Do you remember the last thing you said to me?
Do you remember our last conversation?
We were standing in the kitchen. It was dark out, but the lights were bright inside. You were complaining about our beloved Otis having one single flea. You wanted to kick him out of the house because of a single bug.
We argued about it.
The next morning you were dead.
You killed yourself.
I questioned myself, I blamed myself and others for years. What could I have done? Could I have made a difference? Could I have talked to you, treated you different?
But the answer is no.
Did you think this was going to be an I’m sorry letter? It’s not. As a matter of fact it’s the opposite. You always told me you were a bad father. You always manipulated me into feeling sorry for that confession, as if it was my fault some how. The thing is, you were right, you were a very bad father.
The first memory I have of you, I made up. When I was a teenager, you asked me what my first memory was of you. When I looked at you blankly, you started to look sad. So I made something up. I told you I remember one of those rare, precious snow days where we made snow ice cream together. That was not a lie. I do remember that day, and it was really fun. But it was not my first memory of you.
My first memory of you was when you found me playing hide and seek in the church parking lot. I was in one of my favorite sunday dresses, it had a lace ruffle around the collar, sleeves, and bottom hem. I had on lace fringed socks and my black mary janes. I
was running around. I was happy. I was laughing with my friends. I was crouching beside a car, giggling, just knowing I had outsmarted my friends. That was until I felt someone grab the neck of my dress and start yelling at me.
It wasn’t a stranger. It wasn’t the boogey man, it was you.
When we got home I was told to pick a switch from a tree. I don’t know why, but I remember knowing what that meant. So being the smart girl that I thought I was, I pointed to the smallest twig I could see on the bradford pear tree. You took out your pocket knife and cut that small little switch. You pulled up my dress, you pulled down my panties, and you whipped me. Instead of warning me that my choice of switch would injure me more, you decided it was another lesson to learn. My choice of playing hide and seek in a parking lot where I could be ran over by a car warranted my five year old flesh being ripped and cut open from my buttox to my knees by my choice of weapon. Afterwards you made me promise not to tell anyone. I could only wear jeans to school. If I told, you would go to jail and if you did, how would we afford to eat?
My choice to choose a happier memory as my first memory of you was self preservation.
As I grew, my fear of you did as well.
Every Saturday after our happy father daughter breakfast, we would do yard work, or I would help mom at the grocery store. After one such breakfasts, I wasn’t feeling well. You rubbed my head and told me to go lay down, and you would take care of the yard by yourself. So I did what any other 8 year old would do. I grabbed a blanket, poured myself some juice, and laid on the couch watching cartoons.
What was even worse? You did it in the name of your God. Only when you came in to check on me, you yanked the blanket off of me. You told me that if I was really sick I wouldn't have the energy to watch TV. You dragged me outside and made me pick up pine cones in the woods as punishment. I threw up a half a dozen times until you were convinced I was either too sick or had worked long enough that I should be allowed to go in. I did not watch TV. I went into my bedroom and cried myself to sleep.
When I was 10 I had a problem remembering to turn off the lights when I left a room. You made me write sentences. So many, for that reason and others I don’t really remember, that my fingers ached. When the hundreds, maybe even thousands of lines didn’t help me remember to turn off the lights, you did something else.
You took off your shirt. You took off your belt and gave it to me. You got on all fours. You told me you were a bad father and deserved to be punished. I had to whip you for being a bad father. I cried. I sobbed. I begged. You shouted at me, from the floor. Do it. I’m a bad father. If I can’t teach my daughter to obey me, I’m a bad father. I deserve to be punished. DO IT!
You always wanted me to call you Papa. You always wanted me to say sir. I didn’t learn how to do that either because you took away my innocence. You stole my childhood from me, and even as young as I was, I knew what you did. What was even worse? You did it in the name of your God.
You took me fishing and when I was afraid of the water you got mad. So mad that when I felt bad about it, I told you it was ok. I didn’t realize I was being manipulated. God was going to take care of us. You were so happy. The hurricane had been through the day before. You put me in the canoe, you got in after me. We almost died.
The first time I stood up to you was when I thought you were going to actually hit your wife, my mother.
The other times after that it was just with words until I was 17.
You wrapped your hands around my throat and choked me because I was on the phone when you wanted to be. As I was choking you told me that you owned everything and everyone in the house because you were a man. God made men the head of the house. I managed to grab a pencil and stab you. I got away.
But I came home. I had to. Don’t you remember? You were so upset you made mom call my boyfriends house? They went to church with us. Church people cover up for each other. You even told me that. You used to be a preacher. But you quit. You always told me stories about how you didn’t like the politics of church. How there was so much hypocrisy.
I could go on. I could remind you of what you did to my siblings. I could list all of the things that you did to the three of us. However those are their letters to write.
The sad thing is, everyone thought you were the perfect dad, the perfect husband. Even our own family. The signs were all there. But what could they say? You were a man of God. You prayed for forgiveness for your sins. So those sins were forgiven. Even if
you did the same thing again the next day.
I want to make something very clear. You are not forgiven. You were a bad father. You were a bad human being. There is no such thing as hell, but if there was you would be there. Instead you were a waste of life. I am grateful for one thing. Your sperm. It gave me life. Your lessons and your fear-mongering made me a strong woman.
Raising children on fear of a higher power, of eternal damnation if they don’t obey, is child abuse.
I felt guilty for a long time thinking all of these things because you killed yourself. But I don’t anymore. I remember you now as a bad memory. Someone I wish I could forget. But I can’t. Because you took my innocence.
-Your youngest daughter.
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