Diane and Elouise standing by the Savannah River
20 Nov 1993, the day after meeting with my parents
On 19 November 1993 I met with my parents in Savannah, Georgia. A gift to myself on the eve of my 50th birthday.
It took 1 ½ years to prepare for the meeting. It wasn’t a declaration of war. It was an attempt to see whether my parents and I could begin talking about my childhood. Put another way, could I hold my own viewpoint without trying to change my parents’ viewpoints?
The biggest unknown was how my father would respond. His habit was to talk over and down at me.
Now I’m in Savannah. My father is sitting directly across the table from me, with my mother next to him. I’ve asked a pastor we all know to be present. He convenes the meeting and turns it over to me. David is on my left hand; my sister Diane is on my right—both instructed not to talk or try to argue on my behalf.
I read from a single-spaced, 1 ¼ page statement. Here’s the heart of what I said about the way my father punished me as a child and teenager.
The spankings were abusive. I was very small; you were very big. I had no power; you seemed to have all the power. The spankings happened regularly for most of my growing-up years. They were terrifyingly predictable. I dreaded nothing as much as I dreaded being spanked. Worst of all, the spankings were administered in a way that shamed, humiliated, and silenced me. . . .I have been lost for most of my adult years. Lost in a sea of shame, humiliation, and fear–fear of opening my mouth and saying directly to you what I need to say: I did not deserve to be shamed, humiliated, and silenced.
Though my parents were in this together, my mother wasn’t in the room when I was being punished. My question for her was simple: What was it like for you when I was being punished? Where were you? What was it like to hear us crying and pleading? She didn’t remember hearing anything.
From my father, I wanted one thing: an apology for the way he shamed, humiliated, and silenced me. I asked for an apology, which was immediately denied. Thankfully, getting an apology wasn’t my goal.
There was one unexpected disruption during the meeting. My father abruptly walked out of the meeting, left the building, and sat in his car. We could see him through the window. No one said anything. It was my meeting. I waited several minutes. Then I signaled to David to come with me for moral support. We stood on the sidewalk beside the car while I talked with him for a long time. Eventually he agreed to come back and finish the conversation. I was astonished and relieved.
After this meeting, D and I visited my parents (in Savannah) on several occasions. I always had a list of questions to ask. I learned a lot from these informal conversations, though my father was clearly set in his ways and unwilling to change. Still, these conversations were a gift I hadn’t anticipated. Not surprisingly, many of my father’s rough ways reflected my grandfather’s unpredictable, harsh beatings of my father. A sad legacy.
Thanks for stopping by today.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 November 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser on 20 November 1993; Diane (on the left) and I are at the Savannah River waterfront.