Every year on Father's Day, along with thousands of other women I experience a sense of loss, knots in my stomach and an acute yearning. For what? For happy memories with a caring, loving, non abusive, protective father. Those of us who have experienced incest don't have those happy memories. We spend the day trying not to think about the anguish of a childhood that swept away our innocence, locked us into a cage we cannot get out of, a three sided cage. We fight hyper-vigilance, eating disorders, depression, thoughts of suicide, painful and frightening flashbacks and many more repercussions filled with anguish. We don't buy a card or send a gift. We don't make a phone call wishing our father a happy day and telling him we are thinking of him. We are thinking of him alright but it's not with joyful, loving thoughts. We can't go back and live our life over with a non-abusive father. Our life is what it is.
In my personal experience I have memories that may or may not be a blessing. My father delivered me during a blizzard in International Falls. He always related the incident as if he'd won World War II single handed. It created a bond between the two of us that the rest of his children could not be a part of. People used to say, "There goes Bernie Leick and his daughter, Margie. He has three other children that live with him." I remember my father coming home from the war, an intense, joyful memory of running towards him, my arms outstretched as he grabbed me and crushed me to his chest. I remember my father with his many kisses: the Finnish kiss, the Eskimo kiss, the Scottish kiss. I remember my delight in stopping at where he worked to visit with him on my way home from school. He was the manager of Occident Lumber Yard and the smell of wood to this day is like Channel #5 to me. I remember long trips in the car on weekends where he took us to historical sites, museums, parks and anything else in the area that he felt we needed to know about. His knowledge of every place we went only intesified the happiness of our day. I can recall sitting on the piano bench with him while he taught me how to play. He had had twelve years of piano lessons and while in the Marine Corps during World War II his assignment was to play in Bob Crosby's Marine Corps band. How proud I was of him. How larger than life he appeared. I asked him once why he wasn't President of the United States. He should be.
Then, I remember the cold and dreary November night when I was thirteen years of age and my dad came into my bedroom in the middle of the night where I lay with a rosary tucked under my pillow and Rusty, our dog on watch beneath the bed. My childhood was shattered. My anguish intense. My screams bounced off the walls, raced down the hall to my mother's bedroom. My terror accelerated. I thought a steamroller was coming over me, crushing the life out of me. By the time my mother, who was a heavy sleeper, woke up and came into my room my father was standing at the doorway clutching his robe, his face tight.
"Mamma, help me, please Mama. Somebody was laying on me and did something so awful. Help me, Mama, help me. I clutch my mother so tight I felt as if I could never let go.
"You've had a nightmare now go back to sleep."
"No Mamma. It wasn't a nightmare. Help me."
"No, it was just a nightmare, now go back to sleep." She left the room, followed by my father.
I reached underneath my pillow for my rosary, as my body shook with fear. I never screamed for help again.
I ran away from home when I was eighteen. I was married to three abusers. I had many failed suicide attempts and time spent in a psychiatric ward twice. I went through therapists as if they were pills in a bottle. Not one asked me about my childhood. I lived part time in a women's shelter. Then I entered a program of recovery, one where I finally found a therapist who had been a child sexual abuse herself and was able to pinpoint my problem. It took me five, long years, years filled with searing memories.
The last time I saw my father was when I drove the four hours up to his house north of Los Angeles. I was 43. He was 71. He had called me and asked if I would come up. He had something to tell me. I was disconcerted. My father almost never wanted anything to do with me, usually referring to me as unclean and no good. The last time I had seen him was when he came into LA on business and asked me to have dinner with him.
That night as we sat in his hotel room he said, as he drank his bourbon. "It's time I talked to you about the incestuous relationship I had with you when you were a young girl." He filled his pipe from his tobacco pouch. "A lot of fathers and daughters have this kind of relationship. It really is quite common. They do it in the Appalachian District all the time."
His words shattered me as a door flew open and ugly memories began spilling out. I slammed it shut. I remember nothing more about that night other than driving home as I sobbed with tears that blinded me. What did incest mean? It had something to do with the Bible, didn't it?
What did he want now? I would soon find out I thought as I drove the long road to his home. It was a drive filled with tension and anxiety. The first night I sat in the kitchen with my father and my stepmother.
"Kiddo, do you remember the time I talked with you about the incest relationship we had when you were a young girl?"
I froze as a memory popped out.
"I need to talk to you about it before it's too late."
"No, no!" I heard my stepmother scream. She had had a stroke a few months earlier and was totally paralyzed, now lying in a hospital bed where Dad took care of her. He had been changing her IV as he spoke.
"I've had to listen to that for twenty five years. I don't want to hear anymore about it."
"Now, now. I won't talk about it, okay?" He soothed her brow.
I left the next day, hugging him tightly as I said goodbye. A few weeks later as his birthday approached I wrote him a letter. In it I said, "You must tell me what it is that is bad between us. If you don't one of us will die and the other will be left with unanswered questioned, with issues not healed and closed."
He received the letter on his birthday, stamped it with the date and died of a massive heart attack a few days later.
I stood at his grave while in the midst of my recovery. "Dad, if you want to make amends for what you did you will help me write a book about what happened. You will help me start a movement to help others who have experienced a similar trauma. If you do that I can forgive you."
Today, we have 74 Lamplighter chapters in 14 countries. Our first chapter was in International Falls. The woman who started it didn't know I had been born there. Today I am getting ready to publish my fifth book of the REPAIR series, a program that takes you from despair to joy. Today, I can forgive my father.
Happy Father's Day Dad.