"The voices on the recording are engaged, the topics lighthearted, small talk.
The recording was on Nov 15, 2012. Two weeks later, on Nov 29, 2012 Commissioner Daniel "temporarily" suspended all my visitation and ordered that I am not to be calling her and bugging her.
There are two events that I have been having a hard time writing about but I am compelled to share. This is one that I have been putting off, avoiding the writing of it for over a year.
Still, I would re-live those two days again in a heartbeat.
But I am getting way ahead of myself.
The audio recording.
The audio that is referred to in the story is from November 15, 2012, a Thursday. It was the last time that I was allowed my court ordered time with my daughter. It was a beautiful day and that is in part why what I found out that happened the next day was so devastating. It was so devastating, but some would say I was in denial. Because, even when people told me the very last thing that a loving parent wants to hear, that we had lost our daughter, I refused to believe it.
Megan had recently turned 14.
Every Thursday I would drive the two hours from La Quinta to the high desert to pick my daughter up after school. We would hang out, go to a movie, eat at In-n-Out (her favorite), and visit with relatives or friends. I would drop her back off at her mother’s house, as stated in the court order, by 9 pm. I would then drive the 2 hours back home. The time passing quickly as I drove home with a smile on my face; re-playing our time together over and over in my head.
The next day, Friday, I would drive 2 hours again to pick her up. The only difference was we would have Megan for the entire weekend and that my wife, Tammy, and our three girls Malia, Jaida, and Sophie--now 10, 8 and 5 respectively--would come along to pick up Megan as they have every weekend for years.
At the end of the weekend my family would pile into our vehicle and we would drive the two hours back to take Megan home. It wasn’t until recently that Christy was forced to share in the responsibility of doing some of the driving in our January 2012 court ordered. Christy hated this part and I believe this is one of the triggers of the renewed alienating behavior. However, this was what we had agreed on as our court ordered visitation schedule. In actuality, even after our court order was in place Christy only drove to pick up Megan a handful of times although she complained about it endlessly.
As you listen to the audio and read what took place, ask yourself one thing: does my relationship with my daughter seem broken. At the end of this story, I will ask you to listen to another audio recording. It will be much different from the first one. My daughter’s voice, even to me, is unrecognizable.
I played this audio for the judge, Commissioner Deborah Daniel, during my trial, my fight, to be allowed in my daughter’s life.
The others in the courtroom; the clerk, the bailiff, the court transcriber, my ex and her attorney went silent. Yes, even the attorney.
On this particular Thursday, November 15, 2012, I picked Megan up at her mother’s house. I waited out front as her mother gave her a long, drawn-out embrace, as if our daughter was going away to Auschwitz; instilling a sense that, on some level, her own father is a threat. This type of behavior is what is causing our daughter to walk hesitantly towards me now as I wait in the car. As she approaches the front passenger door of the Taurus she sharply changes direction, opening the rear passenger door instead, and hops into the backseat. Leaving the front passenger seat empty.
“Hi beautiful,” I said turning to her, hoping I would see that smile that graces her face and my life whenever our eyes meet.
She grunted her response and averted her eyes.
I placed the car in drive and looked back through the rearview mirror. I saw our daughter looking out the side, rear window at her mother who was still standing at her front door, a satisfied smile on her face.
That was November 15, 2012.
About a year later, I am playing the recording in courtroom S-11 of the Superior Court of California, County of San Bernardino’s family court division.
The two voices heard on the recordings were almost not heard at all. I was told three times that playing of audio or video recordings were not allowed. As I objected and argued over the excuse I was given as to why I would not be allowed to play any audio or video recordings, another excuse would be thrown at me. As I argued my point, I was continually shot down. Eventually, I would even be admonished for bringing it up.
I have made a ruling, I was warned by Commissioner Daniel. The answer is no. There will be no playing of audio or media in the courtroom as evidence.
On July 11, 2013, my trial was about to begin, I brought it up again. Or tried to, “Your honor, may I speak on that issue?”
My request was met with a resounding no once again. This response was from someone that had the backing of our government, full immunity from any malfeasance or errors in judgment. Additionally, she presented herself as having a disdain for Hispanic men in her courtroom. Commissioner Deborah Daniel did not like me and was making it very clear.
However, I had done some research and taken the time to print out a copy of the California Code which addresses audio/video evidence. Before Commissioner Daniel could stop me again, I brought it up and held up a copy for everyone in the courtroom to see. All communication and activity stopped in the courtroom as all awaited yet another admonishment that was sure to come. In the handful of times that I had been in her courtroom I had learned that you do not piss off Commissioner Daniel.
It was silent for so long that my arm grew tiring from holding up the California Code section that I had printed out. Commissioner Daniel looked down at me over her glasses and I held the code higher and more towards her bench.
“Did you bring a copy for the court?” Commissioner Daniel asked.
She wasn’t happy that I did.
“And for the opposing counsel,” I added. My ex-wife and her attorney, Diana Shropshire, weren't thrilled with it either.
The conversation playing in court room S11 is between a father and his daughter. The recording is being played from a laptop. The voices on the recording are engaged, the topics lighthearted, small talk.
To the outside observer it may seem that way at first. Just small talk.
But in reality it is more than that. It is so much more.
You’ll know this once you become aware that underlying this apparently normal conversation is actually a father grasping onto the last fiber of what was once a loving father and daughter relationship; that final thread of hope that was once a fine tapestry of mutual love and respect. What remains now is a but a brittle garment, frail as if it was left, long-exposed, in the scorching sun; already split at the seams, waiting to crumble into dust at the slightest tug.
So the areas of conversation addressed remain shallow, simple, and yes, like small talk. The subjects are light, and of course, her choice.
Anything you want to talk about beautiful.
A father clears his throat to keep from crying as he listens to his daughter who, for the moment, has returned.
Reason, common sense begs to ask questions of my daughter; do you really believe the things said about me when all the proof shows otherwise? You know you don’t have to choose right? Why did you sit in the back of the car when I picked you up from your mom’s just now?
Instead, I listen to my daughter. Because the child I know and have loved all her life was here right now.
And she was speaking to her father, “...A president...a CEO, and a terrorist...you know.” I listen to her voice rise a pitch or two with the last two words and I still hear my baby’s voice.
“That’s just my favorite class.” She says, “He is so smart. It’s crazy. I want to be as smart as him...”
I love the way she talks about this person in her life, this teacher. A stable, normal man.
“Just common sense smart...” I add.
“Yeah...like how the world should be...smart.” She says and looks up at me. I am driving. I don’t look back at her, but I know that look. I can paint a portrait of it from memory. She loves me and the attention she gets from a loving, present father.
My thoughts are much deeper than what the conversation calls for. Yes, I want to hold onto and explore that thought, ‘like, how the world should be...smart.’
But right now the world isn’t that smart and we both know it.
I am 48 years old and in two weeks I will be reminded again how ignorant and incompetent our world is yet. And how challenging and cruel.
Megan loves Mr. Brown. He is her history teacher and I believe she has been in another one of his classes. I should know. I want to know. But, where in the past I have become very familiar, if not friends, with her instructors, for now, I have deliberately remained detach from her academic life. Lest I get blamed if her grades should take a significant dive.
See, your honor, if Mr. Barrow hadn’t been communicating with his daughter’s teachers her grades would be better. No wonder she doesn’t want to see him.
Crazy, I know.
Megan has always done so well academically, that it is the least of my worries really. What I am worried about is how her success can work against me. Christy seizes the opportunity to take all the credit for Megan’s academic success even while the rest of the children in her household continually struggled even to the point of not graduating high school. But Christy will exaggeratedly declare her other children’s epic academic endeavors knowing no court or evaluator will look that close.
“Her mother must be doing a good job, look at Megan’s grades. She doesn’t need a father,” is how the rationale goes. Not taking into consideration that Megan is the only child in the home doing so well and that it was perhaps because she had a father who encouraged constructive homework routines, practiced her Dolch Sight words with her daily, and works at being a parent, not a best friend. Not to mention Megan has a math-wiz for a step-mom.
Megan speaks highly of Mr. Brown and I am momentarily relieved because he is in her life. She needs a million Mr. Browns in her life right now. If only to show her how life is, how it should be and how it can be.
She needs an adult to nurture and cultivate her critical thinking skills. A person who would never impart hate in her young impressionable mind but instead love, reason, compassion.
Megan needs more positive influences in her life or at least more normal, not someone who would poison her mind.
At her core Megan wants to be allowed to love her other family, but she remains isolated, surrounded by a shroud of dysfunction. She is kept unavailable to anyone who might challenge her with a question, common sense, or God-forbid, truth.
She needs an out and I don’t care if it comes from a history, social studies, or P.E. teacher.
“He is a really, really smart guy,” you can hear Megan say in the audio.
I know sweetheart, that’s so good.
The audio takes place as we are driving to the movies. It was my turn to pick the movie. I chose Skyfall.
Before we got to the movies, Megan had asked if we could stop by Walgreens to buy some sunflower seeds. She is so much like me that it’s crazy; a fact that her mother and half-sister Kaylee despise. I love sunflower seeds as well. As we pulled into the Walgreen’s parking lot Megan saw Winco and she mentions pomegranates.
She debates between sunflower seeds and pomegranates and decides on the latter.
While we are in the Winco fruit section she grabs 2 pomegranates she says thanks. Seizing the moment I ask her for a hug. She hugs me, holding me tight.
She is holding me tight.
Here we are. Right in the middle of the fruit aisle and I don’t want to let her go either. I so want to let her know that everything is going to be okay.
Her mother and I have a court date on November 29, 2012. In two weeks this will be cleared up. Hang in there beautiful, I want to say to our daughter; to our relationship. Hang in there.
At this time, I still had faith in our justice system. Why wouldn’t I?
It’s there for situations like what our family is going through, I thought. It is for when one cannot come to a mutually beneficial agreement; when two adults come upon an impasse and need help to get through it. They, the courts, are there to help sort things out in a fair and equitable manner right? Right? They are there to do what is in the best interest of children.
The Best Interest of Children.
Little did I know at the time that this was an empty phrase.
Many of you may be chuckling at me now or shaking your heads. I had no idea then. I know now how naïve I was. In reality, family court is, as I would soon find out, where loving relationships between parents and their children go to die.
I held Megan for a while and was holding her still when she said, “This hug is just because. It’s not for buying me pomegranates.”
“I know beautiful.”
“I don’t want you to think I’m a brat or anything,” Megan says.
“I don’t beautiful,” I don’t know how I managed to get that out then when I can barely write it down now. My throat had clamped shut and was hurting as I struggled not to cry. I needed her to know that this was nothing and it would be over soon. A Winco worker, a large man, was stacking fruit on the end of the aisle where Megan and I hugged. He looked up at me and saved me from losing it entirely.
I gave Megan one more squeeze and had to let go otherwise I might still be there holding her, crying.
We had a little time before the movie started. We wandered around Winco a bit. Stopped, lingered in between aisles and talked. There’s another audio clip where she talks about getting teased about her small ears. I tell her I never thought they were that small. She says, that a boy kids her about it often. I suggest that she is being bullied. She claims to give it right back to him.
I propose that she is perhaps a bully herself. We joked some, laughed, and paid for the pomegranates.
We walked back to the Taurus. This time she sits in the front passenger seat. I acted like it was nothing and again said nothing. What can I say?
I know what is happening.
In the audio recording, my daughter speaks of a story that Mr Brown shared with his class. It is the story of two new mothers, one of which accidently kills her own child, then steals the other mother’s newborn. Both mothers now claim the living child as their own. To settle it they go before King Solomon.
The irony seems too much for me at the moment and again, I don’t know how I keep it together. Is this somehow necessary? In the big picture, in the scheme of things, does this all have to happen this way?
You can hear me hesitate as I start to acknowledge her, “It’s the story of...” but then I stop myself mid-sentence and ask her to go on.
The irony is brutal.
The Judgment of Solomon? Yes, I am familiar with it, I want to tell her as bad as I want to remind her that she once thought highly of her father as well. Remember Megan? Your dad knows things too beautiful. He’s smart like Mr. Brown. I was your hero too. Remember? The Judgement of King Solomon...it is a good story. It is about a judge displaying wisdom in making a ruling. It is a very, very good story beautiful.
Thoughts of a desperate father.
At the same time, a slight chill goes through my body because I can’t believe what is happening.
Is Megan really about to tell the story about the judgment of King Solomon and the two mothers? The moment is surreal to me, but has a sense of familiarity.
At times Megan will, out of the blue, post on her social media something, a name of a song, an obscure lyric or a saying, that is in reference to us or holds special meaning to our relationship. I believe that it does anyway. Sometimes it may not even be that vague. She will outright say, I need a father right now. I can envision her mother balking at the thought and she would deny that is what Megan is saying, but I know this is the case--I know that it’s true.
Sometimes I wonder if our daughter is not reaching out in some way.
Later on in the audio, you can hear that I am so wrapped up in having this wonderful conversation with my daughter that I pass the turn to the movie theater. But that’s okay. I would have passed on the entire movie to hang out and talk with Megan because what you don’t know and what you can’t see is that she is smiling at me the entire time we are talking and my heart is lit up.
The ending to the recording I left in because Christy, through her attorney, would argue of the authenticity of it, questioning the time that the audio was recorded and throw anything in to convolute the story, induce doubt, or somehow submit a distorted view of the facts. Anything to keep the telling evidence out.
The audio ends with Megan commenting on the large number of people, mostly pre-teens camping out already to see the premier --a midnight showing-- of the latest installment of the Twilight series. It was at the Victorville Mall.
This conversation, these recording, which include a significant number of additional minutes of a father spending quality time and talking with his loving daughter, were recorded on November 15, 2012.
Before the previews started, we talked and laugh some more both in the lobby and then as we sat in the theater. My daughter, my best friend, found it particularly funny that I would snap pictures of my sandal as I crossed my leg. I had a new phone and was still fascinated by the incredible pictures that it takes.
We enjoyed our time at the movies. Afterwards, we continued to talk the way you heard in the audio recording; our conversation as engaging and the topics still lighthearted. More small talk.
As we drove down the 395 back to her mother’s house, the small talk subsided as I got closer to dropping her back off at her moms. Our daughter became quiet, sullen, as if deep in thought. I was saddened by the not so subtle transformation. She stared out the car window into the darkness, into the desert.
I will sometimes attempt to re-ignite a conversation by asking our daughters what they are thinking about, but I knew she was being drawn back into a dark place, and so I didn’t ask. Instead I tried to keep the conversation as light and upbeat as it had been earlier. But nothing I said could bring her smile back.
Exactly 2 weeks later --on November 29, 2012 --- Commissioner Deborah Daniel, partly because she is incompetent and entirely because she is no King Solomon, temporarily suspended all my visitation rights.
She then added, “So you're not to be calling and bugging her.”
The best and only antidote that a targeted parent has against the vile poison that an alienating parent drips into the mind of a child is time spent with the child. Every moment that I spent with Megan provided clear and compelling evidence that I was the same loving father that I had always been to her. Commissioner Daniel took away the one thing that was holding our relationship together: our time together.
If the story had been the Judgment of Commissioner Daniel, the newborn would have been sucking on the teat of a stranger for close to two years as the real mother awaited a ruling. The newborn would have long forgotten its mother touch and found her face unrecognizable.
My relationship with my daughter has since deteriorated to the state that it is in now, to her I am no longer her father but a man to be loathed.
Our daughter doesn’t call me, respond to me, and she no longer hugs me or tells me that she loves me.
Her heart is full of contempt and unjustified hatred towards me.
The worst part of this is that our loving daughter lives with people who encourage this behavior and gloat about a job well done in exorcising the “other” parent from her life as if being a loving father was an evil thing in a child’s life. Teaching a child to hate goes against everything pure, decent, and natural in a child. That contempt that she is being forced to share will only grow and like a cancer it will spread.
These feelings have already spread towards my wife and two of our three young daughters at home.
This was the first day.
To be continued...
No King Solomom
In Part 2: What happened on Day 2...
My heart was broken; waiting 8 hours for the Sheriff or my daughter,
Christy pulls a Christy, a man with a gun,
our daughter was made to do something unbelievably, that led some to say that she was lost.
The cover up. The good cop/bad cop,
The long drive home...Sophie saves me.