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:
CORNELL REUNION, AND FACING MY DEMONS:
CHILD ABUSE AND DENIAL OF PARENTAL RIGHTS
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.
PREAMBLE: MY DAUGHTER'S ABDUCTION TO THE USA, MAY 2006
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
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
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...
ARRIVAL IN UPSTATE NEW YORK: TRAUMA FROM THE GET-GO
SATURDAY, JUNE 2, 2007
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".
INTERMISSION: CORNELL REUNION CLASS OF 1987
STILL TOO EARLY TO COME BACK
THURSDAY THROUGH SUNDAY, JUNE 7-10, 2007
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.
THE AIR OF SOMETHING FISHY
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.
THE FINAL RETURN
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).
WHY I'M WRITING THIS UP
BECAUSE EVEN AMERICA WON'T GUARANTEE VISITATION AFTER DIVORCE
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.
PLUS CA CHANGE
THIS IS ALL WITHIN CHARACTER, OF A DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY BULLYING THEIR ONLY SON
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."
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...
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.
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.
Steve: "I think that if laws had been properly enforced, you
would have clearly been judged a victim of child abuse."
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...
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.
WHAT THE HECK DO I DO NOW?
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
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.
June 14, 2007
HOMECOMING 2007 REPORT ENDS
ORIGINAL DEMANDS FROM HERB ALDWINCKLE
The unsigned version of the Power of Attorney after excising paragraphs I found problematic (later signed, notarized, and dated September 5, 2006):