Thank You, Dad

Thank You, Dad August 27, 2013

by AJ cross posted from her blog I am Phoenix


Thank you for showing me who I am not.

Age five

You beat me with a rod because I laughed when my baby brother shot peas out of his mouth and laughed. My baby brother wasn’t obeying you when told to eat neatly, and you said he was old enough to have the devil beat out of him. You said the next one who laughed when my baby brother spit peas onto his high chair would get the rod. The next one was me. So you beat me with a wooden rod.

You pushed me out of anger. I was too shy to dance, but my sister was dancing and being foolish, and you praised her. I got up the courage to do a twirl or two, and you got angry because I was obstructing your view of her. You pushed me out of anger, and I fell, cutting myself and bleeding. You promised me a sticker to make up for pushing me, but when we got to the farmer’s market with the stickers, you forgot. I reminded you, but you hushed me down so my other brothers and sisters wouldn’t hear about the transaction. You got me a 2 cent sticker the size of my pinkie, but I wasn’t able to say I didn’t like it because I was afraid of you, that you would hit me again for speaking up.

When I was 5, I crashed my tricycle off of a sidewalk onto a concrete slab several feet below. The handle bars swung around and hit me on the condyle of my jaw, knocking it out of alignment, and causing intense migraine. I laid there for hours, crying and thinking I was dying, too afraid to move. Finally I limped inside and my mom comforted me, but then you found us. I was in my sisters crib drinking out of a sippie cup eating a Ritz cracker. You lost your temper when you saw me. You started roaring and yelling at me. I felt the intensity of your anger like flames sinjing me. You ordered me out of the room, out of your sight. You told me never to make my mom baby me again, and to never get in my sister’s crib again. I felt disgusting, like I didn’t deserve to live. I thought you wished I had died out there on the pavement, and that you were mad that someone as disgusting as me had lived and dared to show my face afterwards. I was afraid of you from then on. I’ve had daily migraines, jaw pain and scoliosis since then. You never sent me to a doctor, and shot me dirty looks when I was a teenager and suggested we go get it checked. You told me it was God’s will for that to happen, and that if I spoke up again, you’d put me in my place and make me wish I’d never opened my mouth.

Dad, I had my first panic attacks when I heard your footsteps thundering up the stairs when you came home from work. I was 5 years old, and I would stop breathing. I would make sure my hair was perfectly straight and my toys were perfectly in line so you wouldn’t yell at me.

Dad, you taught me that I am worthless. You taught me that my emotions are worthless. You taught me that speaking up was pointless, and you didn’t ever want to hear my point of view. Dad, you roared at me in anger the few times I attempted to speak up when I was in the same room as you. Dad, I was afraid of you and still am. I couldn’t meet your eyes back then and still can’t.

Dad, you took us to church three times a week and we sang about God’s love, salvation, the joy of the Christian walk. We sat eight in a row in the pew, all the arrows in your quiver lined up so quiet and well behaved, the perfect family. We were shaking in our boots, afraid of you. You abused us emotionally, psychologically, physically and sexually. Some of us starved, while you locked food up in ammunition boxes in the fridge. Why did you do that? You denied us medical treatment. You had the money, but you spent it on expensive toys for yourself. Why did you do that? You made us girls feel sexually dirty. Why did you do that? You picked me out as your special target. You hated me most, Dad. I asked you why on the phone last year, do you remember? You told me that I reminded me of yourself the most, and that’s why you disliked me most. You said it matter of factly, as if that was all there was to it. I don’t know, Dad. I kind of think that if I had a child who reminded me of myself more than my other children, I’d be tempted to love that child the most, if anything.

Dad, you taught me that God is angry, vindictive and cruel. You taught me that God doesn’t care about my emotions, and that he thinks I’m worthless too, aside from the mass salvation he provides to those who fear him enough to accept it.

Dad, you taught me hate myself. You taught me and my sisters how to submit to men without asking questions. You taught me that any kind of chastisement or punishment at the hands of a man was really God’s divine strengthening of my character, or a punishment for my sins. That either way I should accept this treatment with open arms, praising God for his generous discipline. You taught me that I was worthless and always would be, and that I could look forward to a lifetime of further abuse and loving punishment from God, praise the name of the Father and his Almighty Son, amen.

I got sick a few years ago. Real sick. I had to give up my career as a teacher, my apartment, transportation, my independence. I had to come home. I had to ask for help. I wasn’t able to shower by myself, make food, or stand up. I was dying. I wrote out my will and all my passwords. And twice, Dad, you told me I couldn’t come home. You told my mom to tell me to go to hospice, and that I shouldn’t expect a ride there from you. I had no where else to go to. That was my breaking point, Dad. You knew it, too, but you didn’t care.

You think you’re worthless, Dad, and that’s one reason you can’t help but try to drown others like me. You taught me to believe that I was everything that I am not. If I didn’t experience being your daughter, I wouldn’t have been forced to look inside of myself to find out my true value laying hidden there all the time.

So thank you, Dad. You meant to squeeze all the life out of me and leave me by the side of the road to die. You played your part well. If we were all actors in a play, with life itself as the stage, then you Dad would have won several Oscars for your tough guy, sadistic portrayal as my father. Kudos to you, you did break my spirit, and strip me down to absolutely nothing.

But in that nothing, when I was sick at the point of dying, with no family to comfort me, I should have been feeling very worthless. But surprisingly enough, I heard refreshing snippets and phrases coming to me from the “world” of all places, not from the church or you. From Nike ads, from the ads for Dove deodorant, from L’oreal, from my New Agey friends who posted inspiring messages on Facebook to each other that they loved each other, and that the beauty of life was inside of them. Something deep inside of me said that was true, and that there was love and life outside of religion, outside of Christianity, outside of my family. So I went on a mission to find out more, and guess what, Dad?

I found out from the voice inside of me that it doesn’t matter what you say. I am worthy. I am lovable. I am beautiful. I am worth it. I don’t deserve punishment. I don’t deserve abuse. I don’t have to endure pain to be learn lessons. Life is not horrible. There is something beautiful inside of me, and it’s the same thing that’s inside of you, and all of us.

So, thank you, Dad. You played your part well in my life. You didn’t teach me that I was worthy and lovable. You taught me the opposite. But even so, I found out anyway. And who knows, maybe my belief in myself is stronger now than if you had just spoon fed this to me since I was a baby.

The neurons and DNA and cells in my young child’s body were programmed miserably since age 5, in a way that made me fearful, tense, anxious, unloved, and toxic. But that does not concern me. Right here and now with my adult mind and heart, I am resetting all neuron connections, all my DNA, all the cells in my body. My heart’s magnetic field is strong, and it influences my whole body. I am being reprogrammed so that I am growing more loving, more flexible, juicier, more vibrant, stretchy, relaxed, wholesome, balanced, settled, grounded, happier, more content, and more joyful. I’ve come home to myself, and that is a beautiful place.

Thank you, Dad. I might forget every now and again when I see a photo of you or walk past you at a party. I might forget and think that you ruined a good portion of my life. But then I will remember how good I do have it now. You showed me very clearly everything I am not, and then you pulled the rug out from under me. You clearly showed me in no uncertain terms that there was zero love for me at my neediest moment. And in that moment of extreme clarity, when there was nothing there, I still felt love. It was coming from absolutely no where, for no reason at all.

So thank you, Dad. Thank you for signing up to play this role in my life. It has been difficult, but it has caused me to discover that I am loved, in a very deep way that nobody can take from me. Namaste

Comments open below

Read everything by AJ!

AJ was raised in a spiritually abusive cult based on the teachings of ATI’s Bill Gothard. She has five siblings. After enough time AJ developed Chronic Fatigue, Adrenal Burnout and PTSD from the stress of her childhood. Her parents refused to help her in her ongoing health battle. She is married to a man that has recently emerged from spiritually abusive religion and together they are healing and moving towards daily joy! She blogs at I Am Phoenix

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce


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  • Tracy Caraker

    Wow, that makes me so angry. He should be in prison or dead. Glad to see that AJ is healing and moving on. No child should have to live through that. Ever….

  • Mary

    Whew. That was tough to read.

    In a way I think you give your dad too much credit. I like to believe that we don’t need suffering to make us strong — though sometimes it does. Obviously, as a parent, I’m hoping that my children will end up strong and centered even though I’m doing my best to spare them the kind of suffering you went through.

    To me it seems like, parents are supposed to be the people who are in your corner, like in boxing, so that when you get beat up they can give you a safe place to rest between rounds and patch up your wounds and encourage you. We can’t really make our kids any stronger, can’t make them succeed… But if we don’t do our jobs, if we leave their kids hurting and discouraged, or (like your dad seems to have done) even wound them further, we can sure make our kids weaker.

    Kids deserve all the credit for their successes, but don’t deserve all the blame for their failures. Kids who thrive in spite of bad parenting are heroes are strong not because of what their parents did to them, but in spite of it — they had that extra strength in themselves, but should never have had to use it.

    Corner men, sherpas, pit crew, coaches — we’re support staff, and there are no guarentees of things going well if we’re good, but to succeed with bad support, you have to be almost superhuman (or find support elsewhere.)

  • I am nearly in tears reading this. The older I get the more sure I am that some people shouldn’t be given charge of a goldfish, let alone a kid. Sending you big zen hugs.

  • AJ

    Aww, thank you, my sister! I agree, to be entrusted with a child is a precious thing.

  • Belinda Contague

    It’s very nearly impossible to break the training of childhood. You have to stay on top of it all the time and never sink. So be strong. Stay with voices online or in person who are positive and healthy. Don’t be tempted to wallow, not even just to see how far you’ve come. Stay strong.

  • AJ

    Thanks, Tracy! My family treats him like a demi-god, and tells me to stop listening to the devil if I try to bring up how his actions were not loving. They tell me I’m being un-Christ like and that I should stop talking and sweep it under the carpet like a good Christian would. It’s healing to get my story out where normal, healthy, people can respond! <3

  • Joy Cody

    I was raised in a different kind of home, and I’m raising my children in a different kind of home, but this story made me hug my kids extra tightly (with much protest from my five year old) and tell them how loved, amazing, strong, smart, and funny they are. I wish I could do the same to you. No child should live like that, and it’s amazing that you’ve come so far from that beginning. Never forget that you’re loved, amazing, strong, smart and funny. And never forget that you deserve everything good and beautiful.

  • Mary

    Whew. That was hard to read — I can’t imagine how hard it was to live through.

    As a parent trying to spare my children as much of the kind of suffering you experienced as I can, I am a little worried by the implication that suffering makes you strong. I think it CAN make some people strong, but more often it saps a person’s strength, and leaves them weak.

    I see my job as a parent being like that of a boxer’s “corner men” — give my kids a safe place to rest between rounds, patch up their wounds and encourage them. Or like a race drivers’ pit crew, or a mountain climber’s sherpas, or an athlete’s coach or trainer. All support staff who can’t make you stronger, but if they don’t do their job well, they can make you weaker, can handicap you. My children’s accomplishments are their own, but their failures may be partly mine.

    I think your accomplishments are in spite of your dad, not because of him. You had that extra strength within you already, but you should never have had to use it.

    (Apologies if a version of this posts twice)

  • Rose ASL

    I’m so sorry you went through this. There are some people who are simply incapable of love. You aren’t one of them, and I’m glad your heart survived even when your spirit was crushed. The world needs more people like you to help it recover from people like him.

  • texcee

    This is the language of extreme abuse. I’m so glad that you were able to break away.

  • angelinaizzieparker

    I am so glad you are doing ok now. Stay strong AJ. We love you.

  • ToonForever

    I’m shattered.

    For years I was the angry one. Not like this dad, thankfully – there was enough love in my upbringing to prevent that – but still my anger ruled the day and the house, and while I didn’t physically abuse my family, I psychologically and verbally did.

    My therapist helped me see that I walked around the house with an M80 in my hand, and nobody here would ever know when I would suddenly set it off.

    I’ve been in therapy for nearly 2 years and found the sources of my own pain. My children still live here at home and I get to reverse course. I’ve been able to talk with my kids, each of them from their own place, and own up to the seeds of self-doubt and self-hatred I’d planted in them. I’ve been able to bring the beginning of healing in my relationship with my wife, their mother.

    I still wonder how she managed to stay with me.

    Carefully now I root around those bitter roots with my kids, trying gently to uproot them, see them for what they are, set them aside, and replant belated but much needed seeds of love and self-worth, of trust and self-confidence.

    ***You hated me most, Dad. I asked you why on the phone last year, do you remember? You told me that I reminded me of yourself the most, and that’s why you disliked me most.***

    My youngest is most like me. I’ve always been hardest on him. And this is why. I can’t explain it either. But maybe, being the youngest, his soil might be a little softer too. Maybe those roots will come up a little easier.
    One moment at a time.
    And maybe all three of them will learn the lessons the author learned but in an environment of love. Maybe when I am gone and the only parts of me to see are the little bit in them, they’ll have learned that it does come from within. May I have helped them to see that they don’t need me, or anyone else, that they have all they need within.
    I hope they thank me too, but I hope that I can be grateful in return and not ashamed.

  • Melanie Adams

    your story made me cry. i want to say to you that i’m in awe of your ability to recover from all of that. i can only imagine how hard that has been, i’m so proud of you. i wish i could hug you in person but an imaginary one will have to do. i know your story will help others, thanks for sharing it!

  • AJ

    Thanks Texcee! <3

  • AJ

    I agree that internal wiring set during childhood is tough to retune, since it’s so automatic. Thankfully I have you wonderful readers here, and my husband who is starting to be more supportive. It helps me to not take it personally, to know any child with my nature in my shoes would have been treated that way, and that he was acting out of his own pain and was so wrecked himself that he wasn’t and isn’t able to empathize. Not an excuse for him, but it helps me realize that I am loveable with or without his reinforcement. 🙂

  • Lolly

    How nice of your family to pour an extra portion of “you’re not forgiving the way we want stop talking” sauce on top.

    You don’t have to sweep it under the rug, forget it, forgive it, explain it away, or anything. It’s not your job to do anything but take care of you.

  • AJ

    Now this is what the world needs, men turning in their tracks and making ammends. I commend you for going into therapy and becoming more self aware. Your children and wife are hurting in ways they might not ever be able to verbalize. Please shower them with love as much as you can.

  • AJ

    Awww, many hugs back to you, Melanie! Much love to you! You guys are my angels. 🙂

  • AJ

    I know, right! That’s what my inner spirit is telling me… I don’t have to back down and repress myself. That’s unhealthy, and I actually ended up with chronic fatigue and adrenal burnout because of a lifetime of doing that… being the good daughter who shut her mouth. No more of that! 🙂

  • ToonForever

    Reading things like this reminds me to do so, and makes me unspeakably grateful that it’s not too late, that I had a wife and others around me to help me see that I needed to turn around…

  • tangledindreams

    I too cried through your story. Thank you for sharing. I wish you happiness and love!

  • Heriberto Llamas

    WOW! I have one daughter and she is our everything, how can a father do this to his own kids? Heartbroken. <3 you, be strong keep on going.

  • AJ

    Awww, thank you Rose! Hugs to you!

  • AJ

    Joy, thank you! I will remember this. Your kids are lucky to have you as their mom. 🙂 Much love to you!

  • AJ

    Thank you so much, my sister. Much love to you!

  • AJ

    Angelinaizzieparker, thank you! I am glad to have found support here… it does mean a lot to me. 🙂

  • AJ

    Mary, thank you for your supportive words. You make a point I’ve been chewing on for some time. There’s this idea that people need to suffer in order to get stronger and learn life lessons. I am recently feeling like this is an old belief that doesn’t serve me anymore. The tone of my article was lighthearted and full of ‘thanks’ but I was being facetious. There are better ways to learn character than through suffering. This is still a new concept to me, though, so I will be mulling over it for awhile.

    It does sound like I’m giving my dad a lot of credit, more than the situation warrents. There’s more to the story. After he completely shut me off when I was sick to the point of going into hospice care, I gave up trying to get his approval for the first time in my life. In doing so, I stopped dumbing my mind down and accepting his religion without questions. When I did that, all these toxic beliefs that I used to hold onto just to please my dad started falling away, and I started to view things in a much healthier way. It has changed my whole life perspective, and I feel free and so joyful now, compared to before. In my mind, I think that if he hadn’t betrayed me, I wouldn’t have freed my mind, so that is where my thankfulness comes in.

    Yes, what I’ve come through is in spite of my dad, not because of him. I do have that inner strength in me, the same that’s inside all of us. You’re right, I shouldn’t have had to use that inner strength. It sapped me of way too much energy, and I’m even paying for that now by having chronic fatigue. Sometimes I think that I chose my life before I was born, which means that for some reason I chose to undergo all of this. I don’t understand why I would have done that, though. I’m still working out the kinks, but in the meantime I have a lot to think about. Thanks for the food for thought! 🙂

  • AJ

    I replied below your other comment! 🙂

  • AJ

    Heriberto, I know, right! A child is such a treasure, and it’s an honor to be entrusted with a young, innocent being. Much love to you and your family. 🙂

  • Guest
  • OK1

    Dear AJ, this sent shivers down my spine. Now, THIS is a tough life. How do you even start recovering from 360 degrees abuse like this….

    People have one episode like this and their life is a misery. It must hurt when you have a big family and no one to rely one because of your dad and the upbringing they’ve got.

    And your mom.. I wouldn’t want to be a mother whose children can be abused in front of her without being able to say a word.. My heart goes out to you and her.

    Please be strong and continue surrounding yourself with loving, positive, non-judgmental people.

    If you can ever find it in your heart to forgive your father, you may be able to feel better yourself, to heal . But boy, it is even hard for me to write, I can imagine how hard it is to do.
    My best wishes to you for your life where abuse like this won’t exist anymore.

  • AlisonCummins

    The framing I came to after an abousive relationship; “I learned so much about myself and the world which helped make me the person I am today. However, I paid too high a price for that knowledge.”

  • AJ

    Thank you, OK1! I stil get flashbacks and have some ingrained toxic thought patterns but when I recently had this huge epiphany that I am love, and that the way I was treated is no reflection of my self worth, something changed in me. I used to attract negative, demeaning people to myself without thinking about it, but now that my inner thought patterns are shifting and are getting healthier, I find myself starting to be surrounded by healthy, loving normal people such as yourself. This forum is the first place I’ve had a healthy response to what has happened to me! It is helping me to heal. Much love to you!

  • AJ

    It’s a price none of us should pay, that is the truth. None of us do deserve it.

  • Saraquill

    Eek. *hugs and a teddy bear*

    Were you ever able to get your mouth treated?

  • OK1

    That’s right. I too found that when I think differently, life starts to change, people around me start to change. Interesting, isn’t it?
    If you are ever interested, this is how cognitive therapy started to help people with depression and anxiety, and became very successful. It helps to find and counteract self-defeating thought patterns. Check it out…
    You ARE love, and you are very unique in your experience. It would break 9 people out of 10, but not you. Next time you have toxic thought patterns, I suggest you think about this and feel proud of yourself for everything you have achieved, and everyone who cares about you. I will be thinking of you and wishing that every day of your life is filled with joy and love. You need it, and of all people so deserve it.

  • AJ

    I will keep cognitive therapy in mind. I’ve been trying different forms of therapy lately, trying to see what’s a good fit. Thank you for your uplifting words. Many hugs to you!

  • AJ

    Saraquill, thanks for the hug! I didn’t get my mouth/jaw/TMJ treated. I tried through braces, and am actually now getting massage, structural integration/rolfing and myofacial release to release the pain, but so far it hasn’t worked. Hoping to find something holistic that doesn’t involve surgery! 🙂

  • Madame

    What a sad, sad story to read. I’m sorry you suffered like that, AJ.
    This post is a reminder of how important it is for adults to face the demons in their lives. I was raised in a big family. Things like eating a candy at school (which was strictly forbidden as a means to avoid cavities), granted rod and other punishments. I often felt my feelings were disregarded, and I never, ever, ever felt good enough. Recently, I’ve realized how much shame and fear I grew up with.

    I have three children of my own, and I’m trying my best to not pass on these insecurities to them, to show grace in their weaknesses, and to help them grow without shame.
    Circumstances are far from ideal. My husband has his own pile of muck to work through, and I feel very alone. Still, I’m trying my best to pull myself together and be the mom my children need. My demons are not their fault.