Moses Farrow: ‘I felt inherently like I was a bad kid. The abuse at home reinforced that’
Mia Farrow and Woody Allen’s son on family hatred and the problems with being adopted
Moses Farrow (left) with his adoptive parents, Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, and some of his siblings in 1989. Photograph: Ron Galella/RGC via Getty
Moses Farrow is talking to me, thoughtfully and carefully, about what people misunderstand about adoption. “There’s a really powerful narrative that says adoptive parents are saving these children, that they’ll all live happily ever after, and that adoptees should just be grateful for being adopted. But those narratives don’t account for the individual experiences,” he says from his home in Connecticut.
Farrow, a 42-year-old therapist, with a cowlick at the front of his hair, specialises in adoption-trauma therapy, especially among children who have been adopted by parents of a different racial group, known as transracial adoption. I ask what sparked his interest in this specific area, and he laughs.
“Ah,” he says. “Yes,” he starts, then smiles again.
Moses was 14 when his parents broke up so spectacularly. But, he says, the family had been dysfunctional long before then. He corroborates Soon-Yi’s claim that Mia favoured the blond, blue-eyed kids, especially Fletcher and Satchel
Moses Farrow is the adopted son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, and this is his first newspaper interview. (There are a lot of Farrows in this story, so, for clarity, I will refer to them all by their first names.) Mia adopted him in 1980, as a two-year-old from South Korea with cerebral palsy. He was her seventh child, and the first she adopted after her divorce from André Previn, with whom she had three biological sons (Matthew, Sascha and Fletcher) and three adopted daughters (Lark, Daisy and Soon-Yi.) “I was the first Farrow child,” Moses says.
Five years after that, she adopted her daughter Dylan, and two years later she gave birth to her and Allen’s child, the journalist Ronan, known then as Satchel. In 1991, Allen co-adopted Moses and Dylan. After Mia and Allen broke up, she adopted five more children: Tam, Quincy, Frankie-Minh, Isaiah and Thaddeus Wilk, named after the judge, Elliot Wilk, who found in Mia’s favour over Allen in the 1993 custody battle over their children.
As even Trappist monks know by now, the saga of the Previn/Farrow offspring is very much not a “happily ever after” story. In 1992, shortly after Allen became Dylan and Moses’s father, Mia discovered he was having an affair with her and Previn’s 21-year-old daughter, Soon-Yi. (Contrary to popular perception, Allen was not Soon-Yi’s stepfather, because he and Mia were not married and never lived together.) Seven months later, Mia accused Allen of sexually molesting seven-year-old Dylan while visiting her home in Connecticut.
Allen has always strongly denied the allegation. He was investigated twice, but never charged, and, according to Moses, life at home became close to unbearable. “Many of my older siblings started not to be at home as much; it was very destabilising. I felt I wanted to be a parent, to my younger siblings and to Mia, so I spent hours listening to her,” he says. I ask if that was because of the molestation accusation. “You’re seeing that as the pivotal event, but [after the affair with Soon-Yi was discovered] there was already this strong atmosphere of hatred and anger, Mia saying my father was ‘a monster’,” he says.
At the time, it was Allen’s affair with Soon-Yi that shocked the public. But, in recent years, the public’s focus has shifted to the molestation allegation, with battle duties delegated to the family’s second generation. In 2014, the New York Times published an open letter from Dylan that detailed Allen’s alleged assault of her: “Woody Allen led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house. He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me.” In 2016, Ronan wrote an article accusing the media of ignoring Dylan’s allegation just because Allen had never been convicted (or charged).
The public, shocked by all the allegations of abuses by powerful individuals that were coming to light in the #MeToo movement, was anxious not to repeat the mistakes of the past, and Allen’s name soon became mud. Newspapers now routinely refer to him in the same sentence as Bill Cosby and the convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein.
Moses had always avoided the limelight, but in 2018 he felt he could do so no more. He published an excoriating blog arguing for his father’s innocence and describing Dylan’s allegation as ridiculous: “There was no electric train set in that attic. There was, in fact, no way for kids to play up there, even if we had wanted to,” he wrote. “As a trained professional, I know that child molestation is a compulsive sickness… yet some would have you believe that, at the age of 56, [Allen] suddenly decided to become a child molester.”
I’ve experienced suicidal thoughts, I’ve been in therapy for depression, I’ve certainly struggled with relationships and poor self-esteem, being a people-pleaser and needing to be the perfect son
He wrote that two of his siblings, Tam and Thaddeus, had killed themselves (the family said Tam died of heart failure) and that Lark had died in poverty of an Aids-related illness. There was abuse in his family, he wrote, but it did not come from his father. His mother, he claimed, was physically abusive to the children, and she “brainwashed” them, allegedly punishing them until they said what she told them to, even if they knew it was a lie. “I had a disability and emotional sensitivities, and that lent itself to being a target,” he tells me.
Dylan replied to Moses’ blog, saying, “My brother is a troubled person,” and Ronan dismissed it as part of the “repeated campaign to discredit my sister, often by attacking my mother”. Soon-Yi then gave an interview backing up her brother’s claims about Mia being abusive. In the early 1990s, the media wrote gushing articles about Mia’s large and happy blended family, but for the past three decades battle lines have been angrily scorched across it, the children now fighting as viciously as their parents once did.
(When Moses’s claims were put to the Farrow family, they directed me to a 2018 statement made by Matthew, Sascha, Fletcher and Daisy Previn, and Ronan, Isaiah and Quincy Farrow: “None of us ever witnessed anything other than compassionate treatment in our home, which is why the courts granted sole custody to our mother of all her children. We reject any effort to deflect from Dylan’s allegation by trying to vilify our mom.”)
Moses was 14 when his parents broke up so spectacularly. But, he says, the family had been dysfunctional long before then. He corroborates Soon-Yi’s claim that Mia favoured the blond, blue-eyed kids, especially Fletcher and Satchel. In his work, Moses has studied the impact of transracial adoption on adoptees’ mental health. The most common problems he sees are depression, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, addiction, eating disorders and internalised racism, often stemming from a loss of identity.
I ask how he thinks his childhood affected his long-term mental health. He makes a small laugh: “There’s a lot to answer to that! I’ve experienced suicidal thoughts, I’ve been in therapy for depression, I’ve certainly struggled with relationships and poor self-esteem, being a people-pleaser and needing to be the perfect son. The trauma in adoption comes from feeling like there’s something wrong with us because we were rejected [by our birth parents]. I felt inherently like I was a bad kid. And then the abuse at home reinforced that.” When his parents’ breakup was at its most acrimonious, Moses gave a statement to the media denouncing his father. He thought, he says, that it would please his mother.
Moses was his mother’s staunch defender, initially. But as he grew up, he thought more about the allegation. These days, he is close to his father, and he and his mother are estranged
Moses was his mother’s staunch defender, initially. But as he grew up, he thought more about the allegation, and how his mother “had handled that time”. These days, he is close to his father, and he and his mother are estranged. Is that because he began to doubt her story? “Putting it all together, I recognised that it’s important to provide yourself with a sense of safety, and sometimes that means maintaining distance,” he says. For the moment, he has kept the surname Farrow, but says: “I’d be very happy to take my father’s surname.”
He decided to stay in Connecticut, not far from where he lived as a child, because, he says, “Support for the Asian adoptee community here is lacking, and I’ve made it my mission to do what I can for them.”
I ask how he feels about Dylan and Ronan’s responses to his blog. He sighs, and there is a long silence. His voice cracks a little as he talks: “We grew up together. I am their older brother. We all shared the same mother. Even if you’re not receiving that abuse directly, if you bear witness to it, it still impacts you in a deep way. I really hold all my siblings with compassion and understand there is a need to survive, however you can do it.”
Of the Farrow/Previn children, only Moses and Soon-Yi have publicly cast doubt on the molestation allegation. But they are far from the only people to do so. It is easy to forget now, in an era when Allen’s guilt is widely assumed as a given, but Allen was cleared twice of the allegation. He was investigated by Yale New Haven Hospital’s sexual-abuse clinic, which stated: “It is our expert opinion that Dylan was not sexually molested by Mr Allen.” He also submitted to a 14-month investigation by New York City’s child-welfare administration. It concluded: “No credible evidence was found that the child named in this report has been abused or maltreated.” Dr John Leventhal, who headed the Yale New Haven investigation, said in a sworn statement that there were “inconsistencies” in Dylan’s statements. (Dr Leventhal declined to comment for this piece.)
This is a matter of public record. In a widely read interview with Mia in Vanity Fair, the journalist Maureen Orth writes that after Dylan said her father touched her on her “private part”, her paediatrician asked where her private part was: “Dylan pointed to her shoulder.” Mia and Dylan then left the doctor’s office and went for an ice cream. Orth writes that “according to people close to the situation”, Dylan told her mother she had been “embarrassed” in the doctor’s office. When they returned the next day, Dylan indicated to the doctor that Allen had touched her vagina. “The doctor examined Dylan and found that she was intact,” Orth writes, yet he was obliged to call the police and report it.
Moses says he “stands with other child-abuse survivors”. I ask how he squares this with his dismissal of his sister’s allegations – does he really not think there is any possibility that his father abused his sister?
“Absolutely not,” he says, and points to the arguments he made in his blog: there was no train in the attic; there was no way Allen would have been left alone with Dylan that day; Dylan showed no sign of trauma that day or the next.
I ask if the recent allegations that, in the 1970s, Allen dated or pursued teenagers, including Mariel Hemingway, ever made him doubt his father. “For the record, no,” he says.
When I first read Moses’s blog, I was struck by how forgiving he was of his father’s relationship with Soon-Yi, which perhaps started this whole mess. Was finding out his father and sister were in a relationship not pretty confusing? He lightly deflects the question, talking again about the toxic atmosphere in the home and Mia’s alleged abusiveness. Whatever the truth of the long-ago dismissed molestation allegation, both parents arguably failed in their duty of care for their children, Allen by having an affair with his children’s sister (who was not, confusingly but importantly, his child), Mia for allegedly allowing the emotional fallout to overshadow the children’s lives. But Moses is already estranged from one parent. Presumably he doesn’t want to lose the other.
Moses knows his family was unusual – “was and is!” he says, laughing. But he is adamant that there are wider lessons to be drawn from it in terms of how adoption too often lets down those involved, reflected, he says, in the disproportionately high rates of suicide among adoptees. “It’s really important that anyone who chooses to adopt resolves whatever trauma that they have. I’ve heard too many other stories from other adoptees who are also estranged from their adoptive parents,” he says.
Although the story of the Previn/Farrow children is extreme, it’s not without precedent. Before Mia, there was Joan Crawford, who adopted four children, and her eldest, Christina, wrote the notorious memoir Mommie Dearest. I ask Moses how he feels when he sees celebrities adopting children from around the world and being depicted in the media as Mother Bountiful, just as his mother once was. “I just hope they listen to the stories from adoptees who are now adults, what it was like for us. Because there are many of us, and we are raising our voices.” – Guardian