Personal responsibility and accountability are important to me; in fact, integrity is all.
Although not fair or well reasoned, what society accepts as right is subject to the prevailing beliefs of the times we live in; Walt Disney, by today’s standard, would be thought of as misogynistic – in 1960 he was merely a man of his time. In the 1970s very few gave any thought at all to the use of physical discipline when raising a child, we now recognize that hitting a child cannot be construed as “discipline,” ever. And most recently, thanks to Bill Cosby and a campaign of public service announcements defining rape in clear and straight forward terms, we’ve all come to see, understand, believe and accept that any non-consensual sexual act is, in fact, rape.
Should women have been seen as equal to men in the eyes of society in 1960? Yes. Should parents in decades past have known that hitting their children was cruel, and a poor way to teach and guide? Absolutely. And as for non-consensual sex, come on – right and wrong on this point should always have been a no-brainer.
What society accepts, and what is right, aren’t the same thing. If your actions create a victim – someone who will suffer the consequences of your actions, what you did was wrong. It is that simple.
The guilt I have felt over what I did when I was sick is unbearable at times – but good people feel guilt and remorse when they’ve hurt someone, or done something wrong.
It has nothing to do with what society will accept, and everything to do with what I will accept from myself; personal integrity matters.
And this is where I struggle with Ed. I fight my own internal war against him – because he is lacking in personal integrity and holds himself accountable for nothing.
He raped — and we are going to call it rape because it was, by his own admission, non-consensual — a fourteen year old girl. He went to jail for a short time, where he wrote me letters about the “de-humanization” he was forced to endure, as though he were being wronged in some heinous way by being there; as though he was the victim. This woman carries the scars of his actions to this day. I spoke to her two years ago – her life has been a living hell because of what he did, and when he speaks of this incident it is sterile and unfeeling; no guilt, no remorse, no personal accountability, but he is very quick to tell you how he suffered because of jail time …
Perhaps he has to divorce himself of feeling and emotion for his victims – his children, whom he so cruelly abused emotionally and physically, and an innocent young girl he sexually assaulted – in order to live with himself, but if you ask me that is the very essence of cowardice and weakness … he left a wake of destruction he will not face, or own.
I live with the scars of having been his son every day of my life, yet he was never a father in any sense of the word; he didn’t live up to a single obligation inherent to the role, not a single one … there was no emotional support, no guidance, no encouragement, no financial support — Zip. Nada. Zilch. He failed universally as a man, and a father.
And now what I feel is complicated. He speaks of his step-son’s children as though they are his grandchildren, something they aren’t and can’t ever be. His grandchildren had to be kept away from him for their own well-being because of what he did to their parents. Family isn’t replaceable, or interchangeable – Ed shouldn’t get to feel, or even pretend to feel, warm and fuzzy for sharing Tales Of The Arabian Nights with James and Garrett as though they were Wesley and Nicholas … he lost the privilege of getting to tell stories to his grandsons when he beat their father.
But Ed has no sense of integrity, or personal accountability — society and legality be damned, so he doesn’t understand this.
He just doesn’t get it. He threw his children away, and his new family cloaks his sins; the ultimate cover-up for a mis-lead life. It is bizarre, and all of my friends and family see clearly what he cannot begin to process …
“Do you believe he actually feels anything for anyone?” Is a question my therapist asked me of my father; my answer was not definitive:
“I don’t know if he just expresses what he feels badly, or if he has merely learned how to make people believe he can feel so they accept him.”
Reading bedtime stories to beloved grandsons is something an old man is supposed to do, is supposed to want to do – he grabs at feeling and emotion like a lifeline … but it isn’t genuine, or heartfelt. It feels foreign to him, and coming from him.
He doesn’t seem to understand there is no substitute for what he threw away, and by living as though there can be or is, he merely confirms what I’ve always known; I was never important to him, and being a father meant nothing.
“And so,” my therapist began, “how, in your father’s shoes, would you make amends to you children?”
I firmly believe that a man should not be defined by his mistakes, but by what he does to make them right. Ed can’t make this right until he confronts himself with what he has done – he’s already apologized to me, but it lacks depth and meaning because he hasn’t felt my pain; he hasn’t held himself accountable for what he did, or for where it led. Talk – spoken apologies are important, but they are merely words – a place to start.
I don’t want anything from Ed now – he could never give back what he took from me, but I would very much like to know he has confronted the monster he is.
Then maybe, just maybe, I could find in him some redeeming value …