Causes and Effects of Parental Alienation: an unscientific exploration in anecdotal history, by a participant

I grew up amid the political and social tumult of the sixties and seventies, and into the institutionalizing of the values of what had previously been dubbed “sexual revolution.”

By the time I emerged into adulthood around the time of the Carter-Reagan transition, things like non-marital (“casual”, “recreational”) sex, co-ed campus housing, and intersex cohabitation outside matrimony (“living together”) were no longer considered revolutionary, or really even anything but normal, at all. No one by then talked about “free love”, and “make love not war” was already a silly anachronism about a war long since over.

Birth control was everywhere, the absolute altering of gender relations and parental roles launched by Roe v Wade had folded into everyday life, Playboy and Penthouse were at the height of their powers, and hardly anyone batted an eye at their groundbreaking interviews with heads of state or their prize-winning feature journalism being a few pages away from photos of naked women and provocative articles about the unquestioned value of sexual fantasies.

Cheap sexuality, long before the term “hookup” meant something besides the plumbing at an RV park, had made its way into the mainstream. Boys and girls both were in the full grasp of an autonomous youth culture of “sex, drugs, and rock & roll” where uncommitted sex and serial monogamies were considered norms, even unavoidable rites of passage.

Was it Dolly Parton in “Steel Magnolias” who had said, anyone over the age of twelve has a “past”?

Then add in locker-room-grade homophobia for the boys. I can’t speak to any parallel for girls in those times, but I doubt any woman has any conception of the hoops a young guy was expected to jump through from puberty onward, to prove day in and day out that he was not a “queer”. The throwaway insults among male peer groups having mostly to do with reactions to (reputedly) less-than-manly conduct, were almost exclusively of this variety: faggot, queer bait, swishy, fudge-packer….

And none of that, had anything to do with boys who were actually gay. Certainly no one was afraid of them, and there were a lot more who were “out” even back then, than today’s mythology allows for. No, everyday homophobia for boys had zero to do with genuine gayness. It was merely the deepest insult one could use on a boy who wasn’t, to show him up in front of the other guys, over his being less a macho-man than they would require him to be, while feeling required to be that themselves.

Then add to that, the ubiquity of sexual-predator gay men who were among our schoolteachers, who used their positions of power, trust, authority and autonomy, to build themselves whole stables of boy lovers. Yes. This was going on all over the place: I had the opportunity to travel all over the US during those times on music tours and meet people my own age all over the 48, and believe me, this was commonplace. I was in two different drum & bugle corps during the late 70s, and competed in every region of the country as a teenager, and I am here to tell you that DCI (Drum Corps International) at that time amounted to the gay auxiliary of the New Jersey mafia.

I doubt too, that DCI as a swamp of dysfunctional sexuality, was anything but a typical example of any kind of youth activities and organizations, religious and secular alike.

So suffice it to say, pressures on young boys to prove their unfaggotude, not only to peers but to adult men who were chasing them with impunity during those times, had every incentive to find girls who were, for lack of a less delicate way to put it, easy to get on their backs. A guy who wasn’t getting laid, by age fourteen or younger, was either a fag to his peer group or a target of his teachers and adult youth leaders, or both.

The way to get out in front of all of that, bluntly stated, was to screw girls. It was a bizarre form of self-protection, far more than being anything driven by pleasure or gratification, or even curiosity.

And the girls a guy could find ready and willing, were the ones who had no fathers. Among many of these, were girls whose single, serial-boyfriended or multi-wed mothers actively encouraged not only their daughters’ having sex, but having sex at home, and with older men, so they would be both “safe” in the short term and “experienced” for later life.

So, men of our generation entering adulthood, and the sudden transformation during the Reagan years back to flag-waving, conservative-looking normalness (you never did think that it ever would happen again in America, did you?” was how Charlie Daniels described this seismic shift), were in the grasp of conflicted incentives, not only about sexuality but also about our dealings with women across the spectrum of adult life.

On the one hand, we still had to treat them as the sleazy sluts they had insisted on being for a decade already, because this for them was “empowerment” and if anything went wrong with the contraception there was always Planned Parenthood for a fail-safe. And, we still believed that to get a woman on her back, was what separated the men from the boys, and the “real men” from the fags.

But on the other hand, we were adults now. Adults get married, settle down, have kids, make a life, do the normal thing, don’t they? That cowboy in the White House told us it was “morning in America”, a new day, that straight-laced was good and clean-cut was patriotic; and meanwhile, those troublemakers in Tehran who took those hostages, had made it fashionable again to be redneck patriots and as conventionally “American” as we could manage, after all the anti-patriotism of the Vietnam years which had never quite penetrated into our experience as children, the way it had with our slightly-elders of the “baby boom.”

So a lot of guys, plainly stated, married the wrong women, for the wrong reasons, had the wrong ideas about what sex and intimacy as a married couple meant, as opposed to people fornicating for its own sake in cars after an Aerosmith concert.

Women didn’t want to think of themselves, or be treated, as sleazy sluts any more, but instead as respect-worthy wives and mothers now. And there came a whole new era, of extreme frustration and dissatisfaction built right into the roles and folkways of married life, and of becoming everyday citizens and family members and school parents.

The cliche back then among men of my age, of ongoing sexual lockout and frustration at home, became as commonplace as the one of ongoing sexual bacchanalia and licentiousness during our adolescences had been. The cognitive dissonances between living the one way, and the other, created a whole lot of unhappy marriages, to understate it.

By the time the Violence Against Women Act was passed in 1994, and magnified in its resonance to the times in no small way by the simultaneous timing of the OJ Simpson trial that same year, now in our thirties men my age had no clue what was about to be aimed at us, deployed on us, and used with terrifying effect, to completely dismantle the achievements of family life and parenting that men our age had been forced to accept on vastly different terms in the first place, than men had ever had asked of them before.

After all, had our fathers attended our births? If they had tried, in that starched-white, absolutely-segregated-by-sex world of the medical field of the 50s and 60s, they probably would have been arrested on the spot, and made a laughingstock among their friends, neighbors and colleagues. By the time we became parents, this was considered not just normal for a father, but mandatory. It had become, practically overnight, seen as unconscionable not to attend births and carry diaper bags by the time we became dads.

But no one was prepared, least of all the mothers, for the idea that we might like being everyday parents, makers of homes, keepers of houses, that we might be more than happy to send Mommy off with a kiss and a sack lunch and get her out of the house, so we could run it properly in her absence…

Something had to be done.

Through no conscious intent necessarily, but in service of historic forces unleashed that no one knew how to engineer in a chosen direction, the looseness and cheapness of revolutionary sexuality gave fertile ground, to the paranoia and gender-war to follow, which accompanied in turn the latest radical alteration of the rules of engagement between the sexes:

The no-fault divorce.

By this means, now a woman could get out of a bad marriage for the asking, and the husband could do nothing to stop it.

Unless, the custody of the children was in dispute.

Divorce for women may have become legally more expeditious, but it wasn’t necessarily any cheaper in terms of legal costs, especially when the nature of the conflict was not just “he said, she said”, but also “she filed, he counter-sued”, over who was gonna get the kids.

But wait…

There was that VAWA thing. The “vast majority” of victims of domestic abuse, it claimed by its very title, and its existence at all as a social program, were women. In their homes. Among their children. There were now programs in place that would make a woman’s legal costs vanish completely, so long as she could come up with a story, of how she and the kids were “at risk.”

The protocols governing not just divorce proceedings, but also domestic police callouts, matters raised over children’s performance and appearance in public schools, training procedures for mediators and social workers and child-psychologists, or anyone else whose professional purview touched on marriage, family and children, came more and more under the aegis of this Violence Against Women Act. And as the years wore on, the tension and suspicion and mutual contempt between men and women was made into something as everyday and normal, as making love and not war had been decades before.

And, at the heart of my theory I promised to lay out, is the fact that more and more children throughout all these past several decades have been raised without fathers in their homes, or even in their lives at all.

These go on and become:

mothers who have no concept of loving or being loved by a father, or coexisting with fathering on any everyday basis;

and fathers who have no working concept at all of how to be one, other than “give The Boss what She wants, or there’s hell to pay.”

If there is any thesis or hypothesis in all this on my part, it is in the form of what I believe to be a responsible line of questioning to explore:

  • Can it be possible, that a reason so many mothers have no ability or desire whatsoever to have fathers in their children’s lives, is because they never did themselves?
  • Can the presence of growing and thriving father-child love, bonding, affection and trust, simply be more than they have the emotional capacity to tolerate?
  • That it just plain hurts them too much, seeing their children have what they never had themselves, and never will?
  • And, can it be that fathers are so easily set aside and run off, and have so few tools or experiences with which to perform, defend and uphold their roles, because they were flying by the seats of their pants trying to be fathers in the first place?
  • That the roles laid out for today’s men as parents were experimental, newly-arrived in history, and in the light of their own generational experiences, in vast and increasing numbers of instances, utterly unsustainable?

I happen to think the answer to all these, is an emphatic, “yes, of course.” And that it will get worse by all indications, before it ever begins to get any better.

And I can never prove it, only offer it up for consideration.

Now, if I could only find a way to explain all this to my kids?

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Ron Collins’s story.