I recently became a father. The birth of our daughter has brought so much joy to my wife and me. There is truth in what people say about the magic of childbirth and parenting.
And yet, there is so much that parenting holds that “they” do not tell you about. Especially if you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.
For a long time, I was so scared of being a dad. I was terrified of holding a vulnerable child, who was a kind of extension of my own innocence into the world. When I was a child, I was torn up by those entrusted with caring for me. Why on earth would I want to bring a new child into this world? They will only get hurt.
However, after some significant self-reflection, I have come to realize there is a deeper level of aversion to being a father. If I’m honest, there is a broken part of me that doesn’t want my child to thrive. Why should this child be allowed to experience the love and joy of a family that I never had? That’s not fair.
This is what I’ve come to realize: blessing and loving children in the world exposes what I was deprived of as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. That feels so sad to recognize. When I love other children or see them being loved, I see what was missing in my own life. What was taken from me by the evil of others.
And yet…I’ve come to realize something else as well. If my own father had reasoned the same way about me, I would not have flourished as much as I was able to in my family of origin. But during my most formative years, he didn’t take out his own losses on me. He reversed the cycle and loved me as a child. I’m thankful he isn’t the perpetrator of abuse in my story.
And you know what? I’m glad that he cherished me as a child. I want to do that even better for my child.
Taking the vengeance of my own losses on others doesn’t do any good for me or anyone else. And others have done the opposite for me: blessed me where they were cursed.
Burning out other peoples’ candles doesn’t make mine burn brighter. I can be brighter by lighting other peoples’ flames.
I want to see my daughter thrive more than me. That is such a good place to be, in my heart.
For those of you who hare survivors and who are learning to parent, I commend you. Remember that your children are a blessing. Remember that they are lovable. Remember that you will never be able to fill up the emptiness in yourself by taking away from them. It’s the other way around. You will only ever get filled up by filling up others.
It’s the great mystery of love. Love increases itself by giving itself away.
Preston Hill, Survivor, Theologian, Ph.D. Student
University of St. Andrews
Preston and his wife Chesney live in St Andrews, Scotland where he is earning his doctoral degree in theology. Preston and Chesney both love studying and discussing reformed theology and liturgical practice. They also love to weep with those who weep. They feel a call together to minister and teach both in the academy and the church. Preston is researching John Calvin’s doctrine of Christ’s descent into hell. As a male survivor and advocate, Preston is passionate about relating the significance of Christ’s own suffering and terrors in His descent into hell to the hells that we experience here and now, especially for survivors of severe trauma.
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