Every Child

Has Two Parents


By Mary McCarty and Lou Grieco

Staff Writers Updated 3:08 PM Sunday, August 15, 2010

By all accounts, Miyuki Swaim had trouble adapting to life outside her native Japan after marrying Kent Swaim in 1999.

Her English was not strong and her husband spoke only about 40 words of Japanese.

After reviewing her medical records, Montgomery County Juvenile Court Judge Judith King noted that Miyuki had made two suicide attempts and suffered from “severe depression as a result of being unable to adapt to another culture.”

But Swaim said his former wife mastered one part of American culture very well by exploiting the domestic-violence protocol, designed to protect potential victims, in order to spirit the children away to her native Japan.

Swaim hasn’t seen his children for two years, despite gaining custody from Montgomery County Juvenile Court. He’s been stymied in his attempts to have his sons returned because Japan is one of the only industrialized nations that doesn’t honor custody rights of parents from other countries.

His wife left the United States in 2008 with their sons William, then 8, and his brother James, 3, after claiming Swaim verbally abused her — an allegation he vehemently denies. The claim prevented the Air Force master sergeant from looking for his children and bought her time to return to Japan with the children.

Swaim believes that she manipulated well-meaning people — from the family pastor to a battered women’s shelter — to keep him away from his children until she procured plane tickets to Japan. “She is a smart woman and she planned the whole thing very carefully,” he said. “She gamed the system.”

‘She felt she was going to get dumped’

It was a chain of events that began, Swaim believes, in June 2008, when he delivered an ultimatum: Finally commit to mental health treatment or the marriage is over.

“I think that she felt that she was going to get dumped, and she would be stranded here in the United States, alone,” said Miyuki’s Dayton attorney, Eugene Robinson. He said that his client believed her husband was unfaithful — another charge Swaim insists is not true. “Whether it’s true or not, she got the hell out of dodge,” Robinson said.

The attorney said Miyuki’s intent was not to deny Swaim’s parental rights: “She was probably more concerned about her own sanity.”

Swaim had been in the Air Force for more than a decade when he met his future wife at an Okinawa ice cream shop. They were waiting in line, hit it off immediately and exchanged phone numbers.

She didn’t have an easy life, with an alcoholic, abusive father and a mother who worked several jobs to support the family. As the oldest child, Miyuki raised her brothers and sisters.

“She lost out on her childhood,” Swaim said, adding, “I like to be needed and I like to be wanted, and she did need me and want me.”

The couple married May 21, 1999, in Okinawa; their son William was born seven months later. The family was living in England, where Swaim was stationed at Lakenheath Air Force Base, when James was born in December 2004.

Miyuki was shy and insecure, and wouldn’t even go grocery shopping alone, Swaim said.

“She had a lack of confidence,” Robinson agreed.

Records from Lakenheath substantiate that Miyuki abused William, kicking him in the chest in 2003 after the boy, who was just shy of his fourth birthday, talked back to her.

Swaim said he came home and found his wife in a bedroom corner, curled up in the fetal position and crying. They went to the chaplain, who advised her to go to anger management class. She went to one class.

This, Swaim said, became part of a larger pattern. She would seek help, go to counseling, or take medication. Then, when she felt better, she would stop – and sink into depression again.

The abuse of the children continued, according to Swaim. “I’m actually very ashamed that I didn’t do something earlier,” he said.

Swaim said the abuse and neglect continued after he was transferred to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in 2006, and the family moved to Clayton: “She was so consumed with her depression, she slept 14 to 16 hours a day,” he said. “The kids were left on their own pretty much.”

‘Society assumes that the dad is the bad guy’

It’s not clear when Miyuki decided to skip town, or how long she had been planning it. Swaim said she finally got her driver’s license about six months earlier.

On the morning of July 8, 2008, Miyuki asked to borrow the family car so she could go shopping. When he didn’t hear from her all day, he hitched a ride home with a colleague.

Swaim was dropped off at his house, which was stripped of things no burglar would steal, including their framed Japanese marriage certificate. “They even took my daggone cats,” Swaim lamented. “It was an extra slap in the face, her taking the cats, for no apparent reason other than to try to hurt me.”Swaim feels the police would have responded very differently if he had taken the kids. “Society assumes that the dad is the bad guy,” he said. “If I had taken the children, there would be an all-points-bulletin, a statewide search, maybe an Amber alert.”

Lt. Matt Hamlin of the Clayton Police Department said officers made every effort they could, including calling Japan to find Miyuki. “We don’t favor anyone,” he said. “We couldn’t do anything at the time. They weren’t divorced.”

Swaim doesn’t know when Miyuki left the country, but he knows she had help.

The family’s pastor, the Rev. Tom Rand of Concord United Methodist Church, confirmed that Miyuki came to him in distress in July 2008. Citing pastoral confidentiality, he said in a written statement that he could not divulge what she said.

“My job at the time was not to evaluate the truth of her statements, but to encourage her to find the help she needed,” Rand said. “I gave her the phone number of a local social service agency that had the experience and expertise to provide support. She chose to call them and to leave her home to find immediate local refuge.”

Three days after Swaim learned his family was gone, he was contacted by base officials from the family advocacy office, investigating charges that he had verbally abused his wife. “They’re safe,” the officials told him, but they ordered him not to try to find his wife or kids during the two-week investigation.

Those charges were not substantiated by either base officials or persons contacted by a court-appointed guardian ad litem, according to a memo filed by Swaim’s attorney, Anne Shale.

“It bought her two weeks’ time to get plane tickets and get out of the country,” Swaim said.

“The family advocacy group and the women’s shelter do a wonderful thing in protecting a potential victim. But in this case nobody connected the dots — that she’s a Japanese national, she has the passports and birth certificates and she might be trying to leave the country.”

On Aug. 5, nearly a month after his family vanished, Swaim started calling the phone numbers in Japan that he found on the family’s phone bill. On the second call, Miyuki answered.

According to Swaim, she told him: “This is what you wanted. I don’t want your house. I don’t want your money. You just leave me and the children alone.”

Japan’s ‘dirty little secret’

Swaim didn’t know he had just joined a fraternity of about 100 American parents, mostly fathers, who can’t see their children in Japan even though they have full custody rights in the United States. State Department officials told the Dayton Daily News they have cases going back to 2000, and other cases in which the children have “aged out,” reaching adulthood without ever being reunited with their American families.

According to State Department officials, the mothers are observing the cultural norms of Japan, where divorced fathers have virtually no visitation rights, rather than the legal requirements of the United States.

“Non-Japanese citizens are at a pretty big disadvantage,” said Michelle Heads, a supervisor with The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s Family Abduction Unit, which is trying to help Swaim recover his children. “They don’t have a lot of recourse, at least at the moment.”

The center provides technical assistance to parents whose children have been abducted to other nations. Japan accounts for the center’s third-largest caseload, behind only U.S. neighbors Mexico and Canada — where authorities are much more cooperative because of those countries’ compliance with the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Left-behind parents “face a substantial challenge in trying to navigate a foreign legal system to fight for their child’s return while enduring incredibly high levels of personal stress and grief,” says the state department’s annual report on Hague compliance.

Along with some 20 other parents, Swaim was invited to Washington, D.C., last October to discuss the issue with Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs; and Janice Jacobs, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs. He met other fathers in the same situation, including Brett Weed of Oregon, who has been fighting for his children for six years. “Their U.S. heritage is being wiped out,” said Weed, who maintains the website about his children, www.japanstealschildren.com.

Parental abduction, Weed said, “is Japan’s dirty little secret, and it needs to come out.”

Miyuki’s attorney said Swaim is free to visit his children in Japan at any time. Swaim denies that: “When I asked her about it, she laughed it off and told me no. I could spend all the money to go over there and have no assurance of seeing the children.”

He has another concern, based on the case of Christopher Savoie, the American father arrested for trying to bring home the children illegally taken to Japan by his ex-wife. Savoie was sentenced to five years in prison before the State Department intervened in his release.

He immediately called the Clayton Police Department, and officers came to the house to make a report. “It didn’t seem like they had a lot of concern,” he recalled.

“We went through the legal process, and the courts decided I’m the more fit parent,” Swaim noted, “but Japan’s attitude is that the children are the mother’s property, and we can’t and won’t help you.”

Swaim also remains frustrated with his inability to convince the Clayton Police Department to register the boys’ abduction with The FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC), a computerized index of criminal justice information, including missing persons. “I don’t know where she lives,” he said. “What stands for missing?”

Lt. Hamlin of the Clayton department said the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office is researching whether Swaim’s children should be entered in the LEADS database, which is statewide, or NCIC. That has proven problematic, he said, because the children are safe; the police have talked to the mother; and Swaim has been able to communicate with them.

“Everything we’re hearing is it just doesn’t meet the criteria,” Hamlin said.

Emotional toll on father, sons

Swaim is luckier than many of the other parents in one important respect: He’s able to hold occasional Skype conversations with his sons on his computer. “I’m very thankful for that, but it could be taken away at any time,” he said. “William tells me he is very homesick and wants to come home.”

He hasn’t been able to reach the boys in five weeks, he said, and he’s concerned about their well-being. In an April 17 Skype message from William, Swaim said the 10-year-old complained that his mother threw his food on the floor and ordered him to eat it like a dog.

Robinson said Miyuki denied the incident, but acknowledges some behavioral issues with William. Miyuki has received psychological treatment in Japan, he said, “and I have a letter from somebody saying she’s fine now. She probably was reacting to the stress of the marital situation.”

Swaim can do little but wait and hope. There is so much he misses: doing homework with the boys, coaching their T-ball and softball games, and volunteering with the PTA at Northwood Elementary School.

He misses seeing their report cards and medical reports, the “sensitive nature and gentle heart” of his son William and the constant energy of his son James, the family’s “little alarm clock” who wakes up early and races around the house, giggling.

Most of all, he misses being a father.

“I just want my children back,” he said.

The information on this website concerns a matter of public interest, and is provided for educational and informational purposes only in order to raise public awareness of issues concerning left-behind parents. Unless otherwise indicated, the writers and translators of this website are not lawyers nor professional translators, so be sure to confirm anything important with your own lawyer.

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