I know a lot about this subject, it’s everywhere these days. Lawyers are responsible for a lot of it, for it helps to feed their families, which I suppose is all very well – for them.
Let’s examine the subject, for most is not good, and some I think is o.k.
Alienation – the bad sort
To most of the problems I see around me today I have a “been there done that” response. My problems, except the very current ones, have matured to a resolution because of the passage of time.
In this subject, peculiar to family relationships, I go back to around 1969 when it happened that my first wife Kay was subjecting our little lad Jonathan to her decision that he should not have anything to do with me. I then lived in London. It meant fighting in the Canadian courts for his right and my right as his father to have a real and proper relationship. My new family was solidly behind me in this endeavor, for which I was always grateful.
Well, I thought I had “won” in the sense that I got access to him if only in Ontario upon the posting of a $10,000 bond to pay her attorney in the event I kidnaped the kid, but at the accession of my fourth judge who loved theatre and Lynn Redgrave (the first three died in office through old age), he did get to meet his grandparents in the United Kingdom. Just once. And we had a ball. But the following year, curiously, he wrote to me himself, said “leave us alone”. I was astonished, for he’d had a great time with us. Then I discovered that the last, old, and sympathetic judge had died too, and it would mean going back to court with a new one against her new attorney. I had no appetite for more of the same, trusting the kid to make the decision he was comfortable with. Perhaps he had no choice. Anyway, I let him go, and didn’t pursue him further. He was then around 12 years old.
About 10 years later, living now in Los Angeles, I dispatched Ben and Kelly to drive to Toronto in my new pickup to track him down. They were successful, and he was thrilled to be able to embrace his siblings. I found he was by now a world traveling young man deep into music, and I was very proud of him. He hopped into the truck with his guitar, and they sang their way back to L.A., leaving the truck a total loss in Denver (my son Benjy thought it was ok to drive it without oil, oh well).
But the point here is, does he now feel that his mother did him a favor back in 1969, when she separated him from his father? I think that now she knows that he feels differently, and is herself separated from him, and, incidentally, her grandchildren.
Alienation, usually parental, is a terrible thing. It can take place at any age. It uses the powerful forces of guilt and emotional debt to force adults to act in strange and unforeseeable ways. It can create liars-in-training children. My policy is do what is always obviously the right thing to do, and let the chips fall where they may. Because then at least there can be no regrets later. The unknown becomes known. Time cannot be recalled.
And while on the subject, I want to say that I had a real success in freeing someone from what I call the “alienation effect”. It was my sister-in-law Vanessa. She was in and out of a long affair with the Italian actor Franco Nero, and they had produced a little baby they named Carlo, whom I got to photograph for his first press appearance.
Franco lived in Rome, and Vanessa lived in London, and kept custody of their little boy. Franco was happy to come visiting often, but one day said to Vanessa, ominously, “I want to bring him to Italy to meet my mother”.
Vanessa thought the worst case scenario, and put her foot down hard. and absolutely refused to allow it. War clouds appeared, so she hired the services of the best lawyer she could find, one who had a seat in the House of Lords, the venerable and elephantine Arnold Goodman.
He, of course, began to set up an expensive attack/defense for her “worst case scenario”. I, for my part, was deep in the middle of perhaps 8 appearances in a Toronto court, trying to get to see my little fellow, who unfortunately had told his mother that he had found a copy of Playboy in my briefcase during a visit.
I sat her down. I said please, please trust me. Let Carlo go to Italy, do nothing to suggest you have concerns. He will be back at the end of the three weeks Franco wants, I know it, and I know you have nothing to fear (and I crossed my fingers behind my back.)
And thank the lord she believed me, because with great trepidation she did exactly that. And guess what, after just 2 weeks Franco called, and in a complaining voice said he could not possibly keep him any longer, please Vanessa, you must understand, I have a film to do, come and get him.
And since that time, Carlo got to be with his father and his mother on a free and easy basis, learned to speak both languages, and is now an up and coming film director, getting help from both of his parents who, I read somewhere, may be back together again after these many years.
We men are usually simple creatures before we get to be angry creatures.
Alienation – the good sort
So when can this be, when is alienation O.K?
I believe it is O.K. when the unknown becomes known, and decisions are made, usually by consenting adults, that there is no common ground to maintain a relationship of any kind.
I don’t see anything wrong with this. I personally have 2 good ones, my one and only sister Sonia, whose style of life is so far removed from mine, and whose regard for me is so low, that I’ve entirely disappeared from her radar. I have now removed her altogether from mine. And with good cause.
It came to a head, rather amusingly in a dark way, when our mother died at a nursing home in England, and she refused to delay the funeral, not even for a few days. She wanted her put in the ground quickly, and refused to wait for the arrival of her brother (me) and her nephew (my son) and even her own son, from America. I wondered if she had switched religions from the C of E to conform to some Eastern burial rite, but no, the reason, she averred, was that the sandwiches had already been ordered and her friends notified and arrangements made.
The upshot was that I had a restraining order put on the body, and the funeral arrangements were delayed by a week. The scene in the chapel was right out of a Joe Orton play. Her crowd on one side of the aisle and mine on the other. And not a word passed between us. And that’s the way it has stayed ever since. I wonder if mother got a chuckle out of it. Sadly, I think not.
No words pass between me and Kay, my first wife, either, for good cause, which I’ve just gone into, and now, it appears, between me and Lynn my second wife, her choice, hire a killer attorney, bring in the courts, get an order, no problem, too bad.
Feuds are a bit different. It takes two to feud, and the participants often sustain each other in the process.
One cannot overlook what might be called the “fun” feuds known to showbiz. The most famous case perhaps being between Olivia de Havilland, and Joan Fontaine. Others come to mind, that other Joan, Collins, with her sister Jackie.
There was indeed a feud between Lynn and her sister Vanessa and brother Corin, Vanessa acting as though unaware of it, with that kind of disassociated grandeur usually claimed by an older sibling. But now I’m glad to see that they are together again, with Lynn once again back to playing the dog. Woof woof! I hope it lasts. At least the work continues to flow for her.