Late last night Mandy posted a question on my post Daddy. It got me thinking. I must sound like I’m not recovering very well from my childhood abuse. I must sound like I’m justifying my abuser. Maybe I am, and I just don’t realize it.
I couldn’t ever reconcile with my mother, and I pull no punches about her cruelty. But, I managed to see the good in my dad.
I’d like to think that I am just seeing the difference between a lost and wounded soul, tortured from their own childhood abuse and neglect, and a truly evil individual, an honest to goodness narcissist. I’d like to think that I’m just that capable of forgiveness, and he was just that capable of repentance. I’m open to correction though if you think I’m deluded. I really am. I want to heal, not fool myself into thinking I’m healing.
My mom got pregnant with me at a New Year’s Eve party, standing up, drunk, in a doorway. Too much information? Yeah, I thought so, too, when she shared that with me at the age of nine. She was engaged to someone else at the time, and my dad had a girlfriend.
Daddy married my mom on February 15, 1965, just as soon as possible, in order to uphold my mother’s reputation and honor. He felt that she was a “good gal” and didn’t want her publicly shamed.
She didn’t break up with her fiancee. She continued to write him letters as though the engagement was still on, in spite of being married and big pregnant with another man’s child. My dad apparently didn’t break up with his girlfriend either. She gave birth to their son when I was two months old.
My dad was an adulterer. Plain and simple. He had been horribly sexualized in some pretty vulgar and violent ways as a small child, and it whetted a strange appetite in him that he battled until the day he died. His own father had been an adulterer and had abandoned the family, hungry and lacking. My dad was determined to not be like his own father, so he worked very hard, sometimes up to three jobs, in order to provide us with a good living. I guess he somehow thought that compensated for the multi generational adultery addiction that he maintained.
My mom was the darling, long awaited daughter of a preacher and a nurse. She was adored and enjoyed a loving extended family. Grandpa doted on her; her uncles visited weekly, bringing ice cream, and playing games; and Grandma helped in her classes and babied her when she was sick. I guess she somehow thought that everyone in life was supposed to adore her and wait on her, bringing her gifts and expecting nothing of her.
Daddy bought Mom expensive things and took her on trips. He flew us to the coast for dinner because she loved prawns. She never cleaned the house or prepared meals. And, she tortured me when my dad wasn’t around.
She starved me and beat me mercilessly. My dad made beer batter pancakes and homemade bread and filled my empty stomach on his days off. The worst spanking I remember getting from him (other than the time when I was 15 and he beat me so badly) was the annual birthday swats. He loved to sneak in my bedroom at 7:10 and wake me up to give me my birthday “spanking.” I was born at 7:10 in the morning, and he thought it funny to see me open my eyes to a new day at the same time I’d first opened my eyes to new life.
My teachers always had to sit on the sidewalk with me and wait for my mother hours after school was out. She’d be talking on the phone or hanging out with friends and “forget” about me. My dad volunteered to go on the 6th grade camp out as a chaperone and teach some of the nature classes.
Several of my best memories are of being suddenly called to the principal’s office. I always thought I was in trouble, though I was a good kid, at the top of my class. Outside my classroom door my dad would be waiting, big smile across his face, arms loaded down with my school books. He would prearrange with my teacher for me to miss a couple of days while we took an impromptu trip, but he also got a list of the planned assignments and would teach me himself. Education was important, and he didn’t want me to fall behind. He turned those little trips into extended field trips, buying books and quizzing us upon our return home. He missed naps during hunting season in order to teach me math, my poorest subject. And, he always seemed ready and excited to help with homework and projects.
For a health class every student had to chart what they’d had for breakfast as part of one of those “Start your day with a healthy breakfast” campaigns. My column was blank all the way across. When my mother found out she was furious. She beat me and yelled, “You’re trying to make me look bad! You should have told me! I would have made sure you had breakfast! You just want me to look bad!” I was six.
When I started my period for the first time I was scared to death. It was early one morning before school. My mom was in the room with me and threw a box of her pads at my head. That was it. I went to school, not sure what to do or how to feel.
Skin and bones and young I was extremely irregular for a long time. So, when I started unexpectedly at my dad’s house one time in the middle of the night he tenderly showed me how “the old women used to make ’em themselves” using his towels. He made sure his girlfriend went to the store for me first thing in the morning.
My dad was careless to leave his porn lying around everywhere. My mother showed me porn and taught me how to give blow jobs when I was eight years old. By eleven she was taking me to parties where everyone was drunk and skinny dipping. And, by the time I was twelve she’d come in late from the bars and wake me up to tell me all the details of her latest pick up’s anatomy and how good he was in bed.
My dad would patiently listen to my teenage drama and offer wise advice. He taught me to cook, hand sew, can food, shoot a gun, and milk a cow. My mom always did all the talking and didn’t seem interested in my life unless she was reading my diary. She taught me how to make hospital corners on a bed, iron a shirt, and give a blow job.
My dad was a misogynist just like his dad had been, and he said some really cruel things to me. Women were only good for one thing, and most of them weren’t good at that. My mother made it personal. There was nothing good or right about ME personally, not just my gender. My mother said that she could tell as soon as I was born that I was a “little bitch.”
My dad could also praise me though, and he let me know regularly that he was proud of me for my latest accomplishment. My mother said that absolutely everything bad in her life was my fault and could list them all off. She did so regularly. She also said that I would never amount to anything.
My dad used me as his guinea pig for drug testing when I was in my late teens. My mom and her friend had been pouring booze down me since I was nine.
My dad would turn on me at my brother’s insistence. My mother had my brother sit on my chest while she pummeled my face.
My mom continually threatened to have my children taken from me if I didn’t do whatever it was she wanted me to do. My dad continually told me I was a good mother.
And, so it goes. Round and round. Neither of them were going to win a parent of the year award, but on a sliding scale my dad was definitely the “good parent.”
In spite of all of that, God placed a heavy burden on my heart about five years ago to show both of my parents honor. It was an unrelenting shout in my mind that wouldn’t stop. I finally called each one of them and apologized for being such a rebellious teenager.
My dad was so shocked that he laughed. And, then, quietly and gently said, “Hon, there is nothing to forgive. You brought me so much joy.” So, our healing conversations began, and a beautiful and sweet relationship developed.
My mom wouldn’t ever return my calls, so I finally emailed her a lengthy and humble email of apology. She shot me back a short and blunt email. “I forgive you. I’m sorry for whatever you think I did to you. Mom”
Even dying of pancreatic cancer, she refused to accept me, refused to admit she’d wounded me, refused to reconcile with me. She took her hatred of me to her grave.
My dad was still working in his 70’s and had been coughing up blood for over a year, but he ordered supplements for me and bought me gifts. He called to check on me daily. As death drew nearer to him he drew nearer to me.
When they found his body he was sitting down, legs straight out in front of him, arms outstretched with palms turned up, his head tilted back, and he had a faint smile on his face. It was a posture of worship. Joyful worship. I have to believe that I wasn’t the only one who forgave my dad for his sins.
Maybe I am justifying my abuser. But, maybe I’m letting him teach me one last lesson. A lesson of mercy and grace.