A Letter to my Father

I don’t know if my dad will ever read this, but in writing it I feel a piece of me mending. If any of my family reads this- I’m sorry I aired it so loudly. I couldn’t heal while hiding this. 

Dear Dad,

I don’t know where to begin or what to say. I want you to know that I love you, that hasn’t and will never change. I want you to know that first, because I feel the need to air my grievances. I don’t intend to attack you or make you feel unforgivable, but I need to talk about the Elephant before we remove it from the room.

I see a lot of change in you, I don’t know that you’re still the bi-polar man from my childhood, but in my childhood I feared you. You were angry. You were mean. And sometimes you were silly, loving, supportive, and funny. It’s hard to reconcile the two.

There were so many times I watched you tear mom down, berate her, call her emotions crazy. Every dinner started with a complaint: not enough salt, the bacon tastes different, too this or too that, nothing was ever good enough. As an adult now I reflect those words- so often I tell myself I’m crazy, stupid, not good enough, unlovable. Those thoughts don’t come from nowhere. I still remember you telling me in high school that it was selfish to love myself… it makes me sad, because I understand now that you don’t love yourself. I hope you’re learning to.

I guess this is all just skirting the issue, because I don’t want to mention the real reason I can’t look you in the eye or get close to you. After my dark night, I felt sexualized by you, and it’s not okay.

In part, I feel to blame. I ran around naked for a day. I confessed all of my sexual deviance to you and mom, very in your face, so maybe I put those images in your mind. I don’t want to victimize myself and say I was purely innocent.

When I moved out in the Fall, but was still in the ‘manic’ phase there were days where my mind was tortured, I could feel your eyes looking at me, I thought you and mom were listening in through your phone somehow while I was having sex, and getting off on it. I was disgusted. I felt it in my bones, viscerally, that my innocence had been taken from me. I had flashbacks to when I was a kid and had discovered masturbating – in my mind I felt you listening and knowing, getting off on it. It was torture, and I was creating it. I don’t think those vivid visualizations were real. I was being haunted by ghosts that weren’t even mine. I was channeling energy from my cousins that had been sexually abused, from friends, and from my own first unwanted experience as a teen.  But they set the stage later.

When the manic phase had settled into deep depression and I moved back home, that’s where I blame you. That’s the reason I can’t look you in the face. I was barely functioning. I was broken, destroyed. I’d accepted that I was insane and didn’t know how to live with myself. I wore short pj shorts and tank tops with no bra, not thinking. You were my dad and I could barely get myself to take a shower most days, it should have been okay. But then I felt your eyes on me.

At first I thought it was all in my mind, just the left over mania. I didn’t want to think my father would look at me like an object to oogle. But I felt it. We would get high and you’d put on some adult comedy with some type of nudity in it, and I would feel uncomfortable, I’d ask you to change the movie.

You told me I didn’t have to watch, but I was alone, I was scared and scarred- I needed company. I needed to feel loved and accepted because I could barely leave the house. Every time I walked down the street it felt like everyone knew what I’d been through. Everyone was judging me. You should have been a safe place. You should have been the support I needed after all those hospitalizations. But you just wanted to get high and watch your racy movies all day.

I started putting on bras, wearing big t-shirts and pants when I would come into the room to smoke and socialize. I kept wondering if I was being paranoid, if it was just a product of everything I’d been through, and you were innocent.

But there was a day I can’t forget, and maybe haven’t forgiven. I was sitting next to you in one of the big t-shirts I’d recently switched to wearing, as covered as I could be so that I would feel safe in your company. I heard you mutter what sounded like ‘Oh, I miss those titties.’ My stomach churned. ”What?” I asked, trying to convince myself that I didn’t hear what I just heard. “Nothing,” you looked at me, acting innocent. I knew that day that those impure looks I felt weren’t all in my mind.

I keep trying to defend that moment, maybe you used to watch a lot of porn, and with me around so much you couldn’t. Maybe you were thinking of mom. Anything other than thinking you would miss seeing me in a tank top with no bra. Anything other than that.

If A. hadn’t had a similar story a few years back (remember that big falling out where she confessed to me that you said you’d pay her more to trim with her shirt off, and how she went home crying, afraid she would be blamed) I would write it off as post-mania paranoia. But that happened, so I know I’m not the only daughter figure you’ve looked at with impure eyes.  I need you to know it affected me, it made me fear men, fear sex, fear desire, because it felt like in that moment you desired me, your daughter, and I can’t purge that from my mind.

Now I see you smoking less. I see your gaze clear. I see you respecting me. But I can never let you get close again. When you hug me I feel like shrinking away. And I can never tell my sisters why. I don’t want to cause a schism in our family. So I hold this in silently, trying to glue us together while keeping you at an arms distance.

No matter how much you change, I fear you. I feel unclean. I feel dirty and disgusting, like I made you look at me sexually. I honestly don’t know if I’m to blame. Not entirely, but at least partly. I want to heal this, to trust you again. I don’t know if I can. I see so many big changes in who you are becoming, I don’t think this will happen again. But my heart hurts. Your past actions go unacknowledged. So I acknowledge them here, for the world to see. May the burdens you carry be lifted, may you accept your wrongdoings and know that you deserve forgiveness. I may not know how to get close to you, but I’m okay.

I am your daughter, I love you, I will not abandon you. But know this: women are more than sex objects. The minute you forget that you objectify your children, you take their innocence with your impure eyes, and you make them feel they are to blame. I’m tired of letting this hold me back. So this was my purge. I’m healing. The Elephant is there, standing directly between us. I see it, I acknowledge it, I forgive it. Now let it go on it’s way.

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