by Christina Enevoldsen
I didn’t actually plan to confront my dad. I didn’t think it would do me any good.
I wrote this several years ago:
“My dad has displayed his selfishness for as long as I’ve known him. I’m not under some delusion that he’ll suddenly develop a conscience and confess how he hurt me. He covered up the abuse when it happened without regard for how that would hurt me. He’s still doing that now. Holding out hope for some kind of healthy, compassionate response from him would keep me under his control and I’ve spent too many years there. I’ve moved on without involving him. He’s the one who would have destroyed me; he’s not the one to repair me.”
Before my phone discussion with my dad, I hadn’t talked with him in four years. I hadn’t expected to ever talk with him again. I’d been healing just fine without him and since my dad and mom walked away from me before specific memories of the sexual abuse surfaced, I didn’t think I’d have the opportunity to stand up to him anyway.
I confronted my mother a few times over the recent years, which is the only communication I’ve had with her in that time. I objected to her lies that I’m living in a fantasy world and I stood up to her assertions that I need to forgive and stop dwelling in the “old, dead history”. On the several occasions that I’ve confronted my mother, my dad was silent.
In the early stages of my healing, I wrote a very angry letter to him, but I didn’t feel the need to send it. I didn’t write it for him. I wrote it to articulate to myself just how I felt and to validate my anger and pain. I didn’t need him for that.
Confrontation, even in the form of a letter, gave him too much power. Even if it didn’t obligate me to hear any kind of a response, I didn’t want to imply that I wanted to open a discussion. Now that I look back on it, I really just didn’t want to open the door to hope that he would somehow soften toward me. I didn’t want to face that pain of rejection if he didn’t respond or if he responded with more painful words.
My dad heard about what I was writing and saying about him several years ago but he never bothered to contact me. Instead, he defended himself to my son, “I can’t believe she would say something like that. I love her. I would never do anything to hurt her.”
My dad can really stir up trouble, but he can be a real smooth-talker too. When my son told me what my dad said, even though I had clear memories of the abuse and had been living with the effects all my life, I still questioned my sanity because of his almost convincing words.
The truth is, I wanted to believe that my dad loved me. I wanted to believe that I had it all wrong about him. But that wasn’t the truth and it scared me that he could still influence me that way.
Breaking the Silence
After years of silence I heard through my son that my dad’s health wasn’t very good and that he wanted to talk to me. I’ll be honest. As much as I’d sorted through, when I heard that my dad wanted to talk with me, I was very emotional.
As sick and perverted as he was toward me, my dad was not only my sexual abuser—he was the closest thing to love that I had. My mom was cold but my dad was very emotionally and physically affectionate.
To my mother, I was invisible, yet with my dad, he sought me out. My dad pursued me for his own gratification, but as an emotionally starved child, I couldn’t afford to be picky. My dad took me places and treated me “special”. We picked out our family dog together, he drove me to Girl Scout Camp (those poor girls), he threw me in the air when I was convinced I could fly like Mary Poppins. My dad was involved.
Yes, my dad caused me enormous pain, but he was also the only person I felt any amount of connection with while I was growing up. Though the comfort I got from him was mixed with fear and the “love” from him carried the price of sexual compliance, that was as close to love as I ever had.
When I got the message that my dad wanted to talk with me, I hated that I wanted to talk with him. I judged myself for still having a soft spot for him and I was afraid that all my boundaries would crumble and I’d sacrifice my wellbeing for his, just as I had for most of my life.
I also hated that I had hope. I wanted to believe that I didn’t have hope of him finally coming to his senses and loving me, but I did. I had to admit to myself that I wanted his love, though I also had healed enough to know I no longer needed it.
In the midst of sorting out those feelings, I heard myself think, “Parents aren’t important.” That stopped me. That’s not true—parents are very important, and not just in childhood.
I’d lied to myself as a shield from the pain, but I was ready to face another layer of that. My life would have been better if I’d had loving parents, but the way they are, my life is better off without them. I want parents, but I don’t need them now.
For a few days, I grieved the loss that the new truth brought. It was both painful and empowering. It felt good that I was cleansing myself of another lie and I was proud of myself for acknowledging the truth
Afterward, I still wanted to talk to him, but I felt differently about it. I didn’t feel the same longing, just calm. I decided that I could afford to talk with him. I didn’t know the reason he wanted to talk with me, but I wasn’t afraid of the outcome.
No matter what he’d say, I’d stand up for myself. It was okay to have hope because I could afford a disappointment. I wasn’t depending on him for a good outcome since I’m fine without him.
The phone call
Almost as soon as my dad answered the phone, he told me that he loved me. I was silent. He repeated it, “I love you more than you’ll ever know. You know that don’t you?”
Those words might have stung if I’d heard them a year or two before. It was one of the things I wished for the most. But that day, they were just empty words.
I told him, “What I do know is that you and Mom have both chosen abusers over me and hurt me very much. I’ve felt affection from you, but the way I define love is to do what’s best for the person I love. If I hurt them, I try to make amends instead of causing more pain. Both of you caused me more pain. Mom accused me of being a liar and you hurt me with your silence.
“You walked away from me when I told mom that I wanted to stop brushing things under the rug. I wanted to stop pretending that things were okay. I wanted a better relationship because you were important to me.
“It stirred up a lot of feelings when I heard you wanted to talk to me. I felt like a vulnerable little girl who wanted to be able to trust in your love. In the years since our separation, I wished for either of you to call me. I wanted you to say that we could talk about whatever we need to talk about to resolve this.
“When I heard that you wanted to talk to me, I thought it could be one of two things: That you wanted to have peace by finally admitting the truth or that you wanted to reminisce about pleasant memories and good times so you could say goodbye.
But in that case, I have the rest of my life to live knowing that all of our relationship was just about me taking care of you. You get peace either way and I’m willing to give you that, but I want the same thing I wanted before. I want to talk things out.”
Without skipping a beat, my dad responded, “You don’t know how much we love you. We’re not hateful and we want to get things so we have a loving family. I said to your mother wouldn’t it be fantastic if our daughter would come up and knock on our door? We prayed that we would have a life together again. You don’t know how much we love you and we’ll always love you. I’d give anything to hold you and kiss you one more time and your mom feels the same way.”
Wow, the only response to my request was that he loved me. That wasn’t good enough anymore. He wanted me to be the one to come to them, without either of them taking any responsibility for the disaster our relationship was. Yes, he wanted reconciliation, but he wanted things to go back to the way they were. Same old story!
I told him, “I love my kids so much and there are things I’ve done in the past to wound them. I’m willing to hear their anger and pain and to validate their feelings and their experiences. I don’t try to gloss over it by saying, ‘I know but I’ll always love you.’ I sit with them in their pain. I don’t try to protect myself from it. That’s how I define love.
That’s what I wanted from you and Mom. I wanted to talk honestly about things and not just cover it up with, ‘I love you’. If you really want to communicate love to me, say that you’re ready to talk about my pain.”
He replied, “Uh huh, I guess from the standpoint of my approving of the way you presented this, that’s really difficult for me. Because I never once did the things you said I was doing. Your mom and I have wondered why you would put us in this position to say I’ve done these terrible things and I would never do those things. I can honestly tell you that I would never do those things because you’re my daughter and I love you.”
I was prepared for his denial. I asked, “Are you saying I’m making up the sexual abuse or that I imagined it? That’s one of the worst things you could say to me. That’s not love.
“You said that you prayed that I’d show up at your door but the ball is in your court. If you want that to happen, it’s up to you. You walked away from me. The way our relationship used to be made you happy, but it didn’t make me happy and that’s not healthy.
I told mom that I wanted honesty and openness and that’s what I still want. There’s a lot about the past that I could forgive, but neither of you asked for forgiveness. If you want a relationship based on the honestly that I asked for, I’d be interested in that. The only way we can go forward is if we deal with the past.”
I also confronted my dad about betraying my daughter when he defended my ex-husband’s sexual abuse and tried to bribe her to keep quiet. He made excuses and I confronted him about his excuses.
He ended by reminding me that he loved me.
Confrontations aren’t usually so mellow as this one was. Our conversation was punctuated with memories of happier moments and we even laughed a time or two.
The only hint of any hostility from him was when he denied sexually abusing me. He used the excuse that he didn’t approve of me bringing it up in public, but he had a kind tone in nearly the entire time we talked.
In the past, that’s been the most difficult time for me to speak up for myself. It’s much easier to maintain my boundaries when someone is hostile. When I started getting good at standing up for myself, I could stand toe to toe with someone who was overtly opposing my wellbeing, but responding in a healthy way to the sweet talkers has been a weakness. Until now. As “nice” as he sounded, he wasn’t being nice to me. He didn’t lull me into falling for his lies.
I felt so empowered to be both gentle and strong. I was firm in speaking the truth and didn’t feel bad if the truth happened to hurt him.
I also didn’t lose sight of my needs even in the midst of my dad repeatedly discounting and ignoring them. Every time I told my dad what I wanted, he changed the subject. But I kept going back to what I wanted. Afterwards, I felt so free that I could tell him how I felt, yet not feel like that made me vulnerable.
In the end, my dad’s actions told me that my needs still aren’t important to him and I was okay with that. My needs are important to me and they are no less valid just because he refused them.
I was willing to talk to him one more time to say goodbye. He didn’t deserve it, but I gave him peace. All my life, I’d put his and everyone else’s needs above mine and I knew I wasn’t doing that this time. I didn’t compromise myself in reaching out to him. This time, I not only didn’t lose anything in giving, I had some major breakthroughs.
I thought that nothing would likely be gained by confronting my sexual abuser, but I’ve changed my opinion a little now. It wasn’t what my dad could give to me in the encounter, it was what I gave to myself.
Have you confronted your abuser? Were you content with the results? Please comment below and remember to subscribe to the comments so you can continue to contribute to the discussion. You don’t have to use your real name. Email addresses are never made public.
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.