Abuse: A Father’s Story
The following account is provided by the father of an abuse victim, and how his daughter’s suffering forced him to come to terms with his previous position that abuse is not a biblical ground for divorce:
It is a joy to have a Daddy’s Girl, and I have two daughters to prove it! There has always been a special bond between us, and I have the natural inclination to protect my little girls. I remember special times with both growing up, and it was the greatest joy in my life to see them marry wonderful men, at least I thought they were both wonderful men (My youngest is married to a great guy!). Little did I know that one of them would be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Because of possible retaliation from the spies that my daughter’s ex has checking on her, I will identify them by A (my daughter) and C (her abuser).
I have to admit that C had the wool pulled over our eyes for many years, and little did I know that problems started when she was dating him in high school. I noticed that my daughter, who I could talk to about almost anything, was suddenly quiet when she was dating him. There were many times she would get off the phone, or come home from a date crying, but would not respond to my queries as to what was bothering her. I didn’t know that he was already emotionally abusing her and standing her up for dates. I just chalked it up to being a teenager, and accepted the fact that she and I would not be as close and that our relationship was changing.
This went on through the rest of high school and then she followed him to the same university. Having almost 700 miles distance between us, I was even farther removed from observable clues than before, and I just had to trust what I saw when I visited her a few times a year, or they came home for holidays. What I did see was a slick salesman, able to manipulate us and everyone else into believing that he was a caring, upstanding man, who was very close to my daughter. I later found out (after the divorce) that this was not the case. For the sake of propriety and so as not to break confidence, I can’t go into detail, but when I heard about some of the things he did, it literally sickened me and then made me very angry.
I was laboring under this illusion that everything was alright when he called me and asked for permission to marry A. Of course I said yes. He seemed like a well rounded young man, with a bright future in the sciences. One thing I did make him promise was that he would never do anything to hurt my girl. Obviously, that promise was not only broken, but shattered and the pieces ground to dust.
Later that year, they were married. She looked happy and glowing as all brides do, and they went for several years into the marriage before the first cracks started to appear to us. Yes, there were clues we should have picked up on, but he was the consummate actor and we felt that they were going through the normal ups and downs of married life.
The first crack that got our attention was these cryptic posts on Facebook from her, stating how much pain she was in, but with little detail as to the reason. Well, I am sure that most parents will see that and want to know why, so I would question her about it and at first, would not get much from her. Then, she started to relate how she and C were having some problems, but it would be ok. I started praying for them.
Other signs soon appeared, like small displays of his temper when we were around, usually at the dog or the kids. I would see him try to hug A and she would wince or pull back. That started the worry cycle all over again. Eventually, I started to see signs of stress in my grand children. When they and the kids would come to visit, A and C would stand outside talking for long periods of time, while the kids would get anxious and want them to be near. Their seemed to be an anxiety that was unnatural there, a fear of abandonment I believe.
Not long after this, my daughter told me they were getting a divorce and that abuse was involved. She began to tell me of some of the things that he had done to her and I was honestly shocked. How dare he hurt my girl like that? What could have gotten into him? Could they go to counseling? Was there anything to be done to save the marriage?
You see, I still subscribed to the view that there was only one reason for two Christians to get a divorce – adultery. I had worked in marriage ministry and been a pastor. I had married people, and we take a special ownership of those weddings we perform, hoping that they will succeed.
My wife and I made every suggestion to get them not to divorce. We suggested separation. She told us that most separations end in divorce anyway. We pushed her to use the marriage challenge from the movie Fireproof, and that really hurt as she explained to us that he had tried this on her as a manipulative technique to get her to bend to his will. I found out later that this was actually a very common tactic among abusers and that it was not a cure all for troubled marriages as the movie would lead one to believe. Finally, we had to come to the grudging acceptance that this marriage was over.
Through many discussions and even arguments with A., we learned that if she stayed in that relationship, she would either commit suicide or have to go on psych drugs to dull the pain. I think that is when the seriousness of it hit home, but I still had this nagging theological problem to deal with. How can I reconcile a divorce outside the bounds of Jesus’ teachings on the subject?
I was faced with a dilemma. Was I willing to risk my daughter to a long held theological construct, ingrained in me by my church and my theological education? Was God so cruel as to make a person stay in this state for the rest of their lives? Even the worst of sinners is given hope. Where was the hope for her if God was going to make her stay with him?
That is when I heard about David Instone Brewer’s book, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church. Through his exhaustive study of language, history of divorce in both testaments and in the early church, cultural norms, and context of what Jesus was actually referring to, I slowly came to the understanding that divorce for such situations is actually possible as the abuser has essentially broken the marriage covenant. I asked my daughter for forgiveness and started to find ways to support her, waiting for her to tell us more of what happened as she could.
I still had questions. Why didn’t she confide in us earlier? I later learned that this is common among abuse victims for several reasons that others can explain better than I. Through the months and year or so after the divorce, it has been like peeling back an onion. She has shared more about the abuse and my heart cries with every word. I have come to understand that he is narcissistic and manipulates circumstances to make him look good and place blame on A. In fact, when I confronted him about one incident, he essentially told me that she had pushed him over the edge and that it was her fault he blew up at her in front of the kids.
Through this, I have learned several things. First, my child does not need my judgment about her situation. She is hurting to this day and heaping condemnation on her only adds to the hurt. The church has already piled on enough without me adding to it.
Second, be patient. Let her explain things at her own time and in her own way. She needs to process and deal with all the emotions and trauma and I will eventually find out most of it anyway. Unless it is a dire circumstance requiring immediate action, the knowledge can wait.
Third, try to find out what help she needs at a particular time, both in the physical, emotional and spiritual. Don’t try to push something on her just because you think she will need it.
Fourth, don’t believe the abuser without clear and convincing evidence for his side of the story. I don’t believe almost anything her ex tells me now that I know of his lies and manipulation.
Fifth, let your love be a safe haven for your abused child. Make sure they know that they can come to you at any time without fear.
Finally, I have learned that most churches are not safe places for abuse victims, especially women. They are too steeped in the idea that a woman must be submissive in all things and actually are enablers for abuse in many cases. If you come to acceptance of divorce in abuse cases, be prepared to be estranged from those who you may have called friends in the church, especially if you speak out about it. Be prepared for resistance among church leadership. It will be just part of the territory.
I apologize for the length of this missive and I thank you for reading it. I also want to thank Jeff Crippen and the crew for giving me an opportunity to share. I hope to be a faithful partner in this fight and pray God’s protection on everyone fighting the battle.