The hour was late when the phone rang one evening last May. It was late enough that I knew something was wrong. My mom’s voice wavered on the phone as she asked me to find a quiet place to talk. I settled on the front porch steps and listened to the cicadas while she gathered her thoughts on the other end of the line. “I don’t know how to tell you this. I don’t want to tell you this. Honey, there’s been an allegation made against your father. It looks like he’s hurt one of the granddaughters. We have every reason to believe it’s true.”
Everything went silent around me as my entire world slid sideways.
I’d grown up a daddy’s girl. We had always been close. We were both straightforward and stubborn with similar interests and hobbies. I’d grown up in a large family and my memories from childhood were filled with camping trips, bike rides, loud Christmases, and hours spent at the church where my father was on staff. This kind of thing didn’t happen to us. We weren’t this kind of family. This couldn’t be true. Yet, somehow, here we were.
The next few days were a blur as we began to try to process what was going on. We had to speak to each one of the grandchildren and ask them if anyone had ever hurt them. We were horrified to discover that my father had abused several of the grandchildren, including my own children and one of my siblings.
Like most children, they had remained silent because they loved him and didn’t want him to get in trouble. The truth was becoming clear. This supposed man of God, this loving father, this doting grandfather had played us all. The shock and disbelief turned to anguish and despair as the magnitude of the situation began to set in. The father I thought I’d had all my forty years of life was a lie. I was the daughter of a pedophile.
We were supposed to leave on a road trip a couple of weeks after the news broke. I wanted to cancel but my mom insisted that we take the trip and make life seem as normal for the kids as we could. Somehow, between panic attacks at the thought of my dad dying alone and nightmares about my daughter getting pregnant at fifteen as a result of her abuse, I found the strength to pack our bags and set off to parts unknown.
I thought leaving the state, the region, or even the country might bring escape from the sadness and grief, but it followed us everywhere we traveled. My first contact with my dad after the news broke came on a blazingly hot day in New Mexico where he told me he was “embarrassed.” I learned the abuse had been officially reported in the shadow of Half Dome in Yosemite. I found out he was pleading not guilty driving through the Olympic Mountains of Washington State. There was no escape from this new reality. There was nowhere to run.
We arrived home a few weeks later and all of our problems were sitting right on the front steps where I’d first learned the news about my dad. I began the process of dealing with child advocates, police officers, and state prosecutors. Interviews were scheduled around grocery store runs and work. Counselors were visited in between homework and practice. This was our new reality.
Living in the wake of life-altering sexual abuse in your own family is somewhat like having a certain type of cancer that can’t be cured but isn’t necessarily fatal. It’s excruciatingly painful, incredibly confusing, profoundly devastating, and it seeps into every single area of your life. You wake up with a sense of dread most days, you feel sick, you worry how it affects others, who to tell, how to get help. But you still have to wake up every morning and find a way to live life around and through the mess.
The restlessness of living in an ongoing, life-consuming crisis of this nature is indescribable. When we got back from our trip I could not sit still. I spent most of the summer walking my neighborhood late at night and talking on the phone with my mom and siblings. We went through every detail we could think of, every sign we’d missed, every angle we could dig through to try to figure out how this could have happened. The burning question was, “Why?”
Two months, five hundred miles, and twenty-five pounds dropped later we realized we’d never know. We’d never understand. There is simply no fix. No solution. No answer. It was done and we had to move on.
Realizing a “fix” to this situation wouldn’t come this side of heaven was both terrifying and freeing. It was the arresting officer in the case who actually made me realize exactly where we were. She said, “You have to understand what you’re dealing with here. Your father preyed on these children. He took every opportunity he could to hurt them. And quite frankly, there was nothing you could have done to prevent it given the information you had and nothing that can be done now to fix it yourself. It’s up to your dad to decide how he pleads and the judge will decide his fate. You can’t fix this. Your job is to figure out how to come to terms with who your dad is and how to help your family move forward now.”
It was out of my hands. I didn’t control the outcome here. I couldn’t fix this.
Once I gave up control I began to search for redemption and meaning in this mess. How could I help my family and make sure we moved on from this in a healthy way? I found a massive amount of resources dealing with abuse online. Podcasts from people who have walked this road of abuse and survived like Jimmy Hinton and Nicole Bromley were a balm to my soul as I listened and wept through each episode. I made sure my kids were getting the help they needed. In an email conversation with Jimmy Hinton, he told me that my children were blessed to have me and that I was a “Warrior Mama.” Oh, how I needed to hear those words that day. I told a few trusted people who I knew would support me and my family during this nightmare. I signed up for counseling and a caregiver support group. I told our pastor.
Slowly and surely, we are moving toward healing. The restlessness is still there. The longing to run away from all of life’s problems is ever present. It is a daily battle. But, instead of fleeing, I have realized that my calling is to stand and fight. I will fight for my faith which, honestly, has taken quite a hit in all of this. I will fight for my family. I will fight for my children. I will fight for justice. And I am learning that this healing journey will lead me to fight for others.
Each day is still a fight. Some days involve blissful trips to the amusement park and making memories with the kids. Other days involve phone calls at 8 a.m. from the state prosecutor, counseling, and a lot of hidden tears.
The honest truth is that none of this makes any sense. But I’m not sure it ever will in this life. I think often of the song “Hard to Get” by Rich Mullins:
“I know you bore our sorrows,
And I know you feel our pain;
And I know it would not hurt any less
Even if it could be explained.
And I know that I am only lashing out
At the one who loves me most.”
It’s an honest portrait of our unanswered questions and God's love for us. So I sit and listen. I will stand and fight the darkness. But I will not run. Because My true father in heaven loves me. I am not only the daughter of a pedophile. I am a daughter of a king.
Cover photo by Kirill Pershin.