Home > Family, Love, Personal, Reflections > Man, not monster

Man, not monster

My dad is not a monster.

It might sound like I believe this based on some recent posts, but I don’t. Like I told my older son when he was newly five years old, I don’t believe in bad boys.

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.

ready player one

From my post “The kingdom saved her”

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.

kids outside 792

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.

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  1. July 23, 2016 at 5:38 am

    Thank you for sharing these stories. ❤ May we all be loved enough to be truly seen, good and bad together.

    • July 23, 2016 at 6:35 am

      Hear, hear. Victo Dolore’s comment about loving all of my mom just … oh, it melted my heart. I am so delighted to know that all of it can be taken together and loved. Like you, I wish everyone the joy of knowing such being-seen … and all the love in it. ♥

  2. July 23, 2016 at 5:42 am

    Aww how beautiful!

  3. Deb
    July 23, 2016 at 7:08 am

    A touching reminder here for me Deb, as I travel through the many endings with my spouse. I know that his life was hard, likely often horrid and scary and painful and I have always tried to place his adult behavior in context knowing how he grew up. I watched him try with our own children, and much like you remember, I know he created some meaningful memories for our kids until the time in their lives that came to represent the time in his childhood when his world began to fall apart. I look at him with our granddaughters now and see hints of the same pattern. He doesn’t know how to parent. He has never dealt with his own issues and so he has no idea how to deal with others. My words could never bring him to see this, nor could he ever take the step to begin a new path with his own kids. He is also not a monster…just a man who has and will continue to miss so much until one day he will be alone.

    • July 23, 2016 at 7:17 am

      I love that you’ve given it such care and thought. For me, understanding history informs how I approach now: I love my dad from a distance, because that is self protective in the absence of any acknowledgment whatsoever.

      Life feels better to me with forgiveness, but part of that in my case has also been ensuring old patterns are not part of my daily now. I never, ever want to say anything that sounds like, “You must forgive and/or do this/that.” Nope. I wasn’t there. I don’t know. What I do know is that in the very specific context of my life with a hope-teaching mom and three lovely siblings, this is where I arrive for me.

      I respect and admire how you approach these questions … and, of course, you. Much, much love.

    • July 23, 2016 at 9:31 am

      To both Debs: much love, and deep gratitude for your presence in my life. Working through these issues and finding a path that honors all of who we are today is never easy, but traveling that path with others certainly helps. ❤

      • Deb
        July 23, 2016 at 1:04 pm

        It does indeed 🙂

  4. July 23, 2016 at 7:23 am

    I was reading this while you were reading about my forgetfulness:-) It’s wonderful to share in your experiences. Not every dad/mom is perfect but we lead from their imprecations though we hurt first. Xo

    • July 23, 2016 at 7:26 am

      Hear, hear! There’s little perfection in the world, but there can be plenty of grace … even if it takes longer to find that in some times and places than others. 🙂

  5. July 23, 2016 at 8:24 am

    i was once eating a hotdog with ketchup on it. I believe it was from a convenience store/gas station type place. He added mayo, mustard, and relish. At first I didn’t want to eat it, but I liked it and to this day that’s my favorite way to eat a hotdog.

    • July 23, 2016 at 8:26 am

      I favor them without the mayo, but I sure do … “relish” … hearing this memory! Ahem. 🙂

  6. July 23, 2016 at 9:24 am

    Though this post is about your experiences with your dad, you’ve explained what I’ve been srtuggling with for the past few years. I’m trying so hard not to be quiet anymore about the pain I felt in my home as a child, but more and more I want to remember and share the good times I had with my parents and the good things I learned from them. I love the way you ended this post. I’m for that, too.

  7. July 23, 2016 at 11:48 am

    Both of my parents were mentally ill with diseases that can now be controlled with medication — but in the 1940’s and 1950’s they couldn’t be controlled except for “self control.” Almost by definition, metal illness destroys self control. I have several wonderful memories of my father, but not of my mother… Not only was she bipolar, but also hypothyroid before there was any type of thyroid medication.. Unless she was maniac, she basically just sat there, pretending to read, but forgetting to turn the pages. When she was maniac she was very violent, and she had been horribly abused in her own childhood — which I didn’t learn until after she had died… In looking for the positives, I remember only one really, really good thing my mother did: she introduced me to the “Dr. Doolittle” book series — and the Athena Book Store that would help me get any book I wanted to read! And, in the very depths of her illnesses, with the help of some of my grade school teachers, she signed over a trust fund that paid my way through a private boarding school, thus escaping my father’s extreme violence when HIS disease took control of him. So this much abused woman, whom I can barely remember, probably saved my life. Now I wish I could thank her. Deeply, profoundly, and with understanding she did everything she could do.;; Thank you Mother!

  8. July 23, 2016 at 12:52 pm

    People are always a complicated mixture. And I firmly believe that most of us do the very best we can. Which is sometimes far from ideal. And is a part of the whole.

  9. July 23, 2016 at 6:21 pm

    This is so wonderful. I believe we all do the best we can do at the time. I like how you thought of positive about your dad and how you’ve forgiven him! ❤️

  10. July 24, 2016 at 8:10 am

    This is a post to cherish Deb, because it is true. It is not twisted up into knots that pain you but it is the strands that have woven your life and his. There is good in all of us, even those who hurt us or intend to hurt us. Love, love sweet Deb, can move mountains.

  11. July 26, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    I see what you’re saying Deb, and I love how much love you have for others… But to me, we are all hurt people. Yes, some are hurt to a further degree than others, but if we all lived our lives hurting others just because we were hurt then this world would be hopeless. I don’t hurt my spouse or my children even though I was physically, sexually and emotionally abused. I’m not saying I’m perfect, I’m just saying that at the end of the day we all have choices to make and certain choices (in my opinion) are so heinous that no amount of good actions can make up for them.

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