Rituals of Submission | Part 2 of 2

by Elouise

I feel awkward making observations about being beaten. I don’t remember anyone talking with me about them, commiserating with me, comforting me or asking how I felt.  After each beating I simply walked out of the room and right back into life.

It was almost as though it never happened. There were tell-tale signs: my splotchy red face, bloodshot eyes, subdued sniffling, and the burning welts on my backside that wouldn’t let me forget. Especially when I sat down.  But I don’t remember anyone breaking the code of silence.

Nonetheless, I have several observations, an additional piece of the puzzle, and what being groomed to be a victim looked like on me.

This punishment is happening in our home, yet it’s structured as a mini-church event, presided over by my father, the pastor. I recognize key elements.
~ Acknowledgment of God’s presence
~ A reminder of why we’re here today
~ A brief ‘talk’ about what has taken place and how deeply it grieves God and my parents
~ A non-negotiable altar call (to me)
~ Confession of sin (mine)
~ The administration, in God’s name, of appropriate punishment (to me)
~ Begging God’s forgiveness (of me)
~ Appropriate signs of repentance and sorrow (from me)
~ Assurance that I am still a member of my family, forgiven for my sin of disobedience
~ A final, non-negotiable kiss of ‘peace’

Yet this isn’t church at all.  Sadly, I don’t find
~ A community of friends, neighbors, strangers or most family members
~ Music, singing, dancing, laughter or clapping of hands
~ Smiles, greetings of peace, gratitude or hospitality
~ Communal confession of sin and assurance of pardon
~ Confession of shared faith and requests for prayers of support
~ Difficult conversation about things that matter
~ Safety, peace, hope, healing, comfort, freedom and empowering challenge
~ Grace, joy, thanksgiving, wonder, a blessing and a benediction

My father’s heavy reliance on selected church language and practices, and his identity as a clergyman give me pause. His goal was to silence my voice and break my will. I wonder whether cloaking it all in religious God-talk was his way of shifting responsibility to God.  He was simply following orders from God.  Does that suggest God made him do it?  My father would never agree with this suggestion, yet I wonder about it.

I don’t, however, wonder about this: From my father’s perspective I alone was responsible for whether I got punished, and for how severe the punishment would be. From time to time he reminded me that if I showed genuine signs of contrite sorrow and repentance early, I wouldn’t be punished so severely.  According to him, I alone had the power to control the way he punished me. In fact, if I would simply obey him I wouldn’t get punished at all!

It sounds as though I made him do it.  But I know this isn’t true.  On rare occasions–never anticipated by me ahead of time–he suddenly announced that he had decided not to beat me this time.  My instantaneous relief, happiness and gratitude knew no bounds.   I felt as though my life had just been spared.  I also felt strangely bonded to my father by something like love.

Back then I didn’t understand the power of these capricious yet highly strategic exceptions to the ritual.  I did, however, know that I could never count on them.  Or even hope for one.  They in no way diminished my anticipation of the worst.

Another piece of the puzzle
At least twice when I was in my 50s my parents gave me another piece of this sad picture. It seems my father had critical help from my mother.

I wasn’t even 2 years old yet.  My father had just returned home. I came running and smiling to greet him with a hug and kiss. He was surprised. This wasn’t the angry, rebellious, argumentative little girl he left at home that morning following his failed attempt to spank the anger out of me.

He asked my mother what had happened. She explained: You didn’t do it hard enough or use the right instrument. After you left this morning she was as difficult with me as she was with you. Definitely not tamed or compliant.

So she spanked me yet again. When her first effort didn’t produce the desired result, she retrieved her hairbrush from the bedroom and used the back side of the hairbrush to spank me even harder and longer on my bare little bottom.  According to her, it worked like a charm. I was docile, obedient and cheerful for the rest of the day.

The last time my mother told me this story she added a crucial piece of information.  With tears in her eyes, she said that right after she finished this second spanking I ran into her arms for comfort, crying and saying “I love you.”  According to her, this was the very first time I’d ever behaved like that with her.

I could hardly believe my ears.  It seems my father thinks he is beating anger out of me; my mother seems to think she has beaten love into me.

I had no safe pastor or children’s/youth pastor to talk with about what was happening at home. Nor did it occur to me that I could or should have that option. After all, my father was also my pastor. I really didn’t need anyone else, did I?

What it looks like when I say…
I was groomed to be a victim. Pimps love to find young girls who are easy to recruit. Girls like me.  By the time I’m 10 years old I’m ready.
~ I’m starving for love and attention
~ I’ve been abused in my family
~ I’m lonely and feel left out when I’m with friends my age
~ I don’t have healthy boundaries
~ I know how to be docile, submissive and pleasant no matter how I feel
~ I feel responsible for taking care of others, especially my father
~ I know how to numb out when things get ugly
~ I believe there’s something wrong with me
~ I’m looking for a family that will appreciate me
~ I’m ready for something better–someone who really loves me, just the way I am

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 January 2014

For Part 1 of this post, click here.