Sunday, 26 November 2006
The People - MY PARENTS' BITTER DIVORCE TORE ME APART FOR 10 YEARS.. TILL I RAN AWAY FROM MUM TO BE WITH DAD I HARDLY KNEW
TEENAGER'S HEARTFELT PLEA TO WARRING COUPLES EVERYWHERE
HIGHLIGHT: TRAUMA: Lisa felt robbed of a normal childhood
PRETTY Lisa Harris has been enjoying a special Christmas with her dad - after a bitter parental feud meant they were banned from seeing each other for TEN years.
Her childhood was ripped apart by an endless round of custody battles until she finally ran away from her mum to live with the Fathers 4 Justice campaigner she hardly knew.
Now 18, Lisa has spoken for the first time about her traumatic upbringing, revealing: "It was a nightmare being pulled in both directions by my parents.
"I want to tell my story on behalf of all the voiceless children whose lives are being torn apart in the same way."
Determined Lisa told how she was:
- DEVASTATED at six when her mum moved her and her two sisters out of the family home and then divorced.
- HEARTBROKEN at eight when the courts banned her dad Mark from seeing them.
- STUNNED at 10 when he was sent to prison for waving to her on the way to school.
- HORRIFIED when she saw him on TV picketing as a Fathers 4 Justice campaigner outside a judge's home.
Lisa vividly recalls the Saturday in November 1993 when her nightmare began.
She said: "Dad had gone to the football. As soon as he left, relatives turned up and my sisters and I were taken off to the house of an auntie we hardly knew.
"One minute we were normal kids living a normal family life. The next we were in a rented house with dad hammering at the door demanding to be allowed to see us."
At first Lisa and her sisters, aged four and two, had regular contact with their dad - but it was not to last.
Lisa recalled: "When he came to collect us I'd see him and mum talking and pray that they were sorting things out.
"I was desperate for them to get back together. I wanted him back putting me in the bath, reading me bedtime stories and helping me with my homework. Instead we had to cram our relationship into the few short hours we spent together.
"Then a few months later we suddenly lost even that. Dad stopped seeing us and being a child I thought it was because of something I had done wrong."
In fact, Mark Harris had been banned from seeing his kids by law because their mum believed his visits were upsetting them.
"I didn't know that dad wasn't allowed to see us," said Lisa. "I started to feel angry with him for abandoning us."
Lisa started to recognise a pattern in her mum's behaviour. "Every time she came downstairs in her suit it meant she was going to court to argue about us with dad.
"She always came back with a headache and didn't want to play with us or talk. I felt guilty, wondering if it was all because of me." Over the following years, Lisa's parents went to court more than ONE HUNDRED times in custody battles.
To show the kids he loved them, he started slowly driving past the house. And he'd stand on a street corner and wave to them as they went to school.
But his actions breached an order forcing him to stay away - and he spent 45 days in jail.
"I was 10 and it was too distressing for me to think of my dad behind bars," said Lisa. "So in my head I turned him into the bad man I thought he must be to have gone to prison. It was easier that way."
Lisa had to endure a parade of social workers quizzing her about how she felt about her dad. She said: "They'd ask if I wanted to see him. They said I didn't have to if I didn't want to.
"I started wondering if things might get better if I went along with that. Maybe then the social workers might leave us alone to get on with our lives.
"Most of all I thought it might make mum happy again. So I forced myself to hate him - it was so much easier than loving him."
Mark came out of jail, only to be sent back inside for a further 84 days for a new breach. This time he went on hunger strike - and joined Fathers 4 Justice. Lisa recalled: "One night I was watching the news and there was my dad on TV. He was protesting outside the home of a judge who'd banned another father from seeing his kids.
"I felt ashamed and embarrassed and just wished my dad would let it go." More recently another Fathers 4 Justice member protested as Batman at Buckingham Palace.
But at 16 Lisa had a change of heart towards her dad. She said: "I had a row with mum - I'd started rebelling and staying out late. I marched out and rang dad from a phone box.
"I was only going to do it to hit out at mum. I was sick of her running my life.
"But as soon as I heard my dad's voice I wanted to cry. I blurted out I wanted to see him and I loved him."
This time a sympathetic judge ruled that Lisa was free to live with her dad, a driving instructor in Plymouth, if that was her choice. Lisa said: "Finally, after all those years, it was over.
"It was hard at first. The last time I'd seen my dad I was 10 and still wearing knee socks. Now I was a young woman with a boyfriend. He looked older and worn down by it all, but our love for each other was stronger than ever." Mark, 45, says: "The battle to see my children broke my heart and I worried about the effect it had on them, but giving up was not an option."
Lisa's mum still feels her own pain. She said: "Anything Lisa has said has been influenced by her father. I do not believe anything she has to say should be published. She has only just turned 18 and is still a minor in my eyes."
Lisa said: "I love BOTH my parents. Surely I'm allowed to do that - isn't it every child's right to love their mum and dad?
"I would tell any parent fighting over their kids to put your pain to one side and listen to your children."
Posted by Devoted Dad at 17:07