My Biological Father Messaged Me 32 Years After He Abandoned Me
Content warning: sexual violence, incest
“Hey, Jody . . . I’m your natural father.”
The message request came in through Facebook as I was heading to bed. As I clicked it and saw my biological father’s name pop up, I could feel my heartbeat pulsing from my fingers to the very top of my head. My stomach clenched, and that familiar iron wall wrapped itself around my chest.
He spelled “natural” wrong, and he told me he had proof he never hurt me; things my mother never wanted me to see. I knew who he was the second I saw his name in my message requests, but I also know he signed away his parental rights to me 32 years ago.
I’ve never wondered much about my biological father and I certainly never mourned his absence. I’m not the girl who cried herself to sleep after seeing other girls with their fathers. My biological father left me, but I’ve always known he was a Very Bad Man; I told my mother he molested me when I was only 5 years old. I was interviewed by sexual assault investigators and detectives over the course of the next year, but the prosecutor declined to move forward because I was “too young” to remember the details accurately. It was the ’80s and the only proof was the word of one little girl — my word wasn’t enough then, and the words of survivors still aren’t enough now.
I’ve lived my entire life knowing that the system won’t protect me from men like my biological father; it’s become as much a part of me as my brown hair and brown eyes. Some people do terrible things, and one of those people happens to be my biological father.
I’ve wavered in my belief in myself, though. I didn’t need my biological father to pop up out of the blue to tell me my mother isn’t perfect. I grew up with her, and I lived with her for 18 years. I know her faults and her flaws, and I know that her interpretation of reality bears little resemblance to the truth. The older I got, the more I began to wonder whether I was used as her pawn against him. Her evil was known; his became unknown through the passage of time. I sat in therapy crying and wondering what the truth was, and I did my best to come to terms with the idea that I would probably never know for sure.
His Facebook message cracked that doubt wide open. I wondered whether I had been wrong all those years and whether I was ever molested at all. Could my mother have coached me so elaborately? Could any 5-year-old remember that many details? Nothing is certain about my childhood, and I have no memory of my biological father at all. I didn’t know the truth anymore.
I never shared my doubts with any of my family members until that message came in. I bottled them up and tried to push them aside, ashamed of my own inability to remember my past and perhaps even to trust myself. But when my biological father messaged me, I had to know the truth. I reached out to my extended family and asked them about him: Who was this man? Should I believe him? Did my mother make it all up?
My family told me the bitter truth. My biological father molested his other daughters, and his first partner was so terrified of him that she went into hiding with her little girls after they split up. I discovered that he was an elaborate con artist, scamming people out of money under false pretenses. And I was reassured that my story told so long ago came from me, not my mother. My mother has lied to me many times, but she didn’t lie about that. This one terrible truth about my childhood is still true, and has always been true, even when so much else has fallen apart.
I asked my biological father one thing: What documentation do you have that you never harmed me? And he replied at great length, with stories that cast him as the victim, like every abusive man I’ve ever known, and told me his proof was some old photo albums. Once upon a time, long before my mother knew he molested me, she put together family photo albums with happy captions. That was the proof he offered me. That was the proof he had that it wasn’t his fault. That was what my molester told me on Facebook 32 years after he walked away from me.
I laughed at those messages. I’ve heard all of those lies before. But when I looked him up on Facebook, he was cradling his granddaughter on his lap and my stomach churned. I wondered whether he still touches little girls and whether anyone will believe her when she tells. He has a weak jaw, like me, and he has my dark hair and dark eyes, and his genes are deep inside my cells, but that is all we share. He is a predator, and I was once his prey, but I’m a big girl now and I don’t fall prey to anyone anymore.
There were many things I could have said to my biological father. I could have told him that I’ve always had a father; he adopted me when I was 5 and he’s raised me ever since (he’s also always believed me when it comes to the accusations against my biological father). I could have said that I never hoped he would come back because I knew then, and I know with even more certainty now, that he is an abuser and a liar. I’m not another victim ripe for the plucking; I’m not a little girl who can be touched, abused, used, and discarded. I am a 37-year-old woman who is too damn old and too damn tired of this shit to ever, ever fall for it again. I guess he thought I was stupid or desperate or waiting around for his love.
He thought wrong.
But I didn’t say anything. I didn’t ask him to contact me, and I didn’t want him to. I won’t allow myself to get sucked back into his, or anyone else’s, dysfunction. I’ve worked my ass off in therapy for the last five years to recover from my childhood, and I won’t get derailed by remnants of my past. Because of his message, I finally got the reassurance and closure I needed, and I’m grateful for that. But he doesn’t deserve my thanks, and I’m sure as hell not going to waste them on him.
I know I’m supposed to honor my mother and father, especially around Father’s Day, when there’s a socially enforced mandate on unconditional love. I know I’m supposed to “forgive and forget”; I grew up going to church and reciting those simple words, and I believed them for many years. I turned the other cheek to my mother until I was in my early thirties and a teeny tiny part of me still wanted to believe that I was wrong about my biological father. It’s always easier to be the bad guy and to hate myself than it is to accept the fact that my mother and biological father are damaged and toxic, and that I’m better off without them.
But over time I’ve come to recognize this truth: I was born to broken parents — and I have a choice now to not associate with them.
As I mulled over my biological father’s message, I sat alone in my bed, remembering the little girl I once was. The little girl who never missed him, not even once, and who felt safe the day her mother left him. I looked at his messages long and hard, alone in the dark, cocooned in my blankets, and I clicked block. And just like that, I was free. Free of the bullshit, free of the lies, and free of another man trying to use and abuse me — free to be the me I’ve been trying to become since I looked my mother in the eye and told her what my father did to me.
My biological father walked away from me 32 years ago, but today I am walking away from him. And unlike him I know I’ll never regret it.
Lead image: flickr/Epicantus