TRIGGER WARNING: This is a follow-up post to My Biological Father Died and I Don’t Really Care. Like its predecessor, it contains details of animal abuse, domestic violence, and hebephilia. If you are easily triggered by any of these things, stop reading. You can always bookmark the post for another day.
My mother met my father when she was 18 and he was 23.
Most women I’ve known describe him as handsome and charming. Girls my age swooned over him while laughing at his ridiculous habit of wearing shades indoors.
He was intelligent and spoke like a man with a vision. There was rarely a task he couldn’t get done or a question he couldn’t answer.
Unfortunately, high-functioning sociopaths are often exactly like this.
My grandmother calls my biological father, Judas, the Betrayer. If you read about the ICE incident in my last post, you know why. We will refer to him as Jude.
She couldn’t put her finger on it, but something felt off.
Mom admits that the closer it got to her wedding day, the more uneasy she felt.
They had been together for two years, but was marriage this soon a good idea? Still, when you’re in the church, rushing into marriage is encouraged to avoid premarital sex and children born out of wedlock.
She also admitted her decision to marry resulted from push factors at home rather than pull factors from him. Now that she was in her 20s, her mother felt it was time for her to leave the nest, marry, and start a family.
Here was a man who wanted to take her from her home to do just that. So, why did she feel so uneasy?
“It wasn’t any reason in particular,” Mom admitted. “But I considered calling off the wedding. Then, I started to think of all the time and money my family had spent on dresses, the cake, and invitations, and I couldn’t do it.”
How long will it be before it’s your turn?
That was the question my late grandfather asked her. Mom said she was so stunned that she started to laugh. Surely he was joking.
He laughed hysterically too, which confirmed her suspicions that it was just a bad joke. Sadly, we would both learn that he was dead serious. Here’s what he said:
You know, Jude will buy a dog. Spend big money on the dog, love the dog, feed the dog. If anyone hurts that dog, he will fight that person. Defend the dog to the death.
But one day, Jude will take the dog out to sea in a boat. Way out. So far we can’t even see him. And he’ll drown the dog and come back like nothing happened.
He loves you now, but how long do you think it will be before he does the same thing to you?
The answer is a decade.
I didn’t really like my mother growing up.
She had big goals and strict rules for me. I would go to school all day, only to come home to more homeschooling. English and dictation were what she taught most often, using the day’s newspapers.
Jude was the fun parent.
Mom tells me he had always wanted a girl. He was ecstatic to have a daughter. But he was even more excited when I loved cars like he did. And I wanted to be dirty and muddy with the boys outside instead of wearing pretty frilly dresses.
Whereas Mom bought me dolls I didn’t care to play with, he bought me bicycles and toy trucks. When she fretted for my safety, he brushed her off and encouraged me to ride.
If you told me as a child that my father was a violent man or abusive, I would have laughed in your face.
Not only was he the fun parent, but he was exceptionally romantic―never forgetting an anniversary (though he has never remembered my birthday). His celebrations were always big gestures: rose petals from the front door to the bathtub, nice satin sheets, a weekend at a hotel. Sometimes, he would get me to help.
On the weekends, we always had fun things to do. I am the adventurous little troublemaker I am because he raised me that way. Every weekend we went out, and I don’t mean to restaurants or the movies.
I have fond memories of sunset picnics by the beach, easter egg hunts, and hiking to hard-to-reach rivers. I remember impromptu skinny dippings under a full moon to take a break from long car rides along the Jamaican coast.
He would stay by the car while mom and I played by the beach. One day, I went back to the car and asked, “Why are you up here instead of with your wife?”
He laughed and patted the car. “My wife is right here!”
If you know of my love affair with my FJ Cruiser, Samson, you begin to get a clear picture of the things that have shaped who I am today―for better or worse.
So, what changed?
It all started with an affair.
Jude taught at Heart Trust NTA, Jamaica’s most prominent school for learning technical or trade skills. He held classes in the industrial arts sector, focusing on carpentry.
You ever hear women saying they go to Home Depot to find their Bob the Builder husband? Mom had one. He built everything in our house: the beds, dining set, sofa, headboards, lamps shaped like flowers. His craftsmanship was exceptional, and his creations have outlived him.
Unfortunately, Jude had one flaw. He couldn’t keep his dick in his pants. To complicate matters even more, he seemed to have a “thing” for teen girls.
After an alleged “affair” with a student, he got booted out of the school, and they transferred us six hours away. At the time, I thought we were chasing new opportunities, and I was excited to go.
But I realized upon arrival that the move was a downgrade. We went from a three-bedroom house to something barely bigger than a studio. He handled his guilt and embarrassment by whoring some more and lashing out at my mother.
I thought my mother was a bonafide fool.
I was in my room when I heard the argument. I usually stayed out of my parents’ skirmishes, but something was different about this one. I got up and walked into the room just as he raised his hand to strike her again.
Mom was cowering in the corner between the concrete wall and a wardrobe. She had her hands up to her face―or maybe she was trying to protect her head.
I thought to myself, “What an idiot. Who gets hit and doesn’t strike back?” When I realized she really wasn’t going to defend herself, I jumped in front of her and shouted, “Don’t you dare hit my mommy!”
Jude stopped with his hand raised mid-air. He had never put his hands on me before, and this wasn’t the day he would start. He looked at me for a moment; then, he lowered the hand, turned around, and left.
The door slammed with a finality.
We didn’t see him for days.
Why don’t you ever fight back??
This wasn’t the only time I saw him raise a hand to her. One morning, while ironing his clothes for work, she commented on a T-shirt he wore. He had lived in Brazil for a year and returned home with a shirt of his hand on a Brazilian woman’s ass.
For some reason, it was something he felt was appropriate to wear around the house, but my mom hated it, and for good reason. I have twin brothers in Brazil that I have never met.
She said something about the shirt under her breath while I put on my shoes for school. The words had barely left her mouth when Jude turned around and smacked her so hard that she dropped the iron and fell onto the sofa.
The slap startled me as much as it had stunned her. He grabbed his half-ironed clothes, threw them on, and ordered me to get in the car.
“Why don’t you ever fight back?” I wondered again, but I couldn’t stay with her. I had to go to school.
She lay on the sofa and cried.
I guess it was my fault.
When I was little, I loved sleeping on my mom’s feet. I have no idea why. She had the softest, littlest feet, and I would ball them up and sleep on them all night.
But my father hated when I came to bed. It disrupted his…plans for the night. One day, I brought home a picture I had drawn in kindergarten. It was a picture of me in the middle, holding both my parents’ hands.
Jude was very upset about the photo, which confused me. I was so proud of it, and Mom loved it, but he was instantly furious when he saw it.
Shortly after, Mom told me I could no longer sleep with them. I was getting older now and needed to sleep in my own room.
It was in my teen years that Jude randomly brought up the drawing. That he could remember something so trivial was strange. Even more strange was that he was still upset, years later, about a photo most children in nuclear families draw.
He told me, “From the moment you were born, you came between us. That’s why you drew yourself in the middle.”
Yet, he would have lost her sooner without me.
After the ironing incident, I regained the privilege of bed company. At late hours of the night, I would hear the pitter-patter of her little feet as she crossed the tiled floors in the dark.
She would climb into bed, sleeping head to tail. I would cuddle up next to her feet and sleep like a baby. I never asked why she started sleeping in my bed. And, I only notice, in hindsight, how annoyed Jude was in the morning.
Mom was always quiet when she came to my room. She never said a word. I would wake, recognize that it was her, and go right back to sleep.
One night, her sobbing woke me. When I tried to ask what was wrong, she only sobbed harder. But these were not sad tears. She was frustrated and angry.
“It’s because of you that I’m here,” she told me, her tone almost accusatory. “If it weren’t for you, I would have left already.”
My mom has no memory of saying this. I have since forgiven her for the careless words uttered by a young mother, not yet 30. But it remained a core memory for me.
A few weeks later, my mom left for Panama with her friends.
It was a well-deserved break, and she came back refreshed and determined. She started a business and focused on building some independence.
My father loved the idea of her having her own store. But I’ll never forget the day he came home, and she didn’t cook the exact meal he wanted because she had been working.
The loud crash of the glass plate into the wall caught me off-guard. My heart lurched in my chest as I looked around in confusion to see what could have warranted the response.
I will never forget the look of the meat and gravy and rice sliding down the wall. Mom’s tears while she cleaned up the mess. Her begging me to stay in my room so the glass didn’t cut me.
Shortly afterward, she sold all the inventory and shut down the store.
Who did I hate more?
Not surprisingly, I was an angsty teenager who preferred her own company. I liked being in my room with the door shut and my Boom Box playing anything from the Backstreet Boys to Marilyn Manson.
I hated both of my parents, but I hated my mom more. I realized that Jude was an asshole, but you know what? He never bothered me. It was her, he terrorized. And she, instead of whooping her bully’s ass, would take her frustration out on me.
When she boarded that flight to Atlanta, I was relieved. Little did I know this wouldn’t be like the trip to Panama, where he whored and left me in peace.
It did seem like that for a time. But, when I entered puberty, Jude developed an unhealthy focus on my life, my body, and my panties. After I discovered he had been snooping around my underwear drawer, I started leaving signs saying:
STOP SEARCHING MY SHIT
Swearing was not allowed in my house, but he couldn’t discipline me without admitting he had been searching my underwear drawer. I would notice every so often the papers had moved, but…I never got in trouble for it.
Mom stayed in her marriage, even from the distance.
The first summer after Mom left, I went to Maryland, like I usually did. My favourite uncle and favourite cousins lived there, and I looked forward to the summer breaks.
Over the years, my uncle had grown concerned. He commented that I had changed and grown morbid. Family members speculated, but I had come to have fun. Not talk about how I had become Jude’s new punching bag.
“Don’t you want to come to Atlanta and see me?” Mom called to ask one day that summer.
I wanted to say no. What the hell would I miss her for? I looked forward to summers in Maryland every year, and you think I’m going to skip it to spend time with the lame, boring, disciplinarian parent?
But I could tell she missed me. So, reluctantly, I agreed.
I met my mother for the first time when I was 14 years old.
The woman I met in Atlanta was not the woman I had come to know for all my life. For the first time in hers, she had no one else trying to tell her what to do. Away from her mother and husband, she had found herself.
She had also found her strength. It was a quiet strength. It was not defiant and brazen, but it lay waiting for a challenge.
My most surprising discovery was that Mom was fun. I couldn’t believe it. All those years, I had seen her as nothing more than a dull, churchy, authority figure. But mom had been fun all along, just forced to overcompensate for the shortcomings of a husband who never grew up.
I chose not to return to Maryland until a day or two before my flight back to Jamaica. I am not expressive, so Mom hadn’t the slightest idea what my thoughts were about my visit.
Not until the morning her co-worker picked me up for the airport. It had finally hit me what I was leaving behind versus what I was going home to. I broke down in the driveway, clinging to her and begging her to get me out.
But I had to go back.
Our changed relationship fuelled her decision to leave.
When she ended the marriage, Jude switched gears. First, he reported my mom to ICE, but that didn’t go as planned. While the agents told my mother about the “anonymous tip,” he held prayer meetings in Jamaica, thinking they had kept his secret.
Grandma told me the truth only so I didn’t worry. I wanted to strangle him while he prayed:
Dear God! I don’t know what wicked person could do this to my wife. But I pray you bring her home to us safely.
When that didn’t work, he refocused his energy on me. He would switch between telling me how much he loved me and then that he would ram his fist down my throat if I didn’t give him a hug.
He wanted me to see that he was the good parent. All while he stole the monthly allowance Mom sent to me and failed to keep the lights on at home. Food was so sparse that―between that and the stress― I developed a stomach ulcer.
Yet, it was her that he accused of being a terrible mother, claiming she deserted her family. “If you leave me, you will never see your daughter again,” he told her. “If you hang up this phone―!”
He was furious. “Your mother doesn’t love you!” he told. “She chose herself over you.”
I was so proud of her.
“Good for you,” I thought. “You are finally fighting back, like I always wanted you to.”
She was doing exactly what I had told her to over the years, but it was still hard. High School graduation was the hardest. Everyone else had their parents with them, but Mom could only leave the U.S. once her paperwork was fully sorted.
Jude showed up toward the end of the ceremony with his sunshades on in the Catholic Church. I was doing well until we exited the church and tossed our hats into the air.
We were adults now.
He pulled me aside as my friends went to their parents. “If your mother loved you, she would be here. Instead, she’s in America. But I’m here. I’m all you got.”
I’m glad Mom had not left sooner.
I had been a daddy’s girl for as long as anyone could remember.
Wherever Jude went, I followed. Whether he was washing the car or trying to take a shit, it didn’t matter. My habit of pounding on the bathroom door when he shut it became a long-running family joke.
When he left for Brazil for a year, I had nightmares and missed him terribly. Mom didn’t like cars. She didn’t ride bikes. She didn’t climb trees. She was no fun.
“Who would you live with if you could only pick one?” my mom would ask me sometimes.
“Daddy!” I would scream excitedly. And she would smile and say she knows I love my father, and that’s good.
But when I broke down in the driveway that summer afternoon, she realized: Daddy was no longer the answer.
What if my mom had left earlier?
“Why don’t you just leave? You don’t have to stay because of me,” I often said to her.
But Mom knew something about men that, in my naivety, I did not. She knew that once she cut off access to herself, he would cut off access to me ― her only child.
“He terrorizes you,” I pressed. “He doesn’t bother me.”
That statement stopped being true the second I hit puberty. It didn’t matter that I fought back, kicked him in the balls, or choked him. That only made him sneakier, like beating me while I slept at 2 o’clock in the morning.
What if Mom had already divorced him by then? If he had already stolen my passport and moved me to his family’s home?
What if I had never met my “real” mother for the first time at fourteen?
Who would have replaced the support system she provided to get me out?
Would he have consummated his sick obsession with me?
Or would I have gone to prison for stopping him from doing so?
People underestimate the love and sacrifice of a mother.
The thought of being a mother makes me cringe. It fills me with dread. I know firsthand that a child with the wrong man could become a death sentence.
This isn’t a Jamaican or third-world problem, either.
America is no better.
Do you know what the leading cause of death is for pregnant women in the U.S? It’s not miscarriages, preeclampsia, or heart conditions.
My mom often thinks back to when my grandfather asked her: how long will it be before it’s your turn?
“I wish I had known he was serious,” she sometimes says. “I thought he was joking.”
Apparently, so did everyone else.
His siblings called me a liar and my mother a whore when we told them what was happening. In fact, they made matters worse by telling him what I had said to them in confidence while asking for help.
He maintained his facade for 13 years.
I suspect my mother always knew he would never be faithful. But he had been her first for everything: first boyfriend, first kiss, first love. And so, she had settled for what she likely felt was normal.
But I don’t think either of us recognized the threat my grandfather knew was coming. Only he seemed to know his son. Even years after I left, when his siblings continued to defend him, my grandfather disagreed.
People who have never found themselves in these situations will often victim blame and say, Well didn’t you see the signs?
His own siblings didn’t.
Why should my mom?
And are you really prepared to be struck for the first time THIRTEEN years into a relationship? By then, you think you know the man you’ve married.
But maybe, not even he knew himself.
Once Mom realized whoring was the least of his flaws, she could have left. But she knew: a daddy’s girl always stays with her father. And so, she remained until that was no longer true. Even while she feared for her life and fought through his manipulation.
Who knows whether I would be alive today if she had chosen to save herself?
So, thank you, Mom, for staying with our abuser when I thought you were the only one who needed to leave.
Happy Mother’s Day.