Here are some reader responses to the second in a three-part series, Choices of the Heart. In this installment, John McHugh is trying to decide how far to take a legal fight to get his 7-year-old daughter back to the United States.
Your article in yesterday's Globe in regards to John McHugh and his daughter was beautifully written and more than touched my heart.
This is a real story about real people facing real situations. I can't get it off my mind.
As a single mother, I could never keep my boys from having a day to day relationship with their father. It's part of my responsibility as their mother and their parent.
As a mother, a woman and a single parent, I applaud his tenacity and devotion. My own legacy is one of a single mother who made my relationship with my father almost impossible. What Chiara's mother doesn't know, is the ramifications of what she is doing. It creates a lifetime of emotional hardships mostly in relationships. It can effect the next couple of generations. I am proof of that.
Thanks again for the front page article.
Here's something that you might want to pass on to John McHugh & Chiara.
Hi, here's an idea that has worked well with telephone communication in our family: Playing games over the phone - here's how it works, depending on the age of the child.
Guess Who - buy 2 sets of the game Guess Who. Send the child either the blue or red half of the game and a full set of cards. Play over the phone as per the usual rules of the game. (This one works particularly well) You each have a board and full set of cards, each person choses a person (kept secret from the other player) Take turns guessing the identity of the other player's person - example: does your person have white hair? If the answer is no, close all the people with white hair. Process of elimination - until one player guesses the correct person first. You can move on to play tournaments, best of 3-5 games.
Monopoly Junior - Buy two sets of the game, send one to child. You each keep the game set up at your end of the phone. Each player handles the bank, and each player moves two markers around the board. (so that you can see where the other player is) Each person rolls the die for themselves, tells the other player what they rolled and moves both the other person's marker that number of spaces. This does not have to be completed in one phone call, depending on time.
Lots of games can be adapted to be played over the phone, it's fun and engages the child in more interaction with the parent who is not close by.
If you have any questions regarding this and other games that divide easily, you are welcome to contact me via email or phone.
I was really struck by your article "Torn By Distance", I was in the exactly the same predicament. I was married to an Italian woman who I met in the US, after the birth of our first child she was pushing for us to move to Italy since she was very attached to her family. I wanted to work for a period overseas so when an opportunity came up we decided to try it.
We had a second child our first year in Italy. Our marriage soured during the four years we were in Italy, but we pushed ahead attributing it to the normal ups and downs of a relationship.
In 2004 I was offered very well paying job in Boston, in fact it was the job I always dreamed of. Both my wife and I decided to take the opportunity and move back to Boston. My error was that I went first to find a house and they were to come afterwards. As you can imagine that did not happen and I spent over a year in Boston heart broken, talking by phone with my two kids. Listening to them cry asking me to come back. The phone relationship was unbearable. Not being part of my kids lives was horrible for me and for them. They visited during holidays but when they would return to Italy I was always destroyed.
I too went to a psychologist to understand how to create a long distance "bond" between me and the kids but it just did not fill the void.
I looked at several legal options but financially it would have been devastating to enter in an international custody battle with no assurance that it would go my way.
After over a year of suffering the distance between my kids, I was offered a job in Italy and I decided to take it.
My job and my career prospectives are no way near what I expected out of life. My pay was reduced to less than half and when child support is factored in I barely make it to the end of the month. Unfortunately here I am not able to apply my Northeastern MBA the way I could in the states.
I gave up my dream job and career but it was worth it to be able to see my kids as much as I want. My kids are much happier now that I am here.
From one side you could say that I made a huge compromise, some say a stupid compromise but I think at the end of the day I did the right thing. Money and career are not the only things in life, it is more important that I am a part of my kids lives. It is not their fault that my marriage did not work out. That is the risk of the international marriage.
Every day I miss the US and Boston and my family but I know I am doing the right thing. Unfortunately I don't have the ability to fly me and the kids as I wish. Everyday this gets to me.
My word of advise is that marriage is tough, and international marriage is tougher!
In Italy there is a saying, mogli e boi paesi tuoi, "choose cows and wives only from your area". Foreign things are exotic but in the end the familiar things work out the best.
Today's front page article reduced me to tears because, as another non-custodial Dad, I know too well the emotions John McHugh is facing and the deep frustrations he feels. This was an enlightening article of a challenge all too many parents (mostly men) face. In a moment, I leave for the quarterly Fathers and Families Meeting where the speaker tonight is a nationally recognized authority on the subject of parental alienation. I hope to come away with suggestions similar to what John McHugh is learning on how to let my children know that I love and care for them despite the fact that my divorce order has effectively removed me from any role in their upbringing. My wife didn't go to Brazil. She had only to go to Vermont for a six month "sabbatical". Despite the fact that I have never lived outside of Massachusetts, jurisdiction, when she filed for divorce, shifted to Vermont, the only state out of 50 which does not allow "shared parenting" as a matter of law. Unlike Massachusetts, which is also not very progressive, the Vermont prohibition runs to "legal custody" as well so I've discovered what it is like to have no legal rights to my children when it comes to their schooling, report cards, medical decisions and even the enforcement of my supposed visitation rights.
Little wonder that my son has described me to his therapist as "Dad's only the family's ATM machine."
Mr. McHugh has the right idea. Suffer in silence and don't place the innocent and torn child in the middle. Maintain the nightly or regular telephone contact. E-mail is great too. It's the little things that let the child know that he or she still has a father who cares even though he is not allowed to play an active role in his or her life.
Children grow up and my son's therapist has told me that my son will put it all together by the time he is in college or shortly thereafter that he had a caring and loving father even though he rarely had the opportunity of seeing me. I've watched 10 years pass with limited contact outside of the nightly telephone conversations with my son and daughter despite the visitation schedule which I am supposedly accorded by the Court Order. My daughter is now in college and emancipated. Since this occurred we talk or e-mail two-three times everyday and, on school breaks, she comes to visit me rather than going home to her mother and brother. My son doesn't have that freedom yet but, now that he is a teenager, he too is moving closer to the day when he will have the freedom to make his own decisions. In the meantime, I keep the e-mails, telephone conversations, and voice messages going so that he knows I love him and have not forgotten him despite having so little involvement in his life. It's sad that divorce is so harsh when it comes to stripping children away from a parent. The break-up of a family is tough enough.
Children should have the right to continue to share two loving and supporting parents rather than being forcibly relocated with one as John McHugh is discovering. My heart goes out to him and to his daughter.
However, he is wise not to become involved in a bitter legal battle because he will lose and the child will only emerge with further scarring. Studies show that, while no child goes unscathed after his parents divorce, the best adjusted in their adult years are those where both parents remained involved in their upbringing. Perhaps someday this lesson will be learned by our Courts and our legislators.
As hard as it was for me to read this article because of my own similar experiences, I'm glad you have written it. It brings home the message that men, too, have deep feelings for their children and are not the abusive and irresponsible fathers that we are so frequently labeled as being.
Thank you for caring.
Very interesting piece about the difficulties of an international divorce. From my perspective, the legal battles that always seems to follow in these cases should have been preceded by enormous efforts at keeping the marriage together. Did this couple go to therapy or take any reasonable measures adults might to avoid this situation?
Fortunately, I consider myself happily married. If the situation were ever to change I would like to think that for the sake of our children my husband and I would attempt to resolve our differences outside courts prior to getting to such a situation. I wonder if John McHugh might not have tried harder in his marriage if he had considered the totality of the stakes.
Both parents seem like reasonable people. Is there a story before your piece started? Maybe next time you, or anyone does a piece like this one, in which the reader feels very empathetic toward all parties involved, we could have a more holistic picture of how the reader came upon this situation.
Divorce is an every day reality. So is marriage. I would like to read that people put as much energy into trying to preserve something that was once beautiful, as they do fighting for custody of the their children.
Clearly divorce is in everyone's best interest in some cases. I am not against divorce, I just tire of hearing how terrible it is afterward. John McHugh was an active participant in the deterioration of his marriage.
Best Regards, April Schick
"This story hit upon one of the key issues surrounding children who are caught in the crossfire of divorce. Children deserve to have a rich and rewarding rapport with both parents. It is indeed unfortunate that the legal system does not encourage equal parenting and force those who will not share to undergo special therapy to help them understand that children who are used as weapons will be harmed in same way now or in the future.
"Litigation only encourages a battlefield mentality and should be avoided at all costs for both financial and good will measures.
"I am a well educated very stable mother of 3 teens who has been going through this battle for 4 years and because the kids were and are used as pawns we have almost no contact. The wonderful relationship we once shared has been placed on hold.
"The scars are life long for all involved. The Charlie Sheen custody battle is a prime example of the inability of adults to co-parent for the benefit of their children.
"I am involved with a mothers group that is working to educate the public, teachers, counselors, clergy, DSS, Judges, lawyers and any one who will listen about the child victims of divorce wars."
"I read with interest the excellent front page story, by Patricia Wen, in the Monday September 24th Boston Globe, "Torn by distance, he wonders how far to take custody fights."
"One does not have to cross continents to understand that this type of custody situation occurs daily, even when parents live just one mile away.
"Every day, fathers are torn on how far to take a custody fight. With legal fees between $250 to $600 for each hour, it is a gut wrenching fight in our family and probate courts, one that they often can't afford. Without a Presumption of Shared Parenting, fathers often try fruitlessly to stay involved in their kids lives with minimal results. They are often thrown out of their kids lives and are thrown into poverty by unfair and unreasonable child support and alimony orders.
"The most telling statement by John McHugh is his unselfish comment, "I'm not really even asking that she be without her mother",..."What I'm asking is that she not be without her father." This question is asked over and over again by dads across this great state and nation. All Mr. McHugh, and, most dads want, is to "participate in the life of my daughter", their children, while they are young.
"Fathers are torn between a long legal battle and the protection of their child's mental state when such a battle ensues. It is a gut wrenching decision. People say "they will get older." But why should dads miss out on their children's childhood and why should children have to miss out on their fathers during their childhood. THEY SHOULD NOT.
"All fathers want is to have parenting time too. Passing a Presumption of Shared Parenting, (here in Massachusetts it is Representative Colleen Garry's Bill, House Bill 1460), would help countless numbers of children and their fathers to grow up together. We should pass it today."
Dr. Peter G. Hill
"Thank you for your Choices of the Heart series in the Globe this week. These stories give others, like myself, in similar situations some reassurance that we are not going through this alone. My husband, a Brazilian native, has been detained for the last month at Suffolk County Jail and will be deported Saturday. He is married to me, an American citizen, and we have two children ages 4 months and three years. To add to the stress, his father passed away on September 11th and he was not able to call home.
"I am now faced with the difficult and complicated decision of whether to move to Brazil. I did this once before with my son who was at the time 3 months old. Then I knew it was only a temporary solution, but now it would most likely be a permanent move. Is this best for me? Is this best for my children? What about my husband? Also, floating in the back of my mind the Brazilian law in which the Brazilian parent must give permission for the other parent and children to leave Brazil. What's to say I go to Brazil for awhile and decide I want to head back to the US. Will my husband grant me permission to leave with our children? These are indeed the Choices of the Heart.
"Thank you for opening people's eyes to the daily stresses and frustrations families are going through."
"Great article today. Although it hit home with me hopefully thousands of readers will be touched by your talent presented in this story."
Peter C. Leary
"I'm very moved by John McHugh's story. I hope he gets lots of input more profound than any I'm capable of.
"That said, I can identify with John on a number of issues. My first marriage ended when my son was 2 (and had recently been diagnosed with autism). My ex-wife moved to Florida when he was about 7 or 8, and many friends criticized me for not fighting the move. I had been trying (and succeeding, I think) to be the best dad I could during the years before the move, but I reasoned that I was never going to get on with my life, and potentially find love and happiness for myself, if I didn't let them go. I came to see the Florida move as my ticket to freedom, and I've felt a fair amount of guilt ever since.
"I did find love and happiness, and now have a life I wouldn't trade for any; a life that includes a daughter, now 13. I can confirm for John that these years, when his daughter is 7, 8, 9, and 10, are the greatest imaginable. I pray that the closeness I had with my daughter during those years will return at some point, but, so far, the 11-13 and beyond years are not nearly as daddy-centric, and I now enjoy a slightly different role in her day to day life. John and I are about the same age, and I find his commitment to parenting impressive, to say the least. I can identify with his "never quit" attitude, but I wonder if he might open his mind to allow a little "quit" to improve his situation.
"There comes a time in many situations where one might have to accept that the original goal needs to be redefined. John strikes me as a gamer, and he if were, say, a starting pitcher, I'd expect that he'd be aiming to pitch a complete game; that he would want to fight on, even in the face of difficulty; that he would believe in his own ability to persevere. At 47, John might be able to also identify with the manager or pitching coach, who, for the good of the team, might be in a better position to decide that the pitcher is done for the day. He can win, or he can continue, but he can't do both.
"What I'm saying is that John needs to really simplify this situation and decide what he wants within the range of what's plausible, as opposed to what he'd want ideally. He might have been thinking that the idea of his ex moving back to the US was a reasonable expectation, or that she'd allow some 6 month here/6 month there custody arrangement, or any number of other scenarios that he has every right to believe should happen. Were it me, I wouldn't waste my time on those dreams. I'd resign myself to a simple choice: I can have a life with my daughter, or I can have a life in the US. Me? I'd quit the job and move to Brazil.
"I also know a little bit about what must John must feel for his company, and his loyalty to them. I had been with a Fortune 100 company for 7 years, when, in 2002, I was laid off, then found myself diagnosed with non-Hodgekins Lymphoma. When made aware of my condition---via inquiries about COBRA coverage---my company offered to hire me back, at full salary while on disability throughout my 7 months of treatment. They accommodated me during my slow return to full strength, which took all of six months, at which time I came to feel I could not do that job any longer. I had come to believe that life was too precious to waste each day doing something I didn't completely love, but I felt I owed something to my company, for they had stood by me so supportively. I received some great advice---from an astrologer, of all people---that allowed to make my decision. She told me that the company's support of me was not just for me, that it benefited them too. Think about that. It's like when you do a good deed, like helping someone carry their groceries, or chasing after someone with the money you saw them drop. You don't want a reward; the doing of the deed was reward enough, wasn't it? That's how the company 'feels', or should.
"I know John tried life in Brazil, and he missed America, but now he's in America and misses Brazil, insofar as Brazil is Chiara, for now. I say suck it up and go; America will always be here for you, and, as John said, Chiara will only be 7 once.
"I truly wish the best for the whole family."
An open letter to John McHugh:
Keep loving your daughter! Tough choices to make...life in Brazil with your daughter or a life in th US without her. I have three children 8, 10 and 15 (the middle is a girl). I am also going to have an ex-soon...as soon as possible. This was his choice. But who gets hurt? our children...I also come from a divorced family and I lived with my Dad and two brothers. My mother was an unfit mother. I survived and am now flourishing and so our my children. But...the love my Dad gave me is what made me strong. Life is always full of challenges. The fact that she gets on the phone and talks to you...is proof in her love for you. My childrens father lives just a few miles away. They refuse to talk to him on the phone most nights. (he has the option of coming to the house to see them anytime he wants, but he chooses the phone he told me it just doesn't fit in his schedule...) Some days I think about the divoce and how it effects our children but he has been gone for over a year and a half. The issue isn't the divorce, the issue is his priorities.
I honestly don't know the answer...It doesn't seem fair that a court should determine the life of our children. It also seems nuts that two people can't work things out who shared the intimacy of having a child. Being a parent is a selfless job. The days can be long but the rewards endless....Listen to her, be there for her and never give up your love. Children want to know they are loved, liked and important. The nightly phone calls make her feel loved, liked and important. You give her time on the phone. We all want to know we are important enough to get the most precious gift of all...TIME.
Thank you so much for the well written and on-point series. I teach a course in family law to social work students at BU and look for ways to present the complexities of custody disputes meaningfully. Your first two installments will certainly help me do this. You see to get the issues and have found a way to present them in an interesting manner. Very good jounalism. Sheila Schwartz
"I really enjoyed the article regarding an international child custody dilemma. It was well-written, and well-organized. I truly sympathize with that father."
Beverly A. Soares, New Bedford
"Open letter to John McHugh:
"Felt I must write to you immediately.
"I am a mother of an 18yo daughter and a 17yo son, from a fine home/marriage. I am also a masters prepared nurse.
"Pretend as though it is your last year of life...your heart will tell you what to do and what is most important to you....in real terms.
"We only have these children for such a short time...as well as life is short.
"DROP ALL LEGAL BATTLES! Not worth it a bit or a penny.
"Go to Brazil and be happy start a new life near your dughter, work will come your way..all else will work itself out.
"If you are one of the lucky ones you will still be alive in 10yrs when your daughter goes to college...at that pont re-think about relocating back to US.
"BUT in the meantime be by your daughter when you have her as a young daughter before she becomes an adult...really that is the most important thing in your life... over job or location right?! Think of it as only a short term move!
"ALL good blessings to you! You are an incredible person with an even more incredible heart and energy! May the FORCE be with you!!!!!!!!!! Let the readers know what happens with all this... We are concerned for you and your lovely family....all of you!
"Take good care and have faith in the future!"
"I felt so badly about John McHugh's situation. He seems to be such a nice man.
"Friends had told me to purchase a webcam (about $80.00 each) and to sign on to SKYPE even though our children and grandchildren are in Massachusetts. My friends were traveling in Australia last week, and they called me on the computer. Last evening I was chatting with my dear pal who lives in New Zealand. I could see her as though she were sitting next to me!
"I wonder if John uses a webcam with his daughter."