Steven Fales with "Buddy" and "Gee-Gee" six-months before the custody battle in "Prodigal Dad".
“I never wanted to write this book. However, to live inside the divorce matrix, to be engaged in that battle, ultimately means to be poised to tell your story, to make your point, to argue your side at a moment’s notice. It’s a fire that is constantly burning.”
--Alec Baldwin, A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey Through Fatherhood and Divorce
This blog entry is adapted from a recent book proposal and is still a work in progress.
Part Three in Mormon Boy Trilogy is my solo play Prodigal Dad. The Richmond-Times Dispatch recently reviewed, "His legal battle to retain his rights as a father is a human rights issue, not a gay issue, and struck a chord with many in the audience.”
Crossing gender and culture lines I also relate to the frustrations and failures in Amy Chua’s modern-day parenting lament Batttle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Outdated traditional Chinese family mores mirror my own and my sub-culture’s dilemmas and generation gaps. The Mormon-world view has flaws, like any antiquated mind-set.
I wasn’t supposedly straight enough. To top it off, after graduate school, I stopped believing in and denounced “golden plates.” I failed the macho Mormon test—twice. I became an enemy to the unofficial church of the state of Utah. I became a bastard on the Right in the reddest state in the Union.
Every kind of emotional and financial embargo was placed on me. My artistic ambitions were also sanctioned to thwart me from writing. It’s not what I would write. It’s that I would write anything. My story was all I had. I knew I would tell it someday. That time has come.
My family all sided with Emily who was super Mormon and sweetly “feminine” at the time of our divorce. Luckily Emily did not listen to my family’s suggestion to change the kids’ last name. But she would later make things catastrophic—ironically after she left the Church with a vengeance. There was nothing reasonable or "Christian" about what she would do as she turned her vengeance toward me. This seems to be what ex-wives are empowered and encouraged to do.
I was also attacked from the Left as well. Emily's mother is Mormondom's greatest writer and also, ironically, its greatest living feminist. Carol Lynn Pearson who's feminist solo play Mother Wove the Morning, once joked to me in her home, "Got your penis!" I didn't think it was funny. And I don't think I need to give further examples to illustrate how I married into a family where men are simply not needed. I was sunk as a father the day I married into such an emasculating family. The great synchronicity is that Carol Lynn wrote compassionately about bringing her gay ex-husband home to die of AIDS in her bestselling Good-bye, I Love You (Random House, 1986). No matter how I feel her book promoted her oxy-Mormon feminism and white washed the story of the father of her children, I was the one gay she could not pray away. I had stepped on her brand and she would not let me be more successful than her daughter. As she says in Good-bye, I Love You, her Hecuba-like attitude was always, "And the women stay at home as women always have and watch and wait to pick up the pieces." Her entire book is a damning indictment of men. It is men who are often left to pick up the pieces.
After all kinds of detectives, therapists and DCFS reports there turned out to be no grounds for a case of any kind. And there were no consequences for my ex-wife--only my children who she encouraged in trying to testify against me. Imagine watching your eleven and thirteen year old try to betray their own father's love and devotion. She could have dropped the case at anytime. Instead, she put the children through one of the most traumatic experiences I can imagine having. With divorced parents myself who shared joint legal custody of six kids, I can't imagine what I would have done if I had to take the stand in a courtroom and testify against either one of them.
Carol Lynn sat in the court room next to her daughter taking notes wide eyed with anticipation that I would finally be stopped. She left disappointed and empty handed. Her daughter lost. And yet, Emily would win post-divorce as guardian ad litems washed their hands.
We have been in extensive therapy to repairing the damage and we have made great progress, but still I’m seen as the crafty criminal who got away. “I’m glad they didn’t throw you in jail for two years, dad. That would have been a really long time.” They still see me as guilty and not that their charming mother might be overly blessed with hyperbole and worked the system and my conservative family to get her way. Emily refuses to join us in family therapy. She will not meet with me. I have been singled out as a narcissist. But when you point your finger, you have three pointed back at yourself. Read her blog, "Dancing with Crazy" and her new memoir by the same name and tell me what you see? Is this the writing of a histrionic hurricane blowing through the lives of everyone? I've had my own bipolar moments, but who is it that needs the medication most?
I need to also say before I'm questioned for liable and slander, early on I purchased signed depiction releases to tell both Carol Lynn and Emily's story "to the End of the Universe." She may have swindled me out of the kids, but I am doing my best to make good art out of all of our stories. And I have over ten years of glowing reviews of my solo plays to back up that my voice is perceptive, nuanced, and "wrenchingly honest and utterly clear-eyed" (Los Angeles Times) and "feels like a sacred gift" (Boston Globe). The San Diego Dispatch has lauded my "deep respect" for Emily. I will not fail to do so in this new memoir.
From Prodigal Dad: "So I get this call on my cell. And since it was Emily vibrating I picked up. You pick up when it’s the mother of your children and you are the non-custodial parent no matter what deadline you’re on. “Non-custodial” means you have basic constitutional visitation rights as a dad (and the right to pay child support), but not a heck-uh-vah lot more. Everyone pays lip service that your presence and opinion matter. But the Church (and the courts) favors mothers no matter how well you change diapers or how well your tuna casseroles turn out or how well you tell bedtime Book of Mormon Stories. You ultimately have no real legal say in anything. You’re a second-class parent. You don’t really exist (though you’re always under the microscope). So you learn to work around it. You give up asking to see report cards or expect to be consulted on anything that matters—video games. You try to ignore the fact that even your immediate family sends their yearly Christmas cards to her. You must always remember the number one rule: you may never, ever discipline your kids. Or make them work. Ever. And I do mean ever. So when the sole legal guardian calls, you answer—and hope for the best because she has all the power. And an even more powerful mother."