[If you like this IHTM contest entry, comment to that effect below and that will help the writer win big money. Feel free to critique below too, so we can weigh that in our decision ]
My father is a pedophile and it’s ruining my wedding. It’s ruining a lot of things. I’ll never have the wedding I imagined. No matter what happens, on that day I’ll be thinking about how he isn’t there.
Growing up my younger brother and I didn’t have things easy. Our parents divorced when I was three years old. My brother and I began overnight visits to my dad’s every weekend for the next 13 years. Our visits were sometimes fun, my dad knew how to make up stories, play games and surprise us, like the time he set out a town wide scavenger hunt on Halloween for my brother and I. It ended at the cemetery gate with two big baskets full of candy.
My dad didn’t laugh like everyone else when I told him I wanted to play ice hockey. He found some used equipment and started taking me to practice every Saturday morning at 5 am.
I’ve told you the good parts first because I still love my dad. I feel defensive of him, and I want you to know how complicated the rest is. I’d love to hate him, plain and simple, but the truth is that I don’t. I love him, in spite of the horrible things he’s done.
When I was little, my dad used to sleep all day. As a toddler I couldn’t reach the kitchen cabinets, let alone cook. We often went the whole day without something to eat. When my dad wasn’t sleeping he was often shouting. If he lost his car keys he’d scream until we found them, tipping things over and punching walls. I was terrified of his temper. I learned to tip toe around his bad moods.
By the time I was 22, my father had changed drastically. He had been married to my stepmom for almost 10 years, and my young stepsisters seemed to have things easier. He wasn’t shouting so much. I thought that he had mellowed with age. He began meditating and attending dharma talks with me at the local meditation center.
We had bonded over Barack Obama’s campaign, we both loved The Decemberists. I thought I finally had the dad I always wanted.
For a couple of weeks around my birthday in 2011 my dad brought me on a couple shopping trips, and took me out for fancy dinners. He paid for me to have three massages when I hurt my neck cross-country skiing. These were all unprecedented acts of generosity. At one of those dinners, he hinted ominously that we needed to talk about something.
Fast-forward two weeks, to the worst salad in a plastic container ever. We’re in a bagel shop, my father is sitting across from me drinking coffee nervously. He is actually shaking as he tells me about the new Tibetan Buddhist community he’s joined in his town. I joke that he should ordain as a monk. He just nods.
On his way to drop me off at my fiancé's house, he pulls into a church parking lot and I can see that he is crying. I ask him what is wrong, and he asks me for a hug. I hug him and he says, “That is probably the last hug you’ll ever give me.” He might be right.
My father confessed that he had molested two girls between the ages of 10-13 when he was in his early 20s, before he met my mother. He said he had been confused and drunk and he didn’t mean to hurt anyone. He wound up serving 6 months in prison for what he did. His sentence was longer, but he was released early because his life was in danger at the prison -- turns out child molesters are the bottom of the prison totem pole.
I felt like I was floating out of my body. All I could think was life is never going to be the same, over and over I thought this. A moment ago my life was one way, now it’s this way. My father told me that he hadn’t ever done that again, that he quit drinking and although he still felt attracted to young girls he hadn’t hurt another one, until my stepsister.
It was like getting the wind knocked out of me. My stepsister Anna is six years younger than me, she is perfect and sweet and so smart. He explained that he had been abusing her for years, in subtle and manipulative ways. He did not rape her, or commit any sex acts with her, but he told her that he was attracted to her. He brushed against her in inappropriate ways. He smacked her on the bum when he walked by and pretended it was a joke. It was not a fucking joke.
My father never sexually abused my brother or I, but another man had. When my parents split up, my mom started seeing Ron. His hair was greasy and he smelled like the inside of a car. I was five years old the first time he made me sit on his lap. His hands were in my underwear. I pretended to be asleep. When my mom came home I told her that I was sick and needed to lie down. The abuse continued until she kicked him out for the last time.
My personal experiences made the situation with my father impossible to reconcile. I haven’t even begun to untangle my own trauma, how could I ever have a relationship with a man who did this to my sister? How can I ever forgive myself for not noticing what was going on?
I’ve made the person who molested me into the Enemy, the one person I could never, ever forgive. When I think the word hatred I still see Ron’s face. When I have sex I still see his hideous, unwelcome face. If my father is no better than him, do I have a father? Is this something a father does? He was the only “dad” Anna ever had.
What had been a complicated father-daughter relationship became an impossible one. I love my stepsister fiercely. I haven’t spoken to my father in two years and 22 days.
I’m getting married this June. My father won’t be there. I’m terrified that his three sisters won’t come when they find out he wasn’t invited. I’m worried that if I burn this bridge, if my father isn’t there, I’ll never have a relationship with him again. I wonder what everyone will think when they see me come down the aisle by myself.
All I have to do to remember that I’m making the right decision is think about my sweet Anna, who will be a bridesmaid in my wedding party. There is no way I could ever make her come face to face with him again. Because of my own molestation, I can’t face him either, let alone gaze off all moony-eyed while we share a father-daughter dance.
I’m trying to get excited about sending out my invitations. I’m trying to get excited about the ceremony and walking down the isle, about dancing with my true love, about watching our funny families mingle and dance. I try to picture us all together, laughing and crying. I can see myself in my dress, I can see Daniel standing at the altar waiting for me, but no matter which way I spin it, there's still a great big hole. It’s not going away.
Letting myself be held by the ocean.
Last summer I was at the ocean with my family. For the first time in so many years the water off the coast of Maine was warm enough to swim in. We spent hours floating in it. My mom and my best friend Sara and I were jumping up over the waves together.
On my right hand was a ring, the last thing I still owned from my father, it was shaped like a sun. A huge wave came, we got giddy, readying ourselves to be picked up by the water. The wave pulled that ring right off of my hand, and as much as we tried, opening our eyes under the water, scraping the bottom with our hands, we never found it.