Early in the morning on March 1st, I was reading a comic book. Specifically, I was reading Detective Comics #999. It was an absolutely fantastic read. It brought together the conclusion of a storyline that had been running for several issues. More importantly, it gave me one of the most profound epiphanies in my life. I am going to attempt to relay this profound revelation without spoiling any of the story. After all, this isn't a story about Batman. This is my story.
I grew up in awe (a quick aside here. AWE is a root word of awesome. Look it up. Do not confuse this with the cute sound someone makes when looking at a puppy which is written awww! This is an important distinction. Please learn it.) of right-thinking, chivalrous heroes. Superheroes, knights in shining armor, barbarians, fables, gods, and teenage mutant ninja turtles. I grew up on a steady diet of adventure. I looked forward to saving damsels in distress. I craved righting wrongs. I didn't want to put right what once went wrong because that job belonged to Dr. Samuel Beckitt.
As I grew older I didn't lose any interest in being heroic. I got the chance to test my wits and my fists on more than a few occasions. Years later, I would reflect on some of these fights and realize that I chose them for all the wrong reasons and that I was, in fact, the villain of the story. That probably should have sobered me to the idea that I had wrong ideas and wrong thoughts, but it didn't. I was more than willing to blame the person that lead me astray that to look at my own psychology and what allowed me to be fooled. I was always taught to pick my battles but I allowed my battles to choose me. I relished in them. I thought they were adventures.
I made the decision to grow up when my oldest daughter was born. It was certainly the time to walk the straight and narrow. I quit drinking alcohol. I decided that I wouldn't fight if I didn't have to. Being a Dad was going to be plenty of adventure for me. For a small time, not nearly long enough, it really was. Falling asleep on the couch holding the little one was the pinnacle of many a day.
If you want to make God laugh make plans.
No sooner had I settled into my new life than it was violently ripped away from me. Don't take this to mean that I hold no blame for this. I got the girl that would become my first wife pregnant because I made horrible decisions in the wake of my high school sweetheart breaking up with me. I acted with a shocking lack of maturity or character. The result was that I didn't know the woman I was sleeping with at all. I say woman but to be fair she was fifteen and I was seventeen. Girl might be a bit more accurate.
Turns out when you make stupid decisions and act out emotionally your whole family can pay for it for years to come. Baby Momma's stepfather turned out to be a pedophile. He had raped and molested her for years. I found this out after he had already molested my six-month-old daughter.
The stupid action movie hero in me believed that I could simply kill this man, erase evil from the world, and put everything back to rights. The reality was violence wouldn't help my daughter. It wouldn't undo the damage to her or to her mother. I had to deal with THE SYSTEM. My Mom was smart enough to steer me away from making things worse.
My family and I entered into a battle stacked against us. It took us nearly four years to "win." The catch to that is no one really wins these types of things. Evil, and by that I mean the molester, did not get punished. The rather ill-conceived relationship I had with the kid's Mom was broken forever. Bad idea or not, I didn't like losing her. I didn't want to be divorced. Most of all, my daughter had her life changed forever. She ended up in the primary custody of my Mom based on the recommendation of a psychologist that the court happened to agree with. I did nothing wrong. I, in fact, supported all of the right things, but I still walked away with a sense of devastating loss.
It took me about ten years to pull my head out of my ass after that. I didn't realize why until very recently. Being the stupid, macho, self-centered, idiot that I am I focused on my sadness at failing to protect my child rather than focus on her. I spent years not understanding the sense of failure that I felt. I learned to quietly hate myself, and in that hatred, I did things to bring about the punishment that I subconsciously felt I deserved.
Now, how was my inexperienced 18-year-old self supposed to identify psychological signs of abuse in an intelligent young woman? I didn't have the wisdom or experience necessary to figure it out. In my mind, though I was the quintessential man. Dirty Harry had nothing on me. I should have been able to do something, anything about it!
The funny thing is this perceived failure, for all that I tortured myself with it, did not change the insane notion that I could fix any problem, overcome any foe, or come out on top of any situation. I was entitled. I had an unrealistic series of expectations for myself. I way overestimated my own abilities. For all my self-loathing I maintained the serious swagger of self-confidence. It is impressive the amount of psychological damage one can do oneself over the span of two decades of being unrealistic, self-hating, and owning blame that isn't their own.
Secretly, all this time I have been telling myself that I would not fail again. I would be vigilant. I would be smart. I would protect my family no matter the cost to myself. I steeled myself mentally and suppressed any emotions that attempted to get out of control. I would be the self-sacrificing shield between my family and any harm visited on them by the world. I simply could not fathom a situation where I would fail as fantastically as I did with my oldest daughter.
I got remarried to Ashley. I started cautiously carving out a life and expanded the people I would love and protect by the factor of her family. The entire time we were married I lived in complete terror of failure. I could have been the Arrow from the CW and modified my motto to," You have failed this family." Ultimately my own angst made me angry, distant, and foolish. I put pressure on Ashley that I should not have. She got unhappy. She left. My feelings of failure deepened
Then I let history almost completely repeat itself proving that I had learned very little 17 years before. I rebounded like a pinball from Ashley to Whitneigh. Lord knows I was in no emotional place to make this decision. My sense of guilt and shame were at an all-time high, but I wasn't emotionally stable enough to deal with my feelings. It was infinitely easier to hide my troubles by setting out to help Whitneigh with hers. Instead of doing that I started us both down a path of destruction that hasn't quite played out yet.
A few years into the drama I created here, I failed even further. Mom died. The family ends up in shambles. Teagan got pulled out of the house by DCS. The delusional "hero" in my roared his disapproval and I arrived at a complete identity crisis.
Here is where the story gets better. Thanks to the court system I got some therapy. The very first thing my therapist had me thinking about was if I liked myself or not. My self-confidence said yes. I wasn't ready to look too deep yet. I did do some great work at coming to healthier attitudes. I have written about a lot of it here.
I wasn't willing to accept some basic truths. My oldest daughter getting molested did happen as a result of my bad decisions, but it was not my directly my fault nor did I have the ability to prevent it. I should have learned the lesson of not reacting impulsively to big emotions, and because I was too busy blaming myself I ignored a real lesson. That lesson would have helped me. My accountability wasn't noble. It was completely miscalculated.
I missed two decades of my daughter's life by being emotionally vacant. I was so scared that she would blame me for what happened to her that I played protector instead of being her father most of the time. She didn't need a knight. She needed a Dad. I wasn't really either.
Ashley did not need me to be a superhero. She needed me to be a loving, understanding partner to her. She was facing her own pent up emotions and I eventually pulled away from her to be her protector. Then I had the audacity to be surprised when she left me. I played the victim when even playing the hero would have been better. More importantly, I failed my family again when they were hurting from her leaving. I was more caught up in silencing my own emotions than in helping them deal with
The hero delusion further leads me to distract myself with "helping" rather than deal with anything else. Whitneigh has suffered greatly from this. We didn't plan a relationship. We didn't plan a pregnancy. We have spent half a decade reacting from one disaster to the next. Even when I have explored my emotions I have not been able to own the fact that my stubborn insistence that I am some more powerful and capable version of a human has caused me to make foolish choices, react poorly, and come across as generally arrogant and callous.
It hurts me to admit this, but I am no Superman. I am no Teenage Mutant Ninja anything. I am not even capable of the well-honed skills of Batman. While I may know what evil lurks in the hearts of men, I am no Lamont Cranston. It may seem laughable to state this outloud. It is obvious to most people, but I am not a hero of any stripe. I am a middle-aged man with average intelligence, above average height, a decent soul, and I am not in any way capable of protecting anyone from the world, not even myself.
I have no great long term plan. I have not got everything figured out. There are many times that I am completely terrified of what is going to happen next. The extraordinary thing about me is my dogged determination to face the unknown without showing my fear, but maybe the time to do that has passed. Perhaps there is more virtue in being openly afraid and facing your fears honestly than having false bravado.
I named my blog Davids Boring Blog in a quiet attempt to break the Chinese curse of," May you live an interesting life." I am nowhere near as boring as I would like to be. I am working on that though.
Since I have faced openly that I am not the hero of this particular story it has been easier to keep my feet moving. A few days ago I put aside a fools crusade. I am no longer tilting at windmills. With luck, this will return energy to me to focus on more worthwhile things that actually matter. Either way, I appreciate the Dark Knight's writers shining a light into my particular darkness.
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