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It was a weekend morning in my quiet, suburban neighborhood and my family was busy with weekend morning things at home. The doorbell rang unexpectedly. Adults spoke quietly. My sister and I were told to not go to the front door. The police were at my house to arrest my dad for child molestation.
My life turned into a whirlwind of unfamiliar activity. Adults asking questions, putting new, confusing information about sex, touching and inappropriateness in my mind.
At 9 years old, I was asked to rethink my entire childhood with the filter of sexual molestation superimposed. I was hearing things that left me wondering the difference between expressions of love and hurt. (I would spend the next 10+ years, yearning for hugs and human touch, but confused and fearful that hugging would become molestation and I would be trapped in someone's arms and unable to escape.)
A couple days later my sister and I packed up our clothes and were sent many miles away. We had to be gone, away from my dad.
My mom and dad got divorced. A little less than a year after leaving, my sister and I moved back to the same house we left. It looked the same, only it was nothing like our old home and life.
My mom was gone all day long, working for the first time since I was born. We were now latchkey kids and had the keychains to prove it. It would be years before we saw our father again and when we did, we weren't allowed to be alone with him.
School was one of the harder parts. My dad had molested one of my classmates, and the message had been spread around to parents. (People had kindly spray painted “child molester” on our house, so others knew which house to avoid.)
Schoolmates could no longer be my friend -- it wasn't safe because I might ask them over to play or spend the night and parents feared for what would happen in those cases. They didn't want my dad to show up at their houses to drop me off to play.
Junior high and the beginning of high school presented their own social challenges. In the safety of new schools, I thought I could get away from my secret and have friends. Unfortunately, as long as someone was willing to spread the message, people found out.
People avoided and hated me for nothing I had done. I was an innocent party, yet I often felt I was paying the price. I made some new friends with other misfits, but I feared that my dad had destroyed my life.
I spent a great deal of time alone reading: stories of girls with life altering diseases, stories of people that I thought might understand me if I knew them, any Judy Blume book. I was hoping to find answers, clarification, someone that had it worse than me.
I was incredibly lucky to find a few very understanding adults, who took time out of their days to listen to me and not judge me the way people my age did. I could talk with my adult friends about things I had been through that were much too heavy for people my own age. They didn't fear my dad the way my peers did.
At the beginning of high school, my dad died suddenly from the effects of alcohol. I didn't go to his funeral. I was elated. I was finally free of the burden of being his child, or so I thought.
When people asked about my dad, I made sure to tell them he was dead. To most people my age, this probably seemed somewhat horrifying and morbid, especially if they didn't know about his past, but this was news I felt obligated to broadcast. I might be guilty by association, but my associate was gone!
I finished high school in the top of my class and decided to attend an out-of-state college where no one knew anything about my life. The idea sounded so liberating, a new anonymous existence. A clean slate. I planned to share nothing about my dad in my new life.
In practice, that approach rarely worked. I had an uncanny ability to get drunk and get trapped in a mental cycle of “No one likes me and it's not my fault.” I spent many hours crying alone. I was involved in bad relationships, desperately grabbing onto anyone that seemed to accept me and my massive flaw.
I didn't have a good understanding of what relationships with people my age should be like. When I found a potential friend or mate, I spent time testing them and pushing them, eventually rejecting them or driving them to reject me. I was convinced that's what would eventually happen, especially if they discovered the story of my life. Rejecting them or pushing them to reject me gave me a sense of control that I had lacked for so long.
In time, I realized I could attempt to ignore what my dad did, but I couldn't ignore the way the experience had shaped me. I was the child of a child molester. I wasn't the child molester. After years of feeling powerless, I finally felt powerful. I could use my experience to my advantage.
Over 20 years later, I know my father will always be a child molester. That's something I cannot escape. It's frustrated and challenged me in countless ways. I often overhear people saying child molesters are the most horrible people in the world. They echo the same sentiments I experienced as a child.
I've wrestled with the idea of that horrible person being my father, someone who, for the first part of my life, made sure we had a home, food and even vacations.
I've also found myself with many questions for my dad that will never have answers –- How could an intelligent man do this? Was he molested as a child growing up in the Catholic Church? Why did he have kids? How did his alcoholism tie into it all? In what ways, as an adult, am I like him?
I used to entertain the idea of how my life would have been different if my dad wasn't a child molester that others had to protect me from and if instead, my dad was protecting me. Or if he hadn't died when I was 14 and I had to continue navigating a relationship with him into my adult life. I don't do that as much today. While not ideal, my story is still mine and running from it doesn't change it.
In crimes, there are the innocent and the guilty. One hopes these parties can be clearly separated, but sometimes the innocent get confused with the guilty by association. I don't blame anyone for wanting to protect their children, but it's important to make sure those innocent bystanders are acknowledged for being their own people.
Some of them are approaching life inspired by their experiences and Newtons 3rd law, ready to be the equal, but opposite force in the world.