Parental Alienation & Death in the Afternoon!


I’ve long been a fan of the writing of Hemingway.

A complex, controversial man who had such a deceptively simple style. 

He would have loathed the current age because, in many regards, he may be considered to represent what certain factions have, with some success, managed to label “toxic masculinity”.

This movement started in the 50s, continued in the 60s and 70s when Germaine Greer famously humiliated Norman Mailer, another writer of “machismo” and has found fresh voice and plumbed new depths in the social media age in which, by some ironic twist of fate, Greer herself has now become a target, thereby exposing the fanatics for what they are.

You can dig out reams written on the topic, but in essence the term “toxic” refers to the characteristics of men that stem from the added dose of testosterone that comes with the gene package. It’s a catch-all pejorative to describe all acts of aggression and dominance attributed to testosterone, implying that they are throwback qualities of a pre-evolved state and have resulted in the wars and atrocities that befall society.

Of course, this entirely one-eyed narrative neglects to recognise that the same attributes blamed for the woes of the world could also, if properly focused, be credited for many if not most of the world’s advances, developments and achievements in most spheres of life from engineering through to the arts and that the style of the attacks are, in themselves, examples of intolerant toxicity.

But that’s another debate for another day.

The book from which the  headline is taken, is a book about bullfighting.


Hemingway spent his life obsessed with masculine pursuits of the hunting, shooting, fishing and hard drinking varieties and was fascinated by the characters he encountered along the way.

But he was also famously a depressive as a consequence, extremely self critical and took his own life.

Traveling on the train last week, a poster caught my attention. It was one of many now appearing, sponsored by the Samaritans, a suicide prevention campaign clearly aimed at men.

Then, hauntingly, as I was reading, news came over the PA of someone who had thrown themselves in front of a train.

A death in the afternoon.

For the rest of my journey, I couldn’t get two images out of my mind….the iconic cover of Hemingway’s book about bull fighters. And that poster of the man standing alone in the shadows.

See, if you read tales of bullfighting written back in the day, the bulls are often described as monsters, savage beasts to be bested by the courage of the meek, even effete matador with nothing but dexterity and guile to protect him from the raw aggression and power of the mighty animal.

It suddenly became clear to me that this is exactly the toxic narrative we are being fed about masculinity now.

This repeated aggressor/plucky hero narrative makes it so easy for naive third parties to enable the immoral, vindictive and the maliciously intelligent seeking to use children as weapons to separate their partners from their assets and subsume their lives. But not by matching muscle with force, but by goading, hobbling and then using guile to abuse and then exploit them while fooling onlookers into believing that the one butchering the dumb animal in stages is in fact the victim.

No surprise that modern parents are confused at times. The world has changed so fast that following the example set by our parents and grandparents is very, very difficult.

Both genders are so often called upon to be strong AND sensitive, thrusting AND forceful yet accommodating AND compassionate. We can’t just choose a camp and remain in it like our forebears largely did. We are simultaneously expected to be providers and carers, warriors and nurses and it’s bloody difficult, especially while the previous generation have set a different example but criticise us for our choices.

Post-war fathers still expect sons to behave like the bull and treated them that way. Our mothers are probably more aligned to the matador.

Yet frankly, we’re opposed to blood sports altogether.

So what is the true state of modern parenting?

Well, we’re expected to believe that perfection abounds if we believe social media. But if you happen to be one of the unlucky millions separating from someone who either complies with these toxic stereotypes, is advised by people who do or you are being assessed and judged by them, then the resident parents will be portrayed as the poor little person waving the cape and the “other” as the raging bull. Lest we forget, hwoever, in bullfights the matador has an army of helpers who hobble and cripple the poor “toxic” beast fighting for its life before and during the “battle from whence few bulls emerge alive. The bull has only its stamina and instincts.

Perhaps there is some hope, however, implied in the narrative behind the narrative?

Hemingway’s book is actually a very intimate portrayal of the matadors who, as you follow their stories, turn out to be tragic figures. Despite the fancy clothing and headlines, even the very best only enjoy brief glories but then fade into obscurity, with very few exceptions.

Most importantly, people are now starting to see these blood sports for what they are; cruel exploitation.

Sympathy has now turned to favour the poor, tortured animals and there is scant respect for their sadistic tormentors.

I have little doubt that, eventually, the deliberate alienation of one parent by the passive aggressive parent, deflecting attention away from their sadism with flashy “due process” and an army of lawyers on horseback like fee-chasing picadors and toreadors, will come to be viewed by society as the cruel and selfish blood sport it is. But society has some way to go to look beyond the gaudy cape of excuses and the trappings of moral indignation that somehow justify the abuse.

PA is not society’s salve to soothe the wounds of toxic parenting or masculinity or authority as the sneak-thieves will have us believe.

Parental alienation IS toxic parenting.death

Passive aggression, of the matador variety, may not be as apparent as the outright aggression of the bull. But it burns deeper and longer and it is arguably even more destructive to children and society at large.

If the practice of parent alienation is allowed to continue unchecked, sponsored and cheered on by baying fiesta crowds of enablers, there will be many more tragedies.

But which death in the afternoon will it take for people to finally say “enough is enough”?

Your brother’s? Your father’s? Your best friend’s? Your girlfriend’s?








PA: Your kids don’t need a martyr, they need you!

As we enter the traditional remembrance season during which those who sacrificed themselves for the “greater good” are recognised, it is worth reflecting that men have been programmed for self-sacrifice since, well forever.

They instinctively sleep by the bedroom door, allegedly hard wired to be the first reactor, defender, first victim should something nasty invade the “cave”.

They learn from the overwhelming weight of narrative tradition in films and fairy tales that they are supposed to endure trials on behalf of the family, the community and to prove themselves worthy of a partner. And this generation of fathers still has the “muscle memory” of grandfathers who “went away” and sacrificed themselves for the greater good in world wars, allegedly doing so with a quiet, resigned dignity.

The problem is, it’s a cliché to which we’re now largely desensitized because it’s frankly expected, a given and as a consequence, it garners little sympathy, attention, credit or even support. In fact, it is increasingly used as a weapon against men, especially in court by unscrupulous individuals trying to portray the masculine as “aggressor and risk” and the feminine as “protective and nurturing” when the opposite can just as readily be true.

Is it, therefore, any surprise that men clad in superhero outfits scaling big monuments to give voice to the injustice of parental alienation, are largely marginalised and ignored because, well, most people expect suffering on behalf of the family to be part of the parent’s lot and certainly the man’s lot and are intolerant of what is perceived by many as self-pity or selfishness.


Of course, the flip side of that equation has been sexist stereotyping of women as passive princesses, objects of ambition, victims of the birth rite, nurturing earth mothers, long-suffering stalwarts and mainstays of the family “left behind” to cope when men march against men or lack the maturity to cope with family life.

But, as with the masculine stereotypes, how dated and inappropriately subordinate these female stereotypes seem to our modern minds. We’ve spent decades now subverting these clichés and evolving to a more empowered vision of the female gender.

Yet, let’s be honest, can the same be said of the sacrificial male archetype? Has this really changed or have we simply bolted more onto the weight of what we expect from boys, dads, brothers, fathers, grandfathers, men?

Modern, so-called metrosexual males, to varying degrees, have tried to play their part as reconstituted fathers, often in the face of hostility from Baby Boomer grandparents who are largely threatened by the criticism implied by this evolution of parenting. They have at least tried to be partners in the truest sense during the key phases of child-birth and nurturing, recognising, in return, the just cause of female equality in the workplace and home.

But what happens when the fairy tale family, the meeting of two apparent equals goes wrong, as more than 1 in 3 now does? Seems that our systems still operate to that out-moded gender polemic.

A large part of the  problem is, we have yet to create the precedent that is appropriate to the pace of the evolution of the individual models. In short, our divorce process is patently out of step with the vast majority of parenting processes. One has evolved while the other appears to have stalled. And it is here, in this gap, that the abuse of children and non-resident parents of both genders is happening.

In the movies, there’s a noble place for the self-sacrificing male who falls on the grenade for his colleagues, who takes one for the team or who helps the women and children to the lifeboats while he waits to drown. The problem is, how sensible is that action if he is the  only one who knows how to row, is the strongest, the best nurturer, leader or navigator? Chances are, they will all perish, he will only have bought them time. And this analogy applies to many divorces which lead to bankrupted fathers and alienated, badly damaged children forced to repeat the patterns of their parents.

Current divorce legislation seems to be the equivalent of the terminal threat to the growing number of fathers alienated from their children by the system. They may have been prepared to sacrifice their house, pride, fortune and even much of their fathering time to the “grenade” – strewn cause. But what if it destroys them? Who wins if the children are abandoned? And what if the real threat to the children’s futures wasn’t actually from the outside but was lurking within all along in the form of an unstable partner hell-bent on destruction? This is the nightmare that keeps all non-resident parents, regardless of gender, awake at night, most nights, I can assure you.

Parent alienation is an abuse of power by one party to inflict ongoing trauma on the other, using the children and family assets as weapons. It happens to non-resident mothers as well but, largely owing to the legacy of sexist thinking, the vast majority of non-resident parents are currently men.

Children need both decent parents in their lives for a whole variety of reasons. And it’s an irrefutable fact that, whatever their flaws, fathers are equally amazing. They get stuff done, they invent, they create, they engineer, they care, they love deeply and are among the finest of artists, always have been and yes when necessary they can be formidable warriors too.

So if you are unfortunate enough to be reading this without the benefit of a 50/50 shared parenting arrangement and sometimes the road ahead seems strewn with peril and jeopardy, just remember that your children need you and there is little point  sacrificing yourself, walking away or throwing yourself on that emotional or psychological grenade.

Society has evolved and our answers to challenges facing us need to evolve as well. Our children need answers not problems, parents not martyrs, peace not pas and  you really are man/woman/parent enough to find another, better way.


Parent Alienation and the Reluctant Hero

Last weekend I caught up with a group of old friends, a mixed group including happily married mates, happily divorced ones and the worryingly large percentage trudging through the #PA or parent alienation quagmire.

Our group also included Ian Buckingham, the relatively high-profile consultant and writer, an advocate for shared parenting rights and gender equality at work and at home who recently diversified from writing business books to writing children’s fiction.

As some people will know, he recently launched the first in a fantasy trilogy, a book called Legend of the Lost filled with positive messages about enduring family love and the power of reconciliation. It’s set in a supernatural context and is a great read for all ages.

He was relaying the positive feedback to date, including school visits and book signings, joking about how adults are often the actual main readership group and showed us photos on the related social media accounts of parents and their kids reading the book in remote and interesting places.

All really warm, positive news.


However, the only relatively negative response came from an odd source. It was someone connected with the marketing of the book whose daughter gave the book an unfavourable review.

Seemingly at odds with everything else fed-back to date and given their connection to the project, he inquired, politely, wanting to understand more as he’s now finalising the second in the series.

It didn’t take long to piece together a background of alienated child, alienating mother , lots of negativity and aggression and a coven of similar adult friends.

Given his understanding of PA, Ian gently explored the issue with the mother who, amid an outpouring of abuse, claimed the book  “didn’t fit with (her) view of parenting as s single parent with a deadbeat former partner”.

Surprised, he pointed out that the book was a fantasy fiction, out of the key characters, most of the leading figures are female and that only 1 of the 5 central children are boys. He also pointed out that the villains throughout the series are, where they can be identified, both male and female but most importantly, that the key message is about reconciliation and ending a family feud that had lasted centuries.

It was positive.

It soon became clear that she hadn’t bothered to read the book. But it didn’t stop her voicing an opinion, openly and abusively.

Fortunately, later that day, several readers and their parents sent photographs and stories of their children, girls and lads, enjoying the book and the volume of great feedback now grows daily on the social media sites.

But while it is perfectly fine for people to genuinely have differing experiences of  any art form, based on their preferences and tastes, this incident also shows how depressingly negative the behaviours associated with parent alienation can be.

For, just as hundreds of children are enjoying a magical experience, exploring a fresh and creative storytelling journey that they can hopefully relate to in some way, that woman’s daughter is clearly so unhappy at home that even an innocent story about a reconciling family is a source of negativity for her.

And why?

Because her role models, in this case her mother, and their close network of friends, her flying monkeys, have launched a narrative of hate that they are clinging to like a leaky raft of ill will that is slowly drowning them all.

Our personal mythology, our family stories, our fairy tales are powerful. Most children’s books involve an element of jeopardy that removes one or both parents, if you think about it, it’s what gives the kids the room to and license and courage to take risks and explore.

Not many involve cosy nuclear or extended families as adversity is often the pivot.

Let’s hope more and more people realise that they have to become the heroes for their kids and that heroism is judged by what you do for others, not just yourself. That means both parents taking responsibility, despite adversity for filling children’s heads with the right, positive values, not divisive nonsense and negativity.

If the trials of your journey are weighing you down, as they do us all from time to time, pick up a copy of the first in the Legend of the Lost trilogy. Do check out the website for inspiring shots of children and parents enjoying a great read.

If you contact Ian, the author, as several parents have done, he will sign and dedicate copies (while initial stocks last).

It is also available in soft copy/Kindle format now if you need a quick fix of inspiration and positivity!