I grew up looking like a very average kid. I lived most of my young life in the suburbs of Rochester, New York. That’s over on the western side of the state along the shores of Lake Ontario for those who aren’t familiar with the state.
My household included my parents, a brother who was about two and a half years older than me, and, of course, me. We almost always had a pet. At least one cat, two for a while, and a dog for a short time.
My parents weren’t rich, but they weren’t poor, either. We never went hungry, but we often didn’t have as many frills as some of my friends. For most of my childhood, my parents shared one car. We all shared a single bathroom with one sink. I don’t think either of those things were all that unusual back then, but seem relatively rare today.
My brother, Bryan, and I spent hours playing basketball at our hoop in the driveway and easily as much time throwing the football around in the backyard. We were closer than most brothers I knew and spent a lot of time challenging each other to be better athletes or just hanging out listening to music and playing games.
On the surface, it all looked very idyllic. If you threw in a white picket fence and a fresh baked pie every night, we would have looked like a typical 1960’s sitcom family.
You know that saying “don’t judge a book by its cover?” Of course you do. It never fit a situation better than it did with my family. The simple smiles flashed to the outside world were nothing more than a front to hide hearts as black as coal. Monsters barren of souls who were masters of covering their tracks to avoid discovery.
You may be thinking those sentiments are too strong. My own wife, Jill, didn’t believe me at first when I began digging up old memories. “Parents don’t do those things to their children,” she would say. “I’ve met your parents, they’re very nice people,” she would mistakenly add. Finally, in 2007, Jill pleaded with my father via email to reach out to me and help me through digesting some terrible memories I was having about my paternal grandfather. He simply ignored the email. That was also a turning point in my relationship with him. After that point, as the years went on and my memories filled in more completely, my father began making up more and more ridiculous lies in an attempt to cover his tracks. Between the 2007 snub and his subsequent backtracking on so many things he had already said, Jill finally began to realize just how evil he really is.
What did my father do that was so egregious? Did he molest Bryan or me? Did he beat us? No. He feared my mother far too much to do those things. Through his actions, things he would say from time to time, and an email he sent me sometime around 2006, it became clear to me that he wanted to. He “abused” his significantly younger siblings when they were growing up. “It’s what I learned” he emailed me. I’m certain he never “unlearned” it. My mother made it extremely clear to him, though, that she would come at him with absolutely everything she had, legally or otherwise, if he so much as looked at Bryan or me again the way he did one day. On that day when I was only about five, he was clearly ramping up to do a lot more than just yell at Bryan and me. She clearly wore the pants in the family, though, and she very well controlled most of his actions and kept him in line to the best of her ability.
What could my father do that was so wrong and so damaging under the iron fist surveillance of my mother? It appears that my father knew my mother’s strength and convictions from the beginning of their relationship. As such, he never told her what kind of person his father was. My father went to great lengths to hide his upbringing from my mother. Not only did he hide what kind of person his father was, he demanded that we spend every Saturday out there with them along with most holidays. When I say we spent the day, we went out there immediately after eating an early breakfast and we stayed out there until midnight or later. My father would typically spend the day alone with his father talking in the back work room or garage. Mind you, my grandfather is a well known violent pedophile who would go as far as threatening to kill my dad and his six siblings whenever they got too out of line. The first red flag: my father enjoyed this violent pedophile’s company and time to an extreme level.
There was more to my father keeping his past secret than wanting to visit with this violent pedophile on a routine basis. When I was still quite young, my father convinced my mother that Bryan and I should be sent to his parent’s place for at least two weeks to “have fun out in the country.” Had she known what my grandfather was all about, she clearly would never have allowed the weekly family visits, let alone leaving Bryan and me alone with this nut job. I have little doubt my father was delivering us to his father so he could live vicariously through his father’s actions. I also have little doubt that he got an earful about what happened during the two weeks we were trapped there on his Saturday visits.
You’re probably wondering now what in the world happened while we were there. It’s not even what you’re likely thinking. To me, it’s a lot worse. In the summer of 1980, I was seven years old. I have had nightmares indicating that my grandfather may have molested me, but I’ve never reconnected to those memories if he had. What I do remember is a lot worse. He abducted an eleven year old girl while I was alone with him. My brother was out of the house all day with my grandmother running errands. I believe the girl lived relatively close by and was a friend of Bryan’s and mine.
He attacked her and forced me to stay in the room with them. As she screamed, the guilt of doing nothing overwhelmed me. I knew helping her would likely end in my death, but I refused to stand there and do nothing. When I awoke from being knocked unconscious, she was gone. I’ve never been able to confirm whether she survived the attack or not, but I think I’ve found her with the help of a private investigator – alive and well today. She won’t respond to my emails or outreaches on Facebook. Presumably she’s not in a place where she wants to pick at that scab.
You at least had your mother to run to, right? Not exactly. My mother always looked out for me in the big things, such as keeping me safe from my father and worrying about why I came home with my face completely swelled up when I was seven. In other matters, though, I was pretty much her verbal punching bag.
My mother almost desperately wanted a daughter. She was convinced I was going to be a daughter. From the moment I was born, she became suicidally depressed. She never was able to move past the disappointment and lambasted me for everything I did. Even when I’d get 100% on a test, she would point out how lazy and stupid I was for only getting 95% the week before. After all, she reasoned, this 100% clearly showed I was capable of being perfect all the time. Talk about setting the bar high!
I knew she would blame me for the little girl’s death if I told her about it, so I kept my mouth shut. That wasn’t easy to do because she wouldn’t stop examining my swollen face for days. She even took me to the doctor to have it examined to see if my father’s excuse that I had been exposed to poison ivy in smoke was realistic.
All this and a lot more is described in much better detail in I’m Supposed to Make a Difference: A Memoir About Overcoming Trauma and Abuse. The book includes excerpts from emails I’ve exchanged with my father, greater details of all the situations described here plus more, and discussions of how this affected my mental health. The discussions on mental health include sections about suicidal feelings I battled from 11th grade through to about 2019. It lays out how I managed to work through the suicidal depression and anxiety with the help of a wonderful psychologist (who wrote a great foreword for the book) and an extremely knowledgeable psychiatrist (who wrote a wonderful afterword for the book). I’m hopeful the book will serve as motivation for others fighting with similar childhood traumas.