I think it’s fair to say we all read the letters. First there was daughter Dylan’s painful missive, the anguished confession of a 28-year-old young woman still dealing with unspeakable (and yet spoken) trauma she allegedly endured at the hands of a man she should have been able to trust most—her father. Who happens to be famous. Extremely famous.
And then Woody Allen’s response—a self-serving, selfish missive also filled with too much information, his active hatred of Dylan’s mother Mia Farrow still evident in every line of indignant prose (See Gawker for the most recent missile fired in this ugly skirmish).
I’m not sure why either of them decided to air this painful trauma in public. I’m even less sure why Nicholas Kristof and the New York Times decided this was news fit to print.
It sure got our attention. And plenty of people weighed in, supporting Dylan, supporting Allen, resurrecting the painful divorce that made scorching headlines so many years ago.
In the interests of full disclosure, I have been guilty of writing letters like Allen’s in the past. They have now been hidden from this blog, where some of them were originally published, because I have realized that I was wrong to write what I did and to share it in a public space, even though I thought I was doing so anonymously, and even though I felt justified at the time. My divorce six years ago was unexpected, traumatic, and continues to be high conflict, much like Mia Farrow’s and Woody Allen’s—and the people hurt the worst in those kinds of divorces are the children. That is undoubtedly true in Farrow and Allen’s case, and it is undoubtedly true in mine.
I learned over several years to disengage by honestly assessing my own behavior and realizing that I was wrong to air the gory details in public. This does not mean that I agree with my ex-husband—we disagree about everything from the reason for our divorce to what kind of socks our children should wear (I wish I was exaggerating, but I am not). But the fact that we disagree does not mean he is an evil person—far from it. We are just really, really not supposed to be together.
I’m now taking a Conflict Management course in my Ed.D. program, and I’m finally starting to understand why conflagrations like these can continue unabated for so many years, and why they can flare up so viciously, even years after the initial event.
When everyone is still a victim, there can be no resolution.
When narratives continue to compete, there can be no happy ending.
In these situations, I sometimes doubt whether the participants are looking for resolution at all. They actually seem to want the conflict—and the drama—to continue. Commentators on the Dylan Farrow/Woody Allen road accident wanted to know who was right, and what was true. I would argue that this is not a useful question. The real question to ask is, “How do we move past this?”
One thing that definitely doesn’t help is rehashing the whole painful thing in public. I’m speaking more to Allen here than to Dylan. Sharing her story may serve the greater good of helping others to confront the pain of their own childhood abuse, to speak their truth, and to move past it toward healing. But ultimately, now that Dylan is an adult, she is responsible for her own happiness, no matter how traumatic her childhood was. I know this statement seems harsh. But plenty of people move past horrific victimhood to embrace happy, productive lives as adults. I hope this becomes Dylan’s story.
And I hope we never have to read any of it in the New York Times again.