***Trigger Warning: This post is very raw for me, and it contains some mildly graphic descriptions. Please be aware that this post could be a trigger for some.***
It was summer. For any ten year old, summer means two things: no school, and tons of time with friends. For me, it meant those things, as well. But it meant something else, too. You see, my dad was in school, working toward a degree in Meteorology. My mom was working full time, so during the summer, my dad took time off from school to watch us, so that my brothers and I wouldn’t have to go to daycare. In theory, this was a perfect setup. We got to stay home for two months, playing outside and watching old sitcoms, lounging around in our pajamas until whatever hour we felt like changing into play clothes. And that’s pretty much how it went for my brothers. For me, there was a different routine.
You see, every morning that my mom went to work, my dad invited (translation: forced) me to join him in our family room for daddy-daughter time. At the start of the summer, this felt like the most special time for me. I had always been a daddy’s girl, ever since my mom married my step-dad when I was five. Never having met my biological father, and having had a rough start to life with my mom’s first husband, I had embraced this man with an open heart. He was my daddy, and I was his baby girl. Like all daddy’s girls, I knew I could get my way most of the time with a bat of my eyelashes and an extra tight squeeze around his waist. At ten years old, I thought of this behavior as playful and loving. I would come to realize much later in life that my dad received it as flirtation. So when our private morning times began, I secretly felt like the “favorite” when my dad wouldn’t let my brothers come into the room while we sat and watched The Price Is Right together.
I can’t remember when the change started happening. At some point that summer, my dad began having me sit on his lap while we watched TV, instead of sitting next to him on the couch. I remember feeling uncomfortable because he was always just in his robe and underwear. But I thought, even at that young age, that there must be something wrong with me that I would feel weird about sitting on my dad’s lap. After all, he seemed perfectly happy and didn’t act like it was weird at all. So I grinned and snuggled and acted like I was happy, too. Sometimes my brothers would try to come into the family room, either to tell on each other for something, or to ask for a snack, or if they could go play outside. Every time they would try to come in, especially if I was sitting on my dad’s lap, he would yell at them to get out. That started feeling weird to me after a while, too. But who was I to question my dad’s authority?
One morning, I came into the family room with a nervous request. The day before, a friend had invited me to go to the movies with her and her family. I had completely forgotten to ask my parents while my mom was home that night. So there I was, at my morning visit with my dad, and I had to ask him if it was ok for me to go. I wasn’t nervous that he would say no. I somehow knew what I would have to do to get him to say yes, and that made me nervous.
It was the first time I remember kissing my dad on the mouth. We might have exchanged a mutual peck on the lips, like most parents do with their little ones, before. But this was different. This was…
“Daddy, can I please go with Susan and her parents to the movies today?” I held my breath.
“I don’t know, baby, it’s going to cost you.” He grinned.
“I have money, daddy. I have it saved up in my bank.” Problem solved.
“No, I don’t mean it will cost you money. It’s going to cost you something else.” He touched my leg and I shuddered. I didn’t know why. “It’s going to cost you a kiss.”
“Ok!” I bounced in for a peck. That was easy!
“No, this is going to cost you a much better kiss than that.” Silence, and that grin.
I had never kissed a boy, but I knew what he meant. I felt something similar to what you feel when you lean in for that first real kiss with your middle school crush. But it didn’t feel like butterflies. It felt like rocks, pelting the inside of my gut as I slowly moved my face toward my dad’s mouth. His lips were a little wet, and they were opened just enough that he was able to close them around my lips as we met. It felt like a year that I sat there, not moving a muscle, completely unsure of what I was supposed to do next, praying that this would be enough. Finally, my dad pulled away from me, picked me up, and plopped me down on the couch next to him.
That time, it was enough. I got my movie date. And for a short time, my dad didn’t have me sit on his lap during our morning times. We sat side by side, watching The Price Is Right, and I wondered why I had felt so weird about what had happened between us. After all, it was just a kiss.
This is the first time I can remember second guessing my instincts. I knew something was really wrong, but I told myself that I was making a big deal out of nothing. Because he was my dad, he loved me, he was a grown up, I never told him I was uncomfortable, and a million other excuses that floated through my head. That summer developed into a pattern of me second guessing my intuition, until I no longer listened to it at all.
That feeling isn’t unique to an innocent 10 year old girl and her experience. As adults, we ignore our instincts all the time, and we justify other people’s poor behavior with a million different excuses. He’s my boss, she’s my friend, I don’t want to be embarrassed, maybe I’m reading this all wrong… Certainly, if a child confides in you that they feel uncomfortable about ANYTHING, please listen to them. Children don’t tend to make stuff up that makes them feel uncomfortable. But even if it’s not a child. Even if it’s your own head telling you something is off, or a relationship isn’t right for you, or a work environment is weird, LISTEN. Listen to that still, small whisper in your head telling you to run. Listen to that voice that says you shouldn’t be talked to that way, or looked at that way, or asked to do those things, or told not to do those things.
I was given a book years ago by a dear friend who helped me through one of the toughest situations I’ve faced as an adult. I was struggling with a LOT of self doubt, and I was faced with making some big decisions that I was scared to death I would mess up. My friend gave me a book called The Gift Of Fear by Gavin De Becker. It was one of the most insightful books I have ever read. If you struggle with self doubt, with second guessing yourself, please go get this book and devour it. And please know that your mind was created to function FOR you, not against you. You are so much smarter and braver than you think, and you are capable of making the BEST decisions for YOU that nobody else can. No go be bold and love yourself!