Oh cold man of sick manipulation,
Nose glowing red; tears; a sick indulgence.
To put my mind in a trepidation,
He clings; a parasite, my hindrance.
The selfish greed deep as the blackest hole,
He pities himself, no care for his spawn.
Self-serving hedonistic lump of coal,
Betrayal, abandon, leaving us: gone.
Is he with our hearts bleeding on his sleeve,
Hoarding his money in his fattening gut.
Promise a fathers love only to leave,
He whines, he cries in despair like a mutt.
The leach sucks my life out; points of his words,
Sink into my flesh – my blood all but curds.
– written for an English Honors assignment at 15
My father is a hebephile. May well be a pedophile. I am not sure exactly what ages his perverted predilections have carved out as “preferred” or “acceptable.” I do know my father made me immensely uncomfortable with my body when I was 11 and this continued till I was 15. I do know I always knew to be careful around him. I do know he scared me sometimes.
No my father did not touch me. There are blurry memories of lingering hands and inappropriate glances but I was not molested. Thank God, or rather thank you Mother. However, he did not need to molest me to make his desires and his proclivities clear. I was rarely alone with my father (thank you again mom). For a reason.
Why am I writing this? Because I know my experience can shed light on more families than we can imagine. Sexual violence is more common than we think, as I’ve said before and will continue to say. I would be willing to bet most families have been touched by the issue, or have at least been touched by abuse of some form.
See, sexual violence seems endemic in my family. It feels like a sick inheritance passed down the generations. For a while I wondered if we were alone in this. Unique. Was something wrong with our family? In fact, when my husband explained the long history of sexual abuse in my family to his curious female coworker she ignorantly responded are you sure they don’t just like drama?
However, there are more families like mine out there than we may like to acknowledge. Nearly every female friend I talk to about these issues has opened about her own experiences, even when I was younger. Even my husband opened up months after we got together, nearly a year, about his pedophile brother (who was, then, imprisoned for child pornography) molesting him. His family had thought they were untouched by these issues until a hole was blasted through that wall by Evan’s arrest. Until years later my husband, feeling comfortable with me, admitted it to himself and someone else for the first time.
None of these people just liked the drama. Most try to pretend it never happened, lived in denial for years, and hide in silence. So it is unsurprising to me, now, that my family has had these experiences. It is unsurprising to me, now, that my father is a pedophile. These things happen. They just do.
However, it was still hard to cope with a family with so much trauma, particularly because most of the trauma had happened when they were children and adolescents shaping formative parts of their lives. They had issues I had to experience and be around because of their trauma. This is not a good or bad thing. It just was. And, again, because I am not unique in any of these experiences I am going to share the issues I had growing up with my father.
The biggest issue was a family secret I did not know till I was 16. The biggest issue was a family secret I kept too until I felt my sister was in danger. My father abused my cousin and the fallout led to her suicide.
My father hid cameras in my cousin’s bedroom. He took footage of her constantly. The images captured were her most private, intimate moments. He victimized her and took advantage of her proximity. When my cousin discovered this the family covered for my father. They insisted my father was “protecting” her, making sure she was not doing drugs. They basically tried to pretend this gross abuse of privacy for my father’s own sexual gratification was him “keeping tabs” on her.
My cousin had no support from her family. In fact, she had the opposite. Her family was siding with their brother, their son, her uncle… and my cousin killed herself. Now my family has a shrine dedicated to her. Upon her death my grandmother, the staunchest defender of my father, took me to her grave every weekend. The family ignored that they had led my cousin to her death and instead pretended she was a saint who had been beloved and well treated, rather than a human being who had been abused and traumatized. My cousin was more “loved” in death than in life by the people around her. Their grief manifested in a clear facade to ease their guilt.
I did not know the reason my cousin killed herself when I was younger. I was still in elementary school when she died. I sobbed at her funeral but I was blissfully unaware of tension that existed at that funeral.
When my mother found out what caused my cousin’s death she began checking everything my father gave me for cameras. I did not know this. All I knew is that everything my father gave me my mother looked through diligently.
My mother had already known my father was abusive and a creep. He was 20 when I was conceived, my mother 15. Statutory rape clearly. Now people excuse statutory rape when the victim was “willing.” But here’s the thing it does not change the fact that it is creepy to be attracted to a 15 year old girl when you are a 20 year old man. I reached 20 years old and I looked out at the 15 year olds I knew, including my sisters, and I was horrified. It is just creepy it just is. Thus, first red flag.
My father also has an explosive temper, is emotionally manipulative and coercive, and is downright physically abusive. My mother told me she specifically left him when I was three because I walked in on him choking her. He told her “I know how to choke you without leaving marks.” She was not going to let me grow up around that. Thus, I did not grow up around that. She removed me from that situation.
But after my mother knew about my cousin she had more to look for. I remember as a child her sitting me down and saying “if anyone touches you, papa, nana, daddy, even if I touch you wrong, tell someone.” She was constantly on alert about my father. I had vibes about this. I knew to be careful. I still loved my father. In fact, I specifically remember she refused to bad mouth him for years. Even when I vented, even as I grew up. It is something my aunt starkly criticizes her for. However, I also knew to always, always be careful.
When I was 11 puberty had already hit. I had started my period, I had pubic hair, I was growing those awkward little triangle lumps they call “breasts” and things started getting weird. My father made comments about it being cold, about training bras, about puberty.
One memory stands out starkly for me. We were standing in a guitar store at the mall (we were always at the mall – I’ll go into this). My father was talking about the curve of the guitar and how it helped the musical tone and such. My father is a gifted guitarist. I was enjoying it until he started talking about how the guitar was shaped like an hourglass, like a woman. A soft, sensual woman. How women have these curves and soon I would be developing them, soon even I would have them.
I felt distinctly uncomfortable in that moment under my father’s gaze. That night as I walked up the stairs ahead of my father I felt sharply awkward about the way my skirt hugged my bottom, how I could feel my growing hips sway a little with each step up the stairs. From then on I was careful how I held myself around my father. I tried to be careful about what I wore. It helped that I was already a practicing Muslim and wearing hijab, ultra modesty was a part of my daily life. But I noticed I soon became hesitant to even remove my hijab in front of my father.
My father’s gaze is piercing and it is only made more piercing and long lasting by his constant “photography.” My father was always getting new cameras. New video cameras. I was unphased by this initially. However, I know now what my father was doing. There was a soccer field right next to my paternal grandparent’s house, where my father lived most of my life. He would watch as preteen girls crowded onto the soccer field on Sundays and take pictures of “the soccer game.”
He would also take me to the mall for his gazing pleasure every weekend. I found out later, as a teenager, from my mother that he would drag her to mall all the time too. When they were together that is. She explained that he was people watching, or rather, girl watching. I was horrified. But it all made sense.
My mother used this wonderful turn of phrase recently after reading my full account of high school: “It was like I was reading a book I have read before.” You knew the story, you had been there, you had felt that something was wrong. So when you get the full image, the real story, a light bulb clicks on and all the parts of the story that were in shadow become clear and you knew. You knew all along, but now you know.
But I still did not know yet. We have gone over when I was younger. But now I was fourteen/fifteen years old and in high school.
I remember my father crying. My father cries pitifully. Not in the sexist gender norm way that men crying is pathetic, that is an absurd norm and men should absolutely feel free to cry. It is healthy. My father did not cry like that. I mean he broke down in these wrenching sobs, these blubbering monologues that held you hostage. You could not continue to be upset with him, you could not walk away, my father froze the moment in time and you felt compelled to care for him.
To make his emotional manipulation clearer, my father has repeatedly threatened suicide whenever people attempt to leave him. When my mother attempted to leave him there he was the blubbering, pathetic wretch who would threaten time and time again that he would kill himself if she left. When Honora (my half-siblings mother, my adopted mother, my mother’s best friend, and now my mother’s wife) attempted to leave him, again the same thing.
He plays the victim and coerces people to care for him, stick around for him. I found myself in this position. Again and again my father opened up to me about his life. We had never had that kind of relationship, now he was talking my ear off about his new marriage, confiding in me. Now he was putting me in these positions where I comforted him, despite him having never comforted me while I was in tears. Now he was calling me special, you have always been special to me, you’re my oldest, my first child. Now he was paying me extra attention when usually I was an afterthought.
I told my mother about this and she carefully threaded through the maze of eggshells surrounding this delicate problem to get me to safety. My mother explained that my father was prepping me. He was emotionally manipulative and was purposely getting me to take care of his needs.
You see, predators do this. The term is grooming. They manipulate young potential victims into caring for their needs, forging an emotional bond, and lowering their inhibitions. They do this so that when they make these victims take care of their sexual needs the victims are used to the pattern and do not protest. She did not lay it out quite in terms of “your father is a predator who is grooming you.” But I came away with a clear message do not fall for his manipulations.
So I tried not to. My father did not stop so we stopped talking. I have barely talked to or seen my father since I was 15 and completely cut our “relationship” and him out of my life at 19.
There is a blurry memory in a pool from this time in my life. A lingering touch on my upper thigh. A father playing in the pool with his kids right? But the lingering image burns. It burns my mind. I am not sure if this furtive touch was real or a nightmare. But I do remember him trying to get close to me in that pool, my great grandmother’s pool. This was not imagined. I would swim away and he would follow. I would put distance between us, the distance closed. It was like a game or something, it made me so uncomfortable. You have to understand, my father and I did not spend time with each other unless it was cajoled out of him by the people around us. This new attention was weird and awkward and forced.
I do not fully understand what was happening between my father and I. All I know is that when I think about it I get sick. I feel sick. I do not even know what to call these experiences. But they were experiences that my friend, who had also had a pedophile father who was later locked up for molesting her friend, had also struggled with. An insistence on sitting in their lap, a penchant for tickling and lingering.
Those fleeting moments of goose bumps. The hair on the back of your neck stands up like you are in danger. You shudder. You cross your arms. You feel the discomfort grow. You do not know what to do. It is an invisible threat. No fist, no sound, nothing obvious, just a glance and your world quakes.
Another experience jarred me at that age. This time it was violence, my father’s awful temper that scared me. My father throws things a lot, breaks things, becomes uncontrollably angry and lashes out. My father has been physically abusive to the women he dates. My father grew up seeing my grandfather beat my grandmother. I know this now. I was not so informed then. With all these issues it comes as no surprise that my father drove aggressively when he became angry, definite road rage.
Because of my mother this rarely happened with me in the car. My mother’s domination of my father in court and his inability to manipulate her made him fear her reprisals if he acted too far out of line with me. It saved me from a lot of his anger, a lot that I know my sisters had to see. But that day I saw something that changed everything.
We pulled up to a red light. A homeless man approached the car window. I saw a movement in my periphery. My father pulled a knife out of the middle compartment. He didn’t look at me. He was seething. He clutched the knife at his side and rolled the window down. His voice changed, there was a tense quality I could not define. I don’t remember the words that were exchanged all I could think was please don’t kill him, god oh god please do not kill him. The man moved away, the light turned green, and it was over. My father’s hand unclutched. He put the knife away as he drove on. I just sat there wide eyed and terrified as we drove on.
I did not know if how my father reacted was justified. I did not honestly care. It had scared me. It had shown me a side of my father that made me scared. That side of him had been so bare and so exposed in that moment I could not look at him the same way again.
I ask this again because what did all this mean? Why do I feel the need to share this?
Because of my friends. Because I have seen friends struggle with these same experiences and wonder what that hollow feeling was. Because I have seen people struggle with these emotional manipulations and grooming techniques. Because I have seen how when the lines blur between healthy behavior and unhealthy behavior children are often left confused even into adulthood.
If my experiences can shed light on another’s experience with a parent, any parent male or female, it is worth sharing.