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Choices of the Heart: Readers' responses

Here are some reader responses to the second in a three-part series, Choices of the Heart. In this installment, John McHugh, on the brink of divorce, is trying to decide how far to take a legal fight to get his 7-year-old daughter back to the United States. The girl lives in Brazil with her mother.

Your article in yesterday's Globe in regards to John McHugh and his daughter was beautifully written and more than touched my heart.

This is a real story about real people facing real situations. I can't get it off my mind.

As a single mother, I could never keep my boys from having a day to day relationship with their father. It's part of my responsibility as their mother and their parent.

As a mother, a woman and a single parent, I applaud his tenacity and devotion. My own legacy is one of a single mother who made my relationship with my father almost impossible. What Chiara's mother doesn't know, is the ramifications of what she is doing. It creates a lifetime of emotional hardships mostly in relationships. It can effect the next couple of generations. I am proof of that.

Thanks again for the front page article.

Regards, Jane

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Here's something that you might want to pass on to John McHugh & Chiara.

Hi, here's an idea that has worked well with telephone communication in our family: Playing games over the phone - here's how it works, depending on the age of the child.

Guess Who - buy 2 sets of the game Guess Who. Send the child either the blue or red half of the game and a full set of cards. Play over the phone as per the usual rules of the game. (This one works particularly well) You each have a board and full set of cards, each person choses a person (kept secret from the other player) Take turns guessing the identity of the other player's person - example: does your person have white hair? If the answer is no, close all the people with white hair. Process of elimination - until one player guesses the correct person first. You can move on to play tournaments, best of 3-5 games.

Monopoly Junior - Buy two sets of the game, send one to child. You each keep the game set up at your end of the phone. Each player handles the bank, and each player moves two markers around the board. (so that you can see where the other player is) Each person rolls the die for themselves, tells the other player what they rolled and moves both the other person's marker that number of spaces. This does not have to be completed in one phone call, depending on time.

Lots of games can be adapted to be played over the phone, it's fun and engages the child in more interaction with the parent who is not close by.

If you have any questions regarding this and other games that divide easily, you are welcome to contact me via email or phone.

Janice Rogers

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This story hit upon one of the key issues surrounding children who are caught in the crossfire of divorce. Children deserve to have a rich and rewarding rapport with both parents. It is indeed unfortunate that the legal system does not encourage equal parenting and force those who will not share to undergo special therapy to help them understand that children who are used as weapons will be harmed in same way now or in the future.

Litigation only encourages a battlefield mentality and should be avoided at all costs for both financial and good will measures.

I am a well educated very stable mother of 3 teens who has been going through this battle for 4 years and because the kids were and are used as pawns we have almost no contact. The wonderful relationship we once shared has been placed on hold.

The scars are life long for all involved. The Charlie Sheen custody battle is a prime example of the inability of adults to co-parent for the benefit of their children.

I am involved with a mothers group that is working to educate the public, teachers, counselors, clergy, DSS, Judges, lawyers and any one who will listen about the child victims of divorce wars.

Celeste Campbell

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I read with interest the excellent front page story, by Patricia Wen, in the Monday September 24th Boston Globe, "Torn by distance, he wonders how far to take custody fights."

One does not have to cross continents to understand that this type of custody situation occurs daily, even when parents live just one mile away.

Every day, fathers are torn on how far to take a custody fight. With legal fees between $250 to $600 for each hour, it is a gut wrenching fight in our family and probate courts, one that they often can't afford. Without a Presumption of Shared Parenting, fathers often try fruitlessly to stay involved in their kids lives with minimal results. They are often thrown out of their kids lives and are thrown into poverty by unfair and unreasonable child support and alimony orders.

The most telling statement by John McHugh is his unselfish comment, "I'm not really even asking that she be without her mother",..."What I'm asking is that she not be without her father." This question is asked over and over again by dads across this great state and nation. All Mr. McHugh, and, most dads want, is to "participate in the life of my daughter", their children, while they are young.

Fathers are torn between a long legal battle and the protection of their child's mental state when such a battle ensues. It is a gut wrenching decision. People say "they will get older." But why should dads miss out on their children's childhood and why should children have to miss out on their fathers during their childhood. THEY SHOULD NOT.

All fathers want is to have parenting time too. Passing a Presumption of Shared Parenting, (here in Massachusetts it is Representative Colleen Garry's Bill, House Bill 1460), would help countless numbers of children and their fathers to grow up together. We should pass it today.

Dr. Peter G. Hill

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Thank you for your Choices of the Heart series in the Globe this week.

These stories give others, like myself, in similiar situations some reassurance that we are not going through this alone. My husband, a Brazilian native, has been detained for the last month at Suffolk County Jail and will be deported Saturday. He is married to me, an American citizen, and we have two children ages 4 months and three years. To add to the stress, his father passed away on September 11th and he was not able to call home.

I am now faced with the difficult and complicated decision of whether to move to Brazil. I did this once before with my son who was at the time 3 months old. Then I knew it was only a temporary solution, but now it would most likely be a permanent move. Is this best for me? Is this best for my children? What about my husband? Also, floating in the back of my mind the Brazilian law in which the Brazilian parent must give permission for the other parent and children to leave Brazil. What's to say I go to Brazil for awhile and decide I want to head back to the U.S. Will my husband grant me permission to leave with our children? These are indeed the Choices of the Heart.

Thank you for opening people's eyes to the daily stresses and frustrations families are going through.

Best, Lindsay

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Great article today. Although it hit home with me, hopefully thousands of readers will be touched by your talent presented in this story.

Regards, Peter C. Leary

------------------------------------------------ I'm very moved by John McHugh's story. I hope he gets lots of input more profound than any I'm capable of.

That said, I can identify with John on a number of issues. My first marriage ended when my son was 2 (and had recently been diagnosed with autism). My ex-wife moved to Florida when he was about 7 or 8, and many friends criticized me for not fighting the move. I had been trying (and succeeding, I think) to be the best dad I could during the years before the move, but I reasoned that I was never going to get on with my life, and potentially find love and happiness for myself, if I didn't let them go. I came to see the Florida move as my ticket to freedom, and I've felt a fair amount of guilt ever since.

I did find love and happiness, and now have a life I wouldn't trade for any; a life that includes a daughter, now 13. I can confirm for John that these years, when his daughter is 7, 8, 9, and 10, are the greatest imaginable. I pray that the closeness I had with my daughter during those years will return at some point, but, so far, the 11-13 and beyond years are not nearly as daddy-centric, and I now enjoy a slightly different role in her day to day life. John and I are about the same age, and I find his commitment to parenting impressive, to say the least. I can identify with his "never quit" attitude, but I wonder if he might open his mind to allow a little "quit" to improve his situation.

There comes a time in many situations where one might have to accept that the original goal needs to be redefined. John strikes me as a gamer, and he if were, say, a starting pitcher, I'd expect that he'd be aiming to pitch a complete game; that he would want to fight on, even in the face of difficulty; that he would believe in his own ability to persevere. At 47, John might be able to also identify with the manager or pitching coach, who, for the good of the team, might be in a better position to decide that the pitcher is done for the day. He can win, or he can continue, but he can't do both.

What I'm saying is that John needs to really simplify this situation and decide what he wants within the range of what's plausible, as opposed to what he'd want ideally. He might have been thinking that the idea of his ex moving back to the US was a reasonable expectation, or that she'd allow some 6 month here/6 month there custody arrangement, or any number of other scenarios that he has every right to believe should happen. Were it me, I wouldn't waste my time on those dreams. I'd resign myself to a simple choice: I can have a life with my daughter, or I can a life in the US. Me?

I'd quit the job and move to Brazil.

I also know a little bit about what must John must feel for his company, and his loyalty to them. I had been with a Fortune 100 company for 7 years, when, in 2002, I was laid off, then found myself diagnosed with non-Hodgekins Lymphoma. When made aware of my condition---via inquiries about COBRA coverage---my company offered to hire me back, at full salary while on disability throughout my 7 months of treatment. They accommodated me during my slow return to full strength, which took all of six months, at which time I came to feel I could not do that job any longer. I had come to believe that life was too precious to waste each day doing something I didn't completely love, but I felt I owed something to my company, for they had stood by me so supportively. I received some great advice---from an astrologer, of all people---that allowed to make my decision. She told me that the company's support of me was not just for me, that it benefited them too. Think about that. It's like when you do a good deed, like helping someone carry their groceries, or chasing after someone with the money you saw them drop. You don't want a reward; the doing of the deed was reward enough, wasn't it? That's how the company 'feels', or should.

I know John tried life in Brazil, and he missed America, but now he's in America and misses Brazil, insofar as Brazil is Chiara, for now. I say suck it up and go; America will always be here for you, and, as John said, Chiara will only be 7 once.

I truly wish the best for the whole family.

Edward Onessimo

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An open letter to John McHugh:

Keep loving your daughter! Tough choices to make...life in Brazil with your daughter or a life in th US without her. I have three children 8, 10 and 15 (the middle is a girl). I am also going to have an ex-soon...as soon as possible. This was his choice. But who gets hurt? our children...I also come from a divorced family and I lived with my Dad and two brothers. My mother was an unfit mother. I survived and am now flourishing and so our my children. But...the love my Dad gave me is what made me strong. Life is always full of challenges. The fact that she gets on the phone and talks to you...is proof in her love for you. My childrens father lives just a few miles away. They refuse to talk to him on the phone most nights. (he has the option of coming to the house to see them anytime he wants, but he chooses the phone he told me it just doesn't fit in his schedule...) Some days I think about the divoce and how it effects our children but he has been gone for over a year and a half. The issue isn't the divorce, the issue is his priorities.

I honestly don't know the answer...It doesn't seem fair that a court should determine the life of our children. It also seems nuts that two people can't work things out who shared the intimacy of having a child. Being a parent is a selfless job. The days can be long but the rewards endless....Listen to her, be there for her and never give up your love. Children want to know they are loved, liked and important. The nightly phone calls make her feel loved, liked and important. You give her time on the phone. We all want to know we are important enough to get the most precious gift of all...TIME.

Barbara

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