a letter to my father
Sunday November 25, 2007
(This letter is published in German as “Ein Brief an meinen Vater,” November 24, 2007, and has been translated into English.)
Dear Mrs. Miller,
I have written a letter to my father and would feel very honored if you want to put it on your readers’ mail website. Your work and the many progress reports and readers’ letters have given me the strength to face at least once in my life the abusers and those with joint knowledge – by communicating with others what I experienced. Until now, I have been so intimidated that I remained silent. I always felt embarrassed that I had been abused, although it was of course not my shame. Maybe I can contribute with my letter that other victims of child abuse also find the courage to trust their perception and to confront the grueling and painful truth. That would mean so much to me. I wish you, your team and the readers of your books and website all the best. L. P.
A Letter to My Father
By now, we have not had contact for twelve years, and that is just fine. But there is something that I nevertheless want to tell you. Until I was thirty years old, you shouted me down, you ridiculed me, you defamed me as abnormal as soon as I opened my mouth. You wanted to intimidate and silence me – the witness and victim of the most cruel child maltreatment.
Then, I did not want to see. I lived in the absurd hope that if I exerted myself that I would maybe catch after all a tiny bit of parental love and recognition. This wish may have been naïve, yes, but on the other hand also forgivable considering the enormous emotional deficit, which a childhood marked by exclusion, neglect and incessant physical abuse entails.
Out of this notorious neediness I have idealized you, my mother somewhat less, you somewhat more. Again and again, I have tried to understand, qualify and excuse your cruelty and emotional coldness. I did not want to see that your marriage was a sadomasochistic clinch and that your emotional endowment did not provide anything else. Above all, I could not grasp that you neither could give love to each other nor to your children.
During and after your divorce, I felt terribly sorry for both of you: my mother because I had to watch her decline into schizophrenia, her decay and her agonies every single day; you because your life was so messed up as well. I felt responsible for your well being and happiness and I did anything in my power, really anything I could, to make both of you and thus myself happy. I met you with boundless love and boundless trust, like every child. What I got in return from you was emotional coldness, hatred, contempt, cruelty and narcissistic exploitation.
During the last years, I have occasionally felt regret that I failed to report both of you to the police – you because of your failure to render assistance, her because of assault and attempted manslaughter.
You left us children, a two-year-old and a seven-year-old, alone with a psychopath, without wasting a single thought about the danger we were in. One cannot imagine what it feels like for a child to spend his life in the power of a person who is paranoid schizophrenic, who has no insight into her illness, who is highly aggressive, suicidal and at times so confused that she is not able to form complete sentences. It was hell, and I do not exaggerate. She was completely unpredictable. I was terribly afraid of her fits of rage, of the bizarre things that she would do and say, of her soulless, huge zombie eyes pulled wide open.
If she did not just use us as a wailing wall or garbage can for her delusional ideas, her communication with me restricted itself to commands, insults, interrogations and beatings. When I think of those years, I cannot remember one peaceful moment. Not once have I had a talk with her, told her of my thoughts, wishes and worries. Her language was violence. She beat me several times a day; already in the morning, before I went to school, I was given a drubbing. Even in the middle of the night, she would tear open the door of the nursery and attack me. She used to hit me with her fists or with any kind of objects – slippers with a wooden wedge-heel – until her arms were hurting, and she used to scream in the rhythm of the blows: “I will beat you to death, I will beat you to death.” I was always afraid that one day she would beat me or the little one to death. And it very nearly happened.
The causes for the orgies of beatings? I was thrashed because just for once, I had not gained a price at the drawing competition. I was thrashed because I had talked too slowly or too quietly. I was thrashed because I only brought home a B in the class test. I was thrashed because I had no style. I was thrashed because I hung out with a Down syndrome girl. I was thrashed because I got a cold. I was thrashed because I had plotted against her. I was thrashed because I had carried up the two buckets of coal separately that I had to carry up the stairs to the fourth floor when I was eight years old. I was thrashed because I had said something nice about my grandmother. I was thrashed because I had greeted a neighbor in the hallway. I was thrashed because I reminded my mother of my father. I was thrashed because I was to blame for my parents’ divorce. I was thrashed because I was always nervous. I was thrashed because I claimed that there was no bug in her head. I was thrashed because I coughed although she had already forbidden me to cough several times. I was thrashed because I had come home with a broken arm and she did not feel like taking me to the doctor. . . Shall I go on? My body was studded with contusions and bruises. It went on for nine years. Nine years of hell.
And yes, my mother once really broke my nose bone, even if you dismissed this once again as imagination. I was ten or eleven years old. I was sitting on a white bathroom stool when the blow came. It was a Sunday afternoon, and I wanted to visit a girl friend from school which obviously provoked her. At first, I was briefly unconscious, and when I came to, I was bleeding from my nose like a pig. The whole bathtub was red, under the bathtub a longish red lake was collecting and my mother bellowed that I should hold my head over the bathtub, otherwise I would make everything dirty. It was hurting absolutely horribly, so much that I could barely stand it. The following two mornings, there were blood stains on my pillow cover. For weeks, my nose was bleeding time and again, sometimes in the middle of the street, and concerned people passing by asked me if they should bring me to a doctor – which was extremely embarrassing. I also remember the nasty crunching noise that occurred for the next two weeks when I cracked my nose bone back and forth. In any case, the fraction was from then on clearly visible on an x-ray picture – as well as in my face.
Do you remember how my mother planned in her mania to kill B., myself and herself? You knew it and did nothing about it. Together with us, she wanted to jump down from a high-rise. B. and I sat in street shoes and jackets in the living room, waiting for the marching orders, while she was calling you on the telephone to inform you about her intention. She would kill the children and herself, she said, if you would not come back to her. If I remember right, you answered that you could not be blackmailed and hung up. You knew in what danger we were; you knew her frame of mind. As an adult, I once asked you about this incident, as you certainly remember. I asked why you did not call the police. You grew loud and shouted at me that I myself could have called the police. Were you then not ashamed of yourself, at least a tiny little bit? No, I could not have called the police. I was eight years old and had to deal with a violent, raging schizophrenic who had a huge physical advantage over me. YOU should have called the police and should have informed the youth welfare agency. I am still bewildered when I think of the danger that each one of you, one as well as the other, meant for the lives of your children. And I do not wish to pursue the question if we children simply did not matter to you or if you were hoping to get rid of us in this way.
You always thought only of your own good, of removing yourself to a safe place. You fed us to her because you hoped that she then would vent her rage on us and not on you. How cowardly to hide oneself behind small children. Later you always claimed that it was not that awful for us, and anyhow, we did not want it any other way, so we were quasi to blame. Guilty – in order to once straighten out this dastard and mean distortion of the facts – guilty we children were not. You were guilty and to blame. Guilty were the silent confidants whose sympathy did not extend beyond black mouthing our developmental disorders, our hygienic condition, our emotional and cognitive deficits.
I clearly saw, hated and despised already as a nine-year-old the bestiality of my mother. For a long time, I tried to find explanations and excuses for your behavior. And still today do I have problems to imagine how the psyche of a man is knitted who allows his children to be tortured and if need be killed – and who thinks nothing of it. It is monstrous. I think you simply lacked the ability for compassion, for empathy. You denied our pain, our mortal fear, our loneliness in order to get rid of your responsibility for us. You did not see us as human beings. Already as children, we were in your eyes debased, abnormal and bad, human rejects so to speak, that you felt ashamed of in front of others and whose inferior quality justified that one did not care for them. We were the waste products of a marriage that you only all too gladly wanted to forget. One does not love garbage. One does not have to take responsibility for garbage. One simply disposes of it anywhere where it does not bother anybody and where one does not have to see it, doesn’t one?
When I moved in with you on the spot – I did not have an alternative – and tried to take custody away from her and was at sixteen already at the end of my rope, I would have needed your support, your understanding, respect, affection in order to cope with my harrowing experiences. How exploited and heroic you felt, only because you had to harbor me for a few years in your apartment! And you used me, just like my mother, to act out your hatred and your aggressions on me. I was weak, desperate and destroyed; I was the ideal victim. You enjoyed tormenting me. You justified your hostilities by claiming that I was bad, stupid, embarrassing, aggressive and abnormal. No, I was nothing of those things; I was a submissive and frightened grey mouse. What really bothered you about me was quite simply the fact that I existed. You feared that I would tell others about the mistreatments; you covered up everything and silenced me. You scolded me, defamed me, ridiculed me, humiliated me, violated all my boundaries until I was close to committing suicide. At some point, I could not stand it any longer. You got off on the power that you then had over my miserable, small existence. What you did then with me – the sadistic enthusiasm with which you tried to ruin my self-esteem, my personality, my overall already anyhow humble life, with which you destroyed every beautiful experience, every success, every happy moment for me – this was just as pathetic as the physical abuses during the previous years.
You could not stand it if someone liked me, when something good happened to me, when I was happy. When I once asked you what you had against me leading a normal life, you responded: „Why should you be better off than me?“ For once, you were honest. You wanted me do badly because you yourself were badly off. Out of malevolence, you wanted to see me suffer. I have to say – in choosing my parents, fate has reached deeply into the ceramics.
What my mother did, all these horrible things, she did under the influence of her psychosis. That does not excuse anything, but at least it allows me the illusion that it was not her real, conscious self that committed the atrocities. But what you have done and failed to do – that is inexcusable. That you were weak, overstrained and desperate, that you were afraid, that you were needy yourself – that would have been forgivable. Not everyone is born a hero. But if weakness mixes with sadism, if one humiliates, scorns, excludes and despises those that one turned into victims of violence – this is simply nothing but abominable. You always were ashamed of me, and you left out no opportunity to let me know about it, do you remember? You even did not want to invite me for your sixtieth birthday with the reason that I, with my „simple“ university degree, would for sure not feel comfortable among your guests with PhDs. If someone must be thoroughly ashamed here, it certainly is not me.
What I still had to tell you, I have said. You both bestowed on me a nightmarish childhood and youth; you hated me and almost destroyed my life, but fortunately only almost. Normal parents want their children to have better lives. What you wanted for your children came back to you. And as both of you have failed so grandiosely, and perished through your own coldness and maliciousness – each one in his/her own way – any wish for amends is unnecessary. Looking from a very, very distant place, you almost seem pitiable. You have lost; you have lost yourselves, your children, your humanity. You have not created anything good; you have not given love to anyone or created a reason to respect yourselves. You were unhappy and made others unhappy. You wasted you unique and irretrievable lives while your former victim leads a happy, fulfilled life, a life that is free from abusive relationships. I am – even if you always were of a different opinion – a valuable and loveable human being, and I have a life that I don’t need to be ashamed of.
My life is better than yours.
AM: I was distressed to the core when I read your letter for which I thank you wholeheartedly. At the same time, I felt a sort of gratefulness for the fate that helped the lively, brave and bright little girl not only to survive the terrible jail of her horrific parents but also to remain sound to keep the full clarity and the unusual courage in order TO SEE and TO ACCUSE, without „buts,“ without illusions, without self-betrayal. This stance can only very rarely be encountered, and your letter will certainly help others to recognize their own situation and to forgo the „buts.“ If you have no objections, we can publish your letter also in English and French. I would like to do this because here, the child has the strength to also speak for countless other children who are forced to bear the more or less visible delusions of their parents for years and to experience that as NORMAL. Formed by this ignorance, they often remain blind for the suffering of children during their whole lives and still recommend physical punishment. They work for senseless „research,“ for the pharmaceutical industry, organize wars, produce cruel movies and don’t know at all that they still „live“ in the prison of their sick parents because they never had the courage to see through their parents’ delusions and thus continue to poison the world with the toxin that they had to swallow as children.