No One To Blame But Yourself

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I’ve learned a great deal in the last several months; I do not regret having given Ed a second chance, but I now understand why reconciliation seldom works in situations such as ours.

I once thought a sincere apology for everything he did – an apology devoid of denial  that recognized where his disgusting behavior led – was most of what I needed.  And in part it was; it helped me let go …

but it wasn’t enough for me to see him as different now.

Within apology there must be remorse, a defined sense of personal guilt and shame – and if he were truly different, truly sorry and repentant, these emotions would be there – part of him; stark, cold and haunting.

I wonder if I expected too much, and then I realize I must have; anyone capable of doing the things he has done is without common goodness or decency.  Moral Relativism?  Perhaps; he was in a bad marriage, not ready to be a father, no money, no family support, an abused child himself.  He can view himself in light of the less than Ideal on many counts.

If this brings him comfort, soothes whatever emotion he feels, I understand.

But I do not excuse, nor do I recognize his circumstance(s) as valid … not for beating his children, or finding personal solace and absolution for a mis-lead life now.

If there had been regret … remorse … shame … guilt — something I could see as human to make me believe he may have changed, maybe I could have found it within me to forgive.

But in his mind, everything is about how it effects Ed.

And this is how it has always been.

Integrity and Accountablity

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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 …

and integrity.

Father and Son – The End Of The Story

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At five years old I knew that if I ever had a son I would not treat him the way my father treated me.   With the innocence of a young child I already recognized the abuse for exactly what it was – I even understood that I would grow up one day, and I would remember everything he had done, and would continue to do, to me.  My father was an incredibly short-sighted parent.

I gave reconciliation an honest chance, and I invested myself emotionally to a point where I was risking my stability by continuing to allow him a place in my life.  The depression had returned, so had the anxiety.

When I met him for lunch, he gave me a birthday gift; a bottle of scotch and a very old copy of Tales Of The Arabian Nights – a book he read to me as a child.  The note he enclosed was poignant, and it made me even more sorry I was there to tell him we would never be father and son.

I don’t want complete estrangement now – not like it existed for more than thirty years, but I can’t have a real relationship with him either, it’s just too painful.  He is an old man, but he is still the man who beat and neglected me; he is the man whose reprehensible behavior caused so much pain, heartache and suffering.  For so much of his life he was not a good man, he wasn’t even decent.

I do not regret the last year, or trying to find in Ed a solid reason to give him a second chance.  I really wanted to see him as a different person from the father I remember … if he is I didn’t get close enough to see; in the end I realized he will always be the monster who so cruelly and heinously abused his children.

It’s hard, and I don’t want it to be the way it has to be – don’t want to keep my father at a safe distance; that isn’t the way fathers and sons are supposed exist, or live.  I look at my sons – the way in which they interact with me, and I recognize the bond is unbreakable, as it should be …

but I broke the cycle of abuse, Ed did not.  I worked diligently to give my children emotional security, Ed did not.  I made sure they knew they were loved, wanted and valued, Ed did not.

You can’t start – when your child is fifty-two years old, trying to be a good father; that transformation must begin before your child is born.

I hate the father he was, and

pity the old man I know now.

And I hope …

that one day he will finally understand with depth and clarity everything he did …

he will experience an epiphany that brings him to his knees and humbles every fiber of his being; a transcendent moment with the power to make him see himself as he truly was …

and then deeply feel the pain, humiliation and shame of everyone he hurt …

not just his own children, but his daughter’s best friend.

and then …

I sincerely hope he finds a way to heal.

Because without the soul-searching, and the healing only it can bring, his life is nothing more than a cover-up …

his life today only a disguise that cloaks the sins of his past.

And that isn’t a life at all.

If the last year, and our attempt at reconciliation, was a chapter in the book that is our story as father and son, he now has all that he needs to write the ending …

it is too late for Happily Ever After,

but there is still a chance for honesty …

and depth …

and purpose …

and sincerity …

and meaning.

And as painful and tragic as the early chapters of the story are …

that could still be considered a Happy Ending.