Please note, this post contains references to domestic violence, child abuse and animal cruelty.
My dad died today, on his 74th birthday. Ten days ago, on my birthday, he fell, hit his head, and went into a coma from which he never woke.
When I was a kid in the 1970s, my dad introduced me to science fiction, computers, kung fu, video games and Dungeons & Dragons. He bought a Darth Vader helmet and made a costume by dyeing his old army fatigues black and making a chest piece in the garage. He used to play the princess game with me where I would run down the hall, lose a shoe like Cinderella, fall into bed like Sleeping Beauty, and he would wake me with a kiss on the cheek.
He had an incredible imagination and a great sense of humor. He gave me treasure hunts, art lessons, board games, card games, haunted houses, dances and songs. He loved to sing. He taught me to read and write before I entered kindergarten. He brought home pieces of colored wire from work so I could make bracelets and rings when I was 9 years old.
In so many ways, I am my father’s daughter. But not in every way.
I wish I could say I’ll miss him but he was an abuser who also collected guns, Nazi paraphernalia and anti-Catholic comic books along with his Star Wars memorabilia.
As a kid, I had black eyes, bruises, and a broken ear drum. I’ve watched him hit my mom, beat my yelping dog, knock over my sister in her high chair, kick his mother, and threaten to get a gun and shoot us. He was highly controlling, always right, and accepted nothing less than perfection and total obedience. To disagree or disappoint him was to risk a beating and/or setting off a tantrum that would result in family members and pets being abused and household objects broken. He could be enraged by something as small as a scrap of paper on the floor, a towel folded incorrectly, or not eating every bite on your plate at meal times.
“You’ll understand someday when you have kids of your own,” is the old saying. Well, I have kids – one of whom is an adult now – and I still don’t understand my father. I would never treat my kids the way he treated his and I have a spouse who’s never behaved like that. Before I married, I dated plenty of people who didn’t terrify me, throw temper tantrums or break things, no matter how bad their day might be or what they were going through.
This is not a eulogy for him but a message for anyone who’s experienced something like this and needs to know they’re not alone.
If you or someone you love is being abused, please seek help. If you think your life or someone else’s life is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1.
If you hurt the people you love, if you use physical violence or anger to control others, please seek help.
If you have experienced abuse in the past and have depression, anxiety, PTSD, suicidal thoughts, IBS, risky sexual behaviors, addiction, autoimmune disorders or other difficulties linked to abuse, I hope you are getting the help that you need.
If you’re not sure where to start, try MentalHealth.gov or talk to your doctor.
I’ll also write this for anyone who thinks “he can’t be an abuser, he’s such a nice guy.” It’s not fun to think that someone you know is capable of doing bad things. But I’m here to tell you that it is absolutely possible to be both kind and cruel, humorous and horrifying, friendly and an utter fucking shithead. It is possible to be a co-worker, a friend, a family member AND an abuser.
“I know there is good in you,” Luke Skywalker told his dad. Unfortunately, as far as I know, my dad never had a Darth Vader moment of redemption. The last thing I remember him saying to me was “fucking bitch” and we never spoke again. That was exactly 23 years ago.
I don’t need to hear that he’s the only dad I’ll ever have, I should forgive him, I should have kept in touch etc. I’ve done the therapy with professionals and I’ve spent my entire life dealing with this, in one way or another. I know he struggled with his own demons and he wasn’t healthy in mind or body. Doesn’t mean I should have subjected myself or my own children to an abusive person.
Something else I don’t want or need is sympathy and I don’t want to be told how “strong” I am. I’m not. Yes, I got through it, but what choice did I have? This bullshit weakened me, weakened me badly. I left as soon as I could, when I turned 18, and I survived because I’m lucky. Some children aren’t.
If you feel compelled to act in some way, to respond to what I’m saying, please contact organizations that help victims of domestic violence and work to prevent child abuse. Don’t contact me. I am not comfortable talking about this. Most people, even my friends and family, don’t know the extent of what I’ve been through.
But if I can stop the cycle of abuse for one other person, if I can help someone else get through the day knowing they’re not alone, if I can prevent someone out there from being an asshole to their own kids, if I can raise a $1 to help the estimated 10 million people who are abused by an intimate partner every year in the U.S., then it needs to be said and it might as well be today.
Happy birthday, dad. Rest in peace.
~ J.L. Hilton