A brave dad battles parental alienation
By Carey Roberts
The elemental bond that links fathers with their children is the subject of ancient poetry, biblical legend, and even diplomatic stand-offs. Remember Homer's epic saga of Odysseus and Telemachus? The New Testament tale of the prodigal son? And of course the Elian Gonzalez case.
Xavier Quinta was born on June 24, 1998 to Bennett Vonderheide and Wendy Flanders of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. But the relationship went sour and the couple separated.
In February 2003 the judge awarded custody of Xavier to his mother, ordering that he spend two days a week with his father. But Flanders soon decided to ignore the judge's order, at first restricting visits to only two hours a day, and then thwarting all contact for months at a time.
But that wasn't enough, so Flanders schemed to alienate Xavier from his father.
According to the contempt motion, Flanders first withheld information from Ben, refusing to advise him about school programs, teacher conferences, or even the name of the kindergarten where Xavier would be attending.
She then fabricated multiple allegations of abuse, a claim of fear being the only proof she needed. Then she used these unproven accusations to show Xavier that his father was a perp. On the advice of counselors, the father once made several telephone calls to the child. The mother then claimed those calls amounted to harassment. The district attorney later dismissed the ridiculous charge.
Next she resorted to outright manipulation. One day Flanders informed the father he wouldn't be allowed to see his son for Christmas Eve. Then she had the child dress up in anticipation of the father's visit. When the father didn't arrive, she used that as proof the father was a deadbeat.
And finally, Flanders violated a key requirement of the custody order that neither make "derogatory comments about the other parent." Instead, she waged a campaign of calumnies, repeatedly calling Ben a liar and abuser.
Once Xavier introduced his father to his classmates as, "This is my Daddy – he is filled with hatred and anger" – a phrase that a five-year-old boy is unlikely to come up with on his own.
But as Xavier grew older, he began to realize that he was caught in the middle of a high stakes tug-of-war. He said he didn't want his mother to control him, and much to her dismay wanted to spend more time with dad.
That gave Vonderheide his opening. He decided to stop the mother from turning the child's transfer into a screaming confrontation. At the next visit, the father sat calmly on a bench, and cast his best "I'm not sure what game you're playing but I'm not interested" look. Problem solved.
Once accused of being "the worst dad in the world," Vonderheide pointed out to his son that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden had killed thousands of persons. "So I'm at least the third worst dad in the world," dad humorously concluded.
Sometimes Xavier got so angry that he refused to eat. So his father concocted a sumptuous dessert. "This is just for daddy – I know you really want this good creamy stuff but you can't have it." Vonderheide teasingly added, "I don't want any of my sweet stuff to be taken by the sugar monster." Of course Xavier couldn't resist that challenge.
Last month Wendy Flanders was found guilty on three counts of making false statements to law enforcement officials, fined, and placed on probation. And Ben Vonderheide's record was expunged on many of the counts against him. The battle cost him $350,000 in legal expenses.
Ben recounts this inspirational song by Edwin McCain:
These are the moments I thank God that I'm alive,
On Sunday, 8-year-old Xavier spent Father's Day with his dad. They planned to play laser tag, go for a hike, and maybe take in a movie.
Father and son, reunited.
Carey Roberts is a Staff Writer for The New Media Alliance. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.