Being a parent is challenging and demanding. Being a parent is also life altering and enlightening. It is the most rewarding thing I have ever experienced. All you need to be successful is these five things: Patience, love, guidance, protection and time. You may not have your goal income. You may not have your dream home. You may not be working in your ideal job. But these things do not and should not influence your parenting. Your child’s self-worth does not come from the amount of money you make. Your child’s values, goals and integrity do not come from the size of your house. My husband and I have tried our best to give our daughter patience, love, guidance, protection and time. Because of that foundation she feels loved, safe, and comfortable coming to us with anything. I know we have not been perfect. I wouldn’t expect any parent to be. But I do believe if each of those elements are met then children can thrive.
These elements are critical if a child has been molested or abused. As a child that was molested, I needed every single one of these things. I needed them from my father. I did not care what job he had. I cared that he spent too many hours there. I did not care about the house we lived in. I cared that he spent more time on the house and yard than he spent on me. I needed to feel guided through the steps that came after the abuse. I needed to feel protected from worrying about abuse again. I needed to feel love and patience through that process and I did not get it.
We need these things from our fathers.
I needed these things from my father. I needed every single one.
When he was home he felt he dedicated his time and love to my brother and me. Time has many components though. Time playing in the lake, time eating dinner, and time having fun are easy. But, they are completely different than time spent listening and time being present. We had great times. But what I needed was the quiet time you spend just being with someone. I needed more real time. If I knew I could get that kind of time, I would have trusted my father with the secrets that needed to be told.
As I grew older my father spent less and less time with me. Age does not lessen the need we have for our fathers. We always need our fathers. I have wished my father “here” more times that I could ever count. He loved me from far away and at short intervals that were convenient for him. Love must be a constant, unconditional and effortless action. It is hard to feel truly loved by a man who lives 30 minutes away and chooses to only see me three times a year. Even though I never felt unloved, I never felt deeply loved.
I felt loved by my father. He loved me with his words. I believe he felt that working those long hours was his way of taking care of us and loving us. But it is hard to love enough when you are rarely home. It takes the right time to love. I always knew my father loved me. I just felt like he didn’t always know how to show it. Throughout my life I have never felt unloved by him. I just didn’t feel loved in the way I needed.
To feel loved we need to feel protected. Unless we feel protected we can’t really feel the kind of love we need. My father did not protect me. I did not feel safe. I sought safety my entire life because I never knew it as a child. As a child, I never told my father my secrets. I never told him my fears and nightmares. He wasn’t available for me. I told my mother. And she told my father. And still my father did not protect me. I needed to feel protected to feel loved. How can a child feel loved from a parent that allowed them to be hurt and then did nothing after? We cannot always protect our children. But when we learn of an injustice, we can take every measure and cross every mountain to make our child feel safe again. How is that done? It is what I wanted my father to do and what he did not do. I wanted him to say, “I will do my best to never allow anyone to hurt you again.” I wanted him to say, “I’m sorry I could not protect you then but I will protect you now.” I wanted him to ask me where I was going. I wanted him to care about who I was with. I wanted him to be involved in my life. Because if you aren’t involved how can you protect? He wasn’t involved. He didn’t protect. He didn’t create an environment where I felt safe to tell him the truth. If I felt safe enough to tell him the truth I thought he could have protected me. Yet he proved that he couldn’t because when he did know the truth he chose to do nothing. As daughters we need to feel our fathers will always be there. They need to be there during the little things and the big things. If they are there for the little things then the big things won’t be so hard to conquer. He didn’t help me conquer the big thing and that affected me for all of my childhood and into my adult life.
He did have patience with me. He would spend hours on the weekends driving the boat while I learned a new waterskiing trick. I would fall over and over and over again. And he just turned around and picked me up to keep on trying. He wanted me to succeed. I knew that in my efforts to succeed he felt very proud of me. It was his greatest quality. I always felt he was proud of me. When I won first place in my first skiing competition he was the most proud. I remember him hugging me and I felt on top of the world. I have looked back at that moment in my childhood so many times. I have wished that the pride he felt for me spilled over into all the other things I needed as a child. To have times of pride without times without anything else leaves an unbalanced child. There was no balance in my life. Having my father feel proud of me could only sustain me for so long. Being patient in only one category of your child’s life is not enough. I needed not only patience through my athletic achievements but patience through healing from the abuse I endured. A child needs to feel validated and acknowledged to heal from abuse. That takes a different level of patience, time and love. Levels that I never felt.
After I was abused I needed guidance. I had no idea what to do next. What would happen next? What were the right steps to move forward? I needed my father to guide me. I needed him to sit down with me and talk to me. I needed him to listen to my fears of the future and guide me through it. Even if he had no idea what would come next, just the assurance that he was there to walk with me through it would have been enough. I was a child. I needed my father to hold my hand and just be present. He did not do this. I felt so lost. I felt lost for so many years. He could have prevented me from ever having that feeling.
I know that finding out I was abused was a shock to my father. I know that he did not know what to do or say. I think it is very important to note that doing nothing is far worse than saying the wrong thing. At that time the “right” words were not what I needed. I just needed words. I needed him to be present. I needed him to give me that kind of time. I needed him to guide me with patience and love through the nightmare I had just lived.
The only reason he did the wrong thing is because he did nothing at all.
I didn’t want him to be the perfect father. I just needed him to do some very basic things. A child does not need extravagance. A child does not need to have their days filled with activities and events. A child, and especially a child that has been abused, needs 5 things. I needed those 5 things. I needed to KNOW I was loved, to KNOW I was safe, to KNOW I was not alone, to KNOW I had help moving forward, and to KNOW I’d be given his presence through it all.
These are the things I needed from my father.