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.

In Christ,

20 thoughts on “Abuse: A Father’s Story”

  1. Dear Anonymous,

    Thank you for writing out your thoughts and feelings concerning your daughter’s marriage and her disclosure of abuse. I know from experience that your support and love helped her find the strength to leave. The consequences of staying are unthinkable.

    My pastor father did not support or understand and I stayed an extra fifteen years. I do not blame him for my decision to stay but I know that any show of support could have made a huge difference.

    Thank you for sharing this–

  2. Thank you so much for this story. It’s really interesting to hear it from a father’s perspective. The way your daughter’s husband used Fireproof is not unusual, I agree. I have heard bad stories about how that movie was used (misused) by abusers, as well as by Christian do-gooders who pressed the Fireproof recipe on the victim as a remedy for her marriage troubles. Of course, the Fireproof formula is never going to touch the problem of abuse. Not pat behavioral recipe will make a difference when one spouse is puffed up with an overweening sense of entitlement and is a habitual liar and manipulator. Abusers take formulas like that and invert them to their own ends, for image management, and to push the victim even deeper into bewilderment and confusion.

    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.

    Of course I’m only speculating here, but I wonder if the kids were anxious not so much from fear of abandonment, as fear of “What is daddy saying to mummy that is hurting mummy?” They would have been aware of many times when daddy said things that hurt mummy. They could have been fearful that it was happening again.

    Can you imagine how this man’s daughter felt when he asked her forgiveness? It must have been amazing. Such a relief. I bet the tears flowed.

  3. What a heartbreaking yet beautiful story of a father’s love! Thank you, for sharing it!

    Those theological ideas in which we are raised can be extremely difficult to overcome. It is a blindness that only Christ can penetrate.

    In this case, He used a father’s love for his daughter to penetrate the blindness.

    In my case, he used an abusive marriage and subsequent divorce to penetrate my blindness.

    I am so thankful for the light of His truth and for His heart of love toward His children!

  4. Thanks for the kind words Ida Mae and Barbara! I know there aren’t a bunch of grammar cops here, but boy would my English teacher crucify me over this! My grammar is usually a bit better than this!

    Barbara, it was horrific what he did to her with the love dare from Fireproof. He would do one day’s exercise and then essentially demand that she respond appropriately, making her feel guilty for failing to live up to her side of the bargain. Of course, this just drove her farther away.

    As for the children, you may be right. It was hard to tell. I do know that they got very anxious anytime Mom wasn’t right by them. I am convinced that their witnessing of abuse is a direct contributor to the OCD the older one is being treated for.

    One thing I did fail to mention in the above is that the emotional abuse began to evolve into the physical, restraining and shoving her on occasion. I am so glad she left before that started to become even more dangerous, as he does own at least one gun!

    As a father, I had always tried to be humble enough to ask for forgiveness from my girls when I messed up. I wasn’t always successful or humble enough, but it was something I tried to do. Being a victim of parental abuse myself, I really did not want to leave scars on my girls. Next to my wife, they are the most precious things in my life and they will always be my little girls!

    1. Thank you, Anon for that extra information. It’s funny how when we start to share our stories what comes out first is the tip of the iceberg, and then as people respond with empathy and kindness, we remember a little bit more, and a little bit more… The dots start to get connected, not only the dots of phenomena we observed, but also the emotions we felt but didn’t initially have the capacity to process.
      My heart goes out to you, your wife, your daughter and your grandchildren. Bless you all!

  5. I too am a victim of abuse and do not have the support system I need in order to get out. His parents deny he has done anything wrong & blame me for the troubles in our marriage. His dad is a deacon that goes and ministers to people in his church, Yet he can not even minister to his own son and hold him accountable for what his son has done to my children and me. In my eyes that is as good as condoning the behavior.
    I only wish I had a dad that would have been a dad to me and actually care about my well being.
    God Bless You for being a loving dad

    1. Lisa, I appreciate your situation. My daughter’s ex in-laws also blame her for everything. He has them convinced that she was committing adultery and is mentally ill. He also told “lovers” that he has had after the divorce, lies about my daughter. It came back to haunt him because he started abusing one of them and she sought out my daughter and they are now best of friends. They both tried to warn the latest flame in his life about him, but this poor woman is so desperate, that she refuses to see it. Another encouraging sign is that his cousin has now become friends with my daughter and now believes her over him. She apparently has seen through him all along.

    2. Lisa — I understand so much of you how feel and I am so sorry it is so lonely right now. I experienced much of the same. For the first year, I felt utterly alone. I, too, wish I had had a sweet Daddy like Anonymous here to protect me and help me. Things HAVE gotten much better. I wish I could encourage you to go find a pastor who will be like a father to you but, I am afraid to even say that! I will pray for you (and ask you to pray, as well) that God brings a godly father-like figure into your life to help carry this load you are carrying. It just doesn’t seem fair. 😦 But, please know that God IS on your side in this. And so are all of us. Big hugs.

    3. MY dad was a physical abuser, as he got older, he was the ONE who came to my defense, even though with him I knew it was a slippery slope. My Dad supports me NOW!!! Yet we do not speak. I could see him struggle with his own ownership, but he was ready to ackowledge my spouses behavior, by saying things like “he is just like me”” yet as he grows older he will never choose to define what the “”similarity is”” my dad is still a horrible abuser. I was the youngest of four, i was always fighting against him since I was like 6 years old. But i see how it was easier for me to be defiant, he had three other siblings to go threw before he could get to me. I hope you as a Father, never feel guilt for not knowing, or not truly understanding. What matters is you support her NOW and she will be eternally grateful that you came along side of her and WANT to understand this horrible evil. I, like alot of people wish I too had a Father, I see the hearbreak in my children, how dissapointed and let down they feel with out somebody physically there. My Dad wont ever change, i have an entire family that is messed up because of him, but they are sweepers. They sweep it under the rug, they elevate him, they are broken but rather look away than put the pieces back in place. I have never had a TRUE relationship with him. I just remember being terrified of him, my only contact was when i had to take his work boots off ant night time. I hated him. By the time I hit Jr. High I told everyone he was dead, because he was to me. Sundays all four of us kids scattered. That was the day he was off work, and we knew what that meant….he would put my brothers to work. They always suffered horrible verbal abuse from him. Generally they would come back inside with hammer marks on their backs, or their fingers black and blue. One time my older brother got pushed from the upstairs roof, and cracked his head open, we were all relieved we got to race to the hospital to escape his madness. Im crying while I write this, for my brothers, how much they suffered, how much we all begged my mom to leave, why she could just not leave? We were just kids and we did not understand, but she was our only security or hope….One time my Dad threw a piece of metal at my moms head, I was looking out the window, all the sudden my GPA came around the corner and punched his lights out. My GPA was my hero from that day forward, he was my GMPA Totto, he babysat us, while we played he always fall asleep, so when we would play Wizard of OZ we designated him TOTO!!! Due to the dog had no speaking parts.

      When my gpa died I was 16, he died at our house. My mom left me to fen for myself with my Dad, fortunately my SIBS found their own way out. I had two years of school left, my gpa was bed ridden, my gma was still alive but she was insane, abusive herself and never talked to me just yelled alot. I wondered why my Mom could leave THEN but couldnt LEAVE to save us? Now I was forced to hate them both. Its all good now, because of my past I WILL never let this pass on to my own children. My Mom is a pretty good Gma, we have a relationship of sorts, as long as I keep my distance, dont talk about ABUSE her planet will revolve. ALL Proof that a Father is what a Father does. You are a good father.

      1. I just want to mention the relevance of a Grandfather.

        . I never wanted him to leave as a kid, i would always run to the door and stand in front of it, blocking his way out. He would give us Dentyne to divert us. He had REALLY big shoes!!! He was tall, he didnt have much in the way of teeth, perhaps due to all that Dentyne. His eyes smiled, he never raised his voice to us. He loved us. We knew it.

        I remember before he got sick. He ask ME of all people, did I think there was a GOD? I remember him looking down at me, really contemplating his question, I remember and always will remeber how that made me feel. I told him “”I dont know? I think if there were He would answer that for you?.”” I was only like 14 or 15, I did not know why he had asked me? After he died I recall feeling bad for my answer, and worried that IF I only knew the right answer, I could of assurred him, or put him at ease. I did not know he was sick of course he never talked about it….Because of my gpa I began my search on his behalf, and maybe it took me many years but at least now I know where he is, and that he loved me.

      2. GMPA Toto ! … 🙂 you gave me and my dad a rollicking laugh with that, Memphis.

        And what an amazing story about how your GMPA’s question prompted you to search for God.

    4. Dear Lisa, I will be praying that you will find whatever is needed to help you get out. Sometimes we have to do it even without much support, but many readers on this blog testify that when they took that step (seemingly stepping off a cliff) God provided in so many unexpected ways. We hope this blog will be one of your support systems. Come here and vent and share as often as you want. (((hugs))) to you.

  6. Thank you so much for your vulnerability and openness describing your situation. It gives me an example of what I should be seeing in myself and what kind of advice I should not be taking from my leaders.

  7. Thank you for sharing this. I wish you, your family and especially your daughter the best on your journey through healing with Christ.

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