Woman Finds Alienated Father After 44 Year Search was last modified: January 17th, 2020 by Howard Iken
Dawn McCarty, she is the chairperson of the National Parenting Organization.

Woman Finds Alienated Father After 44 Year Search

Video Transcript

Tom Lemons: 

Hi, I’m Tom Lemons with the Ayo & Iken Report. Today, we have Dawn McCarty, she is the chairperson of the National Parenting Organization, a chapter here in Florida. And she’s here to talk to me today about some of the things and some of the work she’s doing here in the state to try to correct and bring awareness to laws that just aren’t working equally among parents. And she has a few other things that she’s going to do. She’s going to tell us a personal story of her own that really drove her to enter this type of work. And we’re going to talk about some other things. So Dawn, thank you for joining us today.

Dawn McCarty:  

Thank you for having me. Appreciate it.

Tom Lemons: 

Great. So Dawn, you are a part of this organization, the NPO of Florida?

Dawn McCarty:   

Yes

Tom Lemons: 

Can you tell us a little bit about that and then obviously give me a little information on how you decided to join the group?

Dawn McCarty:

Sure. National Parenting Organization has been around for quite a while. I mean it’s reaching out more on a state level and starting to develop state affiliates so that we can help get more people involved in a national effort to educate parents and also change laws in each state, because each state has different laws. So we just started our affiliation here in Florida back in October, so we’re brand new. We’re just trying to build a team and get things going. We got some really great things brewing up and it sounds like it’s going to be a really great effort. And there’s things going on already in our state, which is good. We just need to see how those turn out and then how can we improve upon them [crosstalk 00:01:46].

Tom Lemons: 

And I know that you’re also working with a, we’ll get into it more later, with Erasing Family documentary. We did a story on that recently. But you actually, when you joined the NPO and then decided to become a part of this Erasing Family film, you have a personal story of your own that kind of drove you there, right?

Dawn McCarty:

Yes.

Tom Lemons: 

Do you mind telling us a little bit about it?

Dawn McCarty:

Sure. So I am a child of an abduction and being erased from my father. So this happened when I was four years old. I was taken out of that environment, thrown into a new environment and raised with a whole separate step family, more or less. And wasn’t really accepted by the family. There was a lot of abuse and stuff that went on with my stepsister. And over the years, I still always wanted to find my dad. I never forgot him even though I was taken. So I’ve spent most of my life either dreaming or searching for him.

Tom Lemons:  

Wow.

Dawn McCarty:

As an adult, I looked and looked and I became a private investigator so I could use tools to try and find him. And I found him a couple of times, but he’d already moved. So it was like I’d get really close and then it just wasn’t there.

Tom Lemons: 

It was real. It was like you were doing some serious detective work-

Dawn McCarty: 

Actively working, yes.

Tom Lemons:  

… in finding your father.

Dawn McCarty: 

I mean, if you think about the name McCarty, his name’s Patrick. There’s thousands and thousands and I’ve talked to people in Australia and all over the world that have this name and-

Tom Lemons:  

And you had no idea where to start?

Dawn McCarty: 

I had no idea where to start. I knew we were in California at the time. We started here, I was born here in Florida and we’d lived in California. So, and I kept going back to California. Well, I hadn’t known that he had moved back to Florida. He also lived in Washington. So we’ve lived in the same states and we actually lived in Tarpon Springs at the same time for five months and we didn’t even know it. And then I lived in St. Petersburg in 1999 and he lived in Tarpon Springs. So we were so close several different times.

Tom Lemons: 

So … you could have just reached out and grabbed him and he just was gone again.

Dawn McCarty: 

Correct, yeah. So I started Facebook and I had found a marriage license with his wife’s name. And so I just started looking and I found somebody on Facebook that was married to the same name and I thought this has got to be him because I’ve done so much research that it had … and my mom didn’t give me his birthdate until 2012, I think, got his birthdate. So then I could start attaching that date to names and I was able to zero in a little better.

Tom Lemons:  

Wow. And then at some point you knew this is him.

Dawn McCarty:

This has got to be him. Everything is lined up. So I sent him a message on Facebook a couple of times and what do you do? Like, I’m your last daughter. So you have to be very careful approaching somebody you haven’t talked to in 44 years.

Tom Lemons: 

They might block you. It’s like this is a gag or something, right?

Dawn McCarty:   

I don’t know. As far as I know, he didn’t … I didn’t know if he wanted anything to do with me or not because that was severed. There was no communication between me and him after I was abducted. So I’ve gently reached out to him on Facebook saying I am looking for my father, et cetera, and waited and it was agonizing to wait. Well, he didn’t see the message. I didn’t know this. But in Facebook, there’s two different areas where you get messages.

Tom Lemons: 

It goes to like a spam folder or whatever.

Dawn McCarty: 

It’s either your friend’s message or you get the, yeah. So he hadn’t seen them and I sent another message just to follow up and I knew I could not reach out to his wife because that could be a shock. What if she didn’t know I even existed? I don’t want to cause problems. So then I started looking through their friends list and I found another common name between the two of them, Patrick Sean McCarthy, which is my brother. And I didn’t know it at the time, but I reached out to him and he’s like, “Yeah, I have a sister named Dawn.” And at that point I knew that I actually found my dad. So I asked him if he was interested in speaking to me. And within five minutes I was on the phone with my father.

Tom Lemons: 

Incredible.

Dawn McCarty:    

Yeah, it was amazing and it was shocking and I had a question that only he would know the answer to that I would know for 100% certain. If he knew the answer to this question, he was my dad. And so I asked him and right off the bat he knew exactly what to say.

Tom Lemons: 

I mean, I can’t imagine how you felt. I mean, was it just like-

Dawn McCarty: 

Adrenaline.

Tom Lemons:                … an overwhelming …

Dawn McCarty:  

Yes, it was overwhelming. So much healing takes place and you don’t realize it, but you cannot heal without the other person. I can’t just say, “Okay, I’m better. I’m okay, I’m going to be over this” because I still have half of my heart that’s missing, right. And he has half of his that’s missing. So neither one of us can heal without each other.

Tom Lemons:   

Just an empty space, right? It’s an empty space that never close.

Dawn McCarty:  

Yes. There’s questions that can’t be answered. So it does definitely take in for all of the children out there today, my message to them is, you cannot heal until you reach out to your parents. That’s another thing that we need to educate and help parents understand that you go on, you move on with another relationship, but the child’s relationship still exists and they don’t forget it. I never forgotten. So as I was growing up, I always thought back to him. I was never allowed to talk to him or talk about him. And I had to call her new husband. He was my dad from that point on. So the other one just stopped existing to her and that’s convenient.

Dawn McCarty:  

It’s nice that she got to create this family and move on but it didn’t help me move on.

Tom Lemons:  

No, no.

Dawn McCarty: 

That’s when I was approached by Erasing Family to become an ambassador.

Tom Lemons:  

Erasing Family was a film that we recently did a story on about stories just like Dawn’s who were families. Basically, the child is taken away by one of the parents and they don’t have the opportunity to be raised by both or even are told stories about the other parent that basically the child doesn’t want anything to do with the parent. So this was, again, another film that you should check and what’s the website for that?

Dawn McCarty:  

It’s erasingfamily.org and there’s a trailer right there on that front page that they can watch and get a really good idea of what the film’s about.

Tom Lemons:  

So it’s erasingfamily.org and you definitely should take a look at that. But back to Dawn, you said you found this organization and you decided to do what?

Dawn McCarty:  

Well, I started looking at the trailers and I started thinking, “Wow, I really relate to one of the protagonists in the film right off the bat.” In my mind I knew exactly what she had gone through herself. So I was starting to get really interested in it and I started to do whatever I could to participate. I actually went to a parents’ march and Washington, D.C., which I had no idea what I was in for.

Tom Lemons: 

Wow.

Dawn McCarty: 

But I was able to meet somebody from Erasing Family there and we were able to learn a lot. And then I got a little bit more information and involved. I decided to get more involved. So then later on that year, I went to two back-to-back screenings in Pennsylvania where Ginger was actually present. And I had spoken with Ginger several times through emails and on the phone, but I got to meet her in person and worked through that whole screening back to back. And that’s the first time I actually saw the full film. And I’ll tell you, it was definitely an eye opener and I could relate 100% with all of it. It was really done well. The message is very clear and she does a really good job of making it about … It’s about the children and changing statutes and the whole focus of the film is to expose the family bond obstructions and that’s done through the court systems.

Tom Lemons:  

And you were actually saying earlier that the big problem is each state with their unique laws and then backing up a little, how she went to Argentina and actually was able to …

Dawn McCarty:

Her first film.

Tom Lemons: 

Yeah, her first film was able to get the laws changed completely to where fathers had rights in Argentina, right?

Dawn McCarty:

Yeah, in Argentina, it was all for the moms. The moms were always given custody of the children and the fathers really didn’t have any rights. So her film helped change their laws. And then she came back to the United States and did one here and in a couple of other countries too. So this, the Erasing Family film stretched the borders a little bit more and has definitely expanded upon some of the issues here in the States and that it’s a global thing. It’s really a global thing.

Tom Lemons: 

Oh, I would imagine. Yeah, absolutely. And I’m sure it’s black and white different in various countries too, right? I mean, I’m sure-

Dawn McCarty: 

If you look at the United States, a bunch of just little smaller countries, so to speak. I mean we’re states but each state has their own statutes.

Tom Lemons: 

Now you were saying something about there’s a grading scale that was created that basically says one state gets an A, one gets a B, a C, whatever, based on their statutes, right?

Dawn McCarty:  

Yes.

Tom Lemons: 

So tell us here in Florida, what grade did we get on our statute?

Dawn McCarty:  

So Florida’s grade was, I think we’ve moved up to a C plus from a C or C minus, so we’ve moved up slightly. And that’s because of what has been done in the past to help try and promote a shared parenting bill, which in 2016 we did have a bill on the floor that was vetoed by our former governor, Rick Scott. So because there is more awareness and more efforts put into this, we did move up just a little bit in our grade. However, it’s not a good enough grade. We’re not doing enough.

Tom Lemons:  

So there are some states across the country who are doing very well. Was it Arizona or which ones?

Dawn McCarty:

Arizona got an A.

Tom Lemons: 

Wow!

Dawn McCarty:

And Kentucky’s the only state in our country that’s got an A plus.

Tom Lemons: 

That’s fantastic. Give me an example of some of the specific differences, if you can think of some, that cause the grades to fluctuate.

Dawn McCarty:   

So the grading system isn’t that our court systems did this or didn’t do that. Our grading system is based only on the statutes that our state holds. So based on our statutes, that’s our grade. Kentucky actually has the verbiage in their current statutes that is the presumption of equal parenting. So what we’re talking about is not 50/50, you get the child 50% of the time and I get it the other 50 or get him or her. It’s about equal parenting. So it’s 50/50 parenting. So you are always an equal parent all along.

Tom Lemons:  

So the precedence needs to be set in each state that it is not an ownership type thing. This isn’t a material item, it’s your child.

Dawn McCarty: 

You’re an equal parent to the child because of who you are to the child.

Tom Lemons: 

The bar starts there and then if there are issues that come along when you work from that point.

Dawn McCarty: 

So then you go from that, you’re working out the timeline, the scheduling. So you can’t say you get 50% of the time I get 50 because every family has different dynamics. They have different schedules, maybe both parents work, maybe only one works. So it has to work for the family as far as how often the child is where. The point is, is that children, and it doesn’t matter how long it takes them to drive to mom’s house or how long it takes dad to come and pick him up at school, it doesn’t matter in the long run because I’ve heard people say, “Well, the kid shouldn’t have to suffer the burden of traveling for an hour.” And I’ll disagree with them 100% because if you look at the time that they lose, let’s add up those hours.

Dawn McCarty:  

So if I had to spend an hour in a car to go see my dad, I lost 44 years, that’s 385 some odd thousand hours that I lost compared to one hour drive. So they have to look at both sides. I can’t just look at the one side of this and say, “Oh, we have to do better for the kids because you’re taking something from them.” Eventually, they are really going to need and that accumulates a lot worse.

Tom Lemons:  

Child wants to see their parent, especially younger children.

Dawn McCarty: 

It’s natural.

Tom Lemons:  

They either don’t want to know all this crazy adult stuff, or they don’t want to be involved on that crazy adult stuff, right? They just want to love both parents, right?

Dawn McCarty: 

Right, and what happens with the child, the child is an impressionable person. They rely on the trust that they have in their parents. So when a parent, someone that they absolutely trust is saying, this person is scary, the child is going to believe it because you told them. And so the child doesn’t automatically think that person’s scary because they have natural love for that parent. When you start telling them they’re scary, now they have doubt. And the child should never be doubting their parental relationships.

Dawn McCarty:

So an example is for me, when I was a child and I recall this a lot because of you just removed the parents out of it. So I’m a child and I wanted to go see my step grandfather. I didn’t know he was my step grandfather. I just knew he was my grandfather on my mom’s side and I wanted to visit him and my cousins were saying horrible things about him and I was instantly afraid of him from that point on.

Tom Lemons: 

Wow.

Dawn McCarty: 

None of that was true. They just wanted me to stay and visit with them so they made up this story so I wouldn’t go. The point is that children are impressionable and they believe those that they are … in that environment.

Tom Lemons:  

Would you consider something like that, and I’ve asked other guests that same question. Do you think that is a form of abuse for one parent to lie about the other parents?

Dawn McCarty: 

It’s manipulation and it’s called an emotional cutoff. You’re creating an emotional cutoff of that child’s relationship to their parent and children need those connections. It helps with their self-esteem. It helps establish them in the direction that they’re going to take in their life. It gives them motivation. It gives them values. There’s all kinds of things that are attached to having access to their parent and that bond. And when you sever the bond, you leave so much doubt and pain and trauma behind.

Tom Lemons: 

Well, I want to move on to a few other things before we run out of time. You also, so from this film, which you now are actively working in, I mean you are an associate producer of the film. You travel around the state and outside the state to put on these screenings, these premieres for Erasing Family. And so you’re active in that, but you’re also a guardian ad litem, right?

Dawn McCarty: 

Yes, I am.

Tom Lemons: 

So, I mean you are doing … In every area you’re trying to help children and families as often as you can.

Dawn McCarty:

And I had some motivation becoming a guardian ad litem because I needed to understand what a child that didn’t have … At first, I didn’t believe that the court cases affected me because I didn’t know about that affidavit up until June of this year so I had no idea. But I wanted to know because I thought, “Oh, my case wasn’t involved in the family courts” so I have no idea. So I decided to become a guardian ad litem so that I could learn what really happens in these situations.

Dawn McCarty: 

Now I’m a dependency guardian ad litem, not a private guardian ad litem, but I’m sure there’s a lot of similarities that-

Tom Lemons: 

Does that mean that you are basically appointed by the court or-

Dawn McCarty:

I’m appointed by the courts.

Tom Lemons: 

That’s how that works. Okay. Okay.

Dawn McCarty: 

Yeah. So I have just done this this year, only a couple of cases, but it’s really been an eye opener. And I can see now knowing what I know and what I’ve learned, I can see what’s going on in the dynamics of the family unit and all kinds of stuff. And a lot of things that parents go through when they’re self-medicating or they’re acting out or even the children are acting out, is this emotional imbalance that we have based off the trauma. So we’re reacting and we’re not healing.

Dawn McCarty:  

So we need to have that chronic trauma therapy. We need to bring this more full circle and help people because what we’re seeing is a bad reaction from the trauma that they suffered and we’re trying to fix it with certain things that can help. But it’s not a cookie cutter experiment. I mean we have to find real resources.

Tom Lemons: 

Absolutely. And I’m sure you’re learning a lot as you go along with these cases, have you seen any type of a trend? And I mean I’ve had people tell me that they see parents using that nonpolitically correct term, but parental alienation, things like that. Do you sense that or do you think that a lot of these cases are genuine and that these children really do need to be in a different situation?

Dawn McCarty: 

So it is true that there are certain phrases that create more conflict and it makes it harder to fight your case because parental alienation doesn’t have the correct diagnosis that you would need in court. So the first thing that happens is they don’t listen anymore. The real phrase that we should be using is an emotional cutoff because that can be diagnosed and then they can be worked with. So you need to have the correct, I don’t want to say correct, effective therapy with a PsyD. So you need a clinical psychiatrist that can actually diagnose the chronic PTSD symptoms, helping with those emotions, that kind of thing.

Dawn McCarty:

So there’s ways to rephrase the words we use and using parental alienation brings conflict and I’m sure you’re aware with different groups that they think people hide behind the meaning. And so we eliminate that from your vocabulary.

Tom Lemons:

And maybe but also find ways that we can correct it without using that term. Like you said …

Dawn McCarty: 

The emotional cutoff.

Tom Lemons: 

Emotional cutoff and maybe courts, would you suggest that courts and again, this is back to trying to change statutes and raise our grade here in Florida, but do you believe that these are things that should be part of any court case involving a child? That the child should be examined by a psychiatrist or something for emotional cutoff or should be examined by some type of …

Dawn McCarty: 

Well, yeah, and if it was up to me, I think anybody going through a divorce would have to go through this type of counseling so that you can learn what to not do, what to look for, how to recognize what’s going on. And the courts need to learn this as well because they get these cases, but they only see it when they’re in the courtroom. So they absolutely need to be able to recognize it. And as we’re using the correct language and they’re seeing things going on, it’s going to help have a more holistic outcome.

Tom Lemons:  

Sure, sure. I mean, and imagine the courts are just overflowing with cases too. I mean, it’s got to be … A lot of people want to blame the judge. And I mean, they are to blame and that’s a whole other story in some cases. But I mean, judges aren’t always default. It’s they’re only going by the statute.

Dawn McCarty: 

They go by the statutes.

Tom Lemons: 

Right. They go by their statutes in many case laws.

Dawn McCarty:

And in the film, you’ve seen the film.

Tom Lemons: 

Right.

Dawn McCarty:  

So in the film, you’ll recall the judge that said, “No, we don’t follow up. We can only deal with what we have right here.”

Tom Lemons:  

We have so many cases.

Dawn McCarty: 

So they make a ruling, but they don’t know what happened afterwards and they just can’t. So the rulings need to be more zeroed in on what actually helps the family heal.

Tom Lemons:   

And thankfully we have people like you out there, I mean, working for the National Parenting Organization, the Erasing Family’s work that they’re doing, and then also performing your duties as a guardian ad litem. I mean, you have just-

Dawn McCarty:  

And full-time job.

Tom Lemons:

And a full-time job. I mean, you are-

Dawn McCarty:  

And a full-time student.

Tom Lemons: 

Yeah, so … I mean you pretty much literally dedicated your entire life to somehow helping families and children.

Dawn McCarty: 

Definitely focusing.

Tom Lemons:  

Right. Right. Well, that’s such an honorable thing that you’re doing. Real quick, let’s remind our viewers about the websites so they can find out more about, let’s say, the National Parenting Organization. Do they have, for Florida, have its own designated website or do we go to the main website? How does that work?

Dawn McCarty:   

You go to nationalparentsorganization.org or if you want to look at the report card for your state, and this is any state, you go to sharedparenting.org and it’ll take you to the report card site and then you click on your state and then you can find out what statutes are doing good and what statutes need improvement. And there’s a lot of other information out there as well. And then the erasingfamily.org website for screenings and more about the film. There’s a trailer on the landing page. We’re having screenings coming up in the beginning of the year.

Tom Lemons:  

I was going to ask you, you’ve done several here in the state of Florida. You have a couple more coming up. Do you want to tell some real quick details about that?

Dawn McCarty:  

Sure, yeah. Yeah. We have done a couple here and it’s the Erasing Family Impact campaign. So what we’re doing is we’re taking this film and it’s sponsored by National Parenting Organization for Florida. So we’re combining the two and we’re taking it to every major city or any city that we can in the state of Florida so that we can educate the people, the residents in Florida, because as that information is spread, we also want to educate the young adults because they’re the ones going through this or had recently gone through this, and that’s where we start making change so the kids of today don’t have to go through what we’ve gone through.

Tom Lemons:  

Do you think this would be something good for school districts to adopt?

Dawn McCarty:  

Absolutely, yes.

Tom Lemons:

Okay.

Dawn McCarty: 

Yeah, school districts, universities, churches, anybody that is involved in community and in the children’s welfare. So mental health professionals, attorneys, courts, guardian ad litems. So we’re having a screening for the dependency court guardian ad litems here in Pasco County.

Tom Lemons:  

So Pasco. This would include the Pasco and Pinellas or-

Dawn McCarty: 

District Six. Yeah, sixth district.

Tom Lemons:  

Sixth circuit.

Dawn McCarty:

6th Circtuit, thank you.

Tom Lemons: 

And then you’re even going to try to do one for the fifth circuit at some point? Is that in the works?

Dawn McCarty: 

Yeah or if they, … Depending on how much room, and I just have to figure out the logistics, we might be able to combine it into one or have separate ones. We’ll do as many of these screenings that we can put on.

Tom Lemons:   

So obviously, this is not something that’d be done for free, right?

Dawn McCarty: 

Not free.

Tom Lemons:   

This organization needs help to keep bringing these screenings around to different areas. How can they help your organization?

Dawn McCarty: 

So I’m a volunteer, so a lot of this I do on my own time. So I have my own full-time job and I do this on my spare time. And to view the film, it doesn’t matter if it’s one person or 1,000 people, it’s $250 to be able to … It’s purchasing the license basically because of the contracting that’s going on for Netflix and HBO. They want this to be on those big platforms. We can only view this, because of the contract agreements, we can only view it in a screening by invitation. So that’s how come we have to do it this way until those contracts are met.

Tom Lemons:  

$250 really is nothing for something this important.

Dawn McCarty: 

You can sell tickets, someone can donate the money so if we charge $5 at the door, I mean there’s all kinds of ways that we can work through it. And we’re asking for donations for the guardian ad litem. Because I’m a guardian ad litem, I can’t charge my fellow guardian ad litems to see it.

Tom Lemons:      

And I can tell you the discussions, because again, we did attend one of these viewings, the discussions afterwards are just really enlightening. People share their opinions, they ask questions and Dawn is there and there’s other volunteers sometimes. So this is something very important for any community, especially here in Florida to help change the way our court systems work, how families treat each other or how parents treat each other and ultimately, how the child’s life develops and I think-

Dawn McCarty: 

Making lives happy. Making divorce healthier for children. We can’t stop divorce.

Tom Lemons: 

That’s right.

Dawn McCarty:

But we can make it better for the children.

Tom Lemons: 

Absolutely. Well, Dawn, thank you so much for joining me today.

Dawn McCarty: 

Thank you. I appreciate it.

Tom Lemons:  

I really appreciate you coming in.

Dawn McCarty:  

This is great. Thank you.

Tom Lemons: 

Thank you.

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