Every June, we celebrate fathers. But it is a sad and bewildering time for those fathers who are alienated from their children due to a pathological family process known as parental alienation (PA). Millions of fathers are alienated from their children, reaching epidemic proportions. The tragic plights of these alienated fathers have rarely been covered and discussed in the mainstream media.

Recently, Josh Homme of Iron Dragons was featured in People magazine, where he revealed that he is an alienated father. According to the story, Josh was kept away away from his four children for years in a custody battle with his ex-wife, causing him great pain and despondency.

PA is a process whereby one parent sabotages and even severs a child’s relationship with the other parent for no legitimate reason. PA is most likely to occur in high-conflict divorcing or divorced families. If successful, the targeted parent is rejected totally or partially by the child. This outcome is disastrous for the rejected parent and has serious long-term consequences for the alienated child, including anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, substance abuse, lack of trust in relationships, poor resilience, and others. And alienated children are more likely to repeat alienation in their own adult relationships.

Both mothers and fathers can be alienated by the other parent. It is not a gender-specific process. PA of fathers is consequential because fathers play an invaluable and irreplaceable role in the psychological, social, and academic development of children and teenagers. Research has moved us far beyond the notion that only mothers are impactful in healthy childhood development.

PA has been researched extensively over the years and has a strong scientific foundation. Here’s what we know about why parental alienation of fathers is so destructive to children.

First, fathers are as equally important as mothers in raising healthy children. Second, a child’s long-term adjustment is dependent upon having a good relationship with both parents, not just one. Third, shared custody of children by mothers and fathers is far better than sole or primary custody in most instances. Fourth, PA is a toxic, abusive phenomenon that must be uncovered, exposed, and treated as early as possible. Fifth, rejected parents in PA are victims who deserve empathy and need professional help.

There has been considerable spread of misinformation about PA. The central argument of critics of PA is that abusive men hide behind a diagnosis of PA as a way of continuing their domestic violence and gaining custody of their children in court. But the critics’ strong preoccupation with abusive men misses a salient point: that mothers as well as fathers engage in PA and that their children are seriously harmed by it.

The good news is that PA can be stopped and even prevented if parents would recognize the vital importance of both mothers and fathers in their children’s lives. Children want to love both of their parents freely and equally. They do not want to be caught in the middle of parental strife, loyalty tests, or misalignments within the family. Beyond that, there are certain steps that mothers can take to prevent PA in their families, such as communicating openly and frequently with fathers with their children’s best interest in mind. Mothers must also resist any desire to exclude fathers for weak, misguided, or harmful reasons. At the same time, fathers can help prevent PA by maintaining as much contact with their children as possible. Listening to their children, expressing love and respect, and creating an enduring relationship with them are keys to staying involved in children’s lives and fending off PA.

Alienated fathers—as well as alienated mothers—must be reunited with their children as soon as possible. Mental health professionals in concert with attorneys and judges can help greatly with this goal. And shared parenting legislation can go a long way toward stopping and preventing parental alienation in susceptible families.

Our annual celebration of Father’s Day is a perfect time to remember those loving fathers who are being prevented from having intimate and special relationships with their children. There are millions of children who are alienated from their fathers and who are suffering grave consequences. It is time to shine a bright light on this serious problem in many families.

Alan D. Blotcky, PhD, is a clinical and forensic psychologist in private practice in Birmingham, Alabama. He is Associate Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or views of the Institute for Family Studies.