Blaming Daddy? | Part 2 of 2
‘Have you forgiven your father?’ A fair question, never easy to answer. With regard to forgiveness, I aim to become one of the tough-minded Lewis Smedes talks about in his book, The Art of Forgiving. Here’s his hard-nosed take on it:
Forgiving is for the tough-minded. It is not for the soft-headed who cannot abide people who make judgments on other people’s actions. If we dare not blame, we dare not forgive. Forgiving is for people who know their own faults but who recognize a wrong and dare to name it when they feel it done to them and have the wisdom and grace to forgive it. (p. 85)
In Part 1 I showed you my first written attempt at blaming Daddy for beating me harshly. I also reported (1) that my skunky husband gave it a big thumbs-down; (2) that I took a second look at what I’d written; and (3) why I ended up agreeing with him. It took about two weeks to come up with a second draft. Here it is.
Three criteria for blameworthiness (with thanks to Lewis Smedes)
- You did it.
- You intended to do it.
- No one forced you to do it.
In other words,
You beat me intentionally, and of your own will.
You began beating me when I was a toddler, and continued beating me until I was 15.
I blame you for beating me.
- I did not ask for any of the beatings.
- I am not responsible for any of the beatings.
- I am not to blame for any of the beatings.
- I blame you and you alone—not my mother or any of my sisters.
I blame you for abusing your power over me
- As my father
- As an adult male
- As an ordained clergyman
In other words,
- I am not to blame for your abusive misuse of power over me.
- The beatings and other forms of abuse were not motivated by love.
- They were not commanded by God.
- They were motivated by your determination to break my will and by your own lust.
- You abused me as my father, as an adult male and as an ordained clergyman.
- You were not God’s agent sent to abuse me in any way.
- There was no true power struggle between you and me.
- You held all the power when it came to beatings.
- You held all the power when it came to speaking as ‘God’s agent.’
- You held all the power when it came to humiliating, shaming and abusing my female body by way of beatings, inappropriate touching, intrusive conversation, and willful sexualizing of your own behavior toward my mother in my presence.
What next? Two things…
First, I need to say this out loud: When I read the words above, a strange mixture of fear and sadness wells up in me. I can’t shake the feeling that somehow, somewhere, I’ll be found out. Someone will decide I was and still am the problem, not Daddy. I know this may sound irrational. Yet the feelings well up from time to time.
I don’t often feel crippling shame these days. Not the kind that comes from keeping secrets like this for decades. In addition, I don’t often feel hot, rage-filled anger. Not that it never comes up. More often, I feel productive anger that fuels my determination to speak out. Not to save all the children of the world, but to bear witness to what happened to me, especially inside me.
Second, after I completed the revision you see above, I kept feeling the statement wasn’t yet complete. Yes, it’s clearly a statement of blame. Direct, to the point, concrete, specific. What more could there be?
We live in an Age of Blame. Not that it hasn’t been around for ages. It’s already present in the Garden of Eden. Adam blames both Eve and God (‘the woman You gave me’). Eve blames the serpent. The blame game isn’t new.
Unfortunately, we also live in an age increasingly allergic to assigning blame. Is it because we don’t know how to blame? Perhaps.
Perhaps it’s also because we carry blameworthy loads around with us—hoping no one will ever find out. They weigh heavy on our hearts and minds and spill over into our relationships.
After reading my second attempt many times, I decided to do one more thing. Why? Because I want to account for my adult self that knowingly and unknowingly passed along my own versions of the damage done to me. My end goal isn’t to blame Daddy and then walk away. It’s to step up to the plate with my eyes wide open, refuse to accept what doesn’t belong to me, and accept what does–as a mature adult woman moving on with her life.
So here’s the second part of my latest Blaming Daddy document. I finished it on July 16. Read it as though it were attached to the first piece above.
You are responsible for
~Willfully, intentionally and without coercion from anyone, using your power in ways that abused my body, my spirit, my mind, my emotions, my developing sexuality, and my overall identity/sense of self
~Abusing your power as my father, as an adult male, and as an ordained clergyman
~Not knowing or loving me as I was and am, beginning from early childhood and continuing throughout my adult years
~Creating an atmosphere of intimidation at home, not an atmosphere of safety
I am responsible for
~Stepping up to take responsibility for myself as a mature adult woman by
- telling the truth and engaging in personal work with safe persons
- understanding the nature and extent of what happened to me
- taking steps to pursue healing for myself
- acknowledging ways I have harmed myself and others knowingly and unknowingly, whether willfully or not
- making amends wherever possible to myself and others, without doing harm to myself or others
- doing my part to create an atmosphere of safety at home and in my external activities
- sharing my experience, strength and hope with others
- doing what I can to raise awareness and to support those who help children, young people and adults suffering in similar ways
- being truthful to myself, to God and to others about the reality and outcomes of being abused as a child and young person
- making peace with myself about my relationships with my father, mother and sisters
Do I want to forgive my father? I do, and the events of my childhood and teenage years shaped my entire life. Sadly, I’ve blamed myself unjustly many times over–sometimes as part of consciously or unconsciously maintaining family secrets.
Smedes’ three guiding questions give me a way of reflecting on my life. Have I ‘taken the blame’ for wrongs done to or by me that would not pass the 3-question test? If so, I want to clarify what is and is not my responsibility, and forgive myself as appropriate.
I’m weary of carrying unnecessary, perhaps unjust baggage any longer. I want clarity and healing. Perhaps along the way I’ll have already forgiven my father.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 September 2014
Elouise, I’m so sorry that you have carried this burden with you for a lifetime. No doubt, it affects different in different ways. My dad was heavy handed too. All of us kids were treated pretty much the same and yet it has affected my brother for a lifetime. I have told him that I forgave my dad when I was young and I never think about it. It has shaped my brothers life and at 60 now and it bad health he still thinks of it. Forgive your father as Christ has forgiven us. It may lighten your load. Lord bless you my friend!!!
Levi, Thanks so much for your encouragement and for sharing your own experience. You’re exactly right–each child responds differently. I’m grateful to be on this side of despair. Talking about it openly is the best and the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. I appreciate your faithful listening.
I’m thankful that you are. Have a great day!!!
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“First, I need to say this out loud: When I read the words above, a strange mixture of fear and sadness wells up in me. I can’t shake the feeling that somehow, somewhere, I’ll be found out. Someone will decide I was and still am the problem, not Daddy. I know this may sound irrational. Yet the feelings well up from time to time”. + “Sadly, I’ve blamed myself unjustly many times over–sometimes as part of consciously or unconsciously maintaining family secrets.”
So much to grieve. You have undertaken the very hard task of forgiving your father in a truthful, forthright manner. I grieve for you the loss of a childhood that should have been one of love, safety, a calling out of your gifts, and a time of flourishing. Indeed, the overt abuse was, in many ways, worse than having been an orphan with its attendant abandonment. One wonders if the self-blame, in an odd way, is the last vestige of a hope that cried out for what every child needs, a capable & loving parent. (“If I had only been better, my father…”) To acknowledge that one’s father was abusive and unloving dashes that deep-rooted hope on the rocks. Much to grieve. Thank you for your continued work.
Meg, Thanks again for reading and commenting. Your observation about self-blame gives me pause. I’ve never thought about it quite that way. Yes. The if onlys. They’re killers. They’re also not true. Thanks so much for your continuing affirmation and support.
Absolute AMEN to the not true aspect of the if onlys. They really are killers. And a strong Thanks be to God for the fact that you are on this side of despair. A good place from which to move forward.
Once again, you have brought me to a place, that I once was. Thank you for sharing this part of yourself and acknowledging your life and the life you knew with your Dad. It’s so beneficial to so many women. I wish my sister was still alive to read this. I’m sure it would cause her to weep; as it did me. It was indeed tears of healing. Thank you.
You’re welcome. Thanks for commenting about yourself and your sister. It’s sad to lose a sister–and be aching to share things with her. Aren’t tears wonderful?
Your “Blaming Daddy” reflections on your journey remind me of a book I like a lot, Don’t Forgive Too Soon: Extending the Two Hands That Heal. It is by the Linns, Dennis, Sheila, Matthew (two brothers with one’s wife). They look at forgiveness as a process like grief work, with acceptance being the final stage. It is helpful to see how you articulated this, too, as I recognize the deep and costly process of forgiveness (I see Jesus!). In that book’s message, one hand desires to restore relationship, and the other one says that there is an honored place for nonviolent resistance, the place where the healing transformation of both parties occurs. Your reflections reveal a blessed, painful journey and a true theological enterprise 🙂 Thank you, Teacher. ~DV
You’re welcome, DV. Thanks so much for your comment and for making the connection with Don’t Forgive Too Soon. I haven’t heard of this book before, and will look into it. Your succinct statement of its message rings true.
Ahem!! The question, ‘so, have you forgiven your father?’ is not a fair question.
A lovely piece of work, which no doubt you will add to and change. Forgiveness is not the end, though. Getting on with a lovely life is the ultimate victory. And, if I may say so, you appear to be doing that.
I’m not surprised you feel inarticulate rage and sorrow. Of course you do. I guess he was banking on that lack of articulation, and using it. Another reason why abusing children is so wrong.
Lots of love and hugs to you always. Love is the most powerful force in the Universe, Elouise. xxxxxxx 🙂
Fran, I love your strong, clear voice! Thank you for reading and speaking out with strength and passion.
Dear Elouise, from what I have read, it almost seems, to me, that your father decided to live out some kind of story-line authored in real life rather than written in a book. The plot unfolded depending on circumstances of the moment, though the outline appears to have been in place. It’s all so sad.
I’m glad that the Holy Spirit is leading you through the truth-discovering and forgiveness processes and that secrets are being unearthed. What is revealed can be more readily dealt with and healing of memories can better occur. Praise God, Jesus is an expert in healing and He is right at the side of every Christian. You have others standing in support as well, like family, friends, and church family. I’m still reading some of the older posts on your blog. Thanking God for His wonderful love and grace.
God’s blessings to you, love in Jesus,Margie
Dear Margie, Your opening statements ring true–though I’ve never thought of it just that way. There was definitely something like an outline in place, and yes, it did have the feeling of being “made up” as we went along. So sad–for everyone involved. Thanks for your comment and encouragement.