Confessions of a Child Abuse Survivor, or, why forgiving and forgetting isn’t an option for some of us
Content Warning: Mentions instances of child abuse and animal cruelty. Reader discretion is advised.
I was raised by an extremely racist, angry, reactionary man who was physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive to his wife and children. Sometimes when I have mentioned this some people have felt the need to chime in to dismiss my description. So I will just mention that one time, when my at-the-time four-year-old sister wound up in the hospital with a fractured skull because of one of his beatings, and she accidentally mentioned to one of the medical personnel that he had been hitting her, and thus all of the family were interviewed by someone from the state department of child protective services, that afterward to punish my sister for not sticking to the lie he drilled into us on the way to the hospital (but knowing that authorities were now watching the family), he made us watch him kill the family cat while he explained to my sister that it was her fault the cat had to die like that.
So don’t you dare tell me that my father wasn’t an abusive evil being.
A bit over five years ago my father died. The last time I spoke to him was about seven years before his death. He had called me. I tried to remain civil during the call. The first time he went off on a rant using the n-word and a number of other racial slurs, I interrupted and reminded him that I have previously said I would hang up when he talked like that. He tried to argue that he was entitled to his opinions. I replied that while he was entitled to his opinions, I was not obligated to listen.
He muttered a half-hearted agreement and changed the subject.
But it wasn’t long until he went off on another similar screed–this one a bit worse because he suggested that murdering a particular African-American politician would be a good idea. Again I reminded him that if he insisted on talking like that, I would hang up on him. Once again, he muttered a half-hearted non-apology and tried to change the subject. I tried to lighten the topic even further…
But again, it wasn’t long until he was using several racial slurs while complaining about something he’d heard about on Fox News. I tried to interrupt but he started talking faster. So I raised my voice and said, "I told you if you keep talking like that I would hang up. I’m hanging up now, and if you try to call back I will not answer."
And I hung up.
He tried calling a few times that night. I didn’t answer.
He never tried calling again.
Some years later his sister called to tell me he was dying. She also said he couldn’t take any calls because he couldn’t hear well enough to understand. Which was fine be me, because I didn’t want to talk to him. Of course, a few days later for complicated reasons she was shouting into my voice mail how my next older sister’s persistence in trying to call him to say good-bye had forced them to remove the phone from his room so she couldn’t talk to him again, and now none of his "real friends" could call to say good-bye.
I had been relieved the day before when the same aunt said he couldn’t take calls. But I admit I was extremely pissed to find out that that was a lie, and that people on that side of the family were choosing to exclude some of us. Which I know is weird, because I didn’t want to talk to him. But my sister had wanted to. And she did (and because my sister always calls everyone on speakerphone no matter where she is, I have two reliable witnesses who say that he clearly could hear and understand her, that he knew it was her, and so forth).
The morning that I got the message that Dad had died, I was a bit shocked at just how overwhelming the sense of relief that came over me was. I had thought that I had mostly been over all the bad feelings from him for years, but I wasn’t.
Since he died, every Fathers’ Day, every anniversary of his birthday, and every anniversary of his death has brought a resurgence of that feeling of relief. I never have to talk to him again. I never have to deal with his BS again. So in some corners of the web I make a comment. And in some parts of my real life I make a comment.
Sometimes, people express the opinion that it isn’t healthy for me to continue to be glad that the abusive man who beat me severely for years–whose beatings sent me to the emergency room more than once, who sometimes made me watch him beat my siblings or my mother as an object lesson–is dead. I try to be civil when I say, "It makes me feel better to remember he’s gone."
I don’t know if I always succeed.
There is a myth perpetrated in our society that the only way to recover from bad experiences is to forgive and forget. It is not true. First, no one is ever, under any circumstances, obligated to forgive. At a minimum, the only point where forgiveness should become a consideration is if the offender makes a genuine expression of remorse and a reasonable attempt to make amends. Even in those circumstances, forgiveness is not required.
When they never acknowledge that anything they did was wrong, let alone never ask for forgiveness, then forgiveness isn’t even recommended.
There are times that I honestly wish I could forget some of the horrid things he did and said to me when I was a child. I don’t want to remember those things. Truly, I don’t.
Remembering those things has allowed me to recognize other abusive people who have come into my life. It was allowed me to put a bit of a barrier between myself and those abusive people. It has several times been a major benefit, as I had not allowed myself to become so entangled in the abusive person’s actions when for social reason I am required to occasionally have contact.
We learn through experience. And no matter how unpleasant the experience is, we should never reject the lesson the experience teaches us. So, no, I will not forget how awful my father was. I will not forget the pain he caused me, my siblings, nor my mother.
Those who forget evil are doomed to repeat it.