MY 16-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER IS A JEHOVAH’S WITNESS. I’ve not seen her since my marriage to her mother broke up when she was thirteen. After I was forced to leave the family home and subsequently disfellowshipped by Jehovah’s Witnesses, my daughter told me she wanted nothing to do with me ever again. I suspected she was being encouraged to cut me off by my ex-wife—at the time still a JW—and her maternal grandparents who are also Jehovah’s Witnesses, but she assured me it was her own decision. I was as dead to her. She wanted nothing to do with me. She no longer needed me. She had her JW “family” and her God to care for her every need.
Over the course of the next 3 years, from 2020 to 2022, I attempted to maintain contact via letters, cards, texts, and emails, but almost every time I got the same response—that is, no response. Such is the nature of Jehovah’s Witnesses when it comes to shunning their disfellowshipped family members. Very occasionally, after texting her to say “I love you”, I would receive a reply, but it was always to say “leave me alone”, or that I should “move on” just as she had.
This is the reply I received from my daughter after I suggested to her mother that she and her JW family were preventing me from having a meaningful relationship with my daughter, a process known as “parental alienation”:
Despite this cold rejection, I continued to text my daughter as she grew up to assure her I still loved her and was there for her, but she continued to ignore me. I desperately wanted to speak to her, to hug her, to tell her I cared, and to fulfil my “parental responsibility” regarding her living arrangements, education, and healthcare, but I was repeatedly pushed away and kept in the dark. For example, it was five months before I heard on the grapevine that my ex-wife had disassociated from Jehovah’s Witnesses and that my daughter was now living with her JW parents, something I had no say in and which I would never have approved.
Not knowing what was going on, and being denied any input into my daughter’s life, I applied to the courts for a Child Arrangement Order to establish my parental responsibility. Not long after that, I received the following message from my daughter, now almost 16 years old, in response to me again assuring her of my love:
The message (or more often than not the lack thereof) was always clear. She wanted nothing to do with me. Since she was approaching her 16th birthday, I decided it would be best to “respect her decisions” and “leave her be”. Besides, a court would probably uphold her choice not to have contact with me, even if that “choice” was coerced. I didn’t want to cause her any undue stress and she was very clear—she neither wanted me nor needed me.
Until she did.
Just after her 16th birthday, she contacted me to inform me that she was no longer living with her maternal grandparents, but had now moved in with her aunt, my ex-wife’s sister. This was, in my opinion, somewhat of an improvement over her living with her grandparents, but not by much. Her aunt is also a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and is just as keen to shun those who leave the religion. Imagine my surprise when my daughter informed me—no, demanded of me—that I sign over my legal guardianship to her aunt and a “brother” in her congregation who was of no relation to our family whatsoever! At last, I was needed, or rather my signature was, but my answer was simple and clear. No. I would never willingly relinquish my parental responsibility. I love my daughter too much to do that.
All was quiet after that, until today when I received the following text from my daughter:
There was no “Dear dad”, no “how are you?” and no “please”, just another straight-up demand for me to jump at her wishes—not later, not at my convenience—NOW! What’s more, to be asked by my own daughter for my name and birth date was, frankly, an insult. Am I so unimportant to her that she doesn’t know these basic details of her own father? My reply was intended to educate her, to help her to see herself from my perspective, and to help her grow as a person. I sent her copies of the texts she had sent me over the previous three years telling me to leave her alone. I thought this might make her take a moment to think about how she is treating me, but no. She responded with the following:
That’s when my fatherly instincts kicked in. No, I don’t mean I capitulated to my spoilt 16-year-old daughter who thinks she can ignore me when she wants to and then demand my attention when it suits her. No, no. I responded as a loving parent who needed to teach his child a lesson in respect:
There followed another message from my daughter telling me that she needed the information to get a job, bank [account], and passport—but still no “please”. A simple “please” would have made all the difference, but no. I was not worthy of “please”. What I found most strange was that, according to her, I am the only person in the world that knows my full legal name, my date of birth, and the day I married my ex-wife—and that means I have to help her. Except it doesn’t.
I replied as follows:
After being told to “stop making fun” of her and to “stop making things difficult”—I sensed some childish foot-stamping going on in the background—I sent her these words of fatherly advice:
Some will say I’m being unkind to my daughter—unfair even. She was only thirteen when I was declared “dead” by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Since then, she’s been encouraged by all those around her to disown me, to view me as a “spiritual danger” for no longer following the JW religion, and she’s been coerced to erase me from her life as someone she doesn’t need. It’s not her fault. I get it. She’s been indoctrinated, brainwashed even. She has just copied the “good examples” of those around her. My heart—a heart full of love for the daughter I’ve not seen or spoken with for over three years—would tend to agree. But my head, and my principle of respect for others, tell me otherwise. My daughter needs to learn how relationships work. If I didn’t impart this knowledge to her I would be failing as a father.
My daughter has told me that the decision to treat me as dead is hers, and like many young persons reaching the age of sixteen, she wants to be treated like an adult. That being the case, I feel she needs to learn that actions come with consequences and that how you treat people—especially your own parents—determines how they respond to you. If you treat a person like shit, as if they don’t exist, as if you are dead to them, you shouldn’t expect them to jump at your every whim—especially if you can’t even be so gracious as to suffix your demand with a simple “please”. In other words, she can’t have her “shunning cake” and eat it. She either needs me or she doesn’t. I think that’s fair and responsible parenting.
Meanwhile, I have been invited to attend Family Court next week. Although I cancelled the initial Child Arrangements Order at the request of my daughter, CAFCASS decided to take the matter further. Upon discovering that I had been denied access to my daughter for three years, for no other “reason” than being disfellowshipped from a religious cult, and upon learning that I have had no input into her living arrangements or education, they decided to carry out a safeguarding investigation. Next week, the court will decide whether to drop the matter or whether to take further action. I’m prepared to “trust the process”.
I’d love to see my daughter get a job, a bank account to manage her own finances, and a passport to let her travel the world. I’d love to see her blossom and grow into an adult who treats people with love and respect. Most of all I want to see her happy, but all the while she is a Jehovah’s Witness I think those things will elude her.
As a father wanting the very best for his daughter, she may well find I come to her rescue if she is unable to get what she wants from those she has chosen over me.
But I might not.
I’m still waiting to hear her say “please”.