I am speaking up about these events for the first time in my life, at the age of 36, because no child should ever have to endure what I did, of which what I wrote is a mere summary, sparing many details and protecting many guilty parties of even more than I write.
My parents officially divorced when I was around 18 months or two years old, although they had separated when I was a baby. Aside from a memory of lying in a crib hearing people yelling, thinking in words but not yet being able to speak in words, I don’t have any memory of them together.
We used to visit my father on weekends, and we would have good times together. My dad would teach me useful skills, from the basics of science, using his knowledge of chemistry to teach us to make jam and how to cook, to how all sorts of things worked. We would play music together as a family before going to bed on weekends, old folk songs mainly. This gift of music has blessed me throughout my life, always being a way to comfort myself when things aren’t going well, and to celebrate when they are. To this day whenever my sister, her children, and I visit, instruments are broken out and some Irish and Appalachian folk songs are sung.
There were many happy memories of this sort forged in those early formative years, but that isn’t to say I didn’t have problems. While it wasn’t until I was 14 that I would be diagnosed with Asperger’s, I had clear difficulties socially. My mother forced me onto antidepressants from a very early age rather than ever talk to me or work on the reasons I might be feeling sad or isolated. She went shopping around repeatedly from therapist to therapist, doctor to doctor, looking for ones who would only listen to her and not take my input. I later confronted her after having been a functional adult off of the antidepressants and other chemicals for over a decade, with what my dad had always believed and I had come to believe, that I had autism and merely situational depression, and she admitted that she believed it was likely. But for all of those years, it was more important to keep denying that children need fathers.
In grade school I was placed in gifted education programs. I don’t know the results of my IQ tests then, but when tested as an adult at age 17, I scored 149, and at 18, scored slightly higher, in the low 150s. Yet, my mother repeatedly would berate me and attempt to convince me that I was the least intelligent of my siblings, and that IQ didn’t matter anyhow. It was only as an adult that I realized this was because of her radical feminist ideology. No virtue would be allowed to be acknowledged in me. I was to be leveled out to keep me equal, much as one would break the legs of a racehorse to prevent it from having an unfair advantage against a donkey.
When I was 9 or so, my dad’s custody rights were shrunk, and he went from having us all weekend to having one hour monitored visits only. My grades plummeted and never recovered. Immediately I began having more problems, and eventually began getting in trouble at school. When a teacher grabbed me so hard she left bruises because I wasn’t paying attention in class, both of my parents said it wasn’t okay, a moment of rare agreement. I defended myself and I was expelled from school.
As I grew older, the very thing that caused me to be depressed increased: I would constantly be scolded for being “just like my father.” Once, at age 13, I confronted her about this, and told her I’d really appreciate if she stopped talking about my dad in a negative light, to which she responded with gas-lighting by nitpicking the wording of an obvious metaphor, denying that she had ever used those exact words rather than face the core complaint.
My mother would also constantly pressure my sister and I not to say hello to or interact with anyone in the community who was friends with my dad. She would punish me for interacting with anyone who might have anything kind to say about him. This led to me becoming isolated and retreating inward at exactly the age where I needed to be working extra hard on socializing to overcome the challenges of Asperger’s syndrome.
When I turned 18 and had nowhere to go but my sister’s couch, I didn’t even recognize my own father’s face. When I began attempting to get an education and a job, my mother magically couldn’t find my birth certificate or other documents I needed. So, my dad took me down to the county registrar to get duplicates. In spite of letting me live with him and many other loving acts, the brainwashing to hate my dad was still there in my system, and often we fought. One day, during an argument, my dad admitted to why he and my mother had divorced- she had sought a sex-selective abortion, and when he tried to stop her from going out to do it, she called the cops and said he was being abusive. After hearing this information, I confronted my mother who tried to spin the story in a way that would blame him, but otherwise admitted it. Ever since, I only make the minimum contact with her around Christmas and otherwise don’t talk to her. It took me years to recover from the immediate disruption that this information caused.
I internalized the phrase “too ugly for a mother to love” as an accurate description of myself, so of course, I have struggled in dating. I ended up lashing out and looking for fights because I hated my life. I would seek violent confrontations because I wanted to die. Eventually this led to me being arrested and seeing my nearly straight A college transcripts plummet, and to this day I am just now planning to return to school.
The laws of the State of California, from no fault divorce, to rules in family court which heavily favor mothers and discriminate against fathers, gave my mother every pass for bad behavior and even incentivized it. As a result, my life was destroyed before it ever began. I place much blame on my mother, though I pray for her unrepentant soul, but I also place much blame on a government, both state and federal, which cares more about the false idols of egalitarianism than about the human rights of children, and I hope to see the day upon which it is no more. The words of the Psalmist come to mind, “woe unto you oh Babylon, happy will they be who repay you as you have done unto us. Happy will they be who dash the heads of thy little ones against the rocks.”
And yet there is one shimmering spot of hope. I suffered from suicidal ideations, desires, and temptations from age 11 until age 31, and within a month of receiving what I believe to be my true Baptism, by triple immersion, in the Russian Orthodox Church, through the grace of the sacraments and the grace of the relics present at the temple where I was baptized, I was miraculously healed of the same. I now live each day for the love of God and of my fellow man, trying to be worthy of the forgiveness and miraculous healing received.
In the Orthodox Christian faith, I have learned of the proper way to raise children, ironically the way my father did, treating them as miniature adults, as they are depicted on our icons, and lovingly and gently guiding them towards responsibility and virtue, encouraging their ambitions while tempering them with faith and self-discipline, so that they may offer their unique talents and interests to God and their fellow man.
I hope that by telling my story I can spare others from such sufferings as I have endured. I offer to all of the children suffering from a maliciously incompetent family court system a prayer in the words of Steven Foster: To those frail forms, with silent voices and pleading looks, I wish for you that hard times will come again no more, and that we will achieve justice and children’s rights to both father and mother will be enshrined in law.
Thank you for yielding to Christ and seeking to “spare others from such sufferings” which you endured. Love ultimately is about effecting the true good in the other. I think Thomas Aquinas originally derived this definition. What is the “good” regarding our spouse and children? If we really really love our families we seek the best way, the way of the Cross, the way of our Creator and Savior? Who can rival Him? Let’s never settle for less! Jesus exemplified obedience to the Father and who are we to do otherwise? As for me and my broken family, I will seek the humble self-denying sacrificial love Christ taught and exemplified. Our children will directly benefit not only in the present, but forever including their progeny!
I am so sorry you had to go through all of that. When people’s mental illness gets in the way of raising children, only God can bring the child out of the darkness. My husband did untold damage to my two sons, although I tried my best to prevent it–and keep myself alive. I am so glad you are now learning and growing in to all the Holy Spirit can make you. (My younger son is doing well, by the way–still praying for the elder.)
May God bless you.
Michael, thank you so much for sharing your experience growing up. I am sharing more of my experiences growing up as I seek to heal from them with and through the love of Christ. The ‘just like your father’ comment is the exact same as my dad would use in relation to my mum. She had bipolar disorder and I was already terrified of inheriting the condition.
Now in my 40s I am so very fortunate to be surrounded by a community that’s helping me to heal from my childhood trauma and now also be able to serve others. It’s been through support from mentors, coaches and counsellors that I’ve come to Christ after being agnostic/spiritual/atheistic for much of my life. God bless you and your continued healing.