My father’s birthday is tomorrow. If he were alive he would be 108 years old. I simply cannot imagine that. I don’t think that’s odd; I doubt if anybody can imagine a parent living to 108.
I had a consistently unhappy relationship with my father.
For the first few years of my life, I hardly knew what he looked like, even though we all lived in the same apartment. He had not wanted children, and when my brother or I entered a room he was in, he was, he would get up and walk out. He just couldn’t bear to see us.
Years later, I understood. He had been abused like I was, and by many of the same people. Although he wasn’t aware of this, unconsciously he didn’t want to pass on the abuse. And I give him a lot a credit for that. But my mother yearned for children, and so my brother and I were born despite his wishes.
When he returned after the war, he showed interest in me. He thought I was bright and talented and that it was his position to correct the mistakes my teachers were making. If he saw something I wrote, he covered the page with dense red annotations. I had to rewrite it including all his corrections.
He also did intrusive sexual things to me. Dancing with me (and dancing too close). He instituted a formal kiss when we said hello or goodbye to either parent and held me really close when kissing me. Kisses on the cheek turned into kisses on the mouth and then to French kisses. As I got older, he did things like ask me to go to “Deep Throat” with him. He had never before suggested we go to a movie together.
That was the day life. Night life was, to say the least, not as delicate.
A the end of his life, he called me to him and said I was the only one he could trust to follow his wishes. He did not want extraordinary measures taken to prolong his life. However, he felt I needed to know that if I did what he wanted, it would be considered murder in the State we lived in. So I was given the choice of murdering him or of torturing him on his death-bed. Thanks, Dad! I did nothing, and he died shortly afterwards.
For many years I was enraged and wished he would die. When he actually did, I panicked. It felt like the world was about to end. I was afraid to go to his funeral, but my cousin gave me some tracks and I managed to get through it. I was a wreck for about two years afterwards.
Later, I figured out that he had wanted me to take over his role in the cult and that I needed to kill him to do so. No wonder I was such a mess.
As the years passed and I got more and more information about the hidden part of my life, I came to a different understanding of his behavior. In my mind, he changed from my persecutor to just another person who had been horribly harmed from childhood by the cult. Just another victim. My hatred diminished as my understanding grew.
Today, I feel really sad that he did not have the chance to remember and change his life. He tried, I know he tried, but he could not break the amnesia. There was no knowledge of the effects of childhood trauma, even severe trauma, in his life time. Nobody talked about it, nobody was aware of it. Nobody was a “survivor” — e.g., aware of their abuse. Nobody could meet another survivor and realize that they weren’t the only one.
I am so very grateful that ritual abuse is talked about today, even though it is often mocked and denigrated. If it were not for the influence of twelve-step programs and the women’s movement, nobody would have permission to talk about taboo personal experiences. They fostered an openness, a willingness to speak about previously unspeakable things.
And so, when my first memories came crashing over me, others were already talking about ritual abuse and multiplicity. On television, even. That gave me permission to take my memories seriously and gave me, instantly, a welcoming community. If my parents had lived to experience a community of ritual abuse survivors, who knows, they might have been able to renounce the cult and become survivors themselves.
If my father’s spirit is in a better place, I only hope he now knows he is no longer alone, has forgiven himself, and knows that my feelings toward him have changed completely.