If this post sounds a bit manic, well, it’s just because I am ELATED.
There will be very little artistry in this. Just happiness and clarity and a little sofa jumping and some insight into what happens after one publicly shares a story of abuse.
Okay, so I have heard from my stepmother and others in my family that my father feels I have wronged him by going public and that I owe him an apology. He is saying he only molested me twice and that both of those incidents happened when he was heavily under the influence of alcohol. Also, he points out that he has helped me so much and given me money. (It’s not like I’m Donald Trump. Think less 20 million dollars and more of a four-figure, erm, figure. But even if I was a trust fund baby, no amount of money justifies the breaking of parental boundaries in the way he did.)
My father’s account, quite simply, makes my heart sing.
It makes me immensely happy. Why? Let me count the ways.
- This is not a he-said/she-said issue. While he doesn’t seem to feel that molesting me was overly problematic, he does admit that these “unconscious,” “drunken” molestations took place. (If they were unconscious, how does he know there were only two times? But let’s not get sidetracked by the nitty gritty here.)
- I can officially stop questioning my perception that something unhealthy happened to me because his own account speaks so clearly of moral and ethical disease.
- His stance means that the patriarchy is really a thing. Because he clearly thinks it was “just one of those things” and that I should be grateful for all the good he brought into my life, my inkling that he has had a sense of ownership over me has been proven correct. His thoughts match what the hairs on the back of my neck told me about him and about my standing in society. I mean, this is legitimately considered locker room talk and just what men do and I got you this nice piece of jewelry so just shut up and show a little gratitude already. That many of my family members “see his side too” and have even said that my memory could have been fuzzy (though I clearly state in my open letter that I have NO memory of this, just the gross feelings and his own words to point me in the right direction) points to this being a more systemic problem. I know, duh, right? But you drive yourself up a wall thinking maybe you’re just seeing this whole thing from the wrong angle. This is like an antidote to the gas lighting and it is awesome. I’d much rather know there is a cancer than be suffering and having a nagging feeling that I could never put my finger on.
- It was 100% the right thing for me to do this in public and in writing! I didn’t want to talk to him because I didn’t want to defend myself and hear him minimize what happened to me (which, if he or anyone else cared to read the letter I wrote, was not limited to the two known incidents of molestation but the entire lack of boundaries and omnipresence of grooming and crazy-making behavior). I have totally outsourced all that listening to his whining and justifications. Other people did it for me and I had the benefit of distance so I could instantly spot it for the load of horse crap that it is. It should go without saying that this approach was right for me. Everyone must do what they feel is right for their own situation.
I’ve been reorganizing around the house during this week between Christmas and New Years and have come across artifacts of my relationship with my father. The small but powerful stereo system he built me (now I am puzzling over which wires connect where), the bikes he gifted to me and my husband, his tall ladder that I didn’t get around to returning before I laid our history bare. We have half-used paint cans he donated to our kids’ room-painting projects, weird builder sets he created for our children himself out of nylon nuts and bolts.
Of course I miss my dad, or my idea of what a dad could be or the fantasy we all pretended was real, that he was just a kind-hearted, creative-if-flawed old grandpa poet, bumbling about with his coffee and sweet rolls. I actually am grateful for all I’ve received from him, though it is not his place to tell me I should be and he doesn’t even understand the treasures he’s gifted me.
My missing of him and the ache in the place his image occupied are justified and don’t negate his accountability.
I mourned for Anakin Skywalker when he went to the Dark Side. That doesn’t mean that Darth Vader didn’t do great harm. It doesn’t excuse him or make me think I should give a pardon that hasn’t been asked for or that I am obligated look back even for a second.
I am reminded now of a “storysito” folded into Alice Walker’s Now is the Time to Open Your Heart. One of the women on a healing journey in South America recounts her grandfather as her rapist and how she and her mom missed him after her mom whisked her away to safety. He was a professional clown and always had a smile and a home cooked meal waiting when her mom came home from work. (A moment here to thank Creation for books. This one page in Walker’s book might have given me a mote more permission to see my family in a realistic, nuanced light. An abuser can be, and probably often is, likeable.)
What my dad has done by propagating this story of me as ungrateful and unfair and unkind is this: he has given me a red pill. I can see the matrix.
His existence as a benevolent force in my life was a lie (because he has actually corroborated my story and, even if my words were untrue, they would point to mental illness that might be responded to with kind inquiry instead of silence and weird symbols—the booster seats returned from his car, the apparent purging of my photos from his phone via wordless email, a return of the key to our front door).
The tokens of agency for women in our society ring hollow now.
And if the hairs on the back of my neck were right about this, they’re probably right about a good many other things.
I wish I hadn’t spent four decades on this planet before truly figuring this out.
A random online life expectancy calculator says I’ll live to 92, so God willing, I’ve got 50 years of being truly alive to look forward to.
Yippee for the red pill!
How do I explain to my children why their Pap Pap is no longer coming over? (And not sure about his wife… she is claiming to be neutral and seems to be supporting him through his pain. When she told me he blamed the alcohol, she didn’t seem to understand how this made the story and my situation as a child worse, not better, etc.)
How do I make sure he doesn’t hurt other children? I’m remembering so much now, like the period of time maybe 15 years ago when he volunteered to tutor grade schoolers in reading and it didn’t even occur to me that this could be a danger. As far as I know, he has no regular private access to children. But still.
(To my family who is ambivalent about my experience, please just err on the side of safety for your children. Being cautious doesn’t require taking sides.)
Even as I ponder the path forward, I am filled with a sense of relief and accomplishment and freedom. In fact, I do kind of feel like he gave me 20 million dollars-or like I made it out of lemons or something.