This is difficult for me, not because the circumstances are so complex – although they are. And not because my thoughts and feelings are a twisted, tangled unrecognizable mass I have struggled to unravel and understand time and time again – although this statement is also true. It’s difficult because I love you, and watching you fight to be the man you are – separate from the disease you did not choose, is a nightmare for me.
It would be hard enough for me if Bipolar Disorder had come into your life – our lives, through nothing more than genetic predisposition, but that is far from our reality. Your parents gave you the disease through years and years of abuse; physical and emotional – and let’s not forget every psychiatrist and therapist you have seen maintains you were sexually abused as well. So your condition was preventable; for you Bipolar Disorder did not have to be.
For as far as I’ve come, any sort of relapse, however minor it may or may not be, sends me back to square one in my own ability to cope with your condition. And my square one is intense anger with the people who caused all of this: Pat and Ed.
My notion of Ideal Father is you, the man who has loved and nurtured and cared for our children so completely and so well you are, to my mind, the very embodiment of the Ideal. When I think about abused children, or of children being abused, I am immediately horrified and confused; how could any parent harm their own child? These people, your parents, are the antithesis of you.
I remember the day in the hospital when it all just came pouring out of you. Pre-illness, I had seen you cry less than a handful of times in our lives, so your sob-laden unburdening was gut-wrenching for me to witness and hear. Details that sickened me so completely I threw up in heaves in the ladies room before driving myself home. I had always known you were abused, but until that morning you had spared me the graphic details, and hearing them felt like I had been shot in the stomach – the pain was physical. At home, I cried harder than I had ever cried before in my life, and I screamed like some sort of wounded animal. I don’t know how long I laid on our bed in tears, fetal position, trying to process your memories of the terrible things Pat and Ed had done to you.
I do know that when I got up, I was angry. Actually, I was in a state of virtually uncontrollable fury. In addition to all I’d heard from you that morning, we had a diagnosis: Bipolar Disorder, Dysthymia, PTSD and Anxiety Disorder – all of which were caused by Severe Child Abuse. You’d come into this world healthy and whole, and your parents destroyed you. The people who were supposed to love you, care for you and protect you had caused you such emotional and physical pain they had altered your brain chemistry and set you on the road to mental illness. The injustice was all too much for me, and I felt vulnerable and powerless in that moment, but I loved you and was determined to help you recover.
In the beginning, I researched like a woman possessed. I had to find a way to make our lives work for our family. Finding our new normal took some time, but eventually it did happen. Occasionally the illness would find its way into our day-to-day lives, but we were learning to cope as a family and happiness returned. Nothing has destabilized our lives in the way the initial breakdown did, but minor relapses are inevitable and we’ve not escaped them entirely.
Although challenging for me always, your relapses were easier for me to cope with prior to Ed coming back into our lives. It isn’t Ed as he is now; old and harmless, its knowing what he was and what he did to you, a helpless child — HIS OWN HELPLESS CHILD, that torments me now. From afar physically, and at a distance in time measured in decades, I had found a home for my anger with him; it isn’t that I wasn’t angry, I was, but he’d been cut out of our lives like a cancer so long ago I simply thought he’d paid the ultimate price for what he had done; he had no contact with you, his only son, and he’d never even met his grandchildren. That is a terrible price to pay – I cannot begin to imagine not seeing my children, not being permitted to know the grandchildren I will one day have; if that were to be my future, I’d say kill me now, truly, because I Know I could not live with the pain.
But Ed doesn’t feel that pain, and I don’t think he ever did. God help me if I’m wrong, but he feels no pain at all in knowing what he did to you, or what it has caused; no pain at all in decades of estrangement. He said words you told him he had to say so he might know you today, but there is no emotion behind them from what I can see. He doesn’t know or understand what it means to be a father, doesn’t feel – has never felt the pain of his child. My God, he knows how emotionally ill Elizabeth is, or has been – has he reached out to her? Has he offered her the apologies he owes her? Whether she wants them or not, she deserves them. Has he done this? He says he intends to, but when? What has he EVER done right as a father?
Last week, when you told me you were actively trying to forgive Ed, I was shocked; stunned beyond belief. You went on to explain that you understand forgiveness to be for you now, but what about your principle; Child Abuse is Unforgivable? I cannot imagine how difficult all of this is for you today. How do you reconcile Ed with your concept of what it means to be a father? A father, to your way of thinking, is full of integrity, patience and wisdom. A father loves his child unconditionally. A father would lay down his life for his child. A father teaches, nurtures and guides. A father pays for lessons and classes and college – supports his child’s dreams and aspirations so his child can discover who he is and learn to take care of himself in this world. Is Ed ANY of that – has he done ANY of that? He does not deserve you as a son. He doesn’t.
Right now, because now has seen you struggle a bit, I cannot help but think of everything I know he did to you. I hear your screams and pleas not to be beaten, even though he never did. I understand you never really had a father, only a tormentor. I see where his inadequacy led.
I will find my footing again soon enough, and I support you fully in forgiving your father even though I don’t think I can. It’s hard for a wife to see her husband as a broken little boy, especially when that little boy grew up to be you, the most wonderful man in the world. You are a hundred times the man he will ever be, and as a father there can be no comparison – you are a father, he never has been. What you have accomplished in your life amazes and staggers me, because you did it ALL on your own.
If you want Ed to be a member of your family, he will be part of mine – that’s how this works. I will be gracious and giving, understanding, polite and cordial, but I will never believe he deserves you.
You have said so many times, ‘This isn’t about blame, it’s about knowing why and understanding.’ I see how true that is for you, how good and decent a man you are, but I struggle not to blame, and often I fail. I am sorry.
You have never believed that people change – you’ve always believed they can change, but never that they actually do. Do you still believe this? Has Ed changed? If you were five years old, would you feel safe in his care? If our children were little, would you leave them alone with Ed? These questions haunt me now; they are probably unfair of me to ask you, but I need to know your answers.
I don’t know Ed, I have never known Ed; I know only what I’ve been told, and none of that has ever been favorable. Everyone from Pat to his girlfriend to a client of my mother’s – people I don’t know or scarcely know, warned me about him when we were dating, and now I know exactly what he did to you – help me understand why we are here. Please. Tell me you believe he is no longer a man who would hurt his own child. Tell me that and I’ll believe it, too.
This is all so hard for me, and I know Ed is trying – I truly do see it, but it doesn’t change the past. Injustice, feeling vulnerable and powerless has always been next to impossible for me to process, and I’m angry because Ed, in my knowing what he did to you, makes me feel all three. I feel twisted and torn and like I have to protect you somehow. Ostensibly I know this is absurd, you are a grown man, and he is an old man, but I just can’t shake the feeling.
Has he been honest with the people in his life now? Did he tell his sister the truth when she attacked Rachael, or did he take another, easier road to resolution? Did he blame you? Did he blame Bipolor Disorder and what Laura ignorantly believes to be true? Did he defend you by telling her the truth about what he did to you, regardless of whether or not she would believe it? Or is he a coward? I need to know what you think and what you feel about all of this. Your feelings are real, valid and they do matter. They always have, even when your parents told you they didn’t.
You say I am your rock and your support, that you couldn’t do this – successfully manage Bipolar Disorder without me, but the truth is this: you are my strength, even when you were desperately ill you were my touchstone and my life. I simply adore you.
Help me understand Ed as you do, help me to see your reasoning in giving him this precious second chance. I need to know how and why you feel as you do.
I have loved you since the beginning of time, and I will love you until the end,