As an adult who was parentally abducted as a child, I hope that sharing my story will help parents going through separation or divorce to understand the damage they do to their relationship with their children by interfering with their children´s relationships with their other parent. I had just turned 4 when I was abducted by my father. My father agrees today that my mother did not interfere with my relationship with my father. He came for meals, took me on vacations and trips, and called me often. My mom took me to visit him when he worked temporarily in a different city, & I had the joy of having both parents in my life.
One sunday in April, two months after I turned 4, my father came to pick me up for a day at a local park. We were all going to eat dinner together later in the day. We never came back.
My father took me from Norway to the United States, and I would not see my mother again for 14 years (except for a short visit in court, but my father & I ran off a second time during trial).
For these 14 years I lived the life of a fugitive, in hiding and on the run, in terror of being found by a mother who had become a stranger, and who I came to perceive as a threat because I had forgotten what she looked like. We disappeared without a trace, and I made no attempt to contact my mother during those 14 years. Only as an adult have I been able to look back and begin to understand how easily a child can be distanced, both physically but most of all emotionally, from one of their parents.
Everything that once was familiar became foreign, and I clung to my father. I felt I needed to choose (a really sucky feeling for a kid), and in desperation chose the parent I had become most familiar with. After being told terrible things about her, seeds of suspicion and fear crept in. I forgot her love.
I think my father didn´t want to share me with my mother. In the beginning, my father got angry when I asked for her. He told me that she would be coming soon, but was “busy” and could not come just yet. I yearned for her. When I asked to talk to her on the telephone, I was told that she did not have time to talk. And when I asked again one day, I was told that she decided not to come, not ever, and that dad would take good care of me instead. I soon learned not to mention the M word again, not even to myself. It hurt too much.
As such a young child, it took a relatively short time for memories of my mother to fade. I forgot what she looked like, what she was like, and together with the hurt of feeling abandoned by her, and being told that she and her family were Nazi sympathizers and did not love me, I learned to be happy that I was away from her. Later on, told that she had changed her mind and now wanted to take me away, I willingly lived a life of hiding, terrified to be found by the person who I had lost nearly all memory of and had been taught to fear.
The next 14 years were spent living on Greyhound buses and traveling through 3 countries and 34 of the 50 United States. At times I had to pretend to be a boy, dye my hair and change identities, all to hide from a mother who just wanted to love me. I believed that my father was sacrificing his happiness to protect me, and that I would lose everything I knew if I did not cooperate and help.
It was a life of homelessness, of sleeping in a different place every few days or weeks, and of telling lies to avoid being found. I had to remember which name to use where, and beg for money and food at times. I was told not to trust anybody because they would take me back to my mother if I was not careful. There was a constant aura of suspicion and fear. I lost trust in the world.
It took a long time for me to begin to see the truth, that I was living a lie, my father’s lie. As I grew older it became increasingly clear, whether from calling my father’s sister at 15 (my father had not allowed me to speak to her until then), who told me that my mother was a lovely person, from seeing my picture on a milk carton as a missing child, from sensing the tremendous anger that my father held inside and his tendency to exaggerate supposed “wrongs” against him, and from retrieving long hidden memories, that what had happened might have been very wrong. It was. What he did was meant to hurt. And it did. And the irony is that it hurt him too. We do not have much of a relationship today.
Today, my mother and I have a relationship, but it has taken a lot of work to get here. I had to first deal with and accept the reality of my father’s actions. For a while I tried to hang on to the belief that what he did was justified, because it hurt so to believe otherwise.
It was hard to let my mother in, hard to get close to the parent who had been the “bad one” for so many years. Now I know how wonderful she is, but despite her love and caring, it was difficult to start from where we started from, shared pain and lost time, of knowing of each other but not knowing each other, of having to do so much healing.
It was difficult, but we made it. We are officially mother and daughter now. It is a real gift. We are the lucky ones. So many others are not this lucky. As a person involved with missing children’s issues today, I know so many others who cannot seem to heal from the past, reestablish relationships with the parents they were distanced from, or move forward in their lives. They must live life with unhealed wounds and lost love.
Ever growing numbers of children will have to deal with these and other issues. A painful past, an uncertain future, feeling trapped between 2 worlds. Children who have been forced to feel they must choose feel an emptiness in their hearts and souls. They may not be able to talk about it with you, but they can feel it.
These are the pains, such unnecessary pains. Not knowing who to trust and what to believe, how to let one hurting parent into your life and somehow come to terms with the hurt the other has inflicted.
Based on my own experience and those of other children I have met, I believe that it is only a matter of time before most children who have been forced to choose realize that what was done to them was wrong and for them to want to seek the truth.
Fathers & mothers going through the pain of separation or divorce, if you truly care about your children and hope to enjoy a lasting relationship with them, please realize that kids deserve and need both of their parents in their lives. Please don’t put them in the middle of a tug of war between you and your spouse, no matter what the circumstances.