book reviews, narcissists

Repost: A review of Will I Ever Be Free of You?: How to Navigate a High-Conflict Divorce from a Narcissist and Heal Your Family

I am reposting this book review today because it’s relevant to today’s fresh blog content. It was written June 2, 2016, and appears here as/is.

Several years ago, I read a great book by Dr. Karyl McBride called Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers.  McBride is a very experienced psychotherapist whose mother was a narcissist.  Due to her own upbringing and the issues she faced growing up, McBride learned a lot about narcissism and has become an expert on the subject.  In 2015, she published another great book, Will I Ever Be Free of You?: How to Navigate a High-Conflict Divorce from a Narcissist and Heal Your Family.  I just finished the book this morning and I think it’s an excellent tool for men and women who are in the midst of a high-conflict divorce from a narcissist.

As some regular readers of this blog may know, my husband was once married to a woman we believe is a narcissist.  She definitely has a high-conflict personality and went out of her way to make things difficult when she and Bill were splitting up.  I wish Dr. McBride’s book had been around win Bill and his ex wife were divorcing.  Even though reading it might not have changed the outcome in their situation, it would have shed some light on some of the behaviors we observed in Bill’s former wife and the two kids they had together.  

Dr. McBride does an outstanding job of explaining what narcissism is.  Many people have the misconception that narcissism is about being extremely vain and selfish.  It’s true that vanity and selfishness are aspects of narcissism, but narcissistic personality disorder goes way beyond simple self-centeredness.  Narcissists lack empathy and crave adulation and attention.  They overestimate  and exaggerate their abilities while tearing down the people around them.  They go to extreme lengths to meet their endless need for narcissistic supply and they hurt good people in the process.  

If you are unfortunate enough to be married to a narcissist, you may find yourself losing inches of your life in support of the narcissist.   Your hopes and dreams become completely lost as the narcissist’s hopes and dreams become the center of importance.  Your health, financial stability, and self-esteem will suffer.  If you have children with a narcissist, you may find yourself constantly fighting parental alienation tactics.

One thing I liked about McBride’s book is that she teaches readers some effective communication skills that can be used with children.  She explains that children can’t process their emotions the way adults can.  They may lash out and say things they don’t really mean.  Many parents will retaliate by getting angry and dismissing or discounting their children’s feelings.  Children of narcissists are especially at risk.  What McBride advocates is using very basic therapeutic skills to communicate with children who are upset or angry.  

Here’s an example.  If a child is upset that you won’t let him or her sleep over at a friend’s house, he or she might say “I hate you!”  Many parents might have a knee jerk reaction to that statement and say something like, “Yeah?  Well, I hate you right back!”  While that response might feel good and seem justified at the time, it’s not constructive.  The situation will only get worse as the child feels like he or she isn’t being heard or respected.  There will be mounting frustration and the situation will likely escalate.

Instead of saying, “I hate you right back!” you could say, “I’m sorry.  It sounds like you’re very upset. Why don’t we talk about why you’re upset and what we can do to make things better?”

When the child explains why he or she is upset, you could paraphrase what he or she says, making it clear you’re listening.  Then the two of you can come up with a solution.  Or not…  the point is, instead of yelling at the kid and reacting in anger or annoyance, you can express empathy and show respect.  Then, the child might eventually learn to behave in the same manner.  

All of this may seem unrealistic to some readers.  It’s easy for a trained therapist to say that a parent should show empathy and respect.  And I’m sure that McBride knows parents are humans who lose their tempers sometimes.  The point is, she offers a new way to communicate.  Children who have a narcissistic parent have it tougher than other kids do.  They have a parent who doesn’t respect them and treats them like a possession rather than a person.  Non-narcissistic parents can ease the situation by learning how to communicate respectfully.

I also liked that Dr. McBride reminded readers that they should never badmouth the child’s other parent, even if the child is complaining.  Kids complain about their parents, but they don’t want to hear other people complain about them.  Like it or not, the other parent most likely shares DNA with the child, so when you criticize the other parent for being a jerk, it can come across as a personal insult to the child.  McBride advocates always taking the high road, at least until the child is mature enough to understand other perspectives.  And even then, it’s probably best to keep the badmouthing to a minimum.

Now, I write all of this realizing that I badmouth Bill’s ex wife all the time.  However, we have no contact with Bill’s kids.  I am not their parent and they are both now grown women.  Bill is their parent, and he hasn’t actually spent time in person with them since 2004.  Sadly, they are both strangers now.  But when he was able to see his kids, Bill didn’t trash talk his ex to them.  (Edited to add: Bill now speaks to his younger daughter, and she does understand the different perspectives now.)

That brings me to my next point.  As many readers may know, sometimes people who divorce someone with a high-conflict personality may end up losing contact with their children.  I think this happens especially often with men who marry narcissistic women.  I think McBride’s book would have been stronger had she addressed this phenomenon.  Also, she doesn’t really explain as much about how to deal with narcissists themselves.  Her book was more about protecting children.  Unfortunately, if you have joint custody with a narcissist, it may be difficult to employ some of McBride’s strategies.  If your narcissistic ex has sole custody, as Bill’s ex did, you probably might as well forget it (and for the record, I think Bill was unwise to allow his ex to have sole custody, but he was naive and trusted her).   

I think Karyl McBride’s book is a worthy read for people who are divorcing someone who has a high conflict personality.  I’d probably give it 4 stars on a scale of 5.  

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communication, healthcare, LDS, mental health

“My way or the highway”…

Picture it– a Saturday morning in early July 2006. The doorbell rang. Our mailman, Steve, who knew all of the best gossip on Fort Belvoir, was at the door with a bunch of packages. They were from Bill’s ex wife and sent “restricted delivery”, so Bill had to sign for them personally. In the boxes were a bunch of personal effects that Bill had left behind when he and Ex got divorced in 2000. She had written a letter, explaining that she had expected him to “retrieve” his stuff, but he never had. So she was sending the stuff back to him, along with an itemized list of the contents.

She also included adoption papers for Bill’s daughters, along with an invitation to sign them so her third husband, #3, could officially claim Bill’s daughters as his own. And there were also photocopied letters the girls supposedly wrote, demanding that Bill give permission for them to be adopted by #3. I remember quite distinctly that younger daughter’s letter was especially cold, while older daughter’s was a bit kinder. However, she did include the line, “I’ll never talk to you again” as an ultimatum. As in, “If you don’t let #3 adopt me, I’ll never talk to you again. It’s my way or the highway.”

Bear in mind, Bill had not been allowed a chance to speak to his daughters. Ex refused to let him have any contact with them and had them so mindfucked that they couldn’t think straight. Years later, it turned out that the girls had their names legally changed when they were both 18. Younger daughter said she’d been under a lot of pressure, both to write the letter (which Ex basically dictated to her), and to have her last name changed. But she also realized that she would be changing her name anyway, once she got married. Sure enough, younger daughter did get married and changed her name again. She now freely communicates with Bill– her REAL dad– who is a wonderful person. And it’s been beautiful for both of them. Younger daughter certainly doesn’t consider #3 to be her father and doesn’t really speak to him nowadays.

Older daughter has been as good as her word. She hasn’t spoken to Bill, and remains trapped in her mother’s toxic home. She’ll be 30 years old soon, and younger daughter has said that Ex regularly threatens and demeans her. Meanwhile, life has gone on, and for us, it’s mainly been worth living. Bill would love to have his older daughter in his life again, but she’s made a choice. I hope the “my way or the highway” attitude is worth it to her and brings her much joy… but somehow, I doubt it does. When Bill’s father died in November 2020, older daughter wasn’t welcome at the funeral, even though she had reportedly wanted to attend. Sadly, thanks to COVID-19, Bill wasn’t able to attend, either.

I have shared this story more than a couple of times over the years. I usually share it when I write about parental alienation syndrome or people who have decided to leave Mormonism and get shunned by their families. Since PAS and leaving Mormonism are both factors in our story, it makes sense that I’d share this sad anecdote when I write about those subjects. Today, I’m sharing it for another reason.

This morning, I read an article in The Washington Post about how to have conversations with people about COVID-19 vaccinations. I almost didn’t read the article because, frankly, I’m pretty frustrated by the subject. I live in a place where I can’t yet get a vaccine, even though I’m willing to get one. I see all of my American friends getting their shots, but I’m still sitting here with my thumb up my ass. I’m bored, depressed, and super sick of this lifestyle, especially since I can’t travel, but my husband keeps having to go places for work. It sucks, and I’m so tired of it. I need a new subject to focus on, so my attitude doesn’t completely go down the crapper.

Curiosity got the better of me, so I decided to read what the writer, Allyson Chiu, wrote about talking to people who can’t agree about the vaccines. I thought her advice was very sensible. Like me, she realizes that shaming, threatening, scolding, and lecturing aren’t very effective when it comes to changing hearts and minds about vaccinations. I’ve mentioned this more than a couple of times. When you come at a person with aggression, their instinct will naturally be to defend themselves. When a person is focused on defending themselves, they won’t be listening to what you have to say. You might as well save your breath.

Chiu also recommended positive ways of encouraging people to get the vaccine. Instead of insulting them or making assumptions about the person’s reasoning for not cooperating, she suggests asking people what would make them more willing to consider getting the shot(s). She emphasized being caring and concerned about the person’s welfare, rather than issuing stern ultimatums. Above all, she emphasizes maintaining basic respect with a mind toward preserving the relationship.

I looked at the responses left on the actual article, rather than Facebook. I’ve found that people who take the time to respond on a newspaper article itself, usually tend to be more thoughtful and appropriate in their comments. Also, the people who comment on the actual paper usually have taken the time to read the article rather than just responding to the headline.

As I read the comments about the COVID-19 vaccine controversy, I got a strong sense of deja vu. Only, the comments reminded me of ones heard from frustrated and angry parents when a child makes a decision with which the parent disagrees. For instance, when people raise their children in Mormonism, and the family members actually believe in the church doctrine and live by its principles, they tend to be very intolerant of opposing views. They issue ultimatums to the wayward family members, threatening to cut them out of their lives if they don’t conform. They might tell their supposed loved ones, “If you don’t stop rebelling, I’ll never talk to you again.” Or, “You aren’t welcome in my home until you come back to the fold.” Or, “I don’t want you talking to anyone in the family about your ‘beliefs’ or ‘opinions’. Your thinking is ‘wrong’, and I won’t tolerate you leading them down the ‘wrong’ path.”

I’m sure if you asked these folks if they love their family members whom they are so cavalierly threatening to cast out of their lives, they would say they do love them. Sometimes, this is an issue of control, but probably more often than not, these kinds of threats and ultimatums are based on fear of loss. In my husband’s ex wife’s case, she fears losing control and access to certain commodities. Although she joined the LDS church, she doesn’t actually agree with or care about the church’s teachings, and basically, she just uses it for control purposes. Apparently, she only goes to church now when she needs money. However, back in 2006, she sure did use the church and Bill’s decision to resign from the church as a means of trying to exert control and influence. Mormons, as a whole, are pretty famous about being willing to cast out unbelievers. Yes, there are exceptions– some church members are more liberal about their beliefs than others are– but a lot of church members see apostasy as a reason to disown, disinherit, and discard family members over a disagreement about religious beliefs.

And now, with the COVID-19 plague going on, it seems other people are also adopting that same “my way or the highway” attitude regarding the vaccines. Here are a few comments from the Washington Post article.

My honest reaction to anti vaxxers is astonishment and i express that.  That is self- respecting.  Infectious diseases are a fact.  I have no intentions of allowing ignorance on my watch.  (And how do you know that all of the anti vaxxers are being “ignorant”? Have you asked them?)

For antivacciners and antimaskers, it’s good to be compassionate and ask if they need a ride to a vaccination site or if they would like you to buy them some protection.  Ask if they are afraid of getting a shot and offer to accompany them to one.  Ask if they need making an appointment.  Give them a box of gloves.  Ask if they have a smart phone or a device to help them make appointments and to video chat.  (This response, while seemingly well-intentioned, seems rather manipulative and possibly insulting.)

I have mentioned that I am happy to be vaccinated. Usually others are too or are eagerly waiting. If they aren’t going to, I say, ” Really? Hmmm”. Walk away and check them off. I will easily drop any business, service provider or acquaintance and substitute them with a reasonable person. I have no time for this nonsense. (I’m sure the people you’re shunning don’t think of their opinions as “nonsense”.)

I read with interest your article regarding vaccinated parents and unvaccinated kids.  Speaking as a Warrior Mom, it absolutely exhausting dealing with this.  A calm parent with common sense says” My Teen will get vaccinated and my teen will spend time with his peer group.  The Nosy moms need to mind their own business. It is unacceptable and rude to ask your pod of moms ” When is your kid getting vaccinated.”  So let’s be polite and start focusing on summer plans and going to the beach. (What is a Warrior Mom? I’m pretty sure I didn’t have one of those!)

I have no problem telling someone who does not want to get the vaccine that it’s fine but they can’t come inside my home and they need to keep their distance on my porch. This includes my oldest kid who for some reason does not want it. I will be fully protected and my husband and our parents. Honestly that’s all that matters to me. The kid is an adult and can make his own misguided decisions.  (This is the comment that prompted me to write today’s post. It sounds a lot like Mormon parents kicking their kids out or telling them “I will never talk to you again.” I suppose this mom has the right to kick her son out of her life, but I suspect she could eventually end up regretting that decision.)

What a load of touchy-feely crap. FFS why after over a year are we still catering to those who simply won’t be persuaded? HERE’s how to talk about the shots: “I and everyone in my immediate family have been vaccinated. If you want our company, show us your vaccination certificates. If you don’t, or if you aren’t vaccinated yourself, you can count on never seeing us until you are.” Full stop.  Not only does this have the advantage of real world honesty and consequences, it will eventually show what kind of people one is surrounded with, particularly extended family. Their choice with the vaccine will eventually reveal which they value more: family, or clinging to myth, ego, suspicion, and ignorance. (I think this person overvalues his or her own company.)

Like I said… personally, I’m more than willing to get the shot. I’d like to get it over and done with. I have no issues with vaccinations. The science behind them has existed for hundreds of years, and the science behind the COVID-19 vaccine has been in the works since before COVID was a thing. I’m grateful scientists were able to develop them so quickly and I am definitely ready to cooperate, because this lifestyle, truly, is having a terrible effect on my mood and will to live.

But… even though I have my thoughts and opinions about the COVID-19 vaccine, and personally, I do think people should get them, I can also understand why some people are reluctant. I think it’s better to be compassionate toward them, rather than insulting and threatening. And I also think it’s crazy to throw away friendships and family relationships simply because of a disagreement about an illness that wasn’t even on the radar 18 months ago. Seriously? Are you really willing to cast out your loved ones over an argument about COVID-19? Isn’t it bad enough that so many people have actually DIED from this disease and will not ever be coming back? Are you really assuming that your “my way or the highway” attitude is the best way to get compliance, and that the person you are shunning won’t decide your company is that important to them, anyway?

I know some people would say, “But the fact that people are dying is the reason I’m taking such a strong stand about the vaccines. I know I’m right, and they’re wrong!” I get that. And I realize that to many people, it seems like the “my way or the highway” approach is the best, because– they tell themselves– this is the way to “save them”. However, most competent adults don’t take kindly to the negative approach and will resist it. And when it comes down to it, people must be free to make their own choices.

You can resolutely choose not to associate with people who refuse the shot– that’s your choice. And they can refuse to get vaccinated and wind up excluded from things like concerts, cruises, and flights. That’s their choice. But to say something along the lines of, “You aren’t welcome in my house.” or “I don’t want to see you again.” or “I’ll never talk to you again.” or “It’s my way or the highway” may cause a great deal of regret in the long run. Now is not the time to be extremely adversarial. As Joe Biden said some weeks ago, “We are at war with the virus, not each other.”

Everyone is struggling right now, and many people are legitimately frightened. Some people are frightened of catching COVID-19 and dying or living with “long hauler” syndrome. Other people are legitimately frightened of having the vaccine and suffering ill effects or even dying from it. Even if you and I think they’re being “silly” or even “stupid”, that fear is legitimate to them, and it can be difficult to overcome legitimate fear. Whether or not their fear has merit, they will probably remember your reaction to their fear, how it made them feel, and respond accordingly.

Interestingly enough, as I’m writing this post, I’m reminded of a quote that is often attributed to Maya Angelou. If you read my blog regularly, you know that I’m a big fan of verifying quotes to make sure the right person gets credit. Well, it appears that Maya Angelou is probably not, in fact, the originator of this quote:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

It turns out, the originator of that quote was highly likely to be Carl W. Buehner, who was– surprise— a high level official in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints! The earliest evidence located by Quote Investigator was in a 1971 book of quotes by Richard L. Evans, also a high ranking Mormon, who was the program narrator for the weekly radio and television broadcast of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir called “Music and the Spoken Word”. The Mormons, for all of their dysfunction and propensity for misguided interventions regarding the religious beliefs of their loved ones, sure do put out a lot of quotable quotes for the masses.

It was also a Mormon woman named Laurel Thatcher Ulrich who said, “Well behaved women rarely make history.” Ironic, given the fact that LDS women are very much second bananas in the church’s hierarchy and the demands to “conform” to the rules and mores of the church are well established and known. Ulrich went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and later became a professor at Harvard University.

Clearly both of these quotable Mormons are highly intelligent and talented folks, even if I think their beliefs in Mormonism are ridiculous and certainly not worth shunning loved ones over. I don’t know if Ulrich or Buehner ever did have family members who decided the church wasn’t for them, but I do know that the LDS church is famous for people taking a “my way or the highway approach” regarding obeying the principles of Mormonism. Those who step out of line will be dealt with and, if the infraction is serious enough, potentially cast out of their families or even the church itself. That action kind of flies in the face of those “feel good” quotes, doesn’t it?

Isn’t it possible that people who aren’t ready to get the shot are similarly valuable? Do you really want the COVID-19 vaccine to be the hill your relationship dies upon? Again, isn’t it bad enough that people are literally dying of COVID-19?

This doesn’t mean, of course, that I don’t believe you should protect yourself. If someone refuses to follow protocol and you don’t feel safe around them, you are well within your rights to protect yourself. What I propose is approaching the naysayers with basic respect, compassion, and kindness, rather than hostility, sternness, derision, and ultimatums. Don’t use a “my way or the highway” approach in your attempts to persuade. Because there is a real chance that they’ll choose the highway. That might ultimately be alright with you, but I would encourage you to think about it carefully before you go there. Make sure you can live with the results of your “my way or the highway” attitude, because taking that approach may actually put you on the Highway to Hell.

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book reviews, divorce, psychology

Repost: Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Breaking The Ties That Bind

Here’s a great book suggestion for anyone dealing with parental alienation syndrome. I read and reviewed this book ten years ago, before Bill’s younger daughter reconnected (the other remains estranged). Because I like to be helpful, I am reposting the review as it was when I originally wrote it for Epinions.com in 2011.

Those who regularly read my Epinions reviews may know that my husband has two extremely alienated daughters who haven’t spoken to him since 2004.  I have only met my husband’s kids once, back in 2003.  We had a nice enough visit, but afterwards, their mother decided that I was too much of a bad influence on them.  She ramped up her efforts to get my husband’s kids to reject him.  Today in 2011, he has no contact with the two kids (now adults) with whom he used to enjoy a very warm, loving relationship.  My husband’s daughters are textbook examples of kids who are affected by Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS).

PAS is a term that was originally coined by Dr. Richard Gardner, a child psychiatrist.  Dr. Gardner noted that sometimes in highly contentious divorce situations, one parent may misuse socialization techniques to turn their child against the other parent to the point at which the relationship is completely destroyed.

PAS is a very controversial topic.  Since alienating parents usually tend to be women, a lot of feminist organizations deny that PAS is real.  A lot of legal and mental health professionals also argue about whether or not it’s real.  I am myself educated as a public health social worker and, having spent almost nine years living through PAS with my husband, I have no doubt that parental alienation syndrome is very real and very scary.  It absolutely deserves to be taken seriously, especially by the family court system.

Although I’ve pretty much given up hope that my husband’s daughters will ever have a normal relationship with their father, I do still feel the need to read about PAS and related subjects such as narcissistic personality disorder.  That drive to research led me to read Amy J. L. Baker’s excellent book, Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Breaking The Ties That Bind (2007).  This book is very well-researched, well-written, and I guarantee that anyone who has experienced the PAS phenomenon will recognize the uncanny steps a determined alienator will take to destroy a child’s relationship with the targeted parent.

Who is Amy Baker and how did she research this book?

Dr. Amy J. L. Baker is director of research at the Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child protection of the New York Foundling.  In researching Breaking the Ties That Bind, Dr. Baker interviewed 40 adults who believed that when they were children, they were alienated against one of their parents.  She also interviewed people who were targeted parents of parental alienators.  Chapter by chapter, she uses her subject’s stories to lay out what PAS is and outline the tactics used by parental alienators to sever family ties. 

The hair on the back of my neck stood on end as I read about the experiences of these adult children of parental alienation syndrome.  Many of the alienating parents were women, though some of them were men.  And in some cases, the alienation tactics even had some validity because there were some targeted parents who really weren’t very good people.  In other cases, the children eventually realized that they were manipulated to hate their other parent and their relationship with the alienating parent was damaged.  Sometimes they were able to reconnect with the lost parent and build a positive relationship; sometimes they found out that the “dead” relationship was better off left alone.  I liked the fact that Dr. Baker explained how adult children of PAS eventually figure out what happened.  In some cases, adult children of PAS figure it out when they themselves become targeted parents, either by marrying someone who alienates the kids or by realizing their alienator parents have turned into alienator grandparents by trying to turn their grandkids against their parents.  Sadly, sometimes PAS victims never learn the whole truth, but Dr. Baker seems to think they usually do eventually “get it”, even if it takes decades.

According to Dr. Baker, the vast majority of parents who alienate their children from their other parents are people who have personality disorders, most notably narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).  Based on our situation, I am inclined to agree with Dr. Baker, although I also recognize that there are varying degrees of PAS and sometimes the PAS is even somewhat unintentional.  

In any case, the children are the ultimate losers in situations where one parent alienates children from the other parent.  Dr. Baker notes that children never forget that they have that other parent “out there” and every time the alienating parent punishes them for mentioning or missing the other parent, they are punishing them for their identity.  These kids are ordered to deny half of their DNA in order to keep their custodial parent happy.  That forced denial has to hurt on many different levels.  Indeed, through her research, Dr. Baker found out just how the realization that they have been lied to and manipulated can be so hurtful to children, who have often lost many years with their other parent.  In some cases, the other parent has died, making reconciliation impossible. 

Overall 

If you, or someone you love, have been affected by PAS, I highly recommend reading this book.  It’s probably one of the very best books I have ever read about parental alienation syndrome.  In so many ways, I found Baker’s book very insightful and helpful.  I found myself feeling a lot more empathy for my husband’s kids, despite the horrible way they have treated him and the rest of his family over the years. 

This is also an excellent book for mental health and legal professionals; indeed, I think it ought to be required reading for custody evaluators, especially those who doubt PAS exists. 

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book reviews

Repost: A review of My Name Is Mahtob: The Story that Began in the Global Phenomenon Not Without My Daughter Continues

This review was written and posted on my original blog on March 4, 2018. It’s being reposted as/is.

In the early 1980s, Betty Mahmoody was an American housewife married to an Iranian anesthesiologist.  She had sons from a previous marriage and a little daughter named Mahtob (Persian for moonlight) from her marriage to Iranian Sayyed Bozorg Mahmoody (who went by the nickname, Moody). 

Betty and Moody had once lived a comfortable lifestyle in Texas and Michigan. Moody had earned a PhD in mathematics and worked as a math professor and an engineer at NASA before he decided to go to medical school. Having lived in England and the United States since he was 18 years old, Moody seemed fully assimilated to western style living. He and Betty married in Houston in 1977, and Mahtob was born in 1979.

In August 1984, Moody took Betty and Mahtob to his native country of Iran.  It was supposed to be a two week vacation.  Moody had taken Betty’s and Mahtob’s passports, claiming that if he had them in his possession, they would not be confiscated.  Betty trusted her husband and they went on their vacation. 

At the end of the two weeks, Moody told Betty that they would not be returning to the United States.  Moody also told his wife that if she tried to leave his family’s house, he would kill her.  Because Moody was an Iranian citizen by birth, according to Iranian law, he automatically had full custody of Mahtob.  Betty was also an Iranian citizen because she was married to an Iranian.  She and Mahtob were trapped. 

Unwilling to spend the rest of her life in Iran and not wanting her daughter to be raised there as a Muslim, Betty decided to take action.  Her husband kept her and Mahtob under extreme surveillance.  In early 1986, Betty learned that her father was dying.  Moody insisted that she go back to the United States without Mahtob.  He purchased a plane ticket for Betty; she was set to depart Iran on January 31, 1986.  But then a couple of days before the flight, Moody was unexpectedly called away.  Betty and Mahtob finally had the opportunity to make a run for freedom.   

After eighteen months of being held captive by Moody and his family, Betty and Mahtob escaped Iran via the mountains of southern Turkey, smuggled out on horseback.  Betty very nearly died of exhaustion and exposure.  In 1987, Betty Mahmoody published her very famous book, Not Without My Daughter.  In 1991, a feature film starring Sally Field and Alfred Molina was released.

Betty Mahmoody talks about Not Without My Daughter.

I read Betty Mahmoody’s book years ago and have seen the film based on the book.  When I noticed a book written by Mahtob Mahmoody, I decided I wanted to read her version of events.  I downloaded Mahtob Mahmoody’s 2015 book, My Name Is Mahtob: The Story that Began in the Global Phenomenon Not Without My Daughter Continues and just finished it this morning.

Mahtob Mahmoody’s book is extremely well written.  She obviously inherited her father’s keen intellect and her mother’s talents as a writer.  Mahtob has a gift for language.  She was a good student in school and was accepted to a prestigious academic program at Michigan State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Mahtob is also a devout Christian.  She makes many references to her Christian faith in her book.  I suspect her being so Christian is, in part, due to the fact that her father had told her she had the blood of Fatima and he would not allow her to be anything but Muslim.  I sense that Mahtob is very faithful to Christianity, not just because she believes in it, but also as an act of defiance toward her father.  Moody never gave up on being in Mahtob’s life and terrorized Betty and Mahtob by constantly trying to communicate with them.  Betty eventually divorced Moody in 1989.

Mahtob and her mother are very bonded.  The constant stress of worrying about Moody had forced them to maintain a strong relationship.  Mahtob developed lupus when she was thirteen years old and stress exacerbated the problem. 

One aspect of Mahtob’s story that was especially interesting to me was her continual references to Armenia. As regular readers might know, I spent two years in Armenia, which borders Iran. Many Armenians live in Iran, and Mahtob was clearly exposed to the culture and food. I enjoyed reading about that, as well as reading some of the communications she got from Iranians. A mutual friend of Moody’s and Betty’s wrote letters referring to them as “jon”. In Armenia, the term “jon” is a term of endearment. It’s basically akin to “dear”. Apparently, it means the same thing in Iran.

Since I am the wife of a man who was denied access to his daughters, it was intriguing to read about what it was like for Mahtob to be estranged from her father.  She did remember him and, despite being terrified that he was going to force her to go back to Iran, had stories that made him seem more sympathetic.  For instance, she writes of how, as a young child, her father taught her the best way to eat pomegranates.  In the 80s, pomegranates were not easy to get in Michigan.  Betty had not grown up with them.  But pomegranates are very common in Iran and Moody knew the best way to extract all of the delicious juice.  He taught Mahtob.

When my husband’s daughters were young, they claimed they didn’t remember Bill.  They didn’t remember his being part of their lives.  Now that they are adults and one of them is talking to Bill again, we now know that of course they remembered him.  It appears at this point that Bill’s younger daughter is reconnecting.  Of course, Bill is a very different kind of man than Moody is.  He’s not from a vastly different culture than his daughters are.   

Moody repeatedly claimed that his ex wife had made false claims about his character.  He even made a documentary called Without My Daughter.  Supposedly, it presents his side of the story, although I haven’t seen it.  Mahtob thinks that Moody may have had narcissistic personality disorder (he died in 2009).  It’s entirely possible that he did.  On the other hand, when it comes to these kinds of relationships, it’s really hard to know where the truth lies. 

I suppose this story was especially interesting to me because in many ways, it’s a lot like Bill’s story, right down to the religious aspect.  Naturally, mainstream Mormonism is not quite the same as Islam, although fundamentalist Mormonism has some eerie similarities. 

I read Betty’s book years before I met Bill.  I had no way of knowing that one day, I’d be married to a man who was estranged from his kids.  I guess, in a way, that made it harder for me to completely condemn Moody.  Although Mahtob claims that she forgave her father, she refused to have anything at all to do with him.  I found that sad, though understandable.  I could see that being Persian is a big part of who Mahtob is.  She loves the food and the culture and has maintained ties to it.  She’s Persian because of her dad.

Mahtob does state that her mother told her that she was welcome to be in contact with her father.  In fact, she even encouraged her to talk to him because he had kidney problems (which later killed him) and Mahtob’s lupus had affected her kidneys.  Mahtob declined to get in touch with him and, when he died in 2009, forever closed the door on mending the rift with her father.  While that’s the way Mahtob says she wanted it, I got the impression that she was actually kind of ambivalent.  She will now have to live with that for the rest of her life.

Anyway, I liked My Name Is Mahtob and would recommend it to the interested.  I found Mahtob’s writing insightful, sophisticated, and at times, beautifully poignant. 

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Ex

And I thank you…

This morning, I’m listening to vintage Bonnie Raitt. In my enormous CD collection, most of which is in storage in Texas, I own a copy of Bonnie’s 1979 album, The Glow. I was 7 years old in 1979 and didn’t become acquainted with Bonnie’s genius until I was a lot older. She really got popular when I was in college with songs like “Nick of Time” and “I Can’t Make You Love Me”. But thanks to my work at the campus radio station, I became familiar with her “greatest hits” compilation, Classics. That’s where I got an inkling of what a versatile artist she is. I discovered that I appreciated her bluesy stuff even more than her pop hits. I became a fan. So one day, when I saw The Glow on sale at my favorite CD shop, I bought it.

That album had Bonnie’s funky cover of the song, “I Thank You”, a number that has been done by many, many different artists, from Sam & Dave to ZZ Top. I was most familiar with ZZ Top’s version of the song, but I recognized it when Bonnie sang it. I had that song in mind this morning as I sat down to write this post. But as I was looking for a good video, I stumbled across another song by Bonnie called “Thank You”. It appeared on her 1971 self-titled album. After listening to the lyrics, I decided that it was a more appropriate choice for this post. “I Thank You” has romantic overtones, but “Thank You” is just about pure love and gratitude. And that’s what today’s post is about.

Sittin’ here thinking, baby, about you
I’m wonderin’ how I ever got through my life without you
Days passed me by and left my life somewhere behind
Games I was trying left me old before my time
You came into my life almost like you knew
The time was running out I came running home with you
You taught me how to love you
You helped me to believe
You could even love me
I was all you’d ever need
Sometimes when you’re sleepin’
I wonder if its true
I’m afraid they’ll come and take away this precious dream with you
Then you wake and hold me and love me through the night
Then I’ll know that somehow everything will be alright
Thank you baby, for giving me my life
I love you honey, you’ve given me my life
Thank you baby, for giving me my life

Bill came home last night. He was exhausted after many hours of travel that started Monday morning. He boarded a plane in Salt Lake City and flew to Las Vegas. After hanging out in the airport all day, he got on another flight from Vegas to London. That took eleven or twelve hours. Then finally, on Tuesday evening, he boarded another flight from London to Frankfurt. How he was still conscious last night, I’ll never know. I’m glad he took a taxi home.

Arran was delighted to see him. All week, he’s been waiting for his favorite person to come home. There were a couple of nights at about five o’clock, he’d patiently wait in the foyer for Bill. He was disappointed when Bill didn’t show up. When Bill finally walked through the door at about eleven o’clock last night, Arran joyfully ran down the steps to welcome him home. I was delighted to see Bill, too. We enjoyed a long hug and he cried a little. He’s been crying a lot over the past few days.

A few weeks ago, when Bill told me he had to go to Vegas on business, I suggested that he try to go see his younger daughter. They’ve been Skyping for the past three years, but Saturday morning was the first time he’d seen her in the flesh since 2004. I hate it when he goes on TDYs, especially when they’re in a different time zone. I definitely didn’t want to extend Bill’s time away, but I figured it was a great opportunity for him to finally see his daughter in person. It’s not so hard to reach Utah from Nevada.

Bill’s daughter had initially wanted us all to meet up for a holiday visit, but I knew that they needed to have some time together alone, because they had a lot to talk about… stuff that doesn’t involve me. I also thought it would be better if they did it on a regular day, rather than a holiday. Holidays often prompt high expectations that are rarely met. I didn’t want a holiday to be ruined if their meeting didn’t go well. Also, I wasn’t in Bill’s life for the first six years of younger daughter’s life, and though I’ve heard a whole lot of stories from Bill’s perspective, I didn’t know anything about younger daughter’s. I’ve also never met Ex in person, so I have a limited perspective of what she’s really like. What I know about her is reason enough to stay clear of her. Bill and his daughter needed to be able to clear the air without interference from anyone else. Younger daughter’s husband was great about that. He took care of the kids so that Bill and his daughter could bond.

Bill described the meeting. He knocked on the door and she opened it… and they hugged for a really long time. He said it felt like a little girl who was missing her daddy… and there was no awkwardness. As he was describing their first looks at each other, I was reminded of the day I met Bill for the first time. The circumstances were eerily similar. We’d been chatting online for about 18 months. He came to the city where I was studying– again, on business. Knocked on the door. I opened the door and after reaffirming that I was indeed a woman, he gave me a warm, secure hug. (Hey, it was the early days of the Internet and we’d only exchanged a couple of pictures…)

Last night, Bill gave me a thank you note that his daughter wrote to me. It was just two lines. She thanked me for being so good to her dad and added that she could see that he’s happy. And she wrote that she knew I’d helped him. After I read it, I was deeply moved. Then I remembered that Bill gave me a thank you note after our first date. She’s definitely his kid. She’s kind, thoughtful, and extremely empathetic… rare and precious qualities that she shares with her dad.

I remember in May 2001, when we met in person for the first time, Bill and I enjoyed a couple of dates. He stayed in a hotel room and we went out to dinner one night, then had a picnic the next day. In those days, Bill was really broke and couldn’t afford to wine and dine me. He was also a practicing Mormon, but didn’t mind that I wasn’t and wouldn’t be. We drove around Columbia, South Carolina and I showed him where I worked and where I attended classes. At the end of our visit, he handed me the thank you note and said, “It’s going to be so hard to go back to typing on the computer.”

At the time, I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about him. I was very inexperienced with men and up to my ass in academics. Over time, it became obvious that I was in love with him. Then he moved from Leavenworth, Kansas to an assignment at the Pentagon. It was about a month before 9/11. Labor Day weekend that year, I invited Bill to come down to Natural Bridge, Virginia. He came down– again, stayed in a hotel– and we visited beautiful Goshen Pass and he met my grandmother, then 95 years old. When he left to go back to work at the Pentagon, Granny advised me to marry him. Then, a week later, 9/11 happened… and Bill was there for it. After that, we decided we needed to tell people we were together. We were engaged a few months later.

When Bill told his ex wife he was going to propose to me, she said, “Well, I guess now I can tell my boyfriend we can get married. He’s asked three times.” Two months later, she was remarried. Two months after that, she was pregnant, and doing her best to break Bill’s ties with his children. Ex also told her kids that Bill had cheated on her with me… even though she had moved her boyfriend into the house that Bill was paying for… and she and Bill were still married. As time went on, the girls became more and more alienated. For a few years, Bill’s ex stepson spoke to him, but that turned out to be more about money than anything else. We worried that the girls would be like their brother– although in fairness to him, he seems to have matured and turned his life around. Maybe someday he’ll reconnect, too.

We really thought the kids would never speak to him again. Younger daughter, especially, was hateful… or, at least seemed to be hateful. After awhile, I got tired of hoping for what seemed to be an impossible happy ending, and I hardened. I didn’t think I’d ever see the day that Bill would reunite with his daughters, and I gave up on the idea. I got angry when younger daughter inadvertently intruded during our much anticipated 14th wedding anniversary celebration in Ireland. Bill had checked Facebook, and she turned up as a “person he might know”. I will never forget the look of shock and grief on his face when he saw his daughter listed as “someone he might know”. I really resented it, because the last we’d heard from her, was basically a Mormon version of “fuck you”. It was, yet again, another intrusion during a special event from people who supposedly hated Bill. I knew he didn’t deserve their hatred and disrespect, and I refused to tolerate it. I just wanted them all to go away, once and for all, and leave us alone.

A few months later, Bill’s dad and stepmother lost their dog to old age. Younger daughter expressed condolences on Facebook. Bill tentatively greeted her. They started chatting and emailing. I was suspicious at first. I worried that she’d be like her mother. All indications before then were that she was like her. We’d already been through so much pain… and Bill had agonized so much for so many years. I simply wanted it to end.

Last night, I told Bill that life with his ex wife must be like an especially sick version of Three’s Company, where everyone operates on the basis of a misunderstanding. She spins everything, triangulates, and makes it impossible for anyone to compare notes and know what’s really going on. It may seem cold of me, but I got to the point at which I just didn’t want to play the game anymore. I have my own baggage stemming from my upbringing, and this was a lot to deal with. So I just gave up hope of connecting with Bill’s daughters out of self-preservation. It was easier for me, since I was never allowed to have a relationship with them.

Fortunately, I was wrong about younger daughter. Turns out, she’s Bill’s kid through and through. She eventually realized that her mother is toxic and, at age 18, was more than ready to move out of her mother’s house. She noticed how many times her mother and grandmother had married… and how utterly screwed up their lives were. And, with surprising courage and resilience, and a lot of help from Mormons, younger daughter moved to Utah and started college. She arrived there with nothing, because Ex would not make it easy for her. In fact… it was much like it was for Bill in 1999, when he and his ex wife split. He left with the clothes on his back. So it was for younger daughter. And, like it was for Bill, she felt a lot better once she was out of that environment, even though she had no money or help from her parents.

Bill discovered that younger daughter had wanted to reconnect with him for years, but she was terrified that he would reject her. Likewise, Bill had been reading younger daughter’s blog and wanted to comment, but was afraid he’d be blocked. Indeed, Ex apparently found out Bill was reading and shut the blog down for awhile. Ex was afraid Bill would try to “steal” his daughters from her. Ex thinks of her children as possessions that can be “stolen”, rather than their own people. She had a similar reaction when younger daughter met her husband. She tried very hard to break them up. This is what happens to anyone in Ex’s sphere. She has to control everything.

I password protected my initial reactions to what Bill discovered during his visit because as visceral and raw as some of my posts have been about this situation, I was even angrier about things that came to light over the weekend. And, because I now have great respect for younger daughter, I didn’t want those very personal and profane words out in the open where her mother could read them. I know she’s read my blogs. I don’t really care if she knows that I think she’s a massive cunt. That’s a given. But I don’t feel that way about younger daughter… and also, I didn’t want to field commentary from those who don’t know the situation and want to blame this whole thing on me. I’ll admit, I’m not always likable and I am far from perfect, but this situation is entirely on Ex. I’ll take ownership of things that are my fault. I have only met Bill’s daughters once, and though I have kept my distance, I have never discouraged him from seeing or talking to them. That’s not my place.

I don’t know Bill’s daughters. I wanted to know them, but they were very convincing when they sent letters disowning him. We had a feeling the letters he received in 2006 were coached, but they were coupled with the way the girls behaved the last time Bill saw them in person. During that visit in 2004, younger daughter would barely look at Bill, let alone speak to him. So we believed her when she wrote that she didn’t care about him and that she preferred her stepfather– her “everyday daddy”– to be her dad. It’s now very clear that the whole thing was bullshit entirely orchestrated by her paranoid and selfish mother.

Bill came home emotionally and physically exhausted… but I think, overall, his visit to Utah was life changing. I’m glad I encouraged him to visit his child… and meet his adorable grandchildren. His grandson looks a lot like him. And… I have to say, I was feeling pretty good about everything, but when Bill handed me that two sentence thank you note from his daughter, it was as if the last seventeen years of pain regarding their situation just melted away. It’s amazing how little it takes to forgive someone when you know they are sincere. I know younger daughter is sincere. It makes me feel so good to know that Bill has passed on his goodness to another generation.

I was so wrong about younger daughter. I’m really glad I was. I hope now we can get to know each other. And now that I know a little bit more about the whole situation– including that of older daughter’s– I have a lot more empathy and respect for them.

I know some people have felt I was overly harsh regarding this situation. I know I was. But you have to understand the person we were up against. I have never met anyone as cruel, destructive, selfish, and ultimately stupid, as Bill’s ex wife is. We simply didn’t know if her daughters were going to be like her, or if they were going to be like their real father. I’m relieved to know that Bill imprinted them more than we knew… and despite what Ex has said, they never forgot him. And, for that, I am thankful. I’m glad we stuck it out and Bill trusted his daughter more than I did. But that’s only natural, because he knows them and I don’t. Maybe someday, we can change that.

Incidentally, it occurs to me that today is Ex’s birthday. I’m glad this year, her daughter gave herself a present by finally seeing her dad.

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