I wrote a post sometime ago about my younger self loving an abuser. This is just more of me muddling my way through my feelings about my father.
I love my dad. Sometimes I don’t love my dad. Both those things are true. If I believe the girl–my younger self–then it’s also true that the father I love and don’t love sexually abused me when I was eight or nine.
My father was not by any stretch of the imagination the primary parent in my life. He worked, he bowled, he golfed with the guys. He came home from his job, took the gin and tonic my mom made him and sat down in front of the TV to watch sports. He left all the work and responsibility to my mom. But when he did pay attention to his kids, he was fun. He played the piano, and we danced. He chased us. He watched TV shows about animals with us. He made jokes. He laughed about naughtiness. If he got mad at us, he growled at us, but two minutes later, it was all forgotten. I loved him; we all loved him.
He was an alcoholic as long as I can remember. Of course, for a long time, I didn’t know it was alcoholism. I was just accustomed to Daddy having his gin and tonic or his wine or his beer. He worked late, or went out with colleagues after work, I don’t really know which. Sometimes he came home after I was in bed, and he’d come in my room if I was still awake and talk to me. I loved that, until it turned into something else. But even then, I blocked it out so I could still love him.
He cheated on my mom. I know of at least three times he cheated on her before he left her for another woman when I was about thirteen. I didn’t know about it at the time, but I sometimes heard them fighting at night or heard my mom crying. One night he stormed out of the house in the middle of the night. I heard the fight and knew my mom was lying when she told us the next day he had to go on a trip for work.
When he moved out to be with Annabelle, he moved into an apartment with her, and we saw him one night a week and every other weekend. He was earning a lot of money at the time but paid my mom very little in alimony or child support. We moved into a small rental house, and my mom took a part-time job for the first time since I’d been born. Though he didn’t pay child support on time, when he saw us, he took us out for pizza or to the amusement park or bought us things. He was the fun parent; my mother was the tight-lipped worried one who kept asking me to do more and more chores to help her out. I loved my time with him.
But even then, there began to be some cracks in my image of him. I saw he was drinking more than ever. I sometimes felt afraid when he drove us places because I could see his driving was impaired. I liked Annabelle, a lot, most of the time. But I was frightened by the drunken fights they had sometimes. I was sometimes embarrassed by their behavior in public.
Sometime before we moved into the rental house, there were the fondling incidents our neighbor and his colleague Alex. I think he and my father both thought of themselves as sexually progressive and open, when in fact they were transgressive and damaging. Certainly my dad never saw Alex as a threat.They told a lot of sexual jokes in front of their kids. My dad kept his Playboy magazines in the living room, even handing them to me to read articles he thought I should read. Of course I saw a lot more than the articles. When my dad saw my sisters looking at the magazines, he told Alex, and they both joked about how we all just wanted to know what we would look like when we grew up.
My parents divorced, and when I was fourteen, my mother remarried and moved us across the country. We spent the school year with her and my stepfather (another story) and 4-6 weeks in the summer with my dad. He and Annabelle bought a beautiful house up in the hills. It was too small for his four kids though, so we slept on the living room floor or in a tent outside. We didn’t mind much. There were essentially no rules at his house. Play in the pool all day. Barbecue and drinking at his house most nights, unless we went out for dinner, with plenty of alcohol. He ordered drinks for me too, maybe to make it seem more normal? I was 15 or 16, and strangely enough, most waiters served me. Then we had scary, drunken ride back in the car at night. We visited Alex and his son Caleb often. That turned into another violation for me, but I didn’t tell anyone. I blocked it from my memory. I went home from that summer an emotional wreck, but I believed it was because I missed my father, not because of anything that had happened.
Later, when I went to college, I chose a university not far from where my dad lived, in part to spend more time with him. I spend some weekends and breaks with him s well as most summers, working for his business. The drinking and parties continued. Annabelle had long since broken off with him (because he cheated on her as well). I can’t keep track of how many girlfriends he had in the ensuing years. He continued to throw parties and to drink heavily. Staying at his house, I would sometimes hear him having sex with someone in the next room. He liked photography and placed ads for “models,” usually young women about my age, 19 or 20. He would convince them to pose naked for him, and then he’d blow up the photos and put them up in the house. He plastered one wall of his study with photos of Playboy centerfolds. I remember looking at them and literally thinking that is what I should look like. He had his friend and colleague Les stay with us for a month or more, which led to yet another violation one night when my dad wasn’t there. There were never any boundaries around sexual issues. I had no idea what was mine and what was just there for the entertainment of men. I never knew there should be such a thing as respect for the body of the young girl or later young woman that I was.
His dream was to make a lot of money. Actually, he did make pretty good money in the 1970s and 1980s, but he never saved or invested anything; he just spent it right away because he felt he was always on the verge of making much more. When I was away at college, he used to call me every Sunday night and tell me about some investor who was going to help him grow his business. He’d be a millionaire within three months. My freshman year, I used to think this was pretty exciting. A year or two later, I’d still make encouraging noises on my side of the phone, but I no longer expected anything to happen. On the contrary, I think it was about then he went through his first bankruptcy when the IRS came after him for failing to pay payroll taxes for his employees. He blamed it on his business partner. “She said we could pay it later,” he told me. He has since declared bankruptcy at least three more times that I know of.
One time when I was in his office, looking in a drawer for a notepad, I found a collage he had made. It seemed to be a representation of everything he wanted. There were photos of sports cars and mansions, dollar signs and the word “success.” And photos of big breasts, evidently another symbol of success.
My dad used to talk about me as his favorite child, which always made me very uncomfortable. But during this entire time, I don’t think I was ever angry at my father, not even once. And strangely, as I write this, I find it harder to believe the girl. It’s all so confusing.
Graphic by Hugh MacLeod @ gapingvoid.com