18 February 2008

Whose Little Girl Am I? A Message to Fathers

My friend, Carla, posted something here that has made it impossible for me remain silent on an issue that is very sensitive for me. She writes about the father who walked out on her as a child. There has been a cycle of abuse in my family that is the poison fruit of having a father walk out on his children. So, in the hope that one man or woman might read this post and think twice about the legacy he or she wants to leave their children- here I go.

When my parents met they had three things in common. Both had been married before, both had three children from those marriages and both of them had been abandoned by their fathers when they were young. I was about 3 years old when my mother took my siblings, her children from a previous marriage, and left my father. She was also pregnant and placed my baby sister for adoption when she was born. She and my father had never married and so he had no say over what my mother could do with her child. She left me behind. I never got to ask her why. When you're three the why of it doesn't matter, not really. All you know is that it is your fault. There had to be something the matter with you or you wouldn't have been left behind.

At first I was passed from family member to family member. My father's mother had me the longest period of time. She made certain that I knew my mother was trash. As an adult I can understand her anger. When my mother placed my baby sister for adoption, she took away my grandmother's grandchild. I didn't know that as a child. I only knew it was my mother's fault I had to be raised by my grandmother and that was highly inconvenient. At the ripe age of three I knew that I was substandard and unwanted- a bastard child an inconvenience and a problem.

Occasionally my father would pick me up on the weekends and give my grandparents a break from having to raise me. When he picked me up I knew that meant we would have breakfast at "Sam's Glorified Ham and Eggs" and then run errands. He would bring me back to my grandparents house that night. He was fairly consistent and so that was my routine. One or two days a month my father would spend the day with me. The rest of the time I tried to be invisible so I wouldn't provoke my grandmother's wrath.

My father had sons from his first marriage and I got to visit with them occasionally. It seemed to me that they had a nice life because they got to stay together. They had their mom and their step-dad. My mother's children had a rougher start. They had been in foster homes until my mother remarried. My mother's new husband adopted her first three children and they all stayed together. I was the outcast. I didn't fit in with either set of siblings and I knew it. I was on my own. The only thing I could count on was my grandmother telling me how terrible my mother and her family were and my father occasionally taking me to "Sam's" for breakfast.

One weekend my father picked me up from his mother's house and we didn't go to breakfast. Instead, we went to see friends of his- a young couple named Barbara and Walt. I didn't know it but my father was taking me to their house so they could watch me. All I knew was I had to be on my best behavior while we visited and we visited for a long time- so long that I fell asleep on their couch. I woke up early the next morning with no idea in the world where I was.

I can tell you to this day exactly what I saw when I woke up. The room had wheat colored drapes that were pulled closed over a long narrow window. The bed was covered in a chiffon ruffled bedspread with huge yellow cabbage roses on it. There was a walnut chest of drawers in one corner and a night stand that had a crystal based lamp. I was as still as a statue taking inventory of the room, looking for clues as to where I might be. As I lay there in bed I speculated . Whose little girl was I now? What kind of little girl they might want me to be? Did they want a quiet girl? Did they want a silly girl? Did they want a tomboy or a princess? I was very relieved when Barbara opened the door of the bedroom to check on me. She was young and pretty and I thought it might be nice to belong to someone who smiled. I began to work for her affection right away in the hope that she wouldn't tire of me and give me away as well.

I don't know why my father had Barbara and Walt watch me, nor do I remember how long they cared for me. It was long enough that I had a birthday party there. I was surprised when my father showed up one day and took me back to his mother's house. It wasn't the last time Barbara and Walt watched me, nor were they the only people to take custody of me for short periods of time. I wondered each time I was introduced to someone if I was going to be their little girl. I once overheard someone tell my father how good I was with adults. I guess they didn't realize that I viewed everyone as a potential new parent. I didn't want to give anyone an excuse to reject me.

I could go on about the horrors of my childhood. My only real memory of my mother and father being together is of my mother shooting at my father with a bolt-actioned rifle. My father was very abusive, but he was there. My mother was permissive but had abandoned me to the man she tried to kill. It is only by the grace of God I survived. History has a way of repeating itself. My mother's first husband walked out on her and his kids and although she remarried a kind man who adopted them, the scars of having been jettisoned by their biological father ran deep. My eldest sister looked for love in all the wrong places. Before she married she had three children all with different fathers and all of those men walked out shortly after their babies were conceived.

After my sister died, I had the pleasure of raising two of her girls. The oldest came into the world wanting to be a 'daddy's girl.' She suffered terribly because her father didn't love her enough to stick around and see who she might be. Her heart breaks to this day. She will tell you she ran away at 15 with the first man who said he loved her. The youngest pretends to be indifferent about her father not being a part of her life. She can fool most people but she cannot fool me. I was there for the pain she inflicted on herself, cutting and burning her own flesh. She is a mom now and protects her son as only a woman who knows the pain of being discarded can. She would die before she let her son feel unwanted or unloved and she would kill anyone who tried to abuse him.

Men, I implore you... do not take your role as father so lightly nor think so little of your children that you would sacrifice their stability so you can chase your temporal happiness. Children need fathers to raise them, to teach them confidence and give them a sense of their worth. Sure, there are some children raised by incredible single moms... but sadly the success stories are outnumbered by the tragedies. Fatherless children are more likely to commit crimes, injure themselves, end up in prison, become homeless, drop out of school, and be institutionalized. The girls are more likely to become pregnant as teenagers and teenage fathers are more likely to walk away from their children... thus ensuring the cycle will continue.

Please, I beg you. I am a 50 year old woman who can finally admit I am living the consequences of being so hurt and damaged as a child. For too long I have let the pain of my childhood keep me from trusting people. I remember deciding at 3 years old that I wouldn't get married or have children because parents couldn't be trusted and I didn't want to hurt anyone like I was being hurt.

If you have been hurt as a child, let me give you hope. There is a full life for you to live in Christ. God has blessed me far more than I can believe. I am happy, healthy and whole now because of Him. You can be too. If you need help believing that, please ask.

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