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.
It is once more time for a post in which I link to stories that either didn’t make the cut for this week’s Friday Five, or broke after I composed the Friday Five, or are an update to a story I’ve linked to and
We’re going to start with sad (and for me, devastating) news first. I’ve already cried a few times over it: ‘Devastating loss’: Bay Area, state leaders react to Ginsburg’s death.
I know your first impulse is to despair. To say we’re fucked. To feel desperate and hopeless. I feel it. We all feel it.
But Notorious RBG would not have wanted us to lie down and accept defeat.
She’d have wanted us to fight like hell. And that’s what we’re going to do.
Call your house rep: Find them by Zipcode.
Script: “Hi, my name is ____ I am one of your constituents. I am calling to ask Congressperson ______ to go on the record saying they will respect Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dying wishes as well as the precedent set in 2016 to not nominate a new Justice until after a new president is installed. Thanks for your time.”
Call your senator: (202) 224-3121 Capitol Switchboard
Don’t know who your senator is? Find your senator.
Script: “Hi, my name is ________ and I live in (STATE). I am calling to ask Senator ______ to go on the record saying the Senate will not hold hearings on any potential replacement for Justice Ginsburg until after a new president is installed, per Justice Ginsburg’s last wishes and the precedent set in 2016. Thank you for your time.”
McConnell Vows Quick Vote on Trump Pick to Fill Ginsburg Seat. Because of course the ghoulish bastards are going to try.
Let’s move on…
I have been trapped in the house since last weekend, thanks to the Air Quality Index ranging from Unhealthy for Everyone, Very Unhealthy, and not very far south of us sometimes Hazardous. When the haze first came in more than a week ago and they started forecasting worse to come, I replaced the Hepa filters and Charcoal filters in both of our air cleaners. Even so, by Saturday night I was coughing. We did our best to keep everything closed. I converted our two box fans to air cleaners (take a 20 inch Merv-13 rated furnace filter, bungy it to the back of the box fan, set up the fan somewhere in the middle of the room and let it run. Do not put the fan in a window. Keep the windows closed.).
I’ve been coughing all week. I started using an inhaler a few days ago and that helped a bit. But yesterday, finally, we got rain: Seattle Weekend Forecast: Less Smoke, More Rain – Rain showers this weekend should be enough to push out the rest of the smoke and keep it from returning. Here’s a look at what’s in store.
They had originally predicted thing would get better on Monday, but that was wrong for a variety of reasons: What makes smoke forecasts so hard to predict — and how tech could help. The fires themselves are not probabilistic, for one. Another is that the smoke itself changes the weather in ways that break our forecasting models.
We finally got enough rain over a wide enough part of the region to clean things out. I was so happy, after checking the Air Quality Index, to open our windows. It was too warm and stuffy inside!
And now to an old, old adversary...
911 Call From Intoxicated Jerry Falwell Jr.’s House Last Month Describes ‘A Lot Of Blood’ – Becki Falwell told the operator that her husband had cuts on his face from falling after he’d been drinking.
In case you need a reminder, I’ll just drop this hand sum-up I’ve referred to before:
Sometimes when a man and a woman love each other, and the man is the president of an evangelical Christian clown college and is friends with the pussy-grabbing authoritarian president of America, they get married and then they meet a 20-year-old pool boy named “Giancarlo” and they are like “Oh hey, Giancarlo, is that the Holy Bible in your pocket, or is it your boner?” and he is like “Oh it’s just my boner” and they are like “Good, we really aren’t into that Holy Bible shit when we aren’t profiting financially from it” and the pool boy is like “cool” and they are like “cool” and so they start having a sexual affair with the pool boy for years and years, where the lady does nakeds with the pool boy while the clown college Christian leader husband plays shadows puppets with his weener and watches in the corner, and they end up giving the pool boy SWEET business deals that kinda sorta look like payoffs, and fly him all over the country in their jet, and maybe there’s a similar arrangement with the hot jacked personal trainer, but we’re not sure yet, but anyway then everybody finds out and the man has to quit being a clown college Christian leader, WOMP WOMP.
And there are continuing developments:
When Falwell Junior finally was forced to resign and the university opened investigations into possible financial improprieties, certain commenters out there opined that this was either part of Falwell’s kink (the pool boy and the other pool boy situations seeming to be on the cuckold fetish spectrum) because many cucks like being humiliated publicly, or that he was slamming his fist on the self-destruct button because he is tired of pretending to be an evangelical leader.
I didn’t buy either of those scenarios at the time for a variety of reasons. Only one of them being that first drunk call Junior made to a conservative radio show a few days after the Instagram post with his arm around a woman who wasn’t his wife, with his pants on done and a glass of what he later claimed wasn’t alcohol, but “black water” in his other hand.
No, the reason why is because I’ve known men like Junior before. White straight men, often from a conservative southern background (though not required) who are used to “getting away with it” over and over. They think they are invincible. They think the rules don’t apply to them. They have always been able to lie their way out of it before, and they are confident that they will continue to do so.
Let me give a very personal example. Content Warning: I’m going to be discussing my dad’s physical abuse of more than one family member and the death of a pet.
There are no further news links, so if you want to stop reading, now’s the time.
Okay, mind the content warning…
I was nine years old, my alcoholic and abusive father was hung over, and he had yelled at my four-year-old sister several times to keep it quiet. But she was in a hyper mood (many years later when she was diagnosed as, among other thing, bipolar, we would refer to these days as one of her manic periods). Eventually, Dad snapped and he beat her viciously… and left her lying apparently unconscious on the floor of her bedroom.
When she roused it was clear that something was seriously wrong. On the drive to the hospital, Dad drilled us with the cover story that we were all to stick to: she was being rowdy and won’t settle down and she fell down the stairs.
Among her injuries was a fractured skull. At some point during her medical treatment, she apparently told the nurse that “after the third time Dad hit me everything went blurry, so I don’t remember what happened.”
About a week later a state patrol officer or a county deputy (I don’t remember which) and a man from Child Protective Services showed up at our house. The tiny town we were in didn’t have any state agency offices, and the guy had had to come out from a city somewhere.
Each of us was taken by the guy from CPS individually to a nearby park to tell our version of events. I had learned my lesson about never contradicting Dad’s version years ago, so I dutifully repeated that Dad had told her to settle down several times, but she kept running around singing and then fell down the stairs.
I assume that Mom, my sister, and Dad all told the same story.
There was a glaring problem with our story.
There were no stairs.
We lived in a three-bedroom mobile home. It was a fancy mobile home, with an Extandal (as they called it at the time) which made our living room twice as wide as the rest of the trailer. But it was a single-story home with no stairs.
The CPS guy never asked any of us to show him the stairs.
The CPS guy and the officer left. Dad was angry for days afterward, but also on his best behavior even when no one was around. Eventually he learned that there would be no charges and the investigation was closed. Dad was still angry about my sister breaking the rule and contradicting his story, but because he was afraid people were still watching, he couldn’t do his usual thing of punishing one of us and explaining to my sister that he was hurting me or Mom because sister had screwed up.
So, instead Dad killed the family cat in order the punish my sister for telling the truth.
He got away with it. And his job had us move a few months later, and there was an incident where I was the one who wound up in the hospital… and he got away with that. And continued to with each of my younger half siblings and the only time he ever faced consequences was when he slapped one of the grandkids hard enough that she wound up in urgent care… but even then, the only consequence was that for a time all of my younger siblings had restraining orders on him that he couldn’t be around his grandkids without supervision.
Anyway, to get back to Falwell Junior…
I don’t have any knowledge that Falwell Junior was ever abusive of his kids or his wife, and I’m not claiming that he is that kind of abuser. But we know that for the last several years he has done other things that should have had consequences (talking repeatedly at work about his personal sex life, sending pictures of his wife in fetish gear to a number of university employees who didn’t ask to see them, attending nightclubs and consuming alcohol in direct violation of the university rules which are supposed to apply to employees, the shady real estate deals that some former employees started talking about last year, the pool boy’s shady real estate deal that reporters contacted the university about years ago, et cetera). And I’m pretty sure that Junior has been getting away with various things like that his entire life.
I know I’m bringing some of my personal baggage into this, but every time I have seen Junior speak, I have recognized that cocky smirk and the look in his eyes that say he knows the rules don’t apply to him. Because I spent 15 years of my life being raised by a man who had that some smirk and the same glint in his eyes.
Now Junior’s finally facing consequences, and he doesn’t know how to handle that. Self-medicating by drinking heavily constantly is only the tip of the iceberg, I suspect.
Content Warning: the following essay (which will also touch on dangerous misperceptions and myths about sexual orientation) includes some specifics about physical abuse of children and worse. Only click when you’re ready … Read More…
Why I Stayed:
Because my church, teachers, other relatives, and even a cop (after the incident of the broken collar bone and gash that required stitches) told me that sometimes a father has to go to extremes to make his son a man.
Because when you are raised from birth by your abuser, you think bruises, fractures, and lacerations are normal.
Because my church, other relatives, and even movies and TV told me that standing up for myself was being rebellious.
Because if my story didn’t match his version of events, I would be hurt worse.
Because if I got away, he’d still be able to hurt my mom and my little sister.
Why I Left:
Because the judge hearing my parents’ divorce case actually asked me which parent I wanted to live with, and why.
Unpacking some of the above:
To someone who isn’t in the abusive relationship, the solution always seems simple… Read More…