Were I to forgive you, Daddy … [A tale of domestic abuse, Part 2]

I just posted a piece on domestic abuse.  This is a tiny bit of my personal story that I wrote several years ago.

The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive, but do not forget.  — Thomas  S. Szasz

First published in March 2010.  This was not easy to write and it will not be an easy read.   Although my father was a dynamic, incredible, and beautiful human being he was also the perpetrator of psychological abuse in my life.  The ongoing work of processing that hasn’t been easy.  He’s been dead more than five years.  That’s created some space for honesty.  My goal has been, for many years, to get to a place where I can forgive him.  It has been interesting.

If you were a fan of my father, Dan Harrison, this will be the most difficult for you.  Just as it was unimaginably hard for me to write.

Note:  I DO NOT SPEAK FOR OR REPRESENT ANYONE ELSE IN MY FAMILY.  THANKS FOR UNDERSTANDING THAT each of OUR EXPERIENCES WITH MY FATHER WERE UNIQUE.   SOME WERE TREATED MUCH WORSE, SOME BETTER.

If I were To Forgive.

If I were to forgive you Daddy, does that mean I must forget the pulse pounding fear I felt when I was around you?  The acid stomachs you gave me.  The rage dreams I still sometimes have at night.  The shuttering tears that I couldn’t stop, even when you yelled at me to do so and now I can’t make tears come at all.  The stutter you hated, but couldn’t make me lose.

You made me something broken, something messed up.

Our family was Sadness.  Illness.  Meanness.  Pride.  Anger.  Fear.  Our family was Rigid. Perfectionist.  Isolated.  Secretive.   Constant striving.  Never measuring up.

I found some small strength and safety in sarcasm and attempted humor.  And when you made me stop, there was only safety in distance, in invisibility.  Like mine, your words punctured something deep inside.

Sometimes we laughed; it was a shrieking, jaw aching, gut busting laughter from the relief of it — it was almost a sob — until you pounded on the table.  Stop, you would roar!  You felt we came too close to meanness.  You’re damn right we did.  And then, we didn’t.

If I were to forgive you Daddy, does that mean I must forget the yelling?  Door slamming.  Your rage fits.  Should I forget the fearful anxious cleaning when you were coming home – after weeks and weeks of travel while Mother was always alone?  Why did we clean, to please you.  Why were we afraid, because you were never pleased.

Should I forget the religion you forced down our throats?  Say “I forgive you.” Say “I am sorry.”  Say “I believe.”    I couldn’t forgive.  I wasn’t sorry.  I didn’t believe. “You will sing this song and study the Bible, because I say so.  And never, ever argue with me for I am never wrong.”

Daddy, it takes my breath away to remember all the times you had one of us up against the wall, sobbing.  And you wouldn’t stop.  You kept on, and on until you broke us.

You made me something broken, something messed up.

Our family was Sadness.  Illness.  Meanness. Pride.  Anger.  Fear.  Our family was Rigid. Perfectionist.  Isolated.  Secretive.   Constant striving.  Never measuring up.

If I forgave you Daddy, would the bad memories stop?

… When I was about ten we spent Easter at a cabin.  You had certain ideas of what would happen.   But you can’t make me sing.  You couldn’t make me feel whatever you were feeling.

… Or Thanksgiving with the gorging on turkey almost worth being forced to be thankful.    There was no ‘pass’ when it came to gratitude.  Or whatever you expected.

There was no pass. You changed us.  You made us something broken, something messed up. Our family was Sadness.  Illness.  Meanness. Pride.  Anger.  Fear.  Our family was Rigid. Perfectionist.  Isolated.  Secretive.   Constant striving.  Never measuring up.

Were I to forgive you Daddy, I’d have to stop being invisible for within this “super power” I found a certain peace.  If you can’t hear me or see me, you will leave me alone.  I’d hide out in my room — reading.  Reading romantic novels where the hero was larger than life — loving and devoted, trying to be somewhere, anywhere other than home.

There was so much pain.  So much fear. You changed us.

Daddy, would you have me forgive your dying confession that you were addicted to your rage? It made you feel righteous.   At the end of your life, you felt regret but wanted me to know you still felt right all those years.

Well I’m addict.  I know the lies we tell ourselves that ”I can’t stop.” I know a little of what it takes to overcome an addiction.  It starts admitting you are powerless.  That is what you could never do.  Oh, you would return full of regret and self-pity you never changed.

I reject Your Jesus who never freed you from your pain. I reject your life and actions of hypocrisy, serving God and abusing at home.

And yet, I have forgiven you.  Why?  Because that is not the Jesus I have known. The God I have known has expected me to change.  Clearly spoken and told me to lie down, be humble, let go, cast off, and cut away the things that make me broken.  As I give them up, the addictions, the anger, the bitterness, the lack of forgiveness, the depression, the fear, the isolation, the invisibility …  He fills me.

I am filled up, and as I experience going back over two and a half decades sorting memories and returning — making furtive glances and long wretched journey’s back. —  There are things that I do remember and that I will never forget.

But I forgive

You. Because I must.  God said to me forgive as you were forgiven.

And though this brings no justice, I can live with it.  You may have changed me from whoever I was meant to be, and I will always remember that and wonder who I might have been.

ON THE OTHER HAND God made me, not you.  And I have begun to overcome all that pain, a broken spirit.  I have begun to paint a portrait of a life that is visible; a colorful life, with joy, generosity, gentleness and kindness.  I have become a woman with a heart once broken, but pieced back together and strong.  And my heart is bursting with the forgiveness that I have received. And I am laughing.  And some day I believe my tears will return.

You were the sort to put rubbing alcohol on my mosquito bites, because you couldn’t stand how I wouldn’t listen and stop scratching.  You were constantly picking at me, never satisfied.  But, as a child this was something I could control. You can’t make me stop, though I would bleed and it hurt.  It is cathartic to be in control.  But some day I hope I will let go completely and won’t need absolute control of myself.  Someday, God will open up my heart completely from the prison I put it for protection and long ago lost the key.  The day God unlocks it will be a day I can only imagine, but I believe it can happen.  Then I won’t be so afraid of people.  I will jump toward life not constantly be pulling away!

Yes, I forgive you Daddy.  For now I can laugh and love when I want to, I pray and study because my heart craves more from God and I believe I have begun to create the life I was meant to have lived.

Yes, I do forgive you Daddy because there is no justice in love.

The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. (Psalm 32:8 NLT)

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Strongest in the Broken Places: A Tale of Domestic Abuse

Watching this video I was a child again.

It validated experiences I had growing up.  It made me sad.  I grieve watching it for beyond my own experiences, as I know three women who are living right now in this sort of marriage.

  • One is married to an elder in my church.  (Actually, he was an elder at the time that she talked to me.  We were in a Bible study together.)  He had anger and control issues, perpetrated in the name of “biblical submission.”
  • Another friend stays in an habitually abusive marriage out of love and commitment to her husband saying “Would you leave your husband if he had cancer?  Then how could you leave if he has a mental illness?”  I’m not saying that she should leave her marriage, but I grieve that she is so alone!   And I am ill equipped to help, though I listen.
  • Another friend asks for prayer for friends whose marriage that is in trouble saying he “may be abusive” but likely she “may be making it all up.”

You never know when someone is a perpetrator of rage and control.  I can tell you with assurance that is the most unlikely person.

I grew up in a home where my father was in ministry and was a generous, gracious loving God-fearing man.  To this day when I write openly about my experiences growing up (here and here and here  and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and I only stop because the list is endless.  He’s one of the reasons I started my blog.)

Here is the best example of what it felt like growing up.

To this day I have people who say to me “I knew your father…” implying that somehow perhaps I didn’t, though I lived in his home for nearly two decades and worked for him for many years.   They imply by their statement that my experience and my mother’s and my sister’s didn’t happen.  The man in this video could have been my father — except Dad had a lot more personality!

The video below is one of the best that I have ever seen that talked about raging in a home as a domestic violence.  It made me feel “less alone” when it comes to domestic violence which is not always physical!  It was not physical in my home, except one time when my parents were first married my father put my mother’s head through a wall.  This was before I was born, but he put it in his book and that is how I heard about it.  Even though he wrote about his anger he was unable to change.  And it became the Achilles heal for him over and over again, hurting people around him.  It was a significant factor in my spiritual life and my perceptions of God.

It is real and destructive and is painful for me to this day.  I so wish that my father could have found this kind of help and felt it was safe to “come out” the way the brave heroes in this video have.  I so wish the church was better equipped to help women who do suffer in this way and could create a context where it is safe to speak out.  And I wish the church helped men who know they have a problem but don’t know how to get help.

“Statistics show that victims of domestic violence most often go to churches for help. Unfortunately, churches are often ill-equipped and not helpful. This clip tells the story of one couple’s search for help and also offers some advice for creating an environment conducive for recovery.”

Please watch.  If the video doesn’t work you will have to follow the link prior.

This is a hard post for me to write.  By even talking about this others could be at risk and yet that is the great irony.