way to the bathroom to wash up, slip on gym clothes and head out.

0430 HRS: Spend a good 90 minutes stretching, pumping and running my way to a healthy endorphin rush.

0630 HRS: Whip up a veggie recovery omelette and chow down.

0700 HRS: Blog, pound out prose, do research and promote my work via social media.

1000 HRS: Snack time.

1015 HRS: Back to the keyboard.

1215 HRS: Business calls.

1300 HRS: Lunch.

1330 HRS: Chores.

1530 HRS: Kid time. After school snacks, extracurricular activities, helping with homework and projects.

1900 HRS: Dinner time.

1930 HRS: Kitchen clean up, prep for down-time.

2000 HRS: Down-time. A neighborhood stroll, games with the kids or maybe some TV.

2200 HRS: Lights out.

Just a framework; Google Maps directions to MyNewNormal. It ain’t sexy, but after what I’ve lived through, just a month of days like that would be better for me than a stateroom on a seven-day Caribbean cruise.

I work toward the day when I can make my living doing what I love, taking care of my body and home and greatest of all, being a model of consistency and self-fulfillment to my kids and PRESENT for them. This is dreaming big for me.

Not there yet. Not even close. So begins another day of seemingly random events. As usual, I will exert whatever control I can and, pardon the backpedal, I’ll keep sniffing for that cheese.

Forty-One Years Gone I

No one lives forever. Not even matriarchs. But when matriarchs die, those who had been under their influence are buffeted by shock waves long after the event.

My grandmother Ruby had been perched atop my maternal family tree for some sixty years. She had six children. I am the only child of her eldest daughter, born three years after Ruby’s youngest. Ruby had been my guardian for so much of my childhood that, in the eyes of many of our relatives, I am her seventh child.

Ruby had a strong personality. Her difficult life demanded that. While I understand and respect this, to hone my personality, I needed to escape the umbrella of hers. And I did. I estranged myself from my maternal family for seven years.

I relocated my former wife and children to Pennsylvania during the estrangement. Then, the unthinkable happened: My marriage began to fail. The tension in my home had grown so intense, even months before papers were filed, I was compelled to live elsewhere for a time. My grandmother gave me shelter, no questions asked.

Eventually, I returned to my home. Despite counseling and making every reasonable effort I could to heal my home, nothing improved. In fact, things grew worse. And in the middle of this were the innocent babies I would never have brought into the world under such circumstances. The only family they had ever known was a shambles. Then, the papers were filed. Soon after that, I was evicted from my home…though I was still responsible for the mortgage.

This was the cruelest blow to me because I understood the implications for my children of our sudden, court-imposed separation. I was crushed. I called Ruby. Once again, she gave me shelter, no questions asked.

I stayed with Ruby for over a year as I fought to maintain my connection with the kids, worked, paid down bills and weathered the storm of a needlessly contentious divorce. I could see even through this deluge of issues that Ruby was fading, but I found it difficult to accept. She had been in and out of the hospital several times before eventually succumbing to a variety of ailments last August.

Neither I nor my immediate family were prepared for Ruby’s death. She had been the heart and soul of our family for so long, it was all but impossible to imagine a world without her. Ironically, she had equipped us so well with the tools to handle adversity that we jumped right into that world, strange place that it was.

I moved back to Pennsylvania and focused on establishing myself there not long after Ruby’s passing. I left her apartment vacant and, as I continued to deal with grief, the divorce and sustaining my life, failed to maintain tenancy. I needed to be close to my children. The decision for me was easy.

In seemingly the blink of an eye, a year went by. Ruby’s possessions remained in the apartment. I was the member of her immediate family living closest. No one appointed me to any role. Clearing out her place was something I simply had to do.

Learn more…

Distance + Time = A Yet Stronger Bond


Over the time I’ve lived apart from my children, my confidence in the bond between the three of us has grown from tenuous to unshakable.

Our love for each other never waivers. This is critical to my resurgence as a father, man and human being. I have dropped weight, negative emotions, specious ideals and any interest in wading in the sewer of the divorce industry. I want LIFE. I want it for me and I want it for my children. My new life has shaped my new goals.

No shattered personality, bureaucrat, shyster or impostor can change what is obvious to anyone who sees my kids and me together. We are the real deal because as much as they can be, they are my priority and this is understood between the three of us. I feel blessed to be part of such a synergy and vow to my children that I will do nothing to violate it.

I haven’t seen the kids for a week. Why is not important. What matters is that I put them first and I look at our separation in a positive light. I will never be one of these fathers that lets this situation get the better of him. Our time together is informed by human frailty; it will never be perfect, but it will always be the best we can make it because our bond is that strong.

I’m no saint, but my relationship with my kids is sacrosanct. It may be the one thing in my life that I ever get right. When my time comes, the least of gifts I can leave them is that they can feel good about whatever cliché they put on my headstone.

Guys, I love you and I’ll see you soon.

Ryukyu Kempo in the Park

In previous posts, I have referenced the level of physical activity my neighbors get up to and how I try to keep myself and the kids involved. We have trained in the Japanese martial art of Ryukyu Kempo since we relocated here from New York. Our interest in this type of karate has more to do with the charisma, leadership, commitment to the arts and innovative training techniques demonstrated by our instructor than anything else.

Sensei Robert Tocher not only teaches the fundamentals of the discipline, he finds a way to work a variety of enjoyable activities into the training. He switches it up. While that’s good for everyone — martial arts training is often like military drill — it’s especially great for kids.

Two weeks ago, Sensei held class in a local park outfitted with various exercise stations. The weather was magnificent and the park was loaded with people walking, running, playing baseball and lacrosse, just living. It was a sight to behold for a kid who spent too many warm, sunny days watching crackheads line up for service and trying to, as we used to say, make a dollar out of fifteen cents.

Like me, Robert is a refugee of corporate America. He is the sole proprietor of his dojo. He built it from nothing. I watched him do it. During that process, he and I have become good friends.

It is my pleasure to do what I can to help him build his school. In service to that goal, I played videographer/photographer that glorious day. “The best things in life are free” might be a cliche, but capturing images of Robert leading 20-odd kids through a workout that was not only physically challenging but fun absolutely made my day.

Watching my kids take part in something so innocent and joyful took me to a place I had never been. For 50 minutes or so, I was 10 years old again, living vicariously through my own beautiful children.

When class was over, the kids took the opportunity to enjoy the park. As if the ball fields, the walking path, the exercise stations and the sheer beauty of the place weren’t enough, they had the nerve to have a pond stocked with fish and frogs. Unbelievable.

On behalf of all the kids and parents fortunate enough to take part in that marvelous day, I want to thank Robert and let him know what an innovator he is, not only as a martial arts instructor but as an entrepreneur. I admire his courage and drive and strive to follow the trail he blazes away from life in a box.

Sensei, please set three black belts aside for the kids and me…and maybe another for Joss’s pal Ashley. She gets a…kick…out of your class. Get it? Kick? Oh, never mind.

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