When I was a teenager tortured with fears and rousing dreams, I didn’t understand the depth of my distress. In fact at that age, I didn’t remember that my father had sexually molested me countless times during the first 11 years of my life. I was more preoccupied and afraid of my attraction to other guys. Preoccupied because I was, after all, a teenage boy. Afraid because I had been taught that homosexuality was an unspeakable offense against God. There was no way I could talk to anyone about these things. How could a good boy with well-known parents beloved by their community in Tallahassee Florida even suggest that he might be gay?
Secrets are so hard to keep though! Sometime in middle school, I found a companion I could trust: my private journal. The wonderful thing about journals is that they create a safe way of talking with yourself… as if you are a close and trusted friend.
In these beginning years, I wrote sparsely and at times poetically about my crushes, or my love for the sea. It was only after I left home and went to college that I began to write at length.
Then, in my sophomore year, one night the memories flooded back. I was in my dorm room, alone. I couldn’t control what I was thinking. It was a lightening storm I couldn’t stop or stand. I thought I was going insane.
I paid more attention to my journal than my studies. Pads of yellow legal paper became vessels for my memories. I wrote relentlessly, never asking myself why I was so driven because for me, there was no other way to survive.
The words I put down were too unbelievable to share with anyone who cared for my family or me. They were so horrifying that I would not always remember what I had written about days earlier.
I kept writing though for years, and continued the practice after finishing school and returning to Tallahassee.
A decade later, when I was in my thirties and well into a successful career in real estate, the parent of a young boy called me to tell me that my father had molested his son. There it was… the bridge to my childhood sharp in my eyes, that ferocious world I’d journaled and forgotten and remembered and fought… waiting now for me to cross. My father had not only molested this five year-old boy, but many others in his life, including me.
Somehow I had to deal with all of this. Eventually I found a way: I’d leave my hometown for the island of Key West and use my journals to trace the story of my life.
No one knows with certainty, but current estimates by a leading researcher are that one in six boys have been sexually molested before the age of sixteen. You might not expect a child molester to look like the man in the picture to the left, or that such a fine looking gentleman can be so deeply sick, or that such a lovely family could harbor a hidden evil for thirty years. But the family in this picture is not unusual.
Far more boys are molested by relatives than strangers. The sexual abuse of boys happens in all kinds of families, even nice ones. This is one reason why men abused as boys often feel that their voices won’t be heard, that no one cares, or understands. Who is going to question the sexual misconduct of a beloved community leader, a winning coach, a caring member of the clergy… when the accuser is just a boy? Dilemmas like these accumulate, sending a boy into a lasting gloom. All he can understand is his fear and anger, and a belief that he is powerless to change his world. He remains silent because no one will believe him. What is the point in talking about it? His offender has most likely moved on with impunity. Can it get any worse? For some boys it does. My heart aches for them. But the good news is that some offenders get caught. It may not happen enough, or in time to save their victims from trauma. But it does happen, and the world is beginning to understand. More importantly, professionals in the field of psychology are now far more educated than they were when I was a boy. For the most part, they’re well equipped to help their clients who were abused. If you were molested and you need help, I suggest you call a therapist, or go to malesurvivor.org which is a safe place for boys and men who were sexually molested. And if you are a minor, you should call the Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453.
In 1990 when I moved from Tallahassee to Key West I planned on writing a series of stories about other men who had been molested. But when I met a retired publisher to tell him about my project he gently teased out my own story and told me that I should write it instead. He introduced me to writers and publishers here who would help me along the way. Even so, it took almost 8 years to get a manuscript together.
What I wrote remains the story of a man abused by his father. That the character is me hardly matters now. What happened to me has happened to countless other boys. Survivors who have read it tell me that they had similar experiences and feelings of despair and confusion. They say that it makes them feel less alone. Maybe that is really the purpose of the book. But you should only ready my memoir if you think you’re ready. There is no reason for you to rush through it. If you become upset, put it down and take a rest. And if you have a therapist, talk to him or her about it before you begin reading.
More than twenty years after its first publication I’ve learned that my story has been most helpful for men who were molested as boys, especially if the abuser was a relative or authority figure such as a priest, teacher, or coach.
But it can also be helpful reading for loved ones attempting to understand a boy or man who was molested in childhood.
Anyone who wishes to understand the social complexities of father son incest, male sexual abuse, sexual trauma, and recovery may find some use in the book. I would also suggest that it’s helpful reading for sexual offenders, priests and other clergy. For anyone interested in understanding psychological trauma, dissociation, DID, or PTSD, this story describes these phenomena in a narrative context. And for the extreme act of castration as “treatment” for sex offenders, this book addresses that difficult question.
Walter de Milly, III