No parent evident in cluttered world of Woody and Mia

ALICE STEINBACH

April 08, 1993|By ALICE STEINBACH

If there is one clear message emerging from the sad, tawdry Woody Allen-Mia Farrow custody suit now being heard in New York, it's this: Neither Woody or Mia seems to have the slightest idea of what it means to be a parent.

Nor, apparently, what it feels like to be a parent.

There's little evidence, judging from the daily press reports, that either the self-absorbed Woody or the self-indulgent, child-collecting Mia is endowed with the quality that lies at the heart of the parent-child relationship: parental empathy.

All parents -- or almost all -- know exactly what parental empathy is. It's the sinking feeling you get when your child is unhappy or not doing well in some aspect of life. Or the buoyant feeling you experience when the opposite is true, when your child prospers and is happy.

Parental empathy is not about being a perfect parent. Or even a good one. It's about understanding and responding to your child's feelings.

Or to put it another way: Parental empathy is the Richter scale of your child's emotional fault lines, one you constantly monitor. And whatever tremors are felt by your child are felt by you also.

But when one reads the testimony given by Woody, Mia and the army of therapists who seem to have acted as parental figures not only to the Farrow children but to Woody and Mia as well, it's clear that parental empathy was sadly missing in both adults.

It seems equally clear that neither Woody -- who seeks custody of Satchel, 5, Dylan, 7, and Moses, 15, on the grounds that their mother is unfit -- nor Mia seems to have a clue or care about what's in the best interest of their children.

If they did, Satchel, Dylan and Moses would have been spared the nightmare of a public trial, the emotional debris of which will follow them all their lives.

The presiding judge, Elliott Wilk, attempted to lessen the impact upon the children by barring the press from the courtroom during certain testimony. But it proved to be too little, too late.

Stories of the sad and troubled lives of Satchel and Dylan spilled out from the courtroom daily and found their way into newspapers across the country.

We learned that both children were in therapy at early ages: Satchel at 3 and Dylan at 5. Satchel, according to his therapist, was working on his "aggression" at age 3.

More serious-sounding is the description of Dylan, the adopted daughter of Mia's who was later adopted by Woody and who is the child he was accused of molesting. She is described by her therapist as a "very confused" and "fragmented" child "who lives in her own fantasy world."

Further testimony revealed that Dylan at times was so out of touch that her parents feared she might be schizophrenic.

Court testimony also included the contents of a letter from Moses to his adoptive dad, Woody. "Everyone knows not to have an affair with your son's sister," Moses wrote.

"You have done a horrible, unforgivable, needy, ugly, stupid thing."

And what was Mia's answer to Woody's lawyer when asked if she could allow Dylan and Moses to love their father? That was up to them, she said, explaining: "They have their therapists."

As everyone seems to have. Woody, of course, has more than one: He was seeing two therapists last year. And Mia testified that her daughter Soon-Yi Previn, now romantically involved with Woody, was sent as a child to a private school run by psychiatrists because she had difficulties in regular schools.

By the way, does it surprise you to learn that among those covering the trial is a reporter from Psychology Today? The Woody-Mia menage sounds more like group therapy than a family.

Although Mia did plan, according to testimony, to leave her children to Woody in her will.

As for Woody's parental empathy, he admitted on the witness stand that the three children he seeks custody of had never spent a night at his apartment. And that he'd never taken them to the barber or given them a bath or attended a parent-teacher conference for biological son Satchel.

Which raises the question: Does Woody plan to take a more personal interest in these kids if he does win custody of them? Or are we looking at round-the-clock nannies?

But the real question is this: Has either of these parents ever looked a child in the eye and felt a piercing pain in the heart? I speak here of the pain that mobilizes the caring, empathetic parent into a protector, someone who will do anything to spare the child from such pain.

It is, after all, what parents are for.

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