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Awhile back I published a diary on my home schooling experience.  I had mixed reactions in part because some said I was extrapolating from a very rare personal experience and others thought that I was totally against home schooling, despite my protestations to the contrary. Based on my, admittedly anecdotal, experience of being homeschooled by two people who never graduated high school and who had serious emotional problems, I said that one has to be very careful about making a decision to home school. In my opinion, this still stands, but I am sure that most people involved in home schooling understand this.

Unfortunately I learned that my experience of having truly dysfunctional parents was not unique to me (which I had believed for many years), but a lot more common than anyone likes to think. I got to know, quite by accident, two people who ran the Incest Survivors Resource Network (both are now dead) and while that particular horror was not visited on me directly, they told me that sexual abuse of children by parents is much more prevalent (although, thank goodness, still uncommon) than most people realize.  I was told that escaping parents even like mine at 30 years of age was very difficult, and indeed they were right.  One gets used to impossible situations, as in the Stockholm Syndrome.  Such parents should not, under any circumstances, home school, as it reinforces the deadly vise with which they hold their children.  Long-term association with such parents, whether they are sexually abusive or not, can lead to a sort of PTSD that can be just as devastating as that acquired in war.

Now this in no way implies that home schooling cannot be done in a way that helps the child, especially if other parents are involved and socialization is encouraged. I want this to be understood so I can go on and discuss my parents from other perspectives than as home schoolers. This is a very painful subject and so I really don't want to go off on a tangent.  It is about how I survived being raised by people who had very serious mental problems.

My father came from a family that was already pretty messed up before he became an adult. His mother died, supposedly from "overwork" when he was 12 and his father apparently (if I can believe my father in this) beat him with a razor strop when he did something wrong.  His brother, my uncle, went to a mental hospital fairly early and one of my two aunts was a Holy Roller, whose every third word was Jesus.  My father also used "Jesus," but in a different context. When in his 70s my father was diagnosed as bipolar (he was actually monopolar - manic ALL THE TIME - although he threatened suicide often as a method of control, but never seriously tried to commit it) after he was found "on stakeout" (according to him) on a store parking lot with "burglar tools" early in the AM.  It was only his second or third run-in with the police, although God only knows how he managed to avoid worse.  In the latter 2/3rds of my first 30 years I spent a fair amount of time looking for him after he exploded and then threatened to leave my mother (he once even staged his own "suicide" while hiding behind a tree laughing at my mother and me.) He owned several firearms and once bought a .38 special when we hardly had two nickels to rub together. At one point he threatened to kill his supervisor and my mother and I spent a week or two talking him out of doing it.  My suspicion was that he was a drama queen and never intended to carry through on his threats, only to make people pay attention to him. Some bipolar people are like that, but certainly not all. I finally forced him to give up the .38, but he had several .22 pistols and rifles and when we cleaned out my parents trailer we found several hundred rounds of .38 and .22 ammunition, as well as shotgun shells.

He smoked all his life, but stopped being a payday drunk when a doctor told him his liver was enlarged.  Still he lived to 90 and a half and was no crazier at his death than when he was in his 40s. Anything could set him off and I well remember his remarks to my mother that she let me get away with a lot and "upheld me" in my disobedience.
This, although I was a very model kid - more so than was healthy.  I dreaded his explosions and his payday binges when I was very young and so I tried to do nothing that would set him off, a hopeless task.

I was an only child because my sister had died in infancy of SIDS, I suspect brought on by my father's addiction to cigarettes.  Indeed I nearly died of respiratory complications when I was a baby.  During his lifetime my father went from job to job, always dissatisfied with his supervisors and always looking for a better situation--until he became too old and economic conditions were bad enough so that he lived from contractor to contractor.  Toward the end he was a janitor or night watchman, when he was employed. We often lived from hand to mouth.

Oddly my father could, on occasion, be very generous, but these moments were usually short lived. He also seemed nearly indestructible, having had his panel truck totaled by a train and lived, having smoked all his life and drank through much of it, having had a broken leg in his 70s, and having ate fat, meat, and sugar in great amounts all his life. He seemed almost like a deity and to hear his stories about himself he was at least half-divine. He was always the hero of any stories he told.  He had stared down a shark, rescued a man from Tate's Hell in Florida, biked from New Jersey to the Florida Keys, captured desperate bandits in Mexico as a Texas Ranger, advised FDR on war policy, invented a form of calculus (that got him expelled from high school because the teachers were jealous), saved a man from a coral snake, won a fortune gambling in Las Vegas, drove for Joey Chitwood's race car group, was engineer on the fastest trains, broke his neck during a fancy dive into a swimming pool and walked out of the hospital the next day, and on and on.

My mother had her father die when she was nine. The similarity between these two is in this one way a bit interesting. Losing the parent of the opposite sex when this young can scar a child for life if not properly dealt with. My grandmother had seven children  (five from a previous marriage and two with my grandfather) at the time of his death. She was destitute in the 1920s. Fortunately several of the children were old enough to support themselves by then, but it was still very difficult.  My mother fell out of a tree when she was in high school and never returned to graduate.  She started corresponding with my father when he was in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the late 1930s.  They married just before the war and moved into a large rambling house with my aunt and her husband (also from the CCC), and my grandmother. Oddly the father of one of the two directors of the Incest Survivors Resource Network lived not far away with his wife and daughter, although I did not know the daughter until much later in a totally different part of the country.  To add to this her father (who raped her and nearly shot her) also worked in the steel plant in which my father worked.

After the war my father moved my mother and me to Arizona, supposedly for our health.  My mother was now isolated from any of her relatives and so was I.  She became totally dependent on my being around as my father's behavior became more bizarre.  When I must have been seven years old they had a horrible fight late at night which resulted in my father's usual threat to leave.  My mother drew a butcher knife from the kitchen drawer and they both struggled for it while I screamed from my bed.  I remember that incident all too clearly. My father got the knife away from her and eventually the argument stopped, but it was one of many, some nearly as violent and some in public.

Of course they kept me out of school, which led to the home schooling that I wrote about in an earlier diary. By the time I was showing some interest in girls I learned quickly that any thought of having a girlfriend was not tolerated by my mother. I don't know if you could exactly call that sexual abuse, but my friends from the Incest Survivors thought that it was, while not overt, damaging.  I realize now that I have had some form of PTSD all my life, even though I never set foot on a battle ground.  As it turned out my mother's fear of my being drafted led to my going to college, although she had forbidden my ever doing so. That was my route to escape, as she suspected. After I finished my Ph.D. I walked out on them.  This was undoubtedly the best thing I ever did in my life and I will never forget that day. My mother tried to block my car, but for once my father actually did something to help and removed her. I was going to a new life with a family of my own and I never regretted it. I only regretted that I did not do it earlier, but then I had no real way to support myself - they had seen to that! Still I sometimes wished that I had possessed the courage to walk out earlier than I did, but I guess I can take some pride in at last doing it.

I guess that I am writing this to explain myself and to, to some extent, exorcise those demons that have haunted me. I guess I am also writing it to bear witness that this actually happened and that I survived it.  At least I don't seem to have inherited the family madness, even if I am somewhat neurotic. I succeeded in becoming a scientist, I married, I am the father of two daughters, and the foster father of another (who had a father very similar to mine), I have accumulated a group of good friends and I think that I have helped several young people, some of whom have demonstrated their affection for me, through their own trials.  I still have panic attacks, but I now know from where they come. If what I have written helps others, I will be happy. I have learned several things from the experience--life is never easy and we are all in this together. I now feel sorry for my parents because I could never love them and they never won the love of their granddaughters, although I did not keep them apart. However, I do not miss them nor do I have many happy memories of them. I truly envy people who can look back on their childhood experiences with some joy, but unfortunately I cannot.  And that is the truly sad part of all this.

   

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