I hope that my story will remind fatherless girls and women that their life and stories matter.
In October 1999, I was quietly sitting in the Attorney General’s office, waiting for the verdict of my abuser.
I was attending Law School at the time and I knew that my social reject status was well behind me. I had been raised by my great-grandparents since infancy; my mother abandoned me when I was a few months old and the identity of my father had been a well-guarded secret. When I was 12, I was transferred to a foster home after the passing of my elderly heroes.
At the time, there was a sense that the experience of social service kids didn’t matter that much. Finding them a roof over their head was already doing them a huge favor.
It had always been my secret hope that of my foster families would adopt me. I dreamt of a traditional family and I wanted to tell the whole world that I was finally accepted and loved by people — not despised by society because my mother discarded me and I had no father to protect me. I thought that if I behaved well enough, then my foster kins would love me and adopt me into their happy-go-lucky family.
My naivete at the time paved the way for upcoming disappointment.
In the Summer of 1998, my foster dad took me shopping. It was the first time he took me shopping without the whole tribe. We went to Kiabi (the French equivalent of H&M) and he bought me a swimsuit and some Summer clothes for my upcoming trip to Poland. I thought that paternal love had finally emerged and that they were all finally viewing me as their daughter.
During our drive home, he asked not to say anything to my “aunt” (that’s how we were supposed to call our foster parents — uncle and auntie). I went up to my bedroom to put my clothes away. He came up, asking to see the clothes on me. I stood there for a few instants, waiting for him to go down that so I could change. Except he didn’t.
He stood in the entryway and said that I didn’t need to be embarrassed — he would see his daughter in her underwear all the time. Mind you that the French tend to be a lot less modest in terms of parading in the nude than we are on this side of the pond so I thought it was normal. Yet, I was embarrassed so I turned around to change; at least he wouldn’t see the front of my body.
I tried on the swimsuit and clothes he bought for me.
Months go by and he would buy me less clothes and more underwear. Strangely enough, he always wanted to see them on me to make sure that they fit me well. I reveled in the new trust that my foster dad seemed to have developed towards me. He was treating me like I was his daughter as boundaries seemed to recede.
One evening, I was watching tv in the living room, by myself. My foster mom had gone to bed earlier than usual and everyone else was in their bedroom. He came home from his late shift as a police officer, as jovial as usual. He grabbed a bowl of rice pudding and sat at the long, country dinner table. He had changed into his pajamas. He got up and went on to explain how he went running earlier that morning and had irritation around his private parts due to excessive sweat and pubic hair. He proceeded to pull down his pants to show me. He wasn’t wearing any boxers and asked me if I’d like him to shave my bikini line in the bathroom upstairs. My throat couldn’t let any sound out. I could only utter that I was tired and needed to go to bed.
A huge wall of bricks collapsed on me as I realized that there was nothing paternal or well-intended about a man shaving the hair around my private parts. That night, that it dawned on me that he had never intended to treat me or love me as his daughter but merely as a social anomaly that no one would believe if she spoke up so I didn’t.
We were nearing the end of the school year. I would move into my own studio within a few months, and I would begin my law studies. I didn’t want to leave my family on bad terms as I still needed their help to move and transition into the next stage of my life. I was 18 at the time. I had told my High School boyfriend everything as it went along and I would spend as much time in his home as I could to avoid further awkward encounters. I knew that my words wouldn’t hold concrete weight against his but I was mostly concerned with the proper foundation of my new life. The pursuit of my dream to become a lawyer was far more important than what he had done to me. Once an attorney, I would get to protect and enforce the brilliant force of justice in the world.
I was seeing a therapist at the time and the weight of betrayal wouldn’t leave the cage of my chest. I had been betrayed so many times by the people who were supposed to care for me. I couldn’t let go of this one.
What had I done wrong?
My foster mom was very strict on our attire when we were roaming around the house and outside as well — so I never wore anything that would send the wrong message. My foster mom would have sent me back to my bedroom to change in any case. I wasn’t allowed to wear skirts above my knee or low cut tops. I was more a grunge rebel so I never wore skirts anyway. I wore ripped jeans, floral Dr. Martens, and no makeup. What could have possibly given him the green light?
I knew (or so I thought?) that my therapist could not breach confidentiality without my approval so I felt safe sharing the heavy disappointment that rested like led on my heart. I still remember watching my soft-spoken, 60-something bearded psychologist picking up the phone, dialing a number, and asking to speak to the social worker in charge of my case.
I sunk deeper in my chair, registering the brutal unraveling that would occur in the next long while. What I didn’t know at the time was that a psychological professional was legally obligated to report cases of potential child endangerment. I would have never spoken up if I had known that. My plan was to leave that part of my life behind and move on to independence. To a life no longer branded by my label as a fatherless woman.
A couple of weeks later, I found myself sitting in the Attorney General’s office, waiting to hear the final verdict of the investigation. I didn’t want him to be punished; I only wanted the whole ordeal to be over with. The Attorney General scolded me for making up a web of lie to make an innocent man fall. She stood over me and said that I should be ashamed of myself; she said that she would personally take care of me if I ever attempted to destroy a man’s life again. She called me a fraud and a liar.
Mortified, I left her office swearing off justice forever. I dropped out of Law School the very next day and a year later, I moved to America to begin anew.
When we begin life without the protective net of paternal love and presence, we do have a disadvantage. We have to work twice as hard to build our sense of self and trust in the world. Retrieving our truth and owning our story without shame is part of rebuilding ourselves from the inside out. As we tell our story with bold and vibrant love, we regain sovereignty over our life once again, we break the myth that we are unworthy because our father never loved us enough to stick around. We learn to father ourselves and to birth an inner force that ultimately become the bridge to our greatest dream.
We heal our father deficit by walking back and forth between the part of ourselves that is loving, strong, wise from the times of scarce love and the parts of our heart that still wail in pain for the fatherly armor we could never hide behind.
Maybe by walking back to the lines of our own story and by bringing them into the light of this world, do we remove the self-imposed aura of the fatherless daughter.
Maybe it is only by telling our story that we can reconcile with the part of ourselves that we have always judged and dismissed as ineligible for love.
May you become the warden of your truth to shine around the world and illuminate those whose heart have been forgotten.