I know you've got some questions right now, but I've a few of my own to throw into the ring. Such as:
Okay, so you may not know my father. Let's start with his childhood. Actually, no. Let's start with my grandfather. He grew up in Kentucky. He had a 1940s Mercury to which he welded 6 feet of railroad track on each side of the frame making it 600-800 pounds heavier. The purpose of such a modification was to be able to take turns in the mountains faster when you were running from trouble. He never told me exactly what that trouble was but from the rest of his story I can guess. He got a girl knocked up when he was 16 or 17 and then lied about his age to join the army during the Korean War. He was stationed in Japan where he got another girl knocked up. He left her in Japan and upon returning to the states got yet another girl knocked up. The last one was trying to kill him. He worked in the coal mines near Corbin, KY and she would wait at the entrance with a shotgun and try to find him amongst the coal blackened faces. I don't know how long that went on but one day he scurried away from the mine without washing his face and came across my grandmother drawing water out of a well. He asked for some water and that's how they met. She had about $500 and wanted to get out of there. They went to Detroit because at that time there were a lot of unskilled labor jobs in the factories. Once there they had five boys, my dad being the oldest.
My grandmother had affairs and spent what little money they had on booze. My grandfather wasn't much better, being a gambler and apparently not good at holding down a job. They'd get a place and get evicted and then move and do it all over again. My dad once estimated that he's moved over 70 times in his life. I think I believe him, partially because when he gets together with his brothers and tells a story they always have to decide where they lived at the time and often no one is sure. Once when my dad was about 12 my grandparents told everyone to get in the car because they were getting a divorce and dropping the 5 boys off at an orphanage. My dad swore to them that day that he would take care of all the brothers and that they wouldn't be a bother ever again. It was around that time that my grandmother stabbed my grandfather and hit him with a frying pan, knocking him unconscious. My dad, again approximately 12, drove him to the hospital were grandad stayed for three days with a severe concussion. My dad fed his brothers (the youngest was still an infant) Cheerios for three days as my grandmother was not home when he returned from the hospital and didn't come home for some time. I guess I could go on but I think you get the idea. My dad married young and seemed to be on the straight and narrow path into a respectable adulthood. Doesn't smoke, drinks in moderation, goes to church, does community service (of his own free will—not the court imposed kind). His brothers are a motley crew that have been variously arrested (for drug possession, assault, sexual harassment, grand theft auto, and armed robbery), court marshaled, cut by angry bar patrons, divorced, married illegal aliens, sued, etc. The funny thing is they seem to have all been successful in the end as they are now retired from the Air Force, retired from the City of Warren Fire department, a City of Warren civil engineer, and a stock broker. Both of my grandparents are now dead.
Okay, so that's my dad and his family. Not as messed up as some, but probably worse than most. How about my dad specifically? He's basically an edu-ma-cated redneck. The type of person who would know that as freon gas expands out of a pressurized can it gets almost as cold as liquid nitrogen and then use that knowledge to freeze off a wart instead of going to the doctor. He's a guy who can lecture you for 4 hours straight on the subject of morality and then turn around and steal the towels from a hotel. He's built cars and machines with his bare hands and then failed to check his radiator fluid (resulting in a rather disastrous warped head gasket).
What may be most important is that he made me the person I am today. Everything good or evil I do stems, at least to some extent, from him. I cannot escape that fact; whether you believe it's all genetics or your environment that shapes you as an adult (nature vs. nurture) — both of those things still came from him. This is where I get caught up and confused. I know that I'm like him in a thousand ways. I think like him, talk like him, walk like him when I get up in the morning. Can I be sure that I'm not a child molester like him? I'm somewhat comforted by the fact that I'm disgusted by that thought. I'm somewhat consoled that I'd rather put my own eye out then cause that kind of harm to any girl or woman. But I'm not consoled enough. I'm wracked by self-doubt. Every time my neighbor's daughter runs up and hugs me I'm terrified that I'll do something wrong, cross some unknown line, inadvertently cause her some harm. I've got two boys of my own and I want a daughter too, but will I fuck it all up like my dad? How can I still respect him? And if I can't respect him at all then how can I respect myself? I realize that we are separate people, that I've made different choices in my life, that I've accomplished things he only talked about, and that I can be my own person. But at the same time I can't deny his influence. To me he's been a loving father, an example to follow. He and I are both Freemasons and he's devoted his life to using that organization to make this world a better place. He's spent so many hours and finagled so many contributions for charity that I could not even begin to estimate it. He's taught me the value of knowledge, of reading, appreciation of music and the arts, and yet he's a child molester? How can I reconcile these seemingly mutually-exclusive facts?
Here's another thought. A lot of my dad's volunteerism has been with youth groups, mostly when his kids were of the age to be involved in them. This certainly brought him into contact with hundreds of young girls. Did he molest any of them? Who the hell knows? How did he beat the system for so long? These organizations have had screening systems in place for years. My dad underwent training, questionnaires, and background checks all designed to identify him and yet he slipped past all of them. So what good are those procedures? They're all bullshit as far as I can tell. They're designed to make the parents feel better and maybe screen out the really freaky crazy dudes from being Boy Scout masters. But maybe not, maybe the really freaky crazy dudes are the ones who can look you straight in the eye and talk to you about the little girl he just molested. In any case, my dad's membership to all Masonic organizations has been revoked and he won't pass another background check again, but it's really far too late for that to matter (I think). If he was going to do any damage he had over a decade to do it. What about the ones who won't be discovered for another decade?
So what about the current situation? Back in the heady early nineties when 2pac was still alive, Seinfeld was the new thing, and the Parka Kings were still in Brett's basement (that was my cheesy pop culture segue)— my sister accused my dad of molesting her. She saw it beginning to happen to our younger sister and decided to put a stop to it. By the way, I was somehow ignorant of the entire situation. That or I'm still repressing memories but I can only go with what I recall. She wrote a letter to the school counselor. She was unprepared for the next steps. Our family was to be torn apart, strewn to foster homes here and yonder. My father was to be tried and likely jailed. I was about 16 so my sister would've been 14ish, our youngest sister would have been 10. When she realized everything that was about to happen, she allowed herself to be talked out of it. She didn't want to lose contact with everyone she ever knew, who would? She loved her family, even my dad. What a scary thing for a 14 year old to even contemplate. I recall making some attempts to ask her about it, but 16 year olds are not known for their tact, understanding, or experience so those attempts were fairly clumsy and she didn't really want to discuss it. My dad flat out denied the whole thing, which just made things more confusing for me. Anyhow, it kinda blew over. I guess my dad swore to never do it again and my mom was now aware of the situation so she ran some interference for my sisters.
Fast forward 12 years or so and my sister still lives in the Detroit area, ironically she's the one that lives closest to my parents. She's been dealing with the situation on her own and with therapy and was still coming to family functions. Then she has a baby girl. She understandably cannot bear to see her baby with my father. She boycotts all contact with him and finally tells her siblings the whole truth. Then she learns about our cousin. My dad never told her about our cousin. My sister thinks “Oh shit, How many others don't I know about? Oh shit, what about the fact that he volunteers with youth organizations?” I'm paraphrasing, I'm sure my sister would never say “Oh shit”. She gives him an ultimatum — get into therapy or else. He refuses; she presses charges. It's a pretty airtight case so he pleads guilty and he goes to jail for 3-15 years. That whole process was February to June 2006. In February my dad was arrested at work. He lost his job with GM as a result of just the accusation. Corporations don't have to wait until you're proven guilty. That leaves my mom with a severe heart condition and no health care. Possibly no house too, but that's yet to be seen. His bail was set at $500,000 because he'd made some comments about killing himself at some point or another. Lord knows the court doesn't want people killing themselves before they can be tried.
I hope you followed all that; it's confusing at best. I'm confused. I can't hate my dad and yet I probably should. I feel like I've failed my sisters and cousin, but I really didn't know anything about it so what could I have done? I'm freaked out by little girls because I'd rather err on the side of caution than risk repeating any of my dad's transgressions. I guess I have more questions than answers: Should my dad's transgressions erase all the good he ever did? Will spending 3-15 years in prison erase the evil he did? How did he beat the system for so long? I'd love to be able to say he's crazy. I could at least take some comfort in the fact that it was some kind of chemical imbalance that caused him to fuck up everything, I just don't think that's true. If my dad's crazy then most of us are crazy. And then no one would be crazy because crazy is just a matter of not being in the majority.
So that's pretty much it. I don't know what to do except keep moving, keep working. I've got my kids to think about and I've got to be a good example for them so I can't sit around feeling sorry for myself. It's just that when I'm by myself I can't help thinking about it. I used to drive really fast when I was 16 because the adrenaline rush can overcome depression and stress for a few moments. I caught myself doing that again today. I hope that's the worst of it.
This rant was written some time ago and I ask that people read it today with an understanding that it is a snapshot of my feelings at the time. Some of the things said no longer apply, and indeed, a few of the things regarding my father's childhood have been refuted by elder relations. While some damage is irreparable and some hurts will linger until the day my siblings and I rest in the ground, my family and I are moving on to the best of our ability and trying to adjust our hearts, minds, and actions to new realities. What else can you do, really?
I considered asking the guys at Poor Mojo's to pull this rant, but I think it may help others in similar situations to think through their thoughts and emotions. So I leave it to the interwebz, in the hopes that someone benefits from the experiences that I've shared with you all writ large.
Share on Facebook
Tweet about this Piece
Poor Mojo's Tip Jar: