Bethany: Father’s Day feels so empty to me–like one of those holidays like Flag Day or Secretary’s Day. Why should I pay attention to those? I don’t have a flag, a secretary or a father. My dad is in prison for sexually abusing me for most of my childhood.
Father’s Day for me has always been about going through the motions. Why should I honor a man who doesn’t deserve honor? He contributed a seed, but after that everything he for me was destructive.
Christina: I remember writing Father’s Day cards that really gushed about what a great dad I had, but it was always what I thought I should have felt about him. I felt guilty for not being more sincere. I thought something was wrong with me for not feeling closer or more loving. I tried to work myself up to appreciation and admiration but writing those cards always felt hollow and like a lie.
Linda: My father sexually abused me from the ages of three to twelve years and maybe even earlier because my memories are pretty fractured. He’s been dead since 1992. It has been thirty-three years since I last saw him. The last time I saw him he didn’t act as if he had missed me in my fifteen year absence. In fact, it was like I never existed.
When people talk about their fathers wistfully, I remember the fear, the hiding and avoiding the dread and pain and shame and revulsion. When others say they miss their dads, I can’t relate to that idea, in fact I never missed mine when I left my home at twelve….just wondered if he ever even thought about me.
I may have missed the idea of a father who is loving and caring but I can’t wrap my head around that concept, much.
Jennifer: I used to always find ways to judge and criticize people who were close with their fathers. As if it was easier for me to convince myself that having a good father in my life wasn’t even something I wanted.
The truth is I have no idea what it would be like to have a healthy father figure and the image of a father brings to mind a crazy drug fiend. Of course I wouldn’t want one of those around.
If my father had been different, or if I could even imagine what it would be like to have a healthy father I might feel differently. Although, I have had a few good men in my life and am very appreciative of them.
Linda: I saw some really sweet things written about dads the other day and it really affected me. I have been okay for years with not having a loving dad; I accepted that mine was an abuser. I got to thinking how nice it would be to feel what this describes …just once:
“Being loved by a daddy is like having the sun kiss your nose while you’re eating sweet strawberries, running through sprinklers. You don’t need it, but it can change your world.” Bonnie Gray
Bethany: When my mom married Don many years ago, I got a new dad – or a step-dad rather. Don and I worked together in the same church office and when news spread that he was marrying my mom, a coworker thought it would be funny to put together a list of “dad” related names I could call Don. It was meant as a joke, but the idea of calling Don my dad was uncomfortable to me. “Dad” was a dirty word in my book.
Don isn’t like the original dad. He is kind, respectful and truly cares about me. I feel safe with him. There isn’t the same threat of betrayal that had with my first father.
When I broke off my relationship with my dad, Don was there for me, fully supportive of my emotional health. Even though he took on the role of a traditional father, I didn’t like calling him dad. I didn’t want to call him something gross or disrespectful. That’s what the name “dad” meant to me.
Christina: I can relate to that. It hurts that my dad’s lifestyle so colored my view of that role that I don’t even think of it as a good thing to have. Yes, I honor men who are good fathers and I believe that they exist, but as far as it relates to me, it’s a concept like a fairytale or some scientific formula that I can’t comprehend. Either way, it doesn’t make sense.
Even before getting my memories back, I thought the people who idolized their dads were so foreign—like from another planet.
Linda: I had trouble identifying with the ones who idolized their dads too. My neighbor (playmate) lost her dad when she was really young to a brain aneurism and I could not understand why she was so upset about it. I couldn’t fathom what a good relationship with a dad was.
Jennifer: I either couldn’t relate to them, or wondered what they were hiding.
Christina: I wondered what was hiding under that facade too or when the child was going to remember what really happened. While some people were in disbelief over the things my father did to me, I was in disbelief that their fathers were so great.
Bethany: I grew up with two friends who are sisters and they both have a very good relationship with their father. They talk about him like he is their hero and dream of marrying a man just like him. They give him great big bear hugs. And I think to myself, “Woah! Where are your boundaries?” The physical affection and admiration bothers me.
I don’t have too much of a problem hugging men, but I do have a problem hugging someone who is in a father role. To me, a father doesn’t touch you at all or he hugs, molests, and rapes. It’s hard to comprehend a father who would just hug his daughter because he loves her.
Christina: I feel that same discomfort when I see father/daughter affection. It’s not only that I suspect there’s more to it, but just seeing genuine love from a father feels uncomfortable. It doesn’t matter if it’s with their son or daughter.
I know great men who are excellent fathers. My husband is one of them. So I know they exist and I applaud them. I can’t think of anything in life more important than being a good parent to the children you have.
I was cleaning some things out and found a silver chafing dish that my parents passed on to me many years ago. It was a gift commemorating a party to honor my dad. The lid is engraved with his name, the date and “In Appreciation.” I was too young to attend and I don’t know the occasion, but I’ve always imagined a large party at a country club where lots of “important” people gathered to pat my father on the back.
The thought of people gathering to celebrate my dad used to bother me. I resented him being treated as though he was a good person. I hated that the person who used to sneak into my room at night was so well-loved and admired. I wished that I could scream the truth about him or show a home-movie about the secret things he used to do to me.
Now I’ve accepted that he will be honored by some and they will never believe that he sexually abused me. Or if they believe it, they excuse it as something that happened too long ago to consider relevant. They can feel and think about him the way they choose and I will do the same.
Linda: My dad gave me life and then he systematically took it away until I was left with no identity. I had to rebuild myself from my childhood onward through my 20’s and 30’s.
I am still that little girl inside, the one who believed in fairytales and princes and make believe. The little girl who wanted to be a ballerina, and loved music. Sometimes that was all I had to hang on to because my reality was too horrific to look at.
If I told you I don’t feel cheated, I would be lying. But I’ve accepted the reality of what my childhood was like and my dysfunctional parents and family. I have survived and grown without what many people will celebrate this Father’s Day.
I still am someone’s daughter, I exist, and no amount of denial will make me disappear. I am here until the last breath and here enjoying life in spite of the missing parts. I am enjoying watching the good fathers in my family and grateful that their children never have to experience what I went through. They get to enjoy hugs and play with their dads and experience their dad’s protection. It is okay to watch from the sidelines and I am content to do so now.
How are you doing this Father’s Day? Is it painful for you too? Leave your thoughts and feelings in the comments below and remember to subscribe to the comments.
Bethany, along with her mother, Christina Enevoldsen, is the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse. Besides helping abuse survivors see the beauty within themselves, she enhances the beauty of others as a professional make-up artist and has worked in television, film and print. She lives in Los Angeles.
I’m Christina Enevoldsen and I’m the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse and the author of The Rescued Soul: The Writing Journey for the Healing of Incest and Family Betrayal. I’m a Strategic Interventionist and Certified Professional Life Coach with a specialty Life Story Certification. As a survivor of incest, sex trafficking and a 21-year long abusive marriage (now remarried to an emotionally healthy, loving and supportive man), I bring personal experience, empathy, and insight as well as professional training to help childhood sexual abuse survivors thrive.
Having experienced healing from sexual, physical and verbal abuse, Linda Pittman has found joy in encouraging others in their healing journey and tells people that it’s never too late to start. She’s been married to her husband for twenty-one years and has four adult children.
Jennifer Stuck is whole heartedly pursuing physical and emotional health and is determined to heal the wounds of her childhood sexual abuse. She loves to write, especially poetry. She has an open, accepting personality, and is always ready to crack a joke. She is currently studying for a career in Physical Therapy. When she isn’t in school Jennifer is at home spending time with her two beautiful daughters.