Sunday, June 21, 2009

For Some, Every Day is Father's Day: Love Among the Ruins of Child Abuse

What silences we keep year after year
With those who are most near to us
And dear...
...Who knows the thoughts of a child?
Nora Perry

I'm wondering...what you are wondering about those who celebrate fathers and love.

In my neighborhood there are two little girls excited to celebrate Father’s Day. They chatter happily about the cards and gifts and special day they will have for him. No matter that their father screams, beats, neglects and curses them even as he threatens to kill anyone who tries to take them away from him. No matter that they crouch and cringe in fear when they aren’t running down the street yelling with joy, “Daddy’s home…Daddy’s home.”

No matter...for when he reaches for them their little faces crack like thin ice…fear splashes like cold water upon the warm flush of their hopeful faces as they struggle to read the signs with which they are so familiar. Will there be tussling bear hugs, sloppy kisses and affectionate tickles…or will his strong arm yank one close, big hand gripping hair as the other slaps the tiny upturned face. They know what goes on behind closed doors. He knows. Mother knows. Neighbors, teachers, doctors know.

The closed CPS records indicate “conflicted emotions” visible in children’s behaviors when father present, but no evidence of substantiated abuse exists. No matter…he is their father and they love him as only children can love a father.

Every day is father’s day in a home with an abusive father. Even now, 30 years after my own abusive father died, every day remains father’s day for not a day passes that something does not remind me of him. I’ve done the work, learned to forgive, to accept, to heal and to move on, but there is no forgetting. The shadows of abuse last a lifetime. The love and the hate that mingled in my child mind, as it mingles now in theirs, mingles still and always will, in the shadows at the back of my mind.

Ask me to reminisce about my father and I will tell you about a poor man who married his high school sweetheart, who proudly served his country in the Army Air Corp when I was born in 1943, who worked two menial jobs all his life, who cried as he waited to die for fear he’d lose the shack we called home, built with nails we helped pound straight enough to reuse on boards salvaged from a burned out torn down hotel, who taught us to ride bikes he built from rusty scraps, catch crabs to eat with nothing but a oft mended pole net and chicken wing on a knotted string, safely body surf in the ocean because there was no money to buy the canvas floats the other kids in town used. I will tell you of the fun of cooking hot dogs and melting marshmallows on a stick over the fire kettle in which we roasted aluminum foil wrapped potatoes buried in the coals as we burned the trash that didn’t go into the garbage pit. I will recall summers of laughing and running with him, catching fireflies in empty mayonnaise jars on summer nights too hot to sleep, pitching horseshoes around the railroad stake, playing badminton over the clothes line. In winter there were snowball fights, giant snowmen, and being pulled across town on a rickety sled held together with fraying rope to buy groceries at the little store that extended credit before credit cards became a way of life. There were hard times. There were good times. And I remember them all.

I remember the cursing, the screaming, and the ugly swollen red face as he swung the webbed Army belt he beat us with; the blunt force of the steel toed boots when he knocked us to the ground then kicked us around, the sharp sting of his hand across my face for any reason or none. I remember the hunger of the times with no food in the house for us but beer and pizza for them and their drunken friends after the bars closed. In the mornings my brothers and I picked cigarette butts ground in those pizza crusts so we could eat them on our way to school. There were times after walking home at lunchtime to find them still asleep and nothing to eat, we later returned after school even more hungry to find and fight over cold pork chop and steak bones left over from the meal they had eaten before they both left for work I remember too the cold…the god awful cold of the unheated shack in NJ winters, ice cold showers because we had no hot water heater, putting feet into frozen shoes in the morning.
All these things and more I remember that I wish I could forget. The sexual molestation of me and my friends by him and his friends. The horror of the time when a neighbor girl was raped and beaten so badly that although her body healed her mind never did, and the worst horror for me of thinking it was probably done by my father.

And always there was the mixture of love and hate, never to be resolved.

Even after wanting him to be the loving grandfather to my children, but having to grab him and threaten to kill him if he ever again laid a hand on my girls, even after I was married, after my mother died, and he grabbed me and forced me down on the bed, shoving his tongue in my mouth before I found the strength to fight him off as I’d never been able as a child…

...even then I got up, brushed myself off, and went on loving him. Went on loving him so that when word came that he had incurable cancer, I left my family to come and take care of him for the ten weeks of that dying.

And even then...and even then... I cried when he finally died.

And even now...and even now... every day I remember him, and sometimes still I cry.

A Child is Waiting,
Take aware,
Nancy Lee


Just Be Real said...

Nancy Lee your story has touched me deeply and I am terribly sorry for the abuse you endured!

((((safe hugs))))

Child Person said...

Thank you, belatedly,for your comment and your safe hugs. Both touch my heart.

VICKI IN AZ said...

An amazing moving story.
You are incredible.

Child Person said...

Thank you for the words of encouragement, Vicki. Sadly, the stories are moving because they are true.

Marj aka Thriver said...

Jesus. What an amazing, true story. Thank you for sharing. I know it must be hard, even still. After all this time.

Chris T said...

Jesus. I'm late to the ballgame but have to respond. You are a very powerful writer. I would say I get great joy from reading your story but joy is definitley the wrong word. It's more like a punch in the gut. You've shown the dichotomy of the abused child like no other I've ever read and I read a LOT. I too had a brutal childhood but in one sense I was lucky. There was no loving hand from my main abusers. No hugs, play time or I love yous.It made it very simple to cut all ties at 17 years old and never look back. Well, never see them again but the memories and repurcussions are still there. Thank you for sharing your life with the world and I'm very sorry you had to live through such a hard childhood too. If only we could stop these things from ever happening to another person again. Thank you.