My father was born in 1938 during WWII in a small town outside a large city in Germany. He was the only son in a family of ten children. He was six years old when the war ended in 1944, and his earliest memories are of houses burning, being painfully hungry and soldiers marching.
Dad and his sisters suffered through extreme food deprivation, as did countless others. Indeed, he experienced such severe malnutrition that his growth was permanently stunted and he reached an adult height of only 5’4, despite the fact that his father and grandfather and uncles were all well over 6’. He has huge hands and incredible upper body strength, a testament to the physical man he might have been.
He witnessed horrors we can barely comprehend, including the deaths of four of his sisters. They did not just die, they died in front of him. Dad is not forthcoming with war stories, and I have never heard the exact circumstances under which he lost his sisters. It is simply too painful, all these years later, to recount. One story he will tell is watching a Russian tank burn, and seeing desperate soldiers escape through the hatch, only to be beaten to death at the roadside by old women with shovels and hammers.
Those experiences made him a profoundly religious man, and sadly, his views of pain and suffering were always ones of comparison. Dad was offered a place at the gymnasium in Stuggart (a university preparatory), but his father, a former SS officer, forbade it. He would learn a useful skill, and he was sent to agricultural college. His father didn’t see the Green Revolution coming, and by the time Dad graduated, industrial farming was well under way.
Dad married in Germany, and had two sons. Like many others, he turned his face towards the New World, seeking opportunity and greener pastures. When his children were ten and eight, he set forth for North America, leaving his sons and his wife in the care of his mother and sisters, promising to return for them when he had secured a job and a home for them.
He never went back. He abandoned them.
He met my mother when she was just nineteen years old and he was considerably older. He never told her about his family back in Germany, and they married and had four children by the time my mother was 25 years old. My three brothers, and me.
And they were fucking horrible parents. There is no nice way to spin it. They embraced a religion that encouraged extreme violence against children. Their philosophy was that a child’s will must be completely broken so that the child will then accept the will of God. My mother was ecstatically violent, and my father less so, but they were both culpable. Their particular brand of religious violence continues in America to this day.
To compound our suffering, my parents also believed that any demonstration of physical affection would “spoil” a child, and I have not one single memory of my mother or father kissing or hugging us, or showing any sign whatsoever that they loved us.
When my father came towards me, as a child, all I felt was … fear. I wondered what pain was in store. And no matter what it was, I knew it would pale in comparison to the pain he had suffered. I was supposed to feel grateful for that.
We lived on a farm, growing our own food, making our own bread, with chickens and cows and bees (for honey) and pigs and endless fields of potatoes. Whatever money my parents managed to earn, they turned over to the crazy church. It was an interesting childhood, to say the least.
And then….my mother discovered feminism. She exchanged one violent, irrational, dehumanizing ideology for another, and she soon decided that she needed a man like a fish needed a bicycle. After countless physically violent arguments with my father, including one episode where she hit him in the head with a cast iron frying pan and left him for dead on the front porch, he turned his back and walked away from us, just like his first family.
One day we woke up and he was gone. My mother was quick to inform us that he simply walked away, and left us to starve in the streets, and that she alone would be the sole reason we survived and prospered. She never missed an opportunity to curse him. She told us about his first family, and how she did not need to divorce him, because they were never married in the first place. She hated him and hated all men and our daily lives were filled with her anger and vitriol and violence. She never gave a moment’s thought to what her hatred of men and our father was doing to her sons. She gave us daily rations of rage and blame and every bad thing that happened was always his fault.
Being a child, I believed it. So did my brothers.
And we loathed him for it. How could he leave us with such an evil woman? My mother once held a knife to my throat and made me beg for my life. When I was eleven. And I remember going to bed, thinking not how much I hated her, but how much I hated HIM for leaving us to her devices.
Needless to say, coming in to my own as a person was a difficult and very fraught process. When I finally made it to university, I had literally no idea what a loving, affectionate, decent relationship looked like. I was lucky enough to meet Pixie almost immediately, and although her material circumstances were much more comfortable than mine, she too had experienced a horrifically traumatic and abusive childhood. I will leave it to Pixie to reveal any details. Suffice to say, at our posh university, we were definitely outsiders.
Interestingly enough, I was never attracted to men who behaved badly. I never sought to enmesh myself in relationships that replicated the worst of my father. Quite the opposite. I didn’t seek out pain in an effort to work through what I had suffered. I had a lovely boyfriend who was all kindness and sympathy. He was the gentlest man I have ever known. And I cannot adequately articulate how his gentleness and caring healed me.
He proposed marriage, but ultimately, he was far too compliant and mild, and I was disconcerted by his willingness to acquiesce to what I wanted, even though I never wanted anything bad. I could trust him to treat me with the utmost kindness and care, but I could not lean on him. That was impossible. I declined his proposal and moved on.
I eventually landed at graduate school, in an MBA program, where I met my husband. From the time my father left and all throughout my twenties, I never saw him. I knew he was working overseas and only landed stateside a couple of times a year, but I never sought him out and he never looked for me. I married and went overseas myself, and after a year in Australia and another year in China came back to North America with a young daughter and my son only months away from being born.
And then I received a phone call. It was my father, calling to tell me that my mother’s mother had passed away, and that I should let her know. So much of the pain had seeped away that I felt confident confronting my father, and I asked him why he had done it.
Why did you just turn your back and walk away?
And then the truth came to light. He hadn’t walked away. He certainly had not left us to starve. My mother had filed for an annulment and requested a restraining order, which she was granted. When I finally saw my father again, he had two boxes with him. One was filled with income tax returns showing that he had never missed a child support payment, and court orders preventing him from seeing us based on his violence towards my mother, along with supervised visitations that were all scheduled for when he was overseas, working to meet his child support payments.
The other box contained cards and letters. Birthday cards and so many letters. All returned. By my mother. He never stopped sending them, hoping one of us would one day get the key and fetch the mail, but my mother was always adamant that the mail was her business. It was one of those community mailboxes, where you had to go and fetch your mail, and since I never got any mail, it never occurred to me that there was anything untoward about my mother’s insistence that only she would have access to it.
As an adult, it makes so much sense. How did we continue to live in our house? How was my mother able to afford food and clothing and YMCA memberships for four children without my father’s support? Of course she had his support. But she hid it from us, and poisoned our minds against our father. It’s called parental alienation, and she is not the first, nor the last woman to destroy her children in this way.
It’s a special kind of evil.
It has been many years since I have had any contact with my mother. She hated Mr. JB with a passion, and saw that she could not control him. She forbid me to marry him. I told her to go fuck herself. With the birth of my own children, I have truly come to grasp the depths of her depravity. It is unthinkable for me to hurt my children. I would die before I ever whipped them unconscious with a wet leather belt. I would kill anyone who tried to do such a thing.
It was not just my mother who was violent during my childhood, though, and a huge part of the reason I have a relationship with my father is owing to the heart-felt, tear-soaked apology he offered me. My father does not cry. It was an intensely emotional experience, to listen to him express his regrets for what he had done.
“If I could do my life again, I would have showered you with love, and never lifted a hand against you”.
He gave no excuses, no justifications, no defenses. My father looked at me and apologized for being wrong. So very wrong.
And I forgave him. I cannot turn back the hands of time and restore his children to him, but I have three beautiful children of my own, and he is a wonderful grandfather to them. He gives them all the love and attention he denied his own children. And I understand profoundly how important that is. In being the mother to my children that I wished I had, I have erased so much of the damage she inflicted. In being a loving, perfect grandfather, my father is able to forgive himself for being a terrible father.
The most amazing relationship has blossomed between my Dad and my husband, too. Mr. JB is the son my Dad wishes he had. They go fishing and do home improvement projects together and sit in the sun and have cold beer and talk about football. My Dad holds forth on his crackpot conspiracy theories and my husband laughs at him and tells Dad he’s nuts and they laugh and watch the kids race up and down the street.
Today is Father’s Day. Millions of fathers will wake up to pancakes and glitter covered construction paper cards and new socks and ties. Millions more will wake up to a quiet house, their children only ghosts that haunt the corners of the room. This post is for those fathers. I am a living testament to the fact that children grow up, and they look back and see truth that they could not see when they were only children. Estrangement from your children is the most unbearable pain, and to see your children twisted against you is pure agony.
But there is hope. Children are not children forever. The brutal reality is that the women who injure their children in this way will never face any punishment from the law. Their own children may not be so forgiving.
My mother stole my father from me and blighted my childhood in so many ways. My revenge has been to refuse to allow her to influence my life, to refuse to carry out a cycle of abuse and to be a good mother to my own children. My revenge has been to marry a good man, and be a good wife. My revenge has been to find my father, forgive him, and be a good daughter. I cannot give him back the days past, but I can give him this day, and all the days to come.
Never lose hope. The future could be so different.
Happy Father’s Day.
Lots of love,