It wasn’t an uncle, a coach or a priest. It was my dad.
Prior to fifth grade, physical contact with my dad was normal, as least normal for me. I’d like to think he use to give me a loving hug or an encouraging pat on the back, but I just can’t remember. I do remember being punished. Most of the time the punishment for my error’s in judgement was the belt. Pretty standard corporal punishment for the mid-to-late 1960’s.
My dad was resourceful when the belt wasn’t convenient. He used a hand when the need was urgent and he was very adept at firing a backhand from the driver’s seat to where ever I was seated in the back. Without looking! My cheek would be stinging before I even knew I’d been hit. He was fast AND accurate.
Then there were those times at the dinner table when I’d feel and look only to see the imprint of my dad’s fork on the back of my hand. My dad was a ninja with his hands! If I was messing around at the dinner table, very suddenly, my merriment would be punctured with the five prongs of dad’s eating utensil. Before I could look up at him or utter the sound of pain, he had cut and swiped a piece of meat from his plate and into his mouth without skipping a beat. Ninja!
Again, I could dust the 1960’s off my feelings and attribute my dad’s actions to what was normal, nothing special, and very likely, ‘normal’ in most of homes in my neighborhood or across the Country. But then again, I don’t know what ‘normal’ was in other homes. I just knew my normal.
Possibly the least normal, but certainly his most creative form of teaching me a lesson was the time I was caught playing with matches. Dad walked me to my room with the book of matches in his hand. He pushed me to the bed, I turned to face him and brace for whatever was next. My dad climbed on me and pinned down my arms with his legs, then lit a match and held it close to my wrist. After several lit matches I got the point, “Only you can prevent forest fires.”
One day I happened to be with my grandfather (my mom’s dad). I don’t remember why, I just remember being in the car with him. We pulled into the driveway of my grandparents home, he turned off the car, looked at me in the passenger seat and he asked me why I didn’t smile as much as I use to. By this time I was in fifth grade. My second year of Pop Warner Football, listening to coaches admonish and teammates ridicule me Monday through Friday, and Saturday’s spent riding the bench. Although my grandfather encouraged me, came to my practices and games, even letting me practice blocking and tackling him, I wished my dad was the encourager.
My dad’s lack of encouragement wasn’t the thing that wiped the smile from my face, nor was it the normal I knew as discipline for doing something wrong. What took the ready smile from my face was the way in which my dad took advantage of my need for his positive affirmation by sexually abusing me.
Not only did his sexual abuse take the smile from me, it also took any esteem I had for myself, and it skewed what love looked like. Between the shame and anger that I developed and the numbness that I tried to control it with, there was little reason or ability to be the kid that always had a smile for you.
”Nothing,” I replied to my grandfather. He told me that if there was anything wrong that I could always talk to him about it. No I couldn’t, but I think I spent the rest of the day trying to reassure my grandfather that I was ok, keeping a smile on my face as much as possible. I continued that practice in front of him and pretty much anyone I came into contact with.
My parents split when I was in sixth grade. The last straw, after my mom became aware of what my dad was doing and promises that he would never do it again, was one day after school my dad told me to take a bath. At first I just complained because that’s what 12 year old’s do when they are told to get cleaned up. As my reasons for not needing a bath got more creative, it began to dawn on me that I normally bathed or showered at night before bed, and that’s when I realized it was more than a bath he wanted. At this point he was starting to get angry with me and I didn’t want to get hit, so I agreed to take a bath.
I turn the water on in the tub and undressed as modestly as possible. I would have closed the bathroom door but he stood in the doorway watching me. The only protection I could think of was to get into the tub, whether the water was too hot or cold, and close the shower door. My dad walked in the bathroom and sat on the toilet which was next to the tub. He slid one side of the shower doors open and placed his hand in the water as if to check the temperature. I pulled my legs next to my chest in attempt to create distance and tried to talk him out of whatever he had planned to do. He kept trying to reassure me, and although I knew better, I didn’t know how I was going to get out of this.
And then the front door of our two bedroom apartment opened. It was my mom, and from the front door a person could see right through to the tub if the bathroom door was open. For the first time in a long time I had a reason to genuinely smile.
I saw my dad just four times in six years after he and my mom divorced, otherwise I never spoke with him until he called me during my freshman year in college. You see, though I was 18 years old, the State was making him continue to pay child support while I was still in school, and he was hoping he could talk me out of receiving that money. I declined his request with extreme prejudice.
The last time I spoke to my dad was when I was in my mid-thirties. He was walking out of a post office as I approached from the parking lot. I saw him as he walked my way and as he got closer I caught his eye and asked him how he was doing? He stopped, continuing to keep eye contact with me and said, “Fine, sir.” He didn’t know me! I said, “good,” and continued walking to the front door as my dad made his way to his car and drove away.
There was a time, after my parents were trying to repair their marriage and before the time she caught my dad with me in the tub, that we went to church one evening as a family. Unbeknownst to us, it was Communion service this particular evening at the church. Each of us took a portion of the broken wafer that symbolized Christ’s body and the thimble-sized cup of grape juice that represented His blood, in honor and remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. The only family member not to participate was my dad. After church my dad was quiet and seemed tense.
For some reason, I don’t remember, my mom drove us home and my dad was in the passenger seat. Before reaching home, mom pulled into McDonald’s. We ordered at the drive-through window and then turned into the lot to park and eat. As my mom and dad talked I heard him tell her that he was mad that we had taken him to church when Communion was scheduled. My mom tried to explain that she hadn’t planned it, that she didn’t know it was scheduled. At one point I started talking, I don’t remember what I said, though a day later my mom and I talked about it. She told me that she was amazed at what I said and so happy that I spoke up. In short I told my dad that we hadn’t planned it, that we loved him and that Jesus loved him too. I do remember telling him that I didn’t want I’m to go to hell. The Spirit must have been speaking and I’m so glad today they were His words and not mine. Unfortunately my dad didn’t turn his life around, at least not that I know of.
In one way or another, sin is selfish. Before we know it, we become all about sin, and our life and everyone in it gets lost. Whether it’s alcohol, drugs, gambling or sex, the sin of selfishness becomes an addiction that overtakes and becomes life to that person, replacing everything and everyone. Sin becomes more important than the person addicted and becomes the center of everything that will ultimately destroy the person and every pure relationship in it.
I found out a few years ago that my dad had died. I don’t know whether or not he recommitted his life to Jesus, but hope he did. The thing I do know is that he gave up his wife, sons, grandchildren and great grandchildren for sin. He walked away from four generations of his family for sin. God, Himself, reminds us of His mercy in Chronicles 7, “if My people who are called by My name humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” And Jesus reminds us of His grace in John 8, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”
I turned 60 years old this month and still have trouble with flashbacks, bad dreams, mood swings, depression and other symptoms from the abuse from my dad. During those times I grieve, get it all out and then go on about whatever is in front of me. I don’t try to stuff those feelings any longer and that has helped me enormously.
I also remember that God loves us with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:1). As we are just days away from celebrating Love’s birthday, I’m reminded that The Father brought His Son into the world to provide a gift to us—the opportunity of a relationship with our Father through His Son, Jesus. The opportunity to experience a deeper love from Him, for Him and for others. And the opportunity for everlasting life—to spend eternity with Him, with Jesus, where there will be no bad dreams, no fear, no pain, just unspeakable depths and heights of love.
If you are experiencing any type of physical abuse, tell someone. If you have experienced that abuse but never told anyone, speak to a heath professional, your pastor, anyone that will not tell anyone else, but will help get you pointed toward a more positive way to understand and the tools to deal with life after being abused.
One of the tough things about being abused is trusting others, but please, don’t let that get in the way of telling someone. That’s the first step in regaining trust and the love in life that God intends for us all. In time, you may find that telling your story will help others get though a tough time they’ve experienced. God has an amazing way of converting our pain into a way to bless others and to realize we’re not alone on this journey.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”
If you haven’t already, ask Jesus into your life right now and start the healing process this very day! It’s as easy as saying, “Jesus, will you come into my life? Will you forgive me of my sins and replace the pain in my heart with your love? Thank you, Father. In Jesus’ name, amen.” It’s that easy. I pray that from this day forward, you’ll never have to be in this alone. Along with that simple prayer, I’ve provided a couple of resources below. If you have or find additional recourses please let me know. I’d love to pass the information on to others.
Until next time, peace & joy,
DOD Helpline: www.safehelpline.org
Ephesians 2:10 — graphics/photo credit: Roger Coles (@rogercoles) via YouVersion Bible App www.YouVersion.com