A note from Jackie…
Another brave, young woman was willing to share her story with you. As you will read, sometimes abuse can end and a relationship can be experienced. But (as is the case with all abuse) there still may be a sadness experienced as if the connection is too little too late. One still needs the opportunity to mourn the loss of childhood relationships and experiences full of love. Survivor #3 was able to connect with her father before his death, which she fondly remembers. Let us never forget to honor her lost childhood and to help her mourn that loss as well as the real loss of the father with whom she could finally share love.
I am the youngest of 3 kids, and grew up on the family farm. We went to church almost every single time that there was anything going on. My dad was a church deacon, and for a time the head of the Sunday school (he even taught my Sunday school class).
My father was a very angry man when I was a child. I can remember watching him walk down the sidewalk and by the way that he walked, I knew what kind of mood he was in. If it was an angry mood, I knew to just be quiet and let him go sit in his recliner and sleep with the newspaper. If I disturbed him, I’d better watch out. What he couldn’t handle was tears. They made him mad. He’d say “Stop your crying or I’ll give you something to cry about”. He didn’t even know how to hug his kids.
I learned many lessons from my childhood. I learned that I was to keep quiet. I also learned that who or what I was didn’t seem to be important and what I felt wasn’t important. That not breaking the eggshells was important. I was never to “air the dirty laundry in public.” I learned that the family image was supposedly everything.
Over the years he hurt me really bad. Once…I was black and blue from the waist down from a whipping with a lariat. I’d started crying due to frustration, then he yelled and I cried some more…then came the beating and the lariat was what was in his hands at the time. The worst part of that beating was having to go back to school and gym class, in shorts…nobody said anything about marks.
I never understood why Mom didn’t leave Dad.
Dad hurt my mom as well, but that’s her story to tell, not mine, and it will probably never be told. I was there when it happened one time – to see it in person, it remains in my memories today.
Her excuse was either that “He didn’t know his own strength” or that “I bruised easily”. I heard those too many times to remember them all. One time I got relegated to the basement while my father and brother turned on my sister. They were saying that my sister was a whore because she had a boyfriend. I heard every word and because of that, I didn’t date until I got to college (away from home).
When I was younger I would have loved for my mom to leave my dad. She didn’t until I had finished high school and college. Then she tried to put me in the middle of it (as usual), using what he’d done to me for her reason for leaving. That was hard for me because I thought it was my stuff to deal with. It was confusing to me because she was leaving me with him… plus the abuse hadn’t happened to me in many years. She was only gone for 3 months before she came back.
About the time that I was in junior high, I got the shakes (about 14 years old) – it was a year or two after the beating. (The kind where my hands wouldn’t stay steady.) I was taken to a counselor – just once. I was told that I would have to learn to deal with it myself as my parents couldn’t afford to pay for the counselor.
When I was in high school, I had detention once. Learned a very important skill for me during this detention. I learned how to write, and I’m not talking cursive or printing or calligraphy. Over the years that’s been what’s allowed me to get rid of everything that was at the top of my mind. A friend of mine described releasing things like this like a pressure cooker. You “bleed” off the pressure… writing does that for me. When I got into the last year of high school My dad was diagnosed with diabetes.
When his treatment was going well, the angry man wasn’t there. Now he was just absent…a workaholic farmer. He was a whole lot more pleasant to deal with when he was done working.
While I was in college I got calls from my mom telling me about my brother beating her, and my dad not doing anything about it. But by then…my brother was bigger than my dad, and he had been for awhile.
After college, I was living with the folks for a year and a half, trying to find work, desperate enough to consider teaching English overseas.
It was during this time that my folks split for awhile.
My folks split due to a disagreement over a cut garden hose in my brother’s garden. It was a disagreement between my mother and my brother. My dad was in the field when it happened. I pulled my mother away from my brother beating her. We went back to the house, she called the cops and wanted to lock all of the doors (those doors didn’t all even have locks). I started looking for somebody to try and diffuse the problem.
First I called, the pastor… he was not in town. Second, I called my uncles. I finally found my disabled uncle at home. He was willing to come out from town and try to find my dad who was farming in a field somewhere and I didn’t know where. All I knew was that I couldn’t stay in the house with my mom. I just didn’t feel like my mom was herself. We had some horses and I went out to spend time with the horses.
I lost a few hours in there. I don’t know where they went. My dad told me that he understood that the cops came out. That they got between my mother and my brother. That my mother wanted my brother removed from the premises but they wouldn’t do it because my brother farmed with my dad, and this was the farm. My mother left with the cops and was gone for a few months.
I got to know my Dad for who he was while she was gone. At that point he wasn’t the angry man he used to be, but was still working hard though work wasn’t everything to him. He’d learned how to hug me. I started to enjoy being around him.
My mom, when I was younger was a empathetic person who had a heart, and she was also a doormat. When she came back from having left my dad, her personality changed. Though I suppose that we all changed during those 3 months. It’s like we all took sides. Any relationships that there were in my family were changed… and I can’t say that I really truly like any of them the way that they exist right now. We’ve just all moved on, and nobody’s tried to correct any of the relationship problems. I’m not sure if anybody in my family ever really learned how to deal with relationship problems.
Counseling didn’t seem to help them much.
Mom and Dad did some counseling together. Then she moved back to the farm… because they “loved” each other. All I can say about that is that it sure didn’t look like they loved each other. They were like two ships passing in the night, or two strangers sharing a bed. I wanted out of there, and the further the better. I ended up moving 10 hours away, and lived there for about 5 years before I moved south. During the time that I was 10 hours away, I kept being told by my mother, “Oh we’ll just come and see you, not tell you that we’re coming and stay with you”. That freaked me out.
What bugged me more was getting a message on my answering machine from my brother and his wife, telling me that they were in town and could we get together. They were 5 blocks from where I lived and I hadn’t known. At that point in time I wanted to run, but some church folks convinced me not to.
Counseling seemed to help me sort through things.
I went into counseling there, because I was working with a man (for hours on end) that had a “hot” temper. We were on a short deadline and so it was a lot of hours. He got mad. I started crying and I was told to go to counseling or risk losing my job. For me, losing my job meant moving back in with my parents, and that was the last thing that I wanted. I primarily wanted to succeed and make more of myself than my two siblings ever did. After all I’m the one with a degree. My brother barely finished high school and now farms, and my sister was trained as a secretary, but now is a housewife and babysitter.
A number of years ago I moved south (more counselors). It was a time to learn a lot about myself. I’m just me here, not somebody’s daughter, or sister or cousin. While I have been wandering around down here, my dad got sicker. He had open heart surgery and I went back there, only to get screamed at by my brother (and blamed for almost everything) until I got physically ill. I didn’t report him as I was leaving town the next day and didn’t want to stay around to deal with it. I needed to go back south and put myself back together again. My dad went into renal failure, had congestive heart failure and then at the end it was stage 4 prostate cancer.
I was still going home for Christmas then… went once, and we went to see my brother, his wife and kids… I ended up turning them in to Social Services for neglect of the kids, based on what I’d seen and the stories that my parents told me. My parents wouldn’t do it, and I felt like I had to do something for the sake of the kids. Then I couldn’t handle going back there anymore and I didn’t want my brother to find out what I’d done.
Between then and now, I saw my dad twice as he got sicklier, that’s not to say that I didn’t talk to him, we talked a lot on the phone. Once he came to see me, and once a few months before he died I went to see him.
Can I say that I made peace with him? To the best of my ability I made peace with the man that he was before he died. For at that time he was a feeble old man that would have been blown over easily. Quite different from the father of my childhood.
I’ve been on the phone with my mother a lot this past year. Trying to make sure that she has what she needs only to end up feeling like she’s walking all over me and I’m letting her do it. She’s never lived alone before this year. She never let herself grieve (my opinion), and doesn’t feel like anybody else should be grieving either. The one thing that she does seem to respect from me is when I tell her that a conversation is done, she’ll stop dragging it on.
My dad’s funeral was strange. I hadn’t seen my brother or his family in years, and they were there. We all went for lunch together to my aunt’s place (my dad’s living sister), all of the family and the pastor from my parent’s city church. My cousin’s occupied my brother. I didn’t even say hello to him, and I escorted my mom to her seat. She didn’t want to walk with my brother. I did talk to my nephew, my brother’s oldest. He was extremely polite and came to talk to me… he’s the only one that I’d had any contact with, the other’s were a lot smaller when I was last around them.
The trip back for the funeral was even just strange. It’s like everything just happened the way that it was supposed to be. My office, who usually only allows for 1 day for a parent’s funeral, allowed me to take the time that I needed, knowing that I was going to have to go out of town for the funeral. I picked up a flight shortly after I got the call and was back there about 24 hours after he died. My mother and my sister arranged it so that he was buried 2 days later, making sure that I could stay for the funeral as I wasn’t staying long. The pastor that came down to the small town had never been there (and got lost on the way there), he asked prior to the service if any of us had anything that we’d like to say about Dad… I was the one that wrote something.
The other two said nothing. I got to come back south to my home so that I could start to grieve. I knew going down there that I wasn’t going to be allowed to grieve in front of my family.
I went back to his funeral and then again just a few months ago. I really wanted to go and see his grave. I also wanted to see my disabled uncle’s grave as well as they’ve both died recently (within 3 months of each other, both of cancer though different kinds), and then to see my aunt (their sister who also has stage 4 cancer). While I was there, my mother thought that I was strange for crying at the cemetery. She doesn’t figure that I should be grieving for him as he was always sick from the time that she married him. What she doesn’t realize is that he was always and will always be my dad, and no matter what he did to me, I still love him. I shut her up by telling her that the conversation was done because she wouldn’t stop. I told her that I didn’t want to talk about it.
Grateful – now!
I cherish the times that I had with my dad… not the angry times… but what I call the good times. The ones where he would talk to me, tell me stories about his life, and ask me about mine. He made an effort to get to know me as me, the adult. I wish that there had been more, but I know that at least I had the time that I had. If he’d died years before I wouldn’t have been in the place that I am now… I wouldn’t have been strong enough to deal with everything… and I might not have gotten to see him prior to him dying. So I’m grateful for the time we had, for the things that we did talk about over the years and the opportunity to get to know my dad as he was at the end… instead of just having the memories of the beginning.