Man, not monster
My dad is not a monster.
In “An abridged history of my hate,” I wrote that I learned compassion for my dad by recalling pictures I’d seen of little boy him:
In the first image, I saw my dad as a little boy whose first grader’s eyes were full of light and hope. In the second, I saw my dad as a slightly older boy who still had a little hope in those dark eyes, but whose jaw had hardened in what I read as grim determination to survive what he suffered at his own home. In the third, I saw my dad in fifth or sixth grade. The light had been extinguished and the mirrors to his soul shuttered.
The way my mom told it, her difficult childhood was only a fraction as horrible as my dad’s, so that:
Seeing those pictures helped me understand how much he, too, had lost to hardship and abuse.
I have written a lot recently about how I want to stand not against but for.
When I write about some of my dad’s actions, I do so to stand for my mom, and for all those who tell me in hushed tones how they’re still ashamed to have been abused. I speak up to show that there’s no shame in having been hurt. To be hurt is neither a crime nor any reflection whatsoever of the person wounded.
To tell my story and my mom’s story through my eyes is an act of for as I hold all who have been abused–including my dad–in my heart.
I must speak about my dad’s hurtful acts to show how much they hurt, even as I regret how doing so might hurt him.
A few days ago, I texted my sisters that I feel it’s “so important to write that abuse is undeserved & explain how I reached that conclusion, but … I want Dad to have some peace, too.”
Yesterday, I thought about the many happy times I shared with my dad. I’ve written maybe one sentence of those on my blog, so that today I want to share some cherished memories of him.
He introduced me to computers. He taught me how to play the games Facemaker and King’s Quest, and then let me play them all by myself. (Only much later did I understand that the kingdom saved me.)
He took my siblings and me camping a few times. He didn’t hug or snuggle the way my mom did, but I felt some closeness to him out there in the relative wilderness. Anything felt possible out and about with my tough dad!
He gave me my first Douglas Adams books. Thanks to him, I broke the Trivial Pursuit tie on my last day of seventh grade, stunning everyone when I identified a perplexingly named character as from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Hearing me use the word “retarded” as a preteen, he asked me not to use the word again. He used the opportunity to teach me how hurtful it is. I can’t remember what words he told me to use instead, but I cherished seeing him show compassion.
He took me and my siblings to his company’s annual picnic at Thrillville, a now-defunct amusement park outside of Salem, Oregon. We’d chat over refreshments and then part ways to go on rides. Some of my favorite memories with my siblings were made at Thrillville. At home, I thought my siblings were, mostly, buttheads. At Thrillville, I got to see them in a different light.
My very, very favorite thing to do with Dad was go to the rock slides at Triangle Lake. I could and did go down those nature-made water slides for hours at a time, pausing occasionally only to visit the pond nestled atop them. There, I’d climb up to a ledge atop the pond and leap into the air, pretending I was flying for the split-second before I began plummeting. There, I learned how very, very badly an inadvertent belly flop can hurt. There, I felt invincible.
I texted my siblings for their favorite memories of Dad.
Wrote Madeline, “My main ones are the Christmas he showed up unexpectedly with presents for all of us, going to the rock slide, and going to the YMCA. He let me go in the hot tub which you could only go in with adult permission and playing wall ball/racquetball/whatever it’s called. I did enjoy the big trampoline.”
Replied Rachael, “Yeah, ditto what Madeline said. Also, fishing at Fern Ridge when we were really little, even if the way he cooked the fish was terribly greasy. Rock slide at Diamond Lake, snorkeling, and hiking Silver Falls. Teaching us how to play racquet ball. Those are happy memories.”
When I told them I got a kick out of Thrillville, Madeline added, “Oh, that too. I miss Thrillville. Now it’s an RV park! I’d probably have gone a few times if it was still around. I miss the roller coaster, the water slide, and bumper boat things there. Bumper cars is really fun, but bumping and the splashing from the water is even more fun.”
Texted David, “Thrillville, Triangle Lake, or a movie.”
Our dad was not the worst of his actions.
He was our dad.
I believe most of us, my dad included, do the best we can with what we have.
My dad wasn’t a monster, but a hurt person.
Hurt people hurt people, so today,
I vote for hurting fewer people,
and hugging more.