What True Repentance Looks Like

What True Repentance Looks Like September 30, 2014

A couple weeks ago I excerpted and linked to an article in which friend of Camels With Hammers M. Dolon Hickmon described the viciousness of the beatings his father inflicted upon him as a small child and the origins of this child abuse in explicitly religious training. Dolon has also written a mystery thriller called 13:24: A Story of Faith and Obsession that aims to raise people’s consciousness about religious child abuse. (Read the Camels With Hammers review of the book. Also, this month Dolon released a bonus chapter, supplemental to the novel.)

In response to Dolon’s recent article and its account of his father’s repentance and personal deterioration in later years, a commenter smarmily and judgmentally lashed out at Dolon, trying to shame him as follows:

Thank you for having the courage to post such an honest story! What a great lesson! Namely: That resentment is so hard to let go of and will be the death of your character – because I don’t really know what part of the story was more disturbing – your dad for abusing you or you for, in turn abusing your dad. Your (admittedly awful) dad had far more courage than any of us will ever see – in that instead of defending or denying his sins, he owned up to them.I mean, he GREW. REALLY – who does that?? Who has the courage to look back on the WHOLE OF THEIR LIFE and say, “yeah, I made huge, horrible mistakes and probably caused more pain than I provided good.”? It must be pretty satisfying to announce to the world that your attacker died alone and unloved especially with the extraspecial visual of the bloated body with flies and stuff. Go you. I’m pretty sure your dad suffered his own consequences so I’m not quite sure how your detailed reporting about his lonely death helps anyone at all. What I DO KNOW is that…had your VERY FLAWED father (who admitted he was wrong) knew you would degrade him so much after his death for the hope of of social media hits/clicks – when he already admitted he was wrong…he probably would not have welcomed those daily phone calls of yours. But this, too, is excellent info! When I am dying, I will be sure to monitor the “daily phone calls” from people I have harmed so that they don’t write such a horrific obit about me. In closing,I might be completely wrong, but from what I can see… you, dear sir. HAVE LEARNED NOTHING.

In reply to this attempt to bully him, a child abuse victim, Dolon’s account of his actual relationship with his father and the extent of his father’s repentance blew me away:

I’ve been sharing my personal story in print for many years now. When my father was alive, he was the first person to read every chapter and article. Had he been alive when I’d written this, he would have pored over it as he did all the rest–reading it through three or four times while smoking and sipping coffee, then faxing the sheets back to me with circles on the typos and notes in the margins. Before I went to work on the second draft, he and I would have talked about it for a few hours. Like me, he had an analytical mind with a deep appreciation for symbol and nuance. I have no doubt that he would have loved everything about this piece–including the flies. Were he alive, my father would have insisted that I publish this. He’d repented; which means that he was free of any need to justify, rationalize, or defend the wrong that he’d done. He did not need to hide and would never have asked me to lie by omission on his behalf. He’d become a better person–so much better that he was willing to stand up and publicly condemn his former actions and beliefs. That kind of growth is a real accomplishment. I am certain that there is nothing in this article that he would have been ashamed for the world to see.

As for my own part, I am also not ashamed.

Healthy emotional responses depend on proper function in our ‘feeling’ organ, which is the brain. Like a heart or a kidney, this organ’s function can be severely impaired by exposure to adverse conditions during the years when it us under physical development. Long-term child abuse results in chronic exposure to high levels of stress hormones–chemicals including epiniphrine, endorphines and cortisol–which act on the same receptors as street drugs like methamphetamine and heroin. Such exposure leads to predictable changes, including physical abnormalities that can be photographed, and measurable chemical and electrical dysregulation. Depression, anxiety, self-loathing, hopelessness, helplessness, despair and resentment are the symptoms of a diseased organ’s malfunction. Your expressions of contempt are no less foolish and inappropriate than if you had chosen to insult the low-intelligence a person who had suffered cognitive impairment from eating lead-based paint chips during childhood. The emotional devastations of child abuse are consequences, not moral failings.

To clarify another of your points, I will offer some further detail about his death. A year or so before, he’d had a hernia that required surgery. Knowing that he would not do anything to spare himself pain or even to save his own life, I dug up his service records and enrolled him for the VA benefits that he’d earned through his service during Vietnam. During his first doctor visit, he listed me as his medical surrogate. He told me that he didn’t wish to die, but neither did he love his life. He said he’d lived as a hermit, and his wish was to die that way–at home, alone. His biggest wish was that his passing not cause anyone any trouble or inconvenience. He didn’t care what became of his body, which he referred to as a husk. He would have chuckled at the supposed impropriety of my detailing the manner of his death and the disposition of his body.

My father died of sudden heart attack, most likely while getting dressed for work in the morning. Over the previous several years, we’d spent hour upon hour day after day plotting the details of a novel that we both hoped would spare other families from the heartache that had befallen ours. He was extremely proud of my book, as he was of all my other efforts to advocate for abused children. He kept the cover on the wall in his shop, so he could brag to his occasional visitors about it. Ironically, I wrote the final words of the final chapter on the morning of my father’s death. Knowing that he would be leaving for work shortly, I rushed to fax the pages to him before he left his house. Unfortunately, when that fax arrived he was already dead. At the time, another article I’d written about my childhood was going viral on the web, and he was so excited that he finally broke down and bought a smart phone and signed up for an email address for the first time in his life. When he didn’t answer his phone for a couple of days, I assumed he was having a problem with his new phone. I found the final pages of the novel we’d written together, unread on the fax machine in his garage.

Anyone who thinks that this article is a final swipe at my dead father, either didn’t read it or didn’t understand a bit of what they read. I am proud of my dad, and he was proud of me. He would have been proud of this article. And we were both proud of our relationship, which although limited, was one-hundred percent genuine.

Now that’s what I call true repentance and accountability. For more on Dolon’s father’s later years and repentance, check out the expanded version of the original article.

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