The author’s custody battle highlights the oppression of divorced fathers in this rancorous memoir.
Wesley Weiss, hero of this slightly fictionalized account of the author’s hideous mid-1980s divorce and its aftermath, finds himself in a war for the hearts and presence of his three young daughters. His adversary is his ex, “Dea,” whose vengefulness approaches that of her mythic namesake. The main front is Dea’s efforts to curtail Wes’ access to their kids through tactics manifold and devious—sudden changes in visitation schedules, frosty hand-overs that make every outing between father and daughters feel like a prisoner exchange at the Berlin Wall, the cutting off of phone and mail contact, false charges of child abuse over a skinned knee. Every detail of Wes’ paternal doings is governed by fraught (and often eye-glazing) negotiations and judicial proceedings supervised by expensive lawyers and court-appointed therapists. Worst of all is the “parental alienation” caused by Dea’s poisoning of the kids’ feelings toward Wes; every estranged dad will feel a pang of recognition at his awkward relationship with his once-loving daughters, who grow so sullen, aloof and militantly resistant to his overtures that bystanders mistake him for a predator stalking them. The author, a psychology professor and fathers’-rights activist, hangs on this narrative a lengthy indictment of Wisconsin divorce law and society’s disparagement of the male parental role. (In a subplot, Wes launches a second custody battle when he is misled by a married woman’s promises into begetting a son.) There’s a palpable bitterness at what Wiederholt perceives as female deceit and manipulation, feminism’s double standards and bias in the legal system. Wes resents wives who expect husbands to support them financially and girlfriends who want boyfriends to pay for dates; he takes to filing spiteful nuisance motions and gloats when a judge dies of cancer. The reader senses that there may be another side to the story that isn’t coming through. Still, Wiederholt crafts a moving evocation of a divorced father’s feelings of anguish and ostracism.
A vivid, if one-sided, saga of familial disaffection and twisted justice.