Journal Entry by Jeff King

Apr 28, 2017 | Issue 2: Fathers, Jeff King, Journal Entry

8/31/15

April 1, 2012 is a date that will resonate with me for the rest of my life.  My family and I had just returned from a week-long spring break trip to Florida.  We were getting ready to get back to our regular work and school schedules the following day.  It was at that point that our world was turned upside down.

I was grilling dinner and my wife was going through the typical bathing process with our daughters, Grace (3 ½) & Quinn (1).  Suddenly, my wife called down to me to come upstairs.  Being in the middle of bringing dinner into the house, I responded that I’d be there in a minute.  My wife repeated that I needed to come upstairs and hear what Grace had to say.  I headed up and what I was about to hear would shake my world to the core.  My wife asked my daughter to tell me what she had just told her.  My daughter proceeded to share in great detail an incident in which my father (her grandfather) sexually abused her during the trip we had just returned from.  As my daughter finished the story, my mind went into severe “flight” mode, and without thought, the words “no”, “no” slipped from my mouth.  In response my daughter replied “yes he did!”  At that moment, I knew I had to remove myself from the situation, and I stepped away.

My father and I shared a close relationship throughout my adult life, and we were like best friends.  He was my mentor, friend and biggest fan.  He was nothing short of a hero to me.  Additionally, he was the first person I turned to as an adult for advice and direction when confronted with life’s many obstacles, challenges and questions.  Naturally, my daughter’s disclosure was an incredibly tragic moment for me and my family.   How could this be?  It took me months to get my mind around the possibility of this being reality.  As I gathered information and took a step back to think things through, it became clear to me that this in fact was possible and did happen.

The days and months that followed my daughter’s disclosure were the hardest.  In the days that followed, I confronted my father in an effort to understand what happened and why.  In those exchanges I was never able to get what all victims and their families hope for:  Understanding.  My daughter was not talking much more about the events, and my wife and I were on pins and needles, fearful that we might say or do something that would hurt her worse.  We had no confidence in our ability to handle the situation.  Fortunately, I had become aware of the Z Center in Gurnee a year prior, having attended a fundraising event.  I reached out for help and the benefits of the relationship that my family and I established with the center from that point on cannot be expressed in words.

I began working with the center as part of a parent support group.  Later, I worked one on one with counselors.  These experiences allowed me to share my story with others, allowing me to lean into my emotions, feelings and internal wounds.  Through these meetings I was able to grieve, vent and express my feelings in a safe environment void of judgment.  I learned techniques and approaches for dealing with my feelings and how to work with my daughter to help her in her own healing process.  Specifically, I learned that listening and continuing to provide my unconditional love to my daughter were the best support I could lend.

As time has continued to move forward, so too has my own healing process.  A big part of my healing has been watching my daughter work through her trauma and become the happy, healthy, energetic little girl that we previously did not see.  My father is no longer part of my life, however I’ve allowed myself to grieve the loss of the relationship that I had with him.  This was critical to confront as avoiding it was causing me to experience deep seeded feelings of anger, which were impacting my relationships with those that mattered most to me, my immediate family.  I’ve found peace with myself and my father.

While it’s hard to sum up the top lessons and pieces of advice that I’ve gained over the last three years, I have three main suggestions for any father going through a similar experience:

  1. Take care of yourself first – We’re taught from a young age to take into account others before ourselves.  I was no different.  However, in dealing with trauma events, stress levels are at a peak.  If you don’t take the time you need to breathe, process and reflect, you will be no good in helping your child or other family members.
  2. Be present – As fathers, our minds are often racing thinking about all of the things that we need to do or are responsible for.  Work, bills, family care, and other duties can cause us to lose sight of priorities, making them overwhelming especially in a time of trauma.  Try to be in the moment and present in everything you do.  That little bit of time you take to listen to your child can make all the difference not only for you, but them as well.
  3. Lean into your pain – Sexual abuse causes trauma and pain to the victim, however don’t underestimate the severity with which it impacts surrounding family members.  Feelings or rage, anger, sadness and guilt were all present for me throughout my own experience.  I had to lean into those feelings and feel the hurt before I could work through them towards healing.  It’s hard work and requires incredible energy, but it is the best path to healing.

In closing, I wouldn’t wish this situation on anyone and would have preferred not to have had to experience it.  However in retrospect I feel I am a better father today than I was before as I’ve learned so much more about myself and my daughter through this trauma.  I hope that my experience may lend some confidence and support to anyone confronted with the sexual abuse of a child.  My hope is that you will find peace in your situation and find the courage to support your child endlessly.  While it may not seem possible at time, a return to happiness and brighter days is attainable.