Hello Friends' Lists.  This is a very personal essay, so skip it if you like.  But it's something I've got to write out. 

Many people have noted how prolific I am.  Even those who do not wish me well have complimented me (however begrudgingly) in public:  "He's driven."  (http://www.debito.org/ihtasahi112302.html)  One reason is because when I experience something that really hurts, I don't lock it inside, or anesthetize myself through drink or substance abuse.  I use the energy productively.  I type it down.  And I write until I have it properly analyzed, boxed away, and dealt with.  Why I feel a need to share it with everyone is for people with couches in their offices to explain.  Anyway, here I go again:


By Arudou Debito, Sapporo, Japan
June 14, 2007

A recurrent theme in horror stories (Stephen King's SALEM'S LOT and IT spring to mind) is a return to the site of one's formative experiences, and placing them in context of one's current life stage.  That includes dealing with one's demons.  In my case, my horror story was growing up in Upstate New York (Geneva) with abusive parents.  My pleasant childhood memories (the endless summers, the beautiful well-kept houses, good grades, girlfriends, and good schoolteachers) have long since been crowded out by the bad (my stepfather's alcoholism, the frequent parental physical and mental abuse, horrible breakups with girlfriends and consequent near nervous breakdowns, etc.).  It made me into this "driven" person--with the irrepressible urge to do whatever is necessary get as far away as possible as quickly as possible.  And I did:  At age 18, I was out the door, and by age 26 living in Japan permanently.   I have written a little previously about the Geneva NY nastiness, including eyewitness accounts from high school friends (cf. COLLEGETREK 2006, sent out only to Friends' Lists April 3, 2006, but never archived.  See it now at http://www.debito.org/collegetrek2006pt1.html).

Now events conspired to bring me back there to get burned all over again.  It was one of the worst trips I've ever taken, a nightmare from start to finish.



One of the externalities of my suing for divorce (2004-2006, see briefing on the bugs in Japan's system regarding divorce at http://www.debito.org/thedivorce.html) was the fact that I lost all contact with my children during the interim.  I still have not seen my younger daughter Anna since July 2004, and older daughter Amy, well, I had to go all the way to the US this time to see her.  Thanks once again to the involvement of my parents, Herb and Bernadine Aldwinckle:

In late May 2006, I heard in Divorce Mediations (choutei) through our lawyers that Amy was no longer in Japan.  She had left weeks before to go to school in Geneva, and would be staying with my parents indefinitely.  She had gone there initially in 2000 with Anna for three months of schooling, and had a great experience with my first-grade teacher Cyndy Linch just before she retired!  Six years later, when she found Japanese junior high not to her taste (quitting a few weeks into seventh grade and regretting she had ever bought a school uniform), she went to live with my parents while Anna stayed behind.

The fine print in this deal was that Amy was (and still is) a minor.  And that means she must have the consent of both parents in writing before crossing an international border, under the Hague Convention preventing child abductions (http://www.crnjapan.com/treaties/en/).  I don't know how she crossed, but I was not made aware of this trip beforehand.  Which means my parents (Herb Aldwinckle in particular is a professor in fine standing with Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, http://www.nysaes.cornell.edu/pp/faculty/aldwinckle/) abetted an illegal act.

Six weeks passed after she arrived in Geneva NY, and I received no contact whatsoever from my parents to inform me of her well-being or even her presence there.  So I phoned in June.  I managed to talk to her for a good half hour, then Herb came on with demands:  "We need you to sign a Power of Attorney to grant us in loco parentis rights, so we can enroll her in schools in September and renew her American passport."  I said that given their negligence in involving me in the emigration process, they were in no position to make demands.  So they (Bernadine in particular) made it clear that unless I complied, I would not be able to talk to Amy in future.  I said that threats were no way to elicit compliance.  So it goes.

Regardless, Herb soon faxed me a Power of Attorney for me to sign.  It contained some clauses I did not understand, so I called and asked to speak to his lawyer.  "We don't have a lawyer," Herb said.  He had just downloaded the damn thing from the Internet without any customization for our case from a professional.  And he expected me to sign?  Said I couldn't, and talks remained deadlocked throughout the summer, with threat after threat from my parents (since collective bargaining has never been part of their nature). 

In the end, after some rotten experiences trying to hire local American lawyers (who either never answered inquiries made through findlaw.com, or, in the case of Lawyer Carl Schwartz Jr of Penn Yan NY, were unprofessional and high-priced for their services), I did sign a revised Power of Attorney with the paragraphs I didn't understand excised (see an unsigned version of it at http://www.debito.org/homecoming2007.html#powerattorney).  I also inserted a clause making it valid only until the end of August 2007.  The reason I acquiesced because Amy really wanted to stay in the US; for her it would be important to her future.  I didn't want to stand in the way of that. 

Unfortunately, that Power of Attorney would ultimately be used against me...



It's pretty rough travelling to places that are significant distances from international hubs.  Sapporo to Tokyo Narita is only 90 minutes, sure, but there's always a several-hour layover, and the flight I took to JFK was more than twelve hours airborne.  Then we happened to arrive on the very day when a planned terrorist act against JFK's fuel dump was foiled, so we were stuck on the tarmac for about an hour on top of that.  Then I had to connect to a JetBlue flight (JFK is a pretty crappy airport, so transferring was unpleasant), and after another hourlong flight arrived in Rochester NY at 11:30 PM.  Nobody was there to meet me (this is the most jarring thing about arrival at what is supposed to be "my hometown"--nobody shows; and all the American-style kisses and hugs at the Arrivals Gate just make it worse), and the rental car agency was closed early on a Saturday night.  So I got a hotel room in a city less than an hour away from where I grew up, and, jetlagged, walked the art deco buildings and Erie Canal locks of Downtown Rochester with the sunrise and Sunday Brunch.

Finding myself in Geneva was a Rip Van Winkle experience.  I took the country roads I always took, seeing places that triggered memories, and (since I only come to this region once a decade at best, and never would again if my daughter wasn't there) felt like I had just woken from a twenty-year sleep and found almost everything, including the height of the trees, familiar yet different.  I pulled into the driveway of the house I grew up in (a registered historical cobblestone named the Rippey House, built 1854), and walked around the well-kept gardens:  the lawns I used to cut, the willow tree I climbed, the garage which stored my tent and my bike, the grave of my pet cat.  Cried quite a bit.  Bernadine appeared presently, and we engaged in cordial conversation until Amy came home from a slumber party.  She took the manga I had brought her as a present, then went upstairs to her room for the day.

Amy wasn't talking to me due to a phone conversation we had had in November 2006, when she had asked me flat out, "Why are you kicking Anna out of [our house in Japan, where ex wife and kids live rent-free] when she turns 20?"  I said that this was not part of the divorce settlement (domicile would be renegotiated when Anna reaches adulthood, i.e. age twenty in Japan, to reflect present life-stage preferences.  So there is no eviction notice.).  I wondered how she could have heard about the terms of the divorce when only seven adults (those involved in the choutei) have ever seen them.  Which meant to me that the facts of the case were being misrepresented by my ex-wife trying to poison what monthly conversations Amy and I were having.  I iterated to Amy the actual terms of the settlement, told her not to believe anything else.  "Are you calling my mommy a liar?" she retorted, and hung up on me.  We hadn't talked since.  I sent her a copy of the divorce agreement, but she said never read it.

Over the course of the week, I saw Amy for dinner every night, and slowly we managed to talk more and more each time.  I gave more manga to her (I bought several) and chocolates to the parents, but would get no more than a twenty-minute private audience with her (always interrupted by Herb asking how Amy is, or by Bernadine telling her to set the table).  Then I would leave (there were no provisions made for my possible stay--even the guest room was unprepared; even though they stayed at my house in Japan), or rather, be told to leave, claiming Amy had homework which Herb had to supervise.  Nevertheless, I worked within those set paradigms and swallowed a lot of pride. 

Fortunately, I had high school friends still in town, Kirk and Candy, who put me up in their apartment every night and gave me a shoulder to cry on.  Better than staying at the local heartbreak hotel and swinging from the rafters.  And I met up with old junior- and senior-high school teachers Dave Mulvey, Ed Scharrer, Phil Johnson, Nancy Bailey, and Claudia Sullivan (Ms Sullivan, my old art teacher, is now in her eighties, and still exactly as I remembered her)--all people who taught me something significant and inspiring during my youth.  They helped get me out of Geneva.  This time around too, they kept me on an even keel.

But there was still harassment and debasement at the Rippey House.  For example, Herb would ask mid-meal how everyone's steak was; everyone except me, of course (he has done this sort of thing quite frequently in the past, even in front of guests).  He would drink several glasses of wine (he drank every evening) and start getting a tad punchy (he's a nasty drunk, but after a bout with appendicitis in May that almost killed him, he was more subdued than usual).  He refused to refer to me in conversation with Amy as her "Daddy", but rather as "David" (which isn't my name anymore anyway); when I called him on this, he said "David" was what Amy called me and would continue doing so regardless (even though H and B take umbrage when I don't call them Mom or Dad).  I went out and bought headphones (45 bucks at Radio Shack) specially designed for Skype Internet telephony, so Amy can call Anna in Japan for free any time; I even installed it on Herb's computer, to no thanks whatsoever (the feeling instead was one of my being hired help; added kicker:  Amy making a point of being all tactile with Herb in front of me while I gritted my teeth).  And H and B showed remarkable restraint towards Amy, who at thirteen was getting quite lippy at the dinnertable (a lippiness that was never tolerated when I was her age), rolling with the American-teen sarcasm and generally acting more like grandparents than parents.  Probably happens in most skipped-generational households (grandparents usually are more mellow and indulgent towards grandchildren than children, right?), but I have to admit:  It made me jealous, 'cos I never had it so good.  And no doubt part of it was Amy aiming to get some satisfaction and pounds of flesh from her father for the divorce. 

Giggleworthy:  Herb followed me out to the car one evening, and told me I should show Amy some "gesture".  It was, in his view , a "last chance".  So he told me to go out and buy her something like a iPod.  I said that my coming to the US at great expense to see her was gesture enough, and I wasn't going to buy her love.  Hm.  Herb Aldwinckle, who raised a son who can't stand him, lecturing me on child rearing.  File under "irony".



It was the first time since 2000 that I had been back on the campus of my Alma Mater (College of Arts and Sciences, BA in Government), and it had certainly prospered.  I went to several lectures on the State of the University, why tuition costs were rising, and why we alumni should donate more money, etc. etc.  Applications were way up, admissions were steady, new buildings were everywhere (they were even named after people I knew), and legendary former president Frank H T Rhodes was still alive doing what he does best--representing and ingratiating.  He got standing ovations wherever he went.  The campus was full of life, flush with money, and celebrating the legacy of 200 years since founder Ezra Cornell's birth (a fascinating exhibit indicated that Cornell was one of the first universities to admit non-White foreigners and Americans of color, and would have admitted women sooner if there had been a place to house them).  For the first time, I felt a sense of pride and belonging on the campus (especially given that when I was there, the pressure-cooker study conditions, and lousy winters, rarely occasioned an appreciation for just how lovely the campus is and how great the facilities are).

But it was still too soon to come back.  Class of 1987 was still cliquey and full of something to prove, and although we had record numbers returning, few of them were the "artsy-fartsy" types like me.  Meals where spent showing off how they were making successful lives and families as well-paid professionals.  Our featured class speaker was Dave Price '87 (the CBS Early Show weatherman http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/07/24/earlyshow/bios/main564966.shtml), who gave a hilarious speech.  But he clearly loved being Dave Price, and let people know that on stage.  He decried the overdramatization of news as having too much entertainment with the facts, but then ironically showed us a "serious" clip he did on US soldiers in Iraq reading letters from schoolkids (complete with emotive country-music soundtrack).  Conclusion:  It was a bittersweet reunion.  My just being a university prof in Japan was deemed unimpressive.  I got along better in conversation with the over-fifty-years-old alums who were there to have fun, not one-up.

To be sure, I saw several professors who knew me and our works (Drs Mark Selden, Bret DeBary, Annelise Riles, and Bob Sukle--who even invited me to talk to his latest group of FALCON students at Collegetown Bagels Friday evening).  I attended some great talks and saw some fantastic music, and met two old friends I hadn't seen since graduation, Fred Barber and Dan Maas, for lengthy chats.  But I knew nobody else (even one of my best friends and old girlfriend, Liz Claffey, had died in a road accident several years ago; I missed her terribly), and found myself staying busy and alone on campus most of the time.



A funny thing occurred to me during my solo campus ruminations:  Something Amy said during our conversations:

For privacy's sake (since Herb kept butting into our conversations), she and I spoke in Japanese.  She mentioned in the course of talking about her future something about aiming to become an "heir" to the Rippey House.  Inheritance is quite a concept for a thirteen-year-old to grasp.  And the fact that she said "heir" in English in the middle of a Japanese sentence (she didn't even know the Japanese word) indicates to me that she was taught it here.  So I wondered if there was any generational grooming going on--where my daughter might wind up seeing me as a competitor (and would likely get more than just the rose bushes).

I called Herb and (without mentioning anything about Amy's expressed ambitions) asked for a copy of their Wills.   He denied they even existed.  I said come on, he's approaching 70 and had just had a near-death experience.  He said that matters were complicated, and refused requests to elaborate further.  He then put Bernadine on the line to yell at me for a bit, saying before hanging up that I was neither welcome at their house again (I had planned to stop by once more before returning to Japan), that the Wills would now be revised (which means that they do exist).  And that my very birth was a mistake.


SUNDAY, JUNE 10, 2007

I returned at 5PM to the Rippey House with Herb ignoring me and Bernadine saying, "You've really done it this time.  Amy doesn't want to talk to you."  I asked why and got no answer, and found the front door locked.  "You've upset Amy," she concluded.  I wondered what Amy was doing getting involved in a dispute between my parents and I.  I called up to her several times, to no response.  Then I called 911 and reported a domestic dispute.

At 6PM, Ontario County Sheriff Car 244 pulled up in the driveway (where I was waiting), and Officer R.A. Jaus heard my side.  I could prove this was house I grew up in, that H and B were my parents, and that Amy was my child.  There was no restraining order against me, yet I was being denied my visitation rights as a father--by nonbiological parents representing a minor.  I just wanted to see my daughter again, even for a short time, and supervised if necessary.  Officer Jaus indicated that he did not see any reason why I should be barred, but said that in his position he could only reason with them.  He told me to wait here, and for another 30 minutes he went inside and heard them out.

He returned without Amy.  He said that he had talked to Amy directly and she didn't want to see me.  Herb produced the abovementioned Power of Attorney (http://www.debito.org/homecoming2007.html#powerattorney) and claimed that it granted him powers to act on Amy's behalf for her welfare--including denying her biological father visitation with his child with no legal basis).



I have spent my life charting things that happen to me, and a full quarter of it recording life's lessons (particularly as an envelope-pusher in Japan, http://www.debito.org) for public consumption.  This essay is no exception.  Because it contains a cautionary tale:

America, unlike Japan, guarantees nice things post-divorce such as joint custody and visitation rights.  So I assumed that I would have more rights in America than Japan.

Perhaps I do.  But as Ontario County Sheriff's Officer Jaus advised me (he was very friendly, constructive, and thorough, not to mention sympathetic to my plight; he had never seen a case like this before, and said he would forever remember it), I need an attorney to have my rights enforced.  When I told him that the Power of Attorney I signed certainly did not have the spirit of voiding my parental access rights, Mr Jaus agreed, but said that as an officer of the law he could only enforce a document.  If that Power of Attorney did *not* exist, he said, then he could intervene.  But since it did exist, he would have to accept Herb's creative interpretation.  Which meant that signing that legal document effectively voided my parental rights. 

When I mentioned a clause I had carefully included, stating that that Power could be voided at any time by either of the parents, Mr Jaus said yes, but I would have to go through an attorney to void it.  In sum, I needed a judge's decision specifically granting me access to Amy in the United States.  Short of that, he said, his hands were tied.  He would have to follow Amy's wishes even as a minor, as represented in Herb and Bernadine's judgment.

I asked Officer Jaus for one last favor:  Give Amy the last presents I had brought her (some manga, suudoku, and a hooded sweatshirt with CORNELL embroidered on the front).  He said he would be happy to and wished me luck. 

I drove away, had a long cry, and did what I always do in these situations:  I got busy.  Packing.  And writing this up for the flight home.



How can this all be happening?  Please allow me to except a section of a previous essay I wrote last year, on what it was like for me as a child growing up in the Aldwinckle household.

The conversation below is between me and Dr Steven G. Hall, Associate Professor of Agricultural Engineering at the University of Louisiana, Baton Rouge.  As one of my best friends in Geneva High School, he is a primary second-party witness to what went on--and as I am an only child, there are few others who can attest.  This is an excerpt of a conversation (full version at http://www.debito.org/collegetrek2006pt1.html) we had when I visited him in March 2006:

============= EXCERPT BEGINS =======================
"I'm proud of you, Debito," he said, "for what you've done.  You've gotten an education and a good job.  You've got the mettle to carry on human rights activism in Japan.  You write books.  Of all my high school friends, you've become one of the most accomplished, turned out as one of the most interesting.  Despite your background...

"One of the things I remember about your dad is how he seems to have become stunted in his emotional growth.  Just reached a certain point and stopped.  So he spends a lot of his time putting others down to make himself feel better...  And for him to keep putting you down so much when you were a little kid?  Well, good job, daddy, you've just intellectually bested your ten-year-old son.  Bully for you."

This unearthed a few memories.  How when I played dad in Chess when I was around seven or so, he'd first start winding me up about how soundly he was going to beat me.  Then mid-game, he'd start reading a newspaper while I was deliberating about my moves, as if I was wasting his time.  Then he'd win.  Well, I was goaded, so I started playing Chess during my free time in school.  Got a lot better.  Finally, one day when I was around 11 years old or so, when dad was doing the pre-game wind-up, I calmly said, "Your confidence is greater than your skill."   I actually beat him.  Then he refused to play me again.  Ever...

"Debito," continued Steve..., "I was at your house when we were both young teens, and I remember some situations where I felt very uncomfortable, like I shouldn't be there.  I was watching your dad sitting there making fun of you, putting you down.  Couldn't understand why.  He took the trouble to adopt you, after all, when he married your mom.  Perhaps that was a means to an end.  But he said to me once, when you weren't around, 'Why are you spending your time hanging around with somebody like David?', as if you weren't worthy of my friendship somehow.  Not sure what he had against you."

That was the first time I'd heard that story, and it hurt.  But it was more proof positive of an undercurrent of antipathy, of a hostility.  I couldn't imagine why.  I mean, I wasn't a problem child.  No drug, alcohol, or pregnancy problems.  Honor or high honor student.  Award-winning graphic artist.  An Eagle Scout.  Graduate of an Ivy League.  Yet I could never please my parents, never got the feeling that they were all that proud of me, no matter how hard I tried or how much I accomplished. 

More the feeling that they just wanted me out of the house as soon as possible so they could get on with their lives.  I was, for one thing, an unplanned child (thanks to mom's formerly devout Catholicism precluding birth control).  After her divorce from my birth father, indeed a horrible man, I was no doubt a clear hindrance on finding another man; saddled with raising a toddler as a single mom for a few years in hippie-era California couldn't have been easy.  She still married someone else, a man who thankfully took me in as part of the bargain.  But as puberty took hold and I began to look more like my birth father--who used to beat my mother and became a drug addict--it was pretty clear that my mom... just doesn't like me.  For many reasons, I believe, again, that are beyond my control.

Concluded Steve:  "I think that if laws had been properly enforced, you would have clearly been judged a victim of child abuse."

There it was.  The elephant in the room, finally clearly visible.  All I needed for all these years was for someone to say that, and things that I had been puzzling out for decades now fell into place.

I knew that my dad (i.e. my stepfather) was a frequent and mean drunk; he was also a person who could rage and rag on me and get away with it.  I was the recipient of many a beating (I'm not talking a mere botty spank; I mean fists, kicking, smacks with a hot greasy spatula fresh from a barbecue, grabbing by the hair while slapping and punching faces, and once even the threat of a door being broken down when I barricaded myself in a bathroom out of fear when I was about seven.  I also have two memories of dad wanting to see my genitalia; fortunately it did not involve touching...

The physical side I remember quite vividly--so does my scoutmaster and various neighbors who would take me in when I would run away from home (I did that quite often, IIRC), offering shelter and refuge during the winter months.  However, in contrast, it is the emotional abuse that lies latent, dormant for decades, since it's something that even battered wives can learn to put up with.  Until somebody comes out and tells them they needn't anymore, and offers a shelter.

I found my shelter, all right.  Japan.  I got as far away from my parents as I could.  And to this day, especially after I naturalized (and apparently "broke my mother's heart"--even though Herb himself is a naturalized American), I have no contact with them anymore whatsoever.  They are simply not very nice people.
============= EXCERPT ENDS =======================

I'm glad Amy doesn't get treated the same way.  If anything, it's a chance for H and B to prove to themselves that it was me that was problematic, not them.  But it certainly is rough to have my parents use my child as yet another way to assert their control.



Amy is a straight-A student in Geneva Middle School, excelling in languages.  I talked with four of her teachers who all had glowing reports of her progress, even giving me copies of her homework (which they had kept as examples of creativity and beyond-the-pale gumption and effort).  I was the same as a child.  But Amy is not even a native speaker of English--which means she's doing the same thing backwards and in high heels.  I told her (and everyone I talked to about her) just how proud I am.  And I love her and miss her terribly.

Amy will no doubt wish to continue her education in the US.  She sees it as fundamental to her future.  But now all of this.  And a Power of Attorney which was used against me to deny me my rights.   It will expire on September 1, 2007.  I certainly feel strong disincentives to renew it.

Arudou Debito
Sapporo, Japan
June 14, 2007


The unsigned version of the Power of Attorney after excising paragraphs I found problematic (later signed, notarized, and dated September 5, 2006):