Written by Fig.
CW: child sexual abuse, family trauma
Tonight, after three beers, one and a half hard seltzers, and 23 years, I did something I’ve never thought to do before: I searched “my dad is a pedophile”.
At first, unsurprisingly, I didn’t find much more than a few articles along the lines of “How can I get custody of my child after a sex offending conviction?” But that’s because I don’t use Google, and that’s what prompted me to start writing this piece.
When my biological father was convicted of molesting my then 11 year old half-sister (and tried for abusing even more children), I was about two years old. I don’t remember much about him, except for a few foggy early memories and some clearer ones of visiting him in prison. (My mom had no idea what to do with her toddler who, all of a sudden, didn’t have a dad anymore and who was too young to understand why he went away.)
There was a lot of tension in my family. My sisters never wanted to come visit their mom and kid sibling who made a weekend of visiting the man that committed unspeakable crimes against their own. My mom was always frustrated and heartbroken that her children viewed her as an accomplice, when in her eyes, she was just trying her best in an impossible situation.
That shame is not yours. Those unforgivable decisions and actions are not yours. That burden is not yours to bear.
I say “in her eyes” because I want to honor my sisters and myself and acknowledge that our mom was often far from perfect. It was an impossible situation for all of us.
Soon after we moved back to California (where my mom grew up and where my sisters lived with their dad), my mom met a man who would become my stepdad, and then, my full-fledged, 100%, “no, not step” dad. He’s no knight in shining armor, but he’s my dad and I love him as such.
Even still, there was always this gaping black hole of familial dirty laundry. I grew up tip-toeing around my family history as if my bio dad were Voldemort himself, though I understand it was for good reason. We never talked about what happened and we never talked about how the family-wide known fact that my bio dad was a serial pedophile was not “just nothing” to me and my young psyche.
Though we never talked about it, everyone felt the weight of what happened. Because what was left unspoken informed and influenced every interaction my family had together, it made me hyper-aware of the impact that He Who Must Not Be Named had—and continues to have—on my family.
It made me spend my whole life wondering,
“Do I look like him?”
“Is he who my family sees when they look at me?”
“Should I feel guilty that, to some degree, I look for my bio dad in every crowd?”
“Do they resent me for being a living, breathing reminder of the trauma my sister survived?”
“Have I been callous or insensitive, never having been taught the gravity of the situation, only the secrecy of it?”
“If I hadn’t been born would my mom and bio dad’s relationship have lasted long enough for this to happen?”
“Am I the reason why I have had such a distant relationship with my sisters, and part of the reason why my sisters have such a strained relationship with our mom?”
“Did he hurt me too?”
From a rational, consciously healing adult’s perspective, I know I’m not responsible for this situation or at fault for any of these things. But somewhere deep down there’s a little kid, who once thought they were the spitting image of a mugshot they found on Megan’s Law, whose intrusive thoughts tell them that this is in their DNA, and who can’t help but to feel some warped sense of responsibility for their family falling apart.
I stake no claim as an expert in this regard, but if you’re someone like me whose close family member—blood or chosen—harmed other members of your family or people that you know, understand that it’s ok to acknowledge the pain, confusion, and anger that has affected you. This is real. This is valid. You are valid in everything you feel about your situation.
Whether it personally happened to you or not (or if, like me, you feel in your bones it did but there is no definitive way to prove it) you are valid, loved, held, and supported as you work through everything that comes up in processing these feelings.
If you’re someone like me whose close family member—blood or chosen—harmed other members of your family or people that you know, understand that it’s ok to acknowledge the pain, confusion, and anger that has affected you. This is real. This is valid. You are valid in everything you feel about your situation.
I also want to acknowledge that because I was very young when this happened, I hadn’t yet developed a strong, memorable attachment to my bio dad. That is the only experience I can speak to. I want to honor the people who were affected by something like this later in their life. Whose feelings and family fallout are even more complicated because of the years of memories—happy and otherwise—and the feelings of betrayal, of not knowing who that person in your life really was after all that time. I don’t know what that’s like, but I hold you with compassion and love.
I’m writing this because I’m not the only one who has experienced this—and I sure as hell am not the only one with a sex offender parent who has had to unpack feelings of deep shame of their blood, of the very essence of who they are.
But I can offer the same love and understanding that I’m trying VERY hard to offer myself after years of hardly even acknowledging the depth of my feelings: That shame is not yours. Those unforgivable decisions and actions are not yours. That burden is not yours to bear.
Reading this, especially if you’re personally affected by this topic, is really heavy. Take a moment to find your breath, shake it out a little bit, and know that you deserve peace.
About the Author: Fig is an anarchist, harm reductionist, and full-spectrum doula with a passion for providing accessible, trauma-informed support to all people. Their mission in this life is to sow seeds of love and work to build the world they believe in within the frameworks of reproductive and transformational justice.