Ria, a young woman in my writing workshop, struggled to
write a memoir of her childhood, but overt hostility to her father kept taking
over the piece. As we workshopped the piece with Ria, the horrific story of
sexual abuse by a relative when she was a toddler emerged. Ria directed anger
to parents who refused to believe evidence—who put family peace before the
well-being of their daughter. They did not protect her.
My brother Dooby was treated unfairly by our stepmother who,
for unknown reasons, took a dislike to 14-year-old Dooby and made his life a
living hell until he left to live with our grandmother during his senior year
of high school. For years Dooby resented the fact that our dad did not protect
him from the emotional abuse he endured at home.
Actually, our dad was unaware of the abuse. He worked long
hours and Saturdays and wasn’t home much. Dad was of the generation of rigid
gender roles: men earned the living and women cared for the children. In Dad’s mind and experience, mothers love
their children—it never occurred to him that a woman might feel differently
toward a stepchild than to her own. In Dad’s book, teenagers were obnoxious and
probably caused all conflicts with authority figures.
Dad cared about Dooby and all of us—but he suffered from a
failure of imagination. He failed to understand the complexity of parenting a
blended family. He trusted that nice, church-going people don’t have serious
family problems. He could not conceive of a woman in a mother-role treating a
Dooby, probably because he became a parent himself, forgave
our dad. I hope Ria can do the same. No parent can protect a child against
every evil in the world. We do the best we can as parents, and—knowing our own
short comings—we cut our parents some slack.