And open letter to my father, Jack Dale Rhoads, aka Jack Rhoads of Columbia, Missouri (Columbia MO).*
My In-laws just left for the afternoon with my girls – they’re taking them to their house so that I have a blessed few hours alone in the house to clean and prepare for hosting Christmas here in a few days. When they came to pick up the girls, they dropped off a card from you, which arrived at their house just like one has every year since we lived with them for a few months while transitioning to this house a few years ago.
A Christmas card every year, and the occasional guilt-laden e-mail every year or two are the only communications I’ve received from you since I cut off communications with you six years ago. Those guilt-laden e-mails with the photos attached of my niece and nephew who I will probably never meet because my sister is so angry with me for refusing to put up with the lifetime of crap you’ve subjected me to, and honestly because I can’t deal with her either in her state of denial about just how bad my childhood and early adulthood were.
Let me remind you of the reasons why I can’t deal with you. First, there was the physical abuse. The constant knuckles rapped on my head from as early as I can remember, the pants-down spankings after church almost every Sunday for years because I couldn’t sit as still as you wanted me to during the sermon. Worse than that, though, were the constant put-downs and emotional abuse. You were always picking on me. I was the family scape-goat. Your own brothers and sisters have admitted to me that they noticed this when we were at family get-togethers – how Jackie (my sister) was never wrong and somehow I was always to blame. I know I was a squirrelly kid, but I couldn’t have been that squirrelly! You were always telling other people how horrid I was too.
And let me just add one more thing to the list that I don’t think I’ve mentioned directly to you before, although we’ve talked around it in the past. I do think it was partly your fault that my mother’s live-in boyfriend sexually abused me for months on end, and that when I finally came forward to make him stop he was not prosecuted. If you had been a bigger part of my life, maybe I would have had someone I felt safe telling. Maybe you would have noticed some of the warning signs that I’m sure were there. And good gods, why on earth didn’t *you* see to it that he was prosecuted? Why didn’t you yank me the hell out of her house immediately? And why on earth when I came begging and crying to your house, asking for a safe place to spend the last couple years of high school, didn’t you make me feel at home, but instead let your wife call me a guest and refuse to even empty out a spare room for me to keep my things in? I can add all this now after years of therapy – don’t worry, I think I’ve figured out the answers, and to be honest, the hurt doesn’t even hurt that much any more – I’m just trying to remind you of the things *you* need to figure out.
The final straw, let me remind you, was when you told my then-future in-laws at my engagement party (the first time you met them) that I was bad for their son, and that I had “moved to Minnesota to run away from all the horrible things I’d done in Missouri.” No parent should every say something like that about their child, even if it is true. But in my case it wasn’t even close to true. The closest to truth I can honestly come to that remark is that I moved away from Missouri to put distance between you and me – to get away from the poison in our family.
So there. The tip of our family iceberg of skeletons in the closet (how’s that for mixed cliches?) is out there for the whole world to see. I have no shame. I don’t think I can possibly be in the wrong here. I was a child. I was muddling through the best that I could. You were the grownup, the one with the power. Now let’s go back to that card you sent me -
Oh, and readers, click on it to see the full size, but I’ll just transcribe what it says here for you – his writing is hard to read.
“Hi, another year got off to a rough start but made it any way. In February I spent 4 days in Hospital with 4 units of blood. Last week I had a echo stress treadmill exam and the doc said they won’t have to replace the valve for at least 6 months. As always our door is open. I have 2 of your old dolls I will send after the 1st of the year if this is a good address. dad.”
Oh, where to start with this? Well, let’s start with the fact that I asked you to never communicate with me again until you were prepared to go get some therapy and figure out why you are compelled to treat me so horribly and learn how to behave like a decent human being. And then you would need to come back to me with a pretty huge, deep, sincere apology. At that point I would be willing to gradually open a relationship with you. I mean, maybe I would visit by myself and spend some time with you, and if you behave, maybe you could earn a visit with my children. But that would depend on Joe’s input too. He’s not all that fond of you, see.
Secondly, you open up your letter with a giant load of health information, sort of mid-stream with no background. Sounds like you’ve been having heart problems. I’m sorry to hear that. Sorry in the way that I feel sorry for the mean old neighbor lady who lives next door to me who is in kidney failure. I feel badly for her and her family, but I’m not going to go over there with a plate of cookies after she stood in my yard and told me in front of my kids that she thinks interracial relationships are wrong. It sounds like maybe you’re scared, and I hope things get better for you. Maybe also this would be a good time to look at your life and think about what kinds of things you’d like to change before it’s too late? That is totally up to you.
Which leads me to the “our door is always open” crap. You’ve pulled that every time you’ve sent me a card. I find it freakin’ hilarious! Yeah, your door is open. Mine is the one that’s closed. Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt!
And about the old toys. Yeah, actually, I would love to have them. While you’re at it, see if you can snag some of the stuff that I’m sure my mother has hidden away somewhere. One of the saddest things about having lost my family the way I did is that I don’t have many artifacts of my childhood. I’d love to have some pictures of myself as a little kid too. Send the album! I’ll even scan them and ship it back to you. You can send them to the address you sent the card to if you’d like. But don’t think that doing these material favors is going to change the way I feel about opening up other communications.
And finally, why, now, after six years of silence, am I finally spilling this all out? I’m tired of spending Christmas pissed off at you. Every year I get the same crappy card from you that brings up the same anger at your stupidity. I’ve been through a lot of therapy, and I’ve worked through about 95 percent of my anger and hurt and grief about all this family crap. There will always be a little bit left, and I think I have most of the tools I need to deal with it pretty well. But I’m tired of spending my already spread-thin energy at Christmas time processing this shit. Pick a different time of year – how about March – not much going on in March – to deal with me – not four days before Christmas.
Whew. Now I feel better. I’m going to go clean my house and write up the menus and grocery lists for *my* family’s holiday. Merry Fucking Christmas.
*I’m including your name and location this way to insure that Google and all the other search engines will grab it and this will be pretty much the top thing people find when they come looking for you on the ‘net. One of the joyous things about having a semi-popular web log is that I can actually use this tiny little power of mine when I’m pissed off enough (never before) and when dealing with someone not already graced with much, if any, web presence. And the unusual spelling of your last name kind of comes in handy for once as well.