I will detail those issues here, as best as I can. In sorting out the life of my father, I am reminded of that suffering we both shared, a deep wound that cuts across everything present in both his life and mine. I am well aware that what follows next may be somewhat shocking, but it is merely my sad duty to chronicle the truth as well as I can gather it from the scattered evidence in both the life of my father and my own life. With that ominous and yet somewhat vague introduction, I must begin, because to find the words to describe what I am about to say is far from a simple task.
My father was abused by his grandmother, a widowed army nurse whose husband had died while she was pregnant, as a result of being gassed during World War I. My father, through the living arrangements of his farming family, had to share a bed until he was 6 years old with his grandmother, who had a deep and abiding hatred for men due to the loss of her husband and his perceived abandonment of her.
The abuse left my father with a lasting and painful legacy—he was unable to open up about his emotional life at all; he had a lifetime inability to deal with women (viewing them, not unreasonably, as a threat), and he had a wealth of repressed memories and repressed anger. Throughout his life, he kept busy, tried not to reflect too deeply about anything, and kept his nose to the grindstone. He loved, but was unable to show that love due to the pain he had suffered, which was too much for him to deal with.
I, too, was abused as a small child before the age of 3, on that same farm. By whom, I do not know, though I believe it was not my father (though he was accused of it). It was, however, a male authority figure, a fact that has reverberated through my life with rather tragic outcomes. Both the nature of what was done (I will not discuss it here, but suffice it to say that it was something no child should have to endure) as well as the authority status of the person relative to me, I have been able to gather from the fallout.
While some aspects of my suffering, such as my panicky and oversensitive nature, as well as certain health problems (attributed, rather nonspecifically, to trauma) were obvious even when I was a small child, it quickly became clear to members of my family, after my mother took my brother and me and went to Florida, that something far more sinister happened than merely trauma. I knew things that no 3-year-old boy should know about rather dark and deviant matters. Even later in life, my attempts to sort out my experiences, too long ago for conscious memory, and probably too painful, have been judged as reflecting an interest in doing rather deviant sorts of behavior. Rather, they are an attempt to make sense of why someone did them to me.
It is not only those things that have resulted from the abuse, though. To this day, I have an abiding and deep mistrust of anyone who holds any kind of power over me, as I see that as a threat to my survival. It is not that I wish to boss others around, but having others in power over me is an intolerable reminder of what happened when I was too young, and too weak, to resist. Never again, says the little boy inside of me. Every male authority figure, dead or living, is interpreted through the light of a potential abuser. This is not rebelliousness but simple self-preservation, though the two are often somewhat difficult to separate, especially to those who do not and cannot understand.
This fear of losing control has spread beyond the mere aspect of authority figures, however. The combined desire for physical intimacy and fear of it has had lasting and negative results on my life, giving me a nearly insatiable need to touch and hold, as well as a complete lack of enjoyment in areas of physical intimacy others take for granted. I cannot let myself go, whether that means to dance, or whether it means to love.
Those girls I have dated have taken my fear of intimacy rather personally. I fear I have hurt, rather unintentionally, a few young ladies, because of my fear to hug or to touch. This I regret, but it is neither their fault, nor mine. It is, however, something I have to deal with, as I wish to be, when the time and situation is right, a loving husband and father.
I do not feel overtly angry about what has happened with me (though there is suppressed anger mixed up among the generally ambivalent emotions I have toward my own upbringing). It makes me profoundly sad, as what I want I also fear to such an extent that I do not feel I can enjoy it even if I find it. My suffering has been intense; the damage my reputation and honor have suffered because of my attempts to deal with it. The loss of belonging and love in my life is unmeasurable. That said, the results have not been entirely negative. My suffering has made me a vastly more sympathetic and gentle person than I would have been otherwise. It has made me strong in ways in which I never thought I could be, and ways in which I would prefer not to have to be strong. But it is my life, and I must live it.
I have chosen a different way of dealing with the pain than my father did. He never came to grips with it, and it was too much for him. Perhaps God places great burdens on our backs, not to overwhelm us, but for us to realize that we cannot do it on our own. Our suffering may seem greater than we can bear. I know mine is. But I also know that God said, in John 8:32, "Know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." I do not fear any truth, no matter how unpleasant. Perhaps that is because few truths are more unpleasant than those that are a part of me and my own life.
Perhaps, with time, I need not fear love or intimacy or anything else for that matter. Perhaps someday I will be able to trust someone else, and not fear that they will use their power to abuse me. There is still much I have to deal with, much counseling and therapy in my future, no doubt. My road to recovery has only begun, and I have not traveled all that far. I know I am not alone in facing that road, though; not alone in my family, even. I do not know how many others may read this and relate to my story, but it comforts me to know that I am not alone. For if the trials we suffer in this life can serve to ease the burdens another must carry, the suffering is not in vain. Sometimes that is comfort enough.