ZAHN: In tonight's
eye-opener, a troubling syndrome that's
tearing many children and parents
apart is one that can be especially
painful at times like Father's Day.
While most kids were spending time
with their dads yesterday, others
went out of their way to avoid their
fathers all together yesterday and
experts say a growing number of children
whose parents divorce are being taught
by one parent that the other, in many
cases, the father, is a monster. And
the devastating results are detailed
in this month's "Best Life"
magazine. Jason Carroll has more in
JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT:
It is the end of another family get
together at the Opperman home. These
should be happy occasions but there
are only bittersweet for Jeff Opperman.
They remind him of a time before his
contentious divorce, before he was
alienating from his youngest son,
a son who now wants nothing to do
JEFF OPPERMAN, DIVORCED FATHER: I
remember the child who would come
get me at night when he had a bad
dream. I remember the child who wanted
to play baseball with me. That child
doesn't exist anymore.
CARROLL: The last time Opperman saw
his youngest son, he was 11 years
old. That was six years ago. Now Opperman's
only connection to him are through
class photos, sent to him by his son's
school once a year. His mother did
not want us to show his face.
OPPERMAN: It is incredibly difficult
for me. One day a year, when these
pictures show up, I'm transported
back in time and I relive the pain,
all the anger, all the frustration
of losing my child to parental alienation.
CARROLL: Parental Alienation Syndrome
or PAS, some psychologists call it
a form of brainwashing. It is what
happens during a divorce when one
parent deliberately destroys a child's
relationship with the other parent,
by bombarding the child with negative
comments and feelings of hostility
like in the Oscar nominated movie,
"The Squid and the Whale."
CARROLL: It is not just in the movie.
The author of a recent book on PAS
says in real life it's deep rooted
effects are felt by millions of children.
DR RICHARD WARSHAK, PSYCHOLOGIST:
It as though they are developing the
kind of hatred that people develop
when they have a racial hatred, when
they hate people just because they
are of another race. They focus only
on perceived negatives.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I hated by dad,
I hated myself.
CARROLL: For years this 17-year-old
girl whose identity we concealed for
her privacy believed her father wanted
nothing to do with her after her parents'
nasty divorce. She was just eight
when her mother started telling her
that her father never wanted to see
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I thought he didn't
love me. I thought he didn't want
me anymore. I felt if my own dad didn't
love me or want me, then who would.
CARROLL: But, when she got older and
visited her father, she realized she
had been lied to all of these years.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It really made
me see that my dad couldn't be the
person my mom was making him out to
be. He was so loving.
CARROLL: So loving, in fact, she decided
to move in with him and is much happier
now. Those who have studied PAS say
most children never return to the
WARSHAK: What is washed out of their
minds are any memory of having a good
relationship with the parent. They
really act, in many ways, like victims
of cults do.
CARROLL: Experts say mothers are usually
the ones accused of PAS because courts
typically grant them primary custody.
Skeptics worry abusive fathers will
use PAS against mothers to gain access
to their children or to avoid child
DR. AMY NEUSTEIN, SOCIOLOGIST: The
PAS label sticks to the mother like
glue. And that's very, very dangerous.
CARROLL: As in many difficult divorces,
the two sides in Jeff Opperman's case
disagree. A Superior Court judge said
both parents bear some responsibility
for the dilemma, but the judge in
the case also said the court believed
that the main responsibility rests
with the wife, who allegedly sent
the son wrong messages about his father.
Opperman's ex-wife told CNN she didn't
bad mouth him and encouraged her children
to have a relationship with their
father, adding Opperman is being vindictive.
Opperman is thankful for now to have
a relationship with his older son.
GREG OPPERMAN, CHILD OF DIVORCE: It
was like I was trying not to play
favorites and there is a lot of pressure
to be someone's favorite.
CARROLL: On June 5, Opperman reached
out to his son again. This time he
sent an email. It reads: "I'll
always be your dad no matter how old
we get. I'll love you and miss you."
The response like the others over
OPPERMAN: That's what happens. Not
CARROLL: If he does choose to respond,
he says that he will be there for
him. Jason Carroll, CNN, Fort Lauderdale,
ZAHN: Tough road ahead there. Another
thing we would like to add is a thank
you to our friends at "Best Life
Magazine" for their help in getting
this story on the air.
Please write an thank them for covering
this very important issue. It will
help in possibly getting more attention,
that is greatly needed.