Tears used to blur my vision whenever I searched through Father's Day cards for just the right one for my dad. After awhile I stopped looking. None of the cards spoke the truth about the kind of father my dad was. I loved him because he was my dad, and he did put food on the table and clothes on my back. Sometimes he was fun, sometimes he actually seemed proud of me. Once he gave me a gift that I treasured.
For my last few teen years at home I had a periodic recurring nightmare that my dad was dying in my arms. I was sitting on the floor holding his head in my lap and sobbing, flooding his blank face with my tears. I would wake up crying and confused, wondering why that dream continued to repeat itself. It took 20 years to figure out.
My dad grew up in a communist country where his mother was terribly abusive. The only stories I heard of her were about how mean she was. She used to beat her children with whatever she had in her hand, and often, according to my dad, he would back his younger siblings into a corner and take the blows for them. Once she stabbed him, but apparently the knife didn't go deep enough to kill him. There wasn't anything he could do to please her. When a large group of people escaped the country he went with them and never returned. He immersed himself among English-speaking culture, traveled where there was work, and eventually met my mom's family.
According to my mom's story, from what I remember, there was no honeymoon when she married my dad. They eloped and he got up and went to work the next morning, leaving my mom in their small trailer. She did not have a driver's license, and even if she did, dad took their only vehicle to work. If she was going to turn his trailer into a HOME, she would need something to work with. All she had to bring to their marriage was a small bag of clothes. There was nothing for her to do but to clean and have a small meal ready when her husband came home. When he came home, he looked around, disappointed at the "woman's touch" that did not miraculously happen.
About 13 months later I was born and filled her once-boring days with joy. I was her reason for getting up in the mornings and gave her days a purpose. I have seen a few pictures of when I was a baby, but the first ones taken were left on a bus. I guess at that time dad didn't have a car. Mom saw pictures in the newspaper of a baby along with the offer of a young couple to adopt the child in the pictures. She thought the baby looked familiar but never realized those were of me until dad admitted he had lost them.
I thought my family was normal. Dad often took jobs that required him to be gone for weeks at a time. Once he came home with huge stuffed toys that he had won at a fair on his way home. On one of those times, when I was about six years old, I found a horse charm in his suitcase. It had broken off of a necklace. I showed it to him and he said he didn't know where it came from so I could keep it. I literally kept it in my pocket or in my hand constantly. I treasured it as if he had bought it specially for me. A few days later I took it to the bathroom with me and realized I had nowhere to put it when I sat on the toilet, so I set it on my thigh. It slipped into the toilet, and in my ignorance I thought if I flushed it I could reach into the clean water and pick up the charm. When I saw that the charm disappeared along with everything else, I was completely heart-broken. I ran crying to my dad, sorry that I had lost his charm, hoping he could get it back. He hugged me and told me it was ok, but the charm, of course, was gone forever.
At this same home, the boys next door, about ages 13 and 6, were siphoning gas from my dad‘s truck. When I walked up to see what they were doing, clueless, they offered to let me try. I ended up swallowing a mouthful of gas and ran gasping and coughing into my house. Mom had a fit and made my dad take me to the hospital. I remember everything being so white wherever I looked, including the Doctor who looked down my throat and sent me home, instructing my dad to buy me a milkshake. I remember feeling spoiled and happy, carrying a gigantic milkshake into the house. Come to think of it, that was the only milkshake my dad ever bought me.
The two neighbor boys came into our garage and exposed themselves to my sister and I one day. We had never seen a penis before and giggled at the sight of them. My dad saw us through the window, burst into the garage, chased the boys away and whipped the living daylights out of us girls. I guess we weren't supposed to think it was funny to look at the boys' penises. There was no talk about it.
Over time as I grew I rarely saw my parents show affection for each other. Once, when a drunk man broke into our house in the city, I burst into their bedroom to tell them and saw my dad naked as he jumped off of my mom. So apparently they did have sex.. I was in the 2nd or 3rd grade then, and was shocked and horrified. Unfortunately I can still see that picture in my head.
In this Alberta city my sister and I walked 5 blocks to school every day, past two huge, teeth bared, snarling, barking Doberman dogs. We were always afraid they would hop over that short wire fence and eat us, so we ran past as quickly as we could. Once when I was sick my sister had to walk by herself and was chased down the sidewalk by those dogs until their owner, thank the Lord, called them back. My mom used to walk us to the zoo and the Calgary Stampede whenever possible. In fact, everywhere we went we walked, unless dad was home. She was always nervous about walking because there was a rapist stalking our area, and she was pretty sure he was following her at one point. She suddenly turned, stared right into his eyes and walked toward him. In his surprise he turned and went a different direction. She described him to police and we heard in the news that he was caught some time later.
As a family in this city I only remember riding our bikes at a park and collecting rocks along the way a couple of times. We ate at a restaurant once and thought it was the most amazing, special event. Dad was working a lot and wanted quiet when he came home. With all the fighting going on, one of the rare times my sisters and I were having fun playing Hungry Hippos together, dad told us to shut up. He took the game and threw it away. I, unfortunately, did the exact same thing to my own kids when they were little, playing Hungry Hippos, without even thinking. Ugh.. Forgive me, Heavenly Father. #cycleofabuse
Dad was angry a lot, those 2 ½ years. It seemed like us girls were getting spankings left, right, and center. I don’t even remember why, but I think most likely for fighting with each other or maybe not doing something we were told to do. I was normally a pretty obedient child, I think. I talked back to my mom once and got a mouth full of soap, so never did it again. I didn’t dare talk back to dad for fear of one of his awful beatings. He used what used to be a thick wooden cutting board on our bare bottoms. After a few times, one side broke off, and then later the other side broke off, leaving only the middle section with a perfect handle. I will never forget the intense pain of that horrible instrument leaving welts on my skin. I learned to lay still over the bed until he was finished waling on me. I tried many times to tell my sister to be still, but she always jumped up, holding her behind, screaming. If you move, he’ll get your legs or whatever gets in the way, and he’ll be more angry and keep on striking. When the “bread board” disappeared (I have no idea what happened to it but hope mom got rid of it) dad cut a branch off a tree, peeled the bark off and stood it in the living room by the stairs. If I was about to get a spanking he would say, “Go get the stick”. To this day I can’t even write about this without holding my breath, my entire body tense as if it just happened moments ago. #PTSD When I had swimming lessons after being spanked with the bread board one time I was afraid the other girls would see the colorful bruises, so I dressed with my rear end to the lockers. I was ashamed that I deserved such terrible spankings, but somehow knew that if someone saw those bruises, my daddy would get in trouble. #childabuse #lowselfesteem
That was also near the time when a little boy from school had come to play with my sister and I in our back yard. He convinced us to take our pants down and take turns letting him lay on top of us to show us what he saw his parents doing. He also had a runny nose, so I thought it was gross when he pressed his lips on mine, but the rest of it I thought was funny. After that I was asked by several laughing boys, multiple times over many weeks, if I would "screw" them. I just didn't know how to respond. (As quoted in my book, 1/3 of all perpetrators are under the age of 18) The boy in the back yard did not have an erection so there was no penetration; I could not understand what the big deal was. Soon after, I had a nightmare of fists coming at my face in the pitch blackness every direction I turned. When I went downstairs crying, I remember dad holding me and carrying me back up the stairs and putting me to bed. I did not understand my dream at the time, but had been too afraid to tell my parents about the boys at school because I felt that it was my fault for letting the boy in the back yard lay on top of me in the first place. I remembered the terrible spanking I got when the boys in our previous neighborhood exposed themselves to me.
When I think of Calgary it’s hard to make the positive things override the negative. In my mind, demons lived all over that place. Thankfully, God rescued me by moving our family all the way across the country. I can only imagine the evil I would have been stuck in; the kind of reputation I would have had if dad's job hadn't changed and we had stayed there. As I quoted in my book, "He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me" (Psalm 18:16-19) #RaisingPEARLS
Dad went back to Calgary and left us in Ontario while he fixed the house to sell. Living with my Grandparents in the beautiful country was a wonderful escape, and in my perspective, not for long enough.
To be continued..