Yesterday was Father’s Day. For many survivors, it is a terribly difficult day. Sometimes, it is not so hard for me, but yesterday it was. We went to buy a card for Jeff’s dad and as I stood there while he read cards, I felt like I was standing a little too close to the cards. It felt like all their sappy sugary messages might rub off and me and make me physically sick. I think the worst part about it is I knew the cards were all telling me how to feel about a particular person on a particular day. There was no room for tragedy, heartache, or loss. I was right back to where I had always been in church – honor your father. There was no room to ask what should be done if your father just simply is not honorable. That, sadly, is not a Hallmark option.
Hallmark, “when you care enough to send the very best.” It is not that I don’t care, it is just that caring was dangerous and would be still because I do not believe my father has changed. I believe the children of his step-children are in serious danger, but I also know there is not a single thing I can do about it.
I did what I could. Last week, I reconnected with a friend I have known since middle-school. As we perused each other’s facebook pages and commented on old pictures, she said that I was speaking out even back then. I always felt as if I was speaking into the din and no one ever really heard my words. I was screaming on the edge of a black hole and it was sucking in every sound I could utter. Even more than that, the brokenness in my voice made it too hard and too painful for people to understand what I was saying. The sound of joy could not be distinguished from the sound of weeping.
Except I had no joy. There was only weeping. As most people who have experienced trauma and post traumatic stress, I could put on the face of a smile probably not a truly joyful face, but I was good with a cover up. And I would cover up my pain until I just couldn’t anymore. Then I would have an emotional breakdown, usually by myself in the shower, or in all the privacy of a chapel service where, at least in my perception, those around me quietly squirmed, but most tried to pretend no one was crying.
Have you ever been in a small space, such as an airplane, and tried to pretend that a child is not crying? I think one would have to be a true Zen master with noise cancelling headphones to not want to scream at the child, and the parent who had the nerve to bring a child on a plane. But it is not the parent’s fault, or the child’s. It is just one of those things that makes others around the unhappiness seriously, incredibly uncomfortable.
And that is what it’s like for most people in society to hear about child sexual abuse. We want to turn our noise canceling headphones completely up and make an impenetrable bond between the reality we are hearing and our eardrums. But we have only been supplied with poor quality headphones for which there is no seal over our eardrums. There is no seal over our hearts, either.
The sooner we realize this and stop trying to get people to stop talking about it, the sooner we can make other options available for Hallmark. We can make other options for our selves and our kids as well.
Childhood sexual abuse does not have to happen. It can be stopped. Teach your kids to respect themselves and others. Teach them that their bodies are theirs and no one can touch them in ways that make the child uncomfortable. Teach them that if someone is trying to touch them to scream, kick, bite, do whatever they need to to get someone’s attention or get away. Teach them that adult strangers do not need their help to find a missing puppy – the adult has many more resources than the child to find it. Educate yourself. Listen to your children. Listen to your nieces, nephews, neighborhood children. If it doesn’t feel right to you, chances are high that they aren’t right. If the words are too perfect or the smiles too bright, just be aware of what might be behind them.
So, what are some other concrete things you can do to prevent child sexual abuse?
1. Admit that it is real.
2. Educate yourself about the signs and how to prevent it.
3. See children as real people.
4. Educate your children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, school children, Sunday School children, neighborhood children, all children in age appropriate ways how to be safe.
5. If a child tells you something, listen. You do not have to have all the answers to hear a child’s concerns. You do not have to investigate to hear a child’s pain.
6. If a child has told you something, or you see signs that cannot be explained, call the proper authorities. This is not always a satisfying answer and if abuse has occurred, may not lead to a conviction, but please don’t ignore the child and think that he or she is just making it up. You may be the only person she or he ever tries to tell.
I do love Hallmark, but once in a while, step away from the sugary sweetness and look at the world. See it for what it is, and how wonderful a place it can be if we keep working at it together, one piece and one person at a time.
I wish this song used inclusive language for God, but please try to live your life in reality of the splendor and the pain and not watch it transpire From a Distance. We need you here, present; heart, strength, ears and voice.