I don’t write about this very often, seldom quite so honestly, although I allude to my checkered teen past every now and then
Be warned: The following reads like a bad Linda Blair 1970’s TV special.
My dad was an exceptional person. Handsome, charming, really quite brilliant. My mother worshiped him (her words) and never married after he died because – in her eyes – no one could live up to him.
But, as with many gifted souls, he had a dark side that was terrifying.
My dad had a temper that was legendary. He’d been the victim of child abuse.
I guess in light of that, his own parenting style was an improvement on what he had grown up with. Every generation strives in their own way.
Unfortunately, he would unleash his temper on my brother and me – mostly at me. Now I can see that my poor brother, yearning for the male bonding and positive reinforcement of his dad, had no choice but to act as a sort of ‘assistant’ (henchman, in my young mind) to dad’s cruelty. But at the time I grew to hate them both.
Dad’s abuse was both physical and mental/emotional. During this time his own health was failing (heart disease, diabetes, etc.) and his business failed (he had the first US patent on a single-person hovercraft in the US, but was NOT a businessman.)
This made him angry, resentful, dangerous – and on the prowl for a target.
My own snappy, surly-teen personality was a bullseye. I was constantly in his sights, and he fired often. I had more spine than sense, but in retrospect I believe it was my ability to fight – my instinct for survival – back that kept me sane, and kept me alive.
I won’t go into the list of physical abuses, worst among them a broken wrist and broken tooth (both with the assistance of my brother) The worst emotional abuse was a constant, water-on-a-stone recitation of my faults as a female member of the human race.
I was told many times a day that I was” ugly”, “stupid”, “fat”, “mean”, “a terrible daughter” and a “slut”.
I still can’t figure out that last one, except this really had NOTHING to do with me, and everything to do with my father’s twisted, pained brain.
But that’s a different story for a different day.
I escaped into school. I joined the orchestra that practiced at 7:00 am, and I worked on plays so I could stay at the school painting sets until dinner. The less time at home, the safer I felt.
When I was 14 an opportunity to get out of this painful situation presented itself.
My friend, Heidi, was running away – so I left with her. We fell in with some Jesus-freaks-in-a-van where my Free Methodist childhood of bible verse drills paid off big time. I was lucky – being part of a group who fed and respected me was light years better than most run-aways have it. I was gone a little over a month.
I returned home when I learned that a favorite uncle had died of cancer, and I missed my mom. But I retained that sense of freedom I’d developed on the road. It sustained me when life as the child of a tortured bully became too much.
My father died on January 6, 1978 – my last year in high school. I’d like to be able to say I was sad when he died, but it was one of the greatest reliefs of my young life.
WHY am I going into this in such detail today? Because there are a lot of kids in similar situations to my own, who are not willing or able to return home. Runaways, who become victims of gangs and thugs and pimps, inhabit every city.
A local organization here in the Twin Cities specializes in caring for these forgotten teens. It’s called “The Bridge” and they could use support. A good friend told me about the work they do, and it’s impressive.
If you are looking for a worthwhile, very deserving charity to fund this holiday (pre-tax) season, please consider the Bridge. Or look for a similar organization in your own town. Those of us who suffered abuse, who were runaways, we may not be very vocal about our pasts – perhaps because not many of us fought our way out of our situations.