He said he loved me. He said he could never hurt me. He told me that I was his special little girl. He was my dad and I believed him until . . .
Until he made me pose naked for his camera when I was five years old. Until he kicked the two-legged cat so hard it flew 20 feet into the air. Until he made a bruised and broken mess of my mother’s face. Until he raped my little sister so that her laugh sounded fake and forced for the next 30 years.
How do I write his eulogy now?
I don’t even know where to begin.
He was not a great man. There is little I can brag about. And even if I did, everyone at his memorial would know I was lying.
But despite the horror show that was my childhood, I loved my dad.
There was another side to him. Sometimes. Okay, rarely.
But when you are a little girl, you will hang around for those rare times when Daddy smiles and the world seems perfect for a brief moment.
He taught me how to shoot guns. He taught me how to ride motorcycles. He taught me how to lift weights. I guess he wanted a boy but I didn’t care. Girlie stuff was never for me and I loved being a tomboy.
He was an honest man in a strange kind of way. He never intentionally lied. And I respected him for that. But his denial was a powerful lie that corrupted the fabric of our family.
This faithful man who never drank and always brought his paycheck straight home to his wife, was molesting his daughters. It made no sense.
He believed in God and the Bible but would have little to do with either. Mother went to church every Saturday and he kind of resented her time away from us. Did he miss her when she was gone? It never seemed so. But now I wonder.
I have always wanted to find the words for how I feel about my dad. But they don’t exist. How do you say love/hate? How do you breathe a sigh of relief that he is gone while crying your guts out with grief?
What is it that binds us to our parents even when they hurt us so deeply it takes decades of therapy to put our broken psyches back together?
Soon I will be making my way to the family reunion and memorial. Everyone will want to talk about my dad. Each will have their take on who he was. Some will declare he was stubborn. Others will swear they tried everything they could to tell him they loved him. Still others will lament the eternal damnation of his soul seeing as how he never “gave his heart to the Lord.”
Will anyone say anything endearing about him? Probably. No doubt it will be a story from his own innocent childhood . . . before he was himself abused and before his mental illness took him over.
He refused to speak to me for nearly 30 years because I had the gall to say the truth that he molested my sister and me. I said it because I needed to in order to heal. He replied that he never did and even if he did, what did it matter? “You’re a slut now anyway.”
I wonder why Dad? I wonder why.
One thing I never inherited from my dad is a forgiving heart. I was born with that. And nothing he was capable of doing to me or the people I loved could change that.
The phone call we shared just before he died was only 12 minutes long. But it was pure grace. I could hardly recognize him. He was kind. He was even gentle. He reminded me of my grandfather – his dad.
I told my dad that I love him. He started to cry and said he knew that and that he loved me too. That was our goodbye.
I do love you Daddy.
And I am so sorry for your pain. I am sorry for the horrible ways you were abused. And I am sorry that you never got help for your mental illness.
I am very sad that your pain became everyone else’s pain. I am angry that you took it out on me, on my sister and on my mother.
But that family legacy of pain and abuse stops here. So when it is all said and done, which it is now, I am grateful. Grateful to have a heart so full of love that even you could not kill it.