You Probably Need a Will, So Here's How to Have That Potentially Awkward Conversation with Your Family
Remember, if you die without a will, the state will determine who inherits
I have a stalker. He monitors my every move, he gains access to my private social networking profiles and he blankets my blog and Twitter with despicable comments. I have tried in vain to get help from the police, but they don’t take my complaint seriously, because my stalker is my biological father.
I am 31 years old and I have never met Stan, but that does not stop him from regularly contacting me online, calling me names and telling me how to live my life.
Stan began harassing me online in 2008. A few years earlier, in those heady circa-2004 days of MySpace, I was quite a provocateur. I posted racy photos from retro pin-up shoots and I kept a blog that meticulously detailed my oft-debaucherous lifestyle. I thought that my friends were the only people reading my shtick-y accounts of heartache and high heels, and I when I switched over to Facebook I didn’t give a thought to my old MySpace profile. I wish I had. Stan not only found the page, he spent an unhealthy amount of time fixating on the information he found there.
In 2008, my then-boyfriend and I cashed our life savings and decided to travel Southeast Asia and India for 18 months. It was an exhilarating time, and I was knee-deep in preparations when my mum received an email from Stan, the first in many years. It was a vitriolic diatribe -– as usual –- lambasting my mother for her refusal to relinquish claims to child support that he owed us.
He called her terrible names and insisted that she had poisoned my opinion of him, claiming I was a disturbed victim of brainwashing and that my Myspace profile proved I was “damaged goods.” He believed that she had robbed me of a relationship with him, and that he was the victim in the situation.
I was enraged. I gritted my teeth as I snatched the keyboard and dashed off a missive. This was the first time in my life that I had ever communicated directly with him and I thought that my letter was clear, logical and well written. I calmly explained that he had accrued a debt and needed to make it right. I told him that I had always refused to even consider seeing him until he made efforts to pay what he owed, as I felt that it was symbolic gesture of his dedication to a relationship with me.
I hit send and I went to my going away party feeling like I had settled the problem and defended my mother. (To this day, this letter is the only time I have ever replied to one of his messages, other than multiple one line emails -- sent on the advice of the police -- demanding that he stop contacting me.)
A few nights later, I was drinking beer in a Bangkok guesthouse when I got my first message directly from Stan. It was apologetic and seemed quite genuine -– he claimed that he had heard me loud and clear, and he was ready to make amends if it meant the chance to know me. I felt hope for the first time in my adult life that we could have a relationship.
Within a month I would be a shaky mess.
After this initial email, Stan used information from my old MySpace page to concoct a bizarre imagined familiarity with me. He began sending me email after email from different accounts, inundating my Facebook and gmail inboxes with wildly confusing messages.
At times he was a concerned father, telling me he loved me and wanted badly to be in my life. Some times he was a smarmy drinking buddy, cracking jokes and referencing pop culture. At other times he was an abusive bully, chastising me for the despicable way he thought I lived my life. He thought that my pin up photos signified that I was "whore" and that my blog was a “cry for help from a deeply disturbed little girl.”
When I began blocking the countless Facebook profiles he created in order to contact me, he began to get very abusive. He said he spoke on behalf of his whole family when he told me that I was “white trash,” “no good,” “a hillbilly” and that I would “never amount to anything.”
Now, his letters were often funny in a deeply disturbing, delusional way –- my then boyfriend and I would read them aloud and burst out laughing. We laughed about it, but it was gallows humor that masked the painful reality of the situation. Somehow this man knew what to say to upset me –- I did sometimes feel inadequate because I was raised in a trashy suburb with a single teenaged mother. I was horrified that my old racy photos and TMI blog had been discovered. I did worry that having an abusive, sociopathic father meant that I was damaged by association.
While I traveled and experienced some of world’s most amazing sights, I sunk into an anxious depression.
My friends and family thought they were helping when they told me to just let it roll off my back –- that these were the ramblings of a man clearly dealing with mental health issues and that I shouldn’t let it bother me. I would smile and agree, but my worst nightmare was coming true.
So this was my father. My morbid curiosity about my genetic background was answered with wave after wave of abusive communication, and I felt a twisted mix of shame, anger, hurt and hopelessness. Despite my every attempt to be a strong feminist and get angry instead of sad, I was an absolute wreck, yet I minimized the effect it was having on me and scolded myself that it was no big deal.
However, within six months his harassment escalated. By then I was writing a heavily trafficked travel blog, and this new window into my life seemed to fuel his obsession. He imagined that references I made were somehow about him, and he left multiple comments every day that vacillated from admiration to name-calling. I would block him and within an hour he would have a new user account.
One of his most unsettling actions was creating a Twitter called “Damaged Goods Daughter” on which he carried out one-sided conversations about me and created Photoshopped montages and cartoons featuring my image.
I was deeply torn between my love of writing and my newfound blogging success and wanting to delete everything just to get away from his prying gaze. I found myself censoring everything I wrote, and I used many pseudonyms for freelance work. I knew he read my blog, so I consciously only presented a very positive, witty and bright version of my life. I was living in a strange schism –- presenting my life and travels as carefree to an audience that included my tormentor.
My mum had had enough, and she went to the police back in Canada. They were helpful in person, but then she found out that the officer in charge of the file had gone to Stan’s house and pleaded with him “man to man.” He recounted saying something along the lines of, “Come on, bro, you gotta do right by your little girl.” I was appalled. Stan was breaking the law by repeatedly contacting me against my will, and the police were treating it like a papa who was scolding his baby.
Stan was enraged that I had gotten the police involved, and his emails and tweets increased in number. He began taunting me and telling me no one could ever stop him from contacting me. Instead of doing their job and enforcing the law, the police recommended that I stop blogging, completely ignoring the fact that not only was my blog a source of income and joy, it was also my right to not be harassed online.
Their ineptitude made me feel even more trapped and panicked, and these feelings seeped into all aspects of my life.
When I returned to Canada, the messages slowed down. For a few months I had some semblance of peace, until he hacked into a family member’s Facebook account and sent me a series of devastatingly mean letters. I again became despondent and hopeless that this nightmare would never end, and I began to have very real fears that he would find out where I lived and attempt to confront me in person.
This time the police were much more effective. The officer understood the importance of my online space and expressed concern that this kind of behavior can often escalate to violence. He took my complaint seriously and applied the law. This intervention seems to have worked -– while the emails and comments have never completely stopped, they have slowed down to a trickle.
I feel very sad when I look back on my “amazing” trip around Asia. I was traveling in a magical place that I couldn’t fully enjoy because I was constantly buying into the terrible things that this stranger was saying about me. It seems crazy now, but I remember feeling like it was somehow my fault. I let a lot of what he said about me sink in, and I hurt some people in my life very badly when I was in that dark place.
In the past two years, Stan has contacted me about 10 times, mostly via my blog and in a few emails. It’s not ideal, but it is a huge improvement and I am in a much better place with the situation. I meditate daily, and I am able to be very honest with myself about what happened and stop minimizing just how much it affected me. Ironically, admitting that I was hurt, allowing myself to be vulnerable and speaking out about what happened to me seems to take most of his power away.
I do forgive him, because I know that he is troubled, but I can say with certainty that we will never have a relationship. I can also guarantee that he will find this (and probably comment) -- the difference now is that I can honestly say I don’t care and I am unwilling to censor myself.
To be honest, it all seems kind of silly, and when I sadistically recount the tale in lurid detail to new friends, I can truly laugh. I mean, who gets stalked by their father? On Myspace?