By Don Shetterly
Often, I hear people say, “Why didn’t you report what was done to you to someone?”
To which, I think, “Who would I have told?”
A school teacher that seemed to not give me any attention in class, and when I couldn’t do first-grade math would set me in the corner of the room with scissors, paper, and glue to keep myself occupied?
Maybe it would be the person that molested me in the basement of the church while the congregation was singing hymns to God. No one seemed to notice. No one seemed to care. I was only 7 years old.
Maybe it would be the small-town cop (and there was only one since it was a small rural town). Of course, my dad always made friends with the town cop so he was a good person in their eyes.
Of course, maybe I could have told a trusted friend
Oh, wait, I didn’t have any trusted friends. We constantly moved all over the place and we were sheltered from the world. The only things I trusted were my pets and my dad killed them.
Then there was the church minister, but he was the ultimate authority figure and if you didn’t fall in line with what my dad told you to do, he’d show up at the house and shame you. You would be told just how bad of a person you were and you were making God so unhappy.
So there wasn’t anyone to tell
My parents were looked up to in the church and the community. My dad was a deacon and Sunday School teacher. My mom also taught Sunday School.
When the church needed something, my parents and our entire family were there, pitching in and doing what needed to be done. No one had to beg us, it was something you did. When the doors of the church were open, we were there and it didn’t matter if we were sick or if there was a blizzard or we were tired.
You could not forsake the assembling of yourself in a church with other like-minded people.
No matter what happened we were taught to be well-mannered children. We were taught to speak only when we were spoken to and we didn’t dare get in trouble at church. If you did anything wrong, you knew that once you got to the car or got home, you were in for it.
There was no worry about sparing the rod to spoil the child. Of course the infractions we were punished for might not have been much, but if they embarrassed my dad, you were going to get it.
I’ll never forget the high school teacher that figured out if she gave me a “look” in school, I would immediately stop whatever it was that I was doing. Usually, I didn’t get into trouble but even a whisper to a fellow student would have her giving me that look. She knew it worked because my dad would do it to me. I had confided in her that he did this and if you straightened up right away, the punishment at home wouldn’t be as much.
She used it as a weapon against me and I finally got the nerve up one day to ask her to stop doing that. Her response was of laughter, thinking it was funny that I could be controlled and manipulated in that way. There was no concern for my home life, only further ridicule.
As a result, everyone thought we had the best family
They didn’t think we had problems. They thought we were the model family for the world. Yet, at home, it was something much different.
If you needed a shirt, my dad would give you the one off his back.
If you needed help at your house, he’d volunteer along with volunteering our time and labor as children.
If a traveling evangelist like the Lundstrom Family came through and needed a thousand dollar donation to fund their ministry, he’d give it to them. It didn’t matter if we barely had enough food to make a meal or wear clothes that weren’t old, worn out, and full of holes. After all, my mom could sew and patch the holes. As far as the food went, we were told the Lord would provide. He never did. We just went hungry.
Yet, everyone thought we were the model family.
Everyone thought we were wonderful people.
Everyone thought we were well-behaved kids that never got into trouble.
They just didn’t know what went on behind closed doors
They didn’t know what the family patriarchs said once we walked out of the doors of the church. If they did, they might have felt differently.
Yes, when we got to the car, the criticism of everyone in the church would begin. What was said in prayer became gossip, while telling others how bad gossip was. They had to analyze and critique every behavior and word and action. My parents made it clear that they were all-knowing and had the right advice or answer to life, while no one else did.
If the other members of the church and community could only have heard what they said, they would have seen them differently. Our family would not have been the model to live up to or hold upon the altar.
Yet, no one saw the angry rages of my dad
The times he would beat my mom and us kids, we’d hide in the corner of the room, under the table, watching him beat her for trying to stand up for us. Once he got all the beating worked out of him, he’d storm off out the door. He’d be gone for hours.
To this day I don’t know where he went, but I suspect from some other events that transpired, he most likely went to the town bar. Of course, drinking was a bad thing that was taught in the church, but I guess it was okay after beating your wife and kids.
As if on cue, I’d hear the door open downstairs well after the midnight hour. He’d exclaim once again to my mom that he’d never do this again. “Please forgive me,” he’d say. She’d forgive him, of course, and it would happen all over again. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat.
Why my mom put up with him and didn’t rescue us is something I’ll never understand. She’s in her grave now and so I’ll never know the answer to that question.
No one in the community and church saw how my dad abused us, molested, and raped us. No one saw the torture that he’d put us through. They didn’t see how he manipulated our minds and emotionally and psychologically brainwashed us into believing, like everyone else, that he was a good man.
He told me he was trying to teach us about God’s love
He was just trying to teach us to be men, as he would often say. Yet, the things he did left lifelong scars on me that to this day I still struggle within my life. These things I experienced led me to have a conversion disorder. If you want to know more about my story, read my latest book, Overcoming A Mysterious Condition.
Everyone in the community and church, from the town cop to the school teachers, seemed to think we had the greatest family. They thought our parents had raised the best well-behaved children. What more could society ask from a family?
I’ll never forget what a longtime family friend, one that I grew close to and looked up to, told me after my mom was killed in a car accident. He minimized what my dad had done (and he didn’t know the whole story) but he was sure to tell me that I needed to forgive my dad. I was crushed by this friend at this moment.
A brother told me that some neighbor friends of my parents that we didn’t know growing up met up with him in a bar. The guy was so upset with me and my brother for daring to say a word. In fact, as the story was told to me, the neighbor actually put a handhold choke on my brother as he shoved him against a wall. It was a threatening confrontation and yet, these people didn’t know us. They heard only what my parents had told them.
The kids were brainwashed
We had a loving family. There was nothing wrong and nothing to see. It was the ungrateful kids that were the problem. That’s what the neighbors knew. All of the facts were sanitized so everyone else was the problem, not the abuser.
Of course, I was the one that got blamed because I dared to speak out. My dad told me and everyone in the town that he knew, I was brainwashed by the psychiatrists. Yet, no one knew the whole story. They just saw the father that was loved and admired and could do no wrong.
If you read my book, you will know that I had to walk away from them, and it was one of the hardest things I have ever done. It was the only thing that kept me alive. My life was also being threatened at the time.
More importantly, though, I didn’t want to keep going and for a long time, I kept looking for ways to end my life. Fortunately, I wasn’t successful, but I can tell you that there is not a day that goes by that I don’t struggle with the horror and trauma of what was done to me. I still pay the price for what was done to me, even with all the healing work I have done in my life.
My family was beloved and respected. People thought my dad was an okay guy. They’d stop and talk with him, help him, and he’d help them. However, what happened behind closed doors was anything but normal.
People aren’t always as they appear
I’m not trusting of many people because words are too easy to say and true actions are much harder. Even actions in private and public can be so much different. These days, our society sees what it wants to see. We hide from that which we don’t want to see and when we do this, horror and trauma take place. We’ve got to start seeing with open eyes what is going on around us.
A couple of years ago, a friend of mine had a teenage daughter that would go to the neighbor’s house. She noticed something was off and it almost looked like the daughter was having a relationship with a married man. When I tried to raise the issue and urge her to see it for what it was, I was rebuffed and told I had no clue what I was saying. The mother closed her eyes to what I think was something going on right before her.
In churches we see the parents and congregation looking the other way when things are happening before our very own eyes. In communities and organizations, we do the same.
Yes, many times a lot of it is hidden from plain sight
But if we look, we will see it. If we care about the children, we won’t stay silent. I do wish that someone would have stood by my side and stood with me. I believe there were relatives that knew but chose to do nothing.
If only someone would have been there for me to reach out to and tell, it might have made my life so different. Unfortunately, people like my father are good at manipulation and so children like me suffer in silence.