I just got back from burying my stepdad. Trigger warning: swears and honesty ahead.
It was a small, short graveside service. It was the strangest funeral I’ve ever attended.
There was a visitation period for a half hour. Nobody talked about T., the deceased. The preacher read the 23rd Psalm, and vaguely talked about forgiveness and some stuff. We went to Mom’s for pizza. The End.
It was fitting.
I started to process it some on the way home. I talked to my mom a lot the night before the service. She gave me more details, but not too many. She knows how our OCD brains like to replay the worst things we can come up with. Still, I almost wanted to kick a corpse.
I felt like I was grieving again, but under the circumstances that didn’t feel right. I knew I had grieved who I thought my stepdad was back when I found out he wasn’t that person several years ago.
I realized on this trip that I was grieving for my mom more than anything.
That I thought she had this happy life. And she did, part of it, but the whole time, over 20 years, he was playing this benevolent father-figure to me and hitting my mom behind the scenes. He hit his first wife, too, and probably his son.
Despite everything else he ever did in his life, that’s who he really was. A violent person who couldn’t control himself. It makes me sick that he passed himself off to me as anything else for so long.
I know in a way my mom was trying to protect me. But I wanted to protect her too. I’ve protected her since I was a little kid. I knew that she had a hard life growing up, and a lot of times it seemed like it was me and her against the world. So the fact that she went all that time with this secret, that she felt the trade-offs were worth it…it doesn’t make me angry. It makes me indescribably sad.
I can see her reasons. A lot of it was because she had a stable life, and my mom has never had a stable life without some sort of sacrifice.
I think part of it too was that Tom was a good dad to me in a lot of ways – at the same time he was a horrible husband. I try not to think in black and white, and I know my therapist would say aw shucks well he could have been both. But I keep coming up with “a good dad wouldn’t fucking hit my mom.”
If I’d known, I wouldn’t have had that relationship with him. I would have tried to get her out of there one way or the other.
I feel guilt that I didn’t know. I didn’t want to see him in his casket and when I thought about that – I didn’t want to see him – I thought maybe I didn’t want to see him all those years ago for who he was, like I should know or something. Like I should be able to identify violent white men by now, because I’ve seen so fucking many in my life.
Every memory I have of him is tarnished. I can’t think of any of the times we spent together without also thinking of all the rest of it. He was a product of toxic masculinity, of a cycle of violence he even told me about and bragged he had overcome. He stood up in front of college classes in lectures and condemned men in other cultures for abusing their wives and children the way he did his own behind closed doors. The more I think about it, the more I want to bronze a turd and leave it on his grave.
My mom is going to be fine. She has shown this amazing resilience throughout this whole ordeal. She had always been a part of her community before T. got sick and drove most of their friends away. People came out of the woodwork to help her once they found out what had happened.
She is the strong one. The smart one. The one people can relate to and get along with. Not that posturing macho fuckhead.
I’m sharing this story mostly because I hope that anyone who is in a situation like my mom’s reads something like this and gets help, or gets out, or even starts to think about it.
And if an abusive asshole like my stepdad reads it, I want them to know that this is how they will be remembered. They won’t. After they are purged from the memories of the people they mistreated or damaged or fooled, they’ll be a grave on a hill nobody visits.
Unless I figure out how to bronze that turd.