The room was cold and dreary. The attorney sitting across from me at his fancy, nicked desk made sure I remembered how damaging false allegations can be. He also happened to be the stepdad of one of my best neighborhood friends, a luxury afforded to residents of a small town.

I stuck to the truth that assured I remained the little girl with covers pulled tightly up to her neck for the rest of her life.

Because my father had no known priors, he was placed on diversion and given therapy with no jail time. He participated in the programs and did a lot of things to better himself, even going back to school to get his G.E.D., earning the praise of many despite the black mark next to his name.

Honest efforts at returning to a normal family were made, but to no avail. I could no longer accept the man who gave me life, yet stripped it away completely, along with my trust and any feeling of confidence, dignity and security.

I was not easy to handle. I rebelled against everything in life at that point. My parents eventually divorced and he was gone, moving out-of-state to start over.

I suffered in silence for many years, acting out with substance abuse and meaningless bed hops. In my late 20s I finally came around to wanting a different and better life. I spent several years sober and alone with a responsible job, working my way up the ranks and supporting myself.

First came love, then came marriage. My first child was thankfully a boy, a prayer answered in the midst of a girl’s life that was never easy at any point along the way.

The meaning of family became more important and pronounced after my child was born, and I started to wonder if I could ever be willing to let my son know who his grandpa was. I would not be OK with a close everyday relationship, but I felt like I could tell him who his grandpa was in pictures when he was old enough.

My paternal grandmother became very ill at that time, so I made the trip out-of-state with my siblings to visit her. To her, I was once just an angry teen just trying to get back at my father when I reported the abuse, but I knew it would be the last time I would see her. I brought my infant son along, knowing his grandpa would be there.

It was painful and awkward. My father had aged a lot, and goosebumps filled my skin as he met and held his grandson for the first time. I did not hug him, but I felt like this was something I could possibly do on occasion as long as several states remained between us.

A short time after returning home from the trip, I got a phone call from a family member.

My father had sexual abuse allegations against him by a little girl under the age of 10, a family member who had visited his home. Anger surged through me. It had been more than 20 years since I sat at the big table across from the lawyer. I had no doubt in my mind it was true when the situation was described to me.

I pulled the plug on any and all contact, and we haven’t spoken in many years since that visit several years ago.

Through the grapevine some five years later, I learned his health had taken a bad turn and he was in the hospital. Rumor was he looked terrible. I had no idea how to feel, but I knew the day would eventually come when he would pass. Would I visit? What would I say? What would he say? His new family would no doubt ban us from his funeral. Will it be actual relief or closure when he’s gone? How does one handle such a thing? All of the emotions available to the human experience swirled inside of me, like a cyclone of turmoil.

And just when I started to think about the other “f” word—forgiveness—I learned he was accused of sexual abuse yet again, just a few months ago, more than 30 years after my case. Yet another young girl under the age of 10, a member of his new family, was allowed in his home.

It makes you furious when someone’s history is known but discounted as a little liar’s story. Even though he’s a registered sex offender and has been for years, this monster is repeatedly trusted to be alone with children.

I keep tabs on public records from afar, so I am relieved to say he is at long last in jail awaiting court dates. His wife was also arrested in relation to the latest incident because she was aware it was happening. While I am relieved to know they are behind bars, I wouldn’t say it’s a happy ending for anyone.

It is not easy to hear that evil runs in your direct blood line. It’s revolting. It makes you doubt who you are, where you come from and it makes you feel like a piece of garbage. Survivor’s guilt of another color take over your entire being and you weep for days. You mourn that you never had a true earthly father and your kids were robbed of a grandfather. And you weep because you know what’s ahead for the victims. Cold and dreary rooms. And reminders about false allegations from lawyers.

This man is my father. My tortured mind has tried to understand how this person came to be. I’ve tried to understand that he had a difficult childhood with numerous stepdads, and he was potentially once a scared kid, too. He was not always a terrible father. I have memories of my youth before the abuse started, where I believed he was loving for loving’s sake. But I just can’t give grace to a man who willingly chooses to re-offend.

Where did it go wrong? Why can’t he stop? I think of him in jail alongside the other inmates and I think of the hierarchy of the prison system. I’m glad he’s there and I know his choices led to this, but at the same time, the deepest part of me is just scared for my dad.

At the end of the day as a survivor, you come to a crossroads and you have to make a choice. Do you stay wounded, succumb to it and live in shame over where you came from . . . or do you choose to say the buck stops here, not on my watch, and overcompensate the best way you know how to break cycles and move forward as a warrior?

Because of my story, I have a genuine heart for children and a drive to protect them, especially my own. I build them up and fill them with love and assurance because I know what it is to feel small and scared and worried all the time. I choose a legacy of happy, carefree childhoods because everyone deserves to have one.

I feel like I walk around with a shield to protect children, while my own biological father seeks to destroy them. It’s an exhausting battle, but it’s one that I’m here for.

I also find myself wrestling with God.

Good Christian women are supposed to forgive what happened to them and move on. I believe warriors are built through pain, but I still mourn how I grew up and there are days when I vividly remember things and it isn’t fair. It broke my heart in the deepest place. Have I not paid enough? Why is this my burden to bear?

And God’s love is for everyone, right? It’s offered freely to you and me as a wonderful blessing, but when you think of that loving grace and unconditional love being extended to everyone, do you think about child molesters?

I’m just not there yet. There will come a day when I might be ready to tackle that one, but not today. I have all that I can handle right now.

My father is a child molester, and for me there’s just no way around that one yet.

So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

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