I was watching one of my favorite action thrillers the other day, Swordfish, starring Hugh Jackman, John Travolta, Halle Berry, and Don Cheadle. It is a movie about a father, who happens to be one of the best computer hackers, wanted by Travolta’s character to create a computer “worm” of devastating proportions. While that is the main story line, how Travolta lures Jackman, a federally convicted hacker to cooperating, is by promising Jackman the only thing that matters to him.
Berry’s character mentions the name of Jackman’s daughter in the movie, “Holly”, and sensing that she is in danger, he calls his ex-wife “Mel” to ask to talk to his daughter. But a judge ruled that he was to have no contact with his daughter, and the ex-wife is more than happy to oblige the judge, and instead unleashes a torrent of ugliness and shame directed at “Stan” and stating that his daughter wants nothing to do with him.
Now, so far, this does not seem like that far of a stretch for how “dads” are portrayed in these situations.
But what happens next is what is usually not portrayed. “Stan” decides to take up Travolta’s offer which of course will take care of all the requirements to lift the judge’s orders. In his excitement, he decides to try to see his daughter, although clearly violating a court’s order, so that he can tell her the good news. Keep in mind, his ex-wife has been telling him that “Holly” wants nothing to do with him, and all other kinds of bad things.
“Holly” is in the process of calling a taxi, because her mother is passed out drunk and has forgotten to pick her up from school. “Stan” without being noticed, simply asks, “need a ride?” “Holly” recognizing her father, excitedly jumps up and runs into her father’s arms for a huge hug. Clearly, not feeling about her father, the way that “Mel” portrayed.
This is a portrayal in the movies that is rarely seen. And I would argue, is far more common than is really known. It is called “parental alienation.”
This behavior is heinous, harmful, and many times, irreversible. One parent is delusional in thinking that they can convince their child to hate the other parent, who has clearly done nothing to the child other than be the loving parent they have ever known. This is purely only an attempt at revenge for taking away the “perfect” world that parent believes they were entitled to, regardless how destructive the marriage had become. The other parent “needs to pay.”
Making the non-custodial parent feel guilt about the absence from the child’s life, attacking the character of the other parent, not recognizing efforts by the non-custodial parent to correct and deal with certain situations are hard enough, without drawing the children into it. But what a custodial parent believes is the right and entitled thing to do, while being successful in penalizing the non-custodial parent, it will, and I emphasize WILL come at the expense of any child drawn into the middle of the battle between the parents.
By pitting a child against the non-custodial parent, the custodial parent has done irreparable damage to the non-custodial parent (which does not matter to the custodial parent), but also does the damage to the child. Taking time away from the memories that should have been shared, and can never be gotten back, will cause extreme resentment by the child. While the custodial parent believes that the child will hate the other parent, it will actually be the other way around, because some day, the child will figure out on their own, the truth what happened why the other parent had no other choice but to be absent. And because that custodial parent took that away from the child, the child will hate that custodial parent. And now the relationships with both parents have been destroyed. This is not the fault of the parent trying to do the correct things just to be a part of their child’s life.
This issue is not gender sensitive either. Just because it is a daughter does not mean that she will not hate her mother, or a son hate his father. The fact is, it will happen. This legal issues that keep a non-custodial parent from their child, can be resolved at some point, if allowed. But when a parent chooses parental alienation by bad-mouthing the other parent to the child, playing head games with the other parent for psychological gain, and the time and memories lost forever, cannot be replaced.
But then again, this is something that you will rarely see shown on TV or in the movies. It is more popular to enrage emotions against a villain rather to show compassion for a situation that no one truly knows everything that is going on.
I like “Swordfish” for another reason now besides the action thriller it is.