Transcript of OnionUnlimited podcast episode 050
HELLO AND WELCOME TO EPISODE 50 OF ONIONUNLIMITED—THE PODCAST. I’m your host, Daniel Torridon and in this episode, I am going to discuss my personal experience of parental alienation and child abandonment at the hands of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This has been a story 2 years in the making. Up until now, I haven’t felt able to talk about it in great detail, or indeed that it was the right time to do so, but now I do.
First, for anyone new to this podcast, some background: I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. I married a Jehovah’s Witness in 1994. All our family members—parents, grandparents, siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins—everyone was a Jehovah’s Witness, way back to the 1930s. My wife and I were what they call “3rd generation born-ins” and it was all we knew.
Regrettably, my wife and I raised our four children as Jehovah’s Witnesses. We thought it was “the Truth” so we took our children to the Kingdom Hall to meetings for 5 hours each week and from door-to-door, preaching for many hours each month. In due course, our three oldest kids got baptised. One of my daughters was baptised at just 9 years old and started regular pioneering at 12 years old. All four children were home educated as is common among Jehovah’s Witnesses so they never experienced any exposure to “the world” outside the religion. We were a Jehovah’s Witness family through and through, fully immersed in “the Truth”, totally isolated from the world in general.
In time, after much questioning and research, I realised that Jehovah’s Witnesses was a cult. I wanted to leave the religion of my birth, of my children’s birth, but I knew if I did I would be classed as an “apostate” and my family would be forced to shun me, so against my better judgement I remained a Jehovah’s Witness for many years pretending to believe for the sake of my children. This, by the way, is not unusual. There are lots of active Jehovah’s Witnesses who don’t believe the religion is “the Truth” anymore, but they stay in because they don’t want to lose their families. There’s even a term for these ones—”Pee-Mo” (P.I.M.O.) which stands for Physically In Mentally Out. I was PIMO for many years. Even after I was disfellowshiped in 2006 for apostasy I went back and got reinstated as a Witness because I didn’t want my kids to shun me when they grew up and left home as they would be expected to, despite what Jehovah’s Witnesses tell you about “normal family relations” continuing.
I haven’t spoken much about my marriage in previous podcasts but suffice to say that my wife was emotionally abusive for much of our marriage—to our children and me. She used to lose her temper and shout a lot just like her dad did. She would tell my youngest daughter that she wished she was dead or had never been born. Life at home was like “walking on eggshells”. I was thoroughly miserable but divorce wasn’t an option. I felt trapped in the cult and in my marriage.
Our first two children left the cult when they got older and left home leaving just me, my wife, and our two daughters living together. We shunned our grown-up disassociated children as we were ordered to by the cult, something I now regret terribly, but at least they are free of the cult. I’m happy about that.
Finally, my 25-year marriage broke down in December 2019 when I was disfellowshipped again by Jehovah’s Witnesses, this time for having an intimate relationship with someone who showed me some love and respect. My wife refused to forgive me or even discuss the matter and she forced me out of our home, making me homeless. I ended up living in a bedsit on my own.
As a disfellowshipped person, every Jehovah’s Witness I’d ever known, including my daughters who remained with their mother, were instructed to shun me. I was the “bad guy”—the “immoral sinner” deserving of death at “Armageddon”, while my wife was the “innocent party”. Of course, our Witness family and friends rallied around her in support. I had no one. Even my own dad chose to shun me. His last words to me were “I’m choosing my faith over your apostasy”.
I attempted to restore my relationship with my two older children but they were still upset, understandably, for having been shunned in the past. By now they’d moved on and weren’t interested in having a relationship with me. One of them was so upset that they told me I was “rotten to the core” and that I had ruined their life by raising them as a Jehovah’s Witness.
After filing for divorce on grounds of adultery, which I agreed to even though adultery hadn’t actually been committed, my wife, who remained a Jehovah’s Witness, systematically set about alienating my daughters from me. As a disfellowshipped person I was considered by Jehovah’s Witnesses to be an “apostate” and therefore a “spiritual danger” to my children. My daughters were led to believe that even talking to me was a “sin” against “Jehovah God”. My oldest daughter told me never to contact her again. My youngest daughter followed suit. So, I’ve not seen them for over 2 years despite trying many times to make contact.
At first, I initiated mediation in order to see my youngest daughter who was still only 13 years old at the time, but my ex-wife simply refused to engage. After begging to see my children for many months and being denied any contact I finally had a mental breakdown. I was so lonely and depressed that I even attempted suicide on two occasions. I was in no fit state to fight for visitation rights. Besides, my daughters were telling me they didn’t want to see me. Over the next six months, I underwent therapy with an abuse counselling service which helped me to recover somewhat from the trauma of being in an abusive cult and an abusive marriage.
Then, a few months ago, I heard from a friend that my ex-wife had moved house taking my daughters with her. She chose not to tell me they’d moved, or where they’d moved to, so I had no idea. I’ve since discovered that my ex-wife—and I never expected this in a million years—has now disassociated from Jehovah’s Witnesses herself, but get this—not to protect my children from the cult. Instead, she told my daughters she wants nothing to do with them and kicked them out of the home in order to go and live her life on her terms without them! So, my daughters are now living with my ex-wife’s parents and they are home educating my youngest daughter who is now 15.
Now, here’s the thing. I haven’t been consulted on any of these decisions. No family member or JW “elder” has ever seen fit to contact me to let me know what’s happening with my daughters. Try as I might to make contact, I am met with radio silence. Even my dad and my sister, who aren’t fans of my ex-wife, knew that she’d disassociated from Jehovah’s Witnesses, but even they chose not to tell me what was happening to my children because of the shunning mandate that exists. That, for me, has ended any tentative relationship I might still have had with my sister who occasionally would check in to say “Hello”, but little more. I’ve only learned things on the proverbial grapevine and, frankly, I feel betrayed.
I would like to speak to both of my daughters but their cult indoctrination—in which I played a part in the past—has taught them to think that this is “not allowed” because I’m disfellowshipped and to do so might result in them also being expelled from their religion. I’ve never stopped loving my children and I long to be involved in their lives but I’m effectively prevented from doing so despite Jehovah’s Witnesses claiming that “normal family relations continue” in the case of marriage break up and divorce.
Ok, so what is the official line of Jehovah’s Witnesses? Well, Awake! magazine published by Watch Tower, October 8, 2002 p. 7 states: “After a divorce, children benefit from regular contact with both parents. Suppose the parents have different religious beliefs; one is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the other is not. Regular and open communication helps to avoid unnecessary conflict.” That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?
Awake! October 22, 1988 p. 14 reads: “Children who continue to have close regular contact with both parents not only suffer less from the divorce but are also more likely to grow into mature and balanced adults. So work to nurture your relationship with your child.” Now, my ex-wife might not want that but I do.
But then there’s the Awake! of September 22, 1991 p. 30. A reader, apparently, wrote in: “The articles [on divorce] made my husband and me feel guilty. My first mate was disfellowshipped from the Christian congregation for unfaithfulness. My boys and I then moved in with my parents, about 2,000 miles… away. The boys had little contact with their father. After I remarried, we continued to discourage any contact, [interesting!] feeling the father was a bad influence. Did we make the right decision?” Indeed!
Well, Awake! replied: “Neither divorce nor expulsion from the Christian congregation ends a parent-child relationship; children continue to need both parents.” That sounds great, doesn’t it? But then they do what Jehovah’s Witnesses do best. They make up their own rules as to what is “right” and make people believe they have to follow them to be pleasing to God. The article continues: “Nevertheless, each situation is different… the courts may impose visitation arrangements, and a Christian may have little choice but to cooperate”, and here’s the point, “Where no visitation arrangements have been imposed [which is the situation with me] it is up to the custodial parent to determine if association with an ex-spouse would pose grave physical or spiritual dangers.”—and that is what gives JW parents, my ex in the past, the idea they have the right to prevent their children associating with their other non-Witness parent. For me now, it’s worse, because my ex-wife, their mother, isn’t on the scene now. Somehow, they have just defaulted to living with their grandparents who have no legal right to custody, with no consultation with me. That is how “dead” I am to them. So, regardless of the reasonable picture they paint in their literature, in reality, Jehovah’s Witnesses convince their children that the ex-Witness parent is a bad person, a negative influence, who they shouldn’t spend time with.
Of course, my daughter, now 15 years old, has a say in what she wants to do. I respect that, but I also fear she is being brainwashed and only hearing one side of things—the JW side—the side that says I’m an evil person for breaking my marriage vows, a person deserving of death at Armageddon. That’s the only message she will be hearing. I don’t condone my marital unfaithfulness but I did nothing illegal. I’m a divorced father who loves his children and wants to have a relationship with them, yet I’m viewed as if I am a criminal, or worse, a “sinner against God” deserving of death. At the very least I would like to be able to speak to my daughter and tell her how much I love her. Meanwhile, my so-called “innocent” wife has shown her true colours. As well as being emotionally abusive, she’s orchestrated parental alienation and then, after all her claims of loving “her God” and “her girls”, she’s gone on to abandon them, leaving her 70-something-year-old JW parents to swoop in and take my children from me.
All this just convinces me more than ever that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a dangerous and destructive cult. They brainwash their members to the point where they really do have no “natural affection” left. They act with impunity thinking they have the right to do whatever they want, without consequences, because they have “Jehovah” on their side. They do break up family relationships despite what they say to the contrary and they do destroy lives. They indoctrinate children to reject their parents, and parents to reject their children, assuring them of “Jehovah’s blessing” for doing so. In any normal marriage break up a loving father would be permitted, even encouraged, to see his children, despite how much his ex-wife might hate him. It’s his right, but not for Jehovah’s Witnesses it would seem. They view the ex-Witness parent[s] as a “spiritual danger”, an “apostate”, “mentally diseased” to coin a phrase from the Watchtower magazine, and they do everything they can to keep them away from their children in order to continue brainwashing them.
Sadly, I’m not alone in this. Many many ex-JWs—thousands of them—have faced the same painful situation I’m facing now where their children are effectively held hostage by the cult and by their Witness partner or ex-partner. It’s wrong, it’s immoral, but they get away with it because they can, because it’s their “God”, their religion, and that—apparently—trumps what is actually right, or even what’s legal.
I hope as my children get older that they see Jehovah’s Witnesses for the cult it is. I hope they realise of their own volition their mother was abusive to them and to me, and that was at the heart of our marriage breakdown, not because I’m a “bad” person who wanted to leave them by choice. I hope they realise that I love them and have always loved them and that I want to be a part of their lives. I’ve never abandoned them as their Witness mother has. I hope they come to see that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not “the Truth” as they claim to be, but a controlling cult that brainwashes people into giving up those that love them unconditionally for the sake of their imaginary “God”, Jehovah. I hope to see my children again one day.