The following post is anonymous.
Only a few people know this story and I don’t want my siblings to see it, so I’m posting anonymously. I’ve needed to post it, oh, about 20 years. I can’t believe that much time has passed since my father died.
For many years, my dad was my best friend. He told me he loved me, hugged me, and made me feel special. He was also narcissistic, inappropriate, and manipulative. I suspect he was a womanizer but I don’t have any hard proof. When I was young, maybe 6 years old, he abandoned us. But then he came back and my mom abandoned us – for good. He was the single parent of five children by the time he was 38. He gave up a lot to care for us, but he also put his own interests first – pursuing a career that resulted in near-bankruptcy several times, leaving us with neighbors or alone, searching for a prospective wife with money. I was devastated when he found one eight years after the divorce – a woman 16 years younger than him, who had no business being the stepmother of five teenagers, and who clearly wanted to start a family that didn’t include us.
There are other stories to tell alongside this, but I just want to get this out of my system.
Flash forward to 1989. I was nearing 30 and my mom had recently died. I was seeing a therapist who encouraged me to consider all the ways I was abused as a child. I didn’t have clear memories. I still don’t. I had a flash of an image that had haunted me since childhood – of being near my mother’s apartment with some man in the woods. I believe the man was my uncle. My siblings had told me that he lived with my mom for a couple of years, although I have no memory of this.
So I’m talking about this in therapy and I mention my father’s embarrassing habit of walking around the house nude. This was before he remarried and after he divorced, during those eight crazy years of sheer survival in our house that also seemed, uncannily, to reflect the craziness of society – from 1967-1975. It’s a big mash-up in my brain.
Anyway, my father would lie on the bed and play cards with us while not wearing a stitch of clothing. I hated seeing his penis but there it was, all the time. He asked me for back scratches and foot rubs, which always made me feel a little queasy. Bear in mind that during this time, I was between 7 and 15 years old. I was afraid that a friend would come over when he wasn’t wearing clothes. I never wanted visitors.
I had other memories pulled out of me during therapy, but I never knew if they were true. My sister had suggested that we had been the victims of incest from our father but wouldn’t talk about it. She left it out on the table like a very sharp knife, to use against myself or my father, I don’t know. The deeper I dug into this world, the angrier I was at my dad. At the same time, he was demanding money from my mother’s estate to go toward the two kids he had with my stepmother (great kids they are, but that wasn’t the point – especially given that we all had student loans to pay off without his help). Money was a major thorn in our family. It always has been.
My therapist thought it would be therapeutic to write a letter to my dad, since I was avoiding his phone calls. I wrote to him. I told him that I thought he had been sexually inappropriate, manipulative and thieving. It broke my heart to say these things to the man who, just two years earlier, I couldn’t imagine living without. He wrote back, hurt, angry, demoralized, and defensive. He didn’t mean to make me feel uncomfortable with his nudity. The money, well, that was just part of life. I still have the letter somewhere but haven’t been able to read it since that first time. I don’t even want to know where it is.
I stopped talking to him altogether. Two years passed.
On my 32nd birthday, he left a message on my answering machine. He was in Atlanta on business and called to tell me that he loved me and missed me. I replayed it over and over again. I missed his voice. I missed him telling me he loved me. I didn’t call him back.
Two weeks later, he had a massive heart attack. My stepmother waited several hours before calling me. I went to the woods to pray and walk. Finally, five hours after the attack, I arrived at the hospital, minutes after he died.
I could barely speak for the next six months. My grief at losing him without telling him how much I loved him, my guilt for feeling that I caused him such stress, both combined to tie my tongue, render me incapable of expressing concepts or feelings.
I spent a lot more years in therapy, seeing different counselors who were less interested in what “might” have happened to me and more interested in the facts: mom’s suicide attempts, dad’s disappearance, divorce, mom’s drinking, dad’s financial woes, stepmother’s disdain. I talked about my shame and guilt, blaming myself for dad’s death. All that wretched regret I waded in everyday.
I’m not 100% over it, even two decades later. I have only spoken of it to my therapist, my husband, and one or two friends. I feel duped by pop psychology and society’s tendency to embrace theories without facts. I count myself among them, and the damage extends to those who are truly abused when society backlashes and sees a shinier theory off in the distance.
But I am still here.