(The following is the 7th in a series of posts related to my re-reading of Miss America by Day: Lessons Learned from Ultimate Betrayal and Unconditional Love, by Marilyn Van Derbur.)
To add to my previous post about Chapter 1 of Miss America by Day :
It should be emphasized that the facade of perfection or, at least, thoroughgoing normalcy, behind which child sexual abuse occurring within a family is often concealed can be understood as involving a family-wide dynamic in which, if the facade is to attain its greatest possible vibrancy, all family members must participate—the dynamic being one of concealment to the outside world not only of any indication that child sexual abuse within the family may be occurring (something which family members often succeed in concealing even from each other; even from themselves), but, also, of concealment of any indication that there exist any problems of significance within the family at all.
An example, with respect to my own family, of this broader concealment, extending beyond behavior involving child sexual abuse by the perpetrating family member, involved the emotional-verbal abuse I recall my father not infrequently directing towards my mother, myself, and my siblings—abuse which involved quite elevated levels of anger that many people, I think, were they able to have observed such behavior, would agree crossed the boundary into what could be classified as rage; my father’s tantrums (for I think these instances in which my father would explosively direct his venom at his wife and / or one or more of his children could be readily characterized as such) regularly involving the hurling, on his part, of epithets such as “You jerk!”, “You jackass!”, “You stupid fool!” followed by “How in the name of heaven could you . . . ” followed by whatever action or inaction on our part had so riled him. His face would be literally quivering and flushed with, yes, rage, as he would hurl these epithets, with, as I recall, his fists clenched, though at his sides.
(I can recall only one instance of my father’s having been physically abusive towards me—outside, that is, of the physical abuse constituted by various aspects of his sexual abuse—and that instance was relatively, within the entire spectrum of domestic physical abuse, quite mild and transient.
It was evening and my father and mother were in a hurry to leave for some sort of social engagement, our babysitter having already arrived. I imagine they were, most probably, leaving to attend a party held by some other member of Vanderbilt University’s Economics Department’s faculty, for this was when we were still living in the house we inhabited until my father received tenure—the house on Central Avenue, featured in my ebook Preludes—and my impression is that at that time it was highly important, even absolutely vital, that my father and mother participate regularly in such department-related social functions in order to maximize the possibility of my father’s being approved for tenure.
In any case, my parents were just at the point of hurriedly leaving (perhaps they were running late) and as my father was about exit the living room to go out onto the front porch, I, wanting him to stay for some reason which I can’t now recollect, grabbed his arm or in some other way attempted to physically impede his departure, whereupon he, as I recall, grabbed my arm, forcefully wrenched it, and roughly pushed me away, eliciting from me an injured cry of, “You hurt me!”; my father angrily replying along the lines, as I recall, of You’re right I hurt you, for bothering me when we have to leave!
And that’s the sole instance of physical abuse, outside of his sexual abuse, that I can recall my father inflicting upon me, nor do I recall any instances of his having been physically abusive towards my siblings or my mother, though, of course, there may have been instances of which I’m not aware.
I think I should add here that I’m excluding from classification as physical abuse the spankings my father sometimes dealt me and my siblings when we were small for various misbehaviors which I don’t now recall; spankings of the sort that he administered—involving no more than one or two dozen moderately forceful applications of the flat of his palm or, perhaps, a rolled newspaper to our bared or underweared bottoms—not then being considered, by a great many people anyway, as being in any way abusive in nature.)
[Added After Initial Posting:]
Of course, the attempt to conceal significant problems within a family from the outside world is not exclusive to families in which child sexual abuse is occurring but extends to families generally. However, the distance between the outer facade of normalcy, if not outright perfection, which a family may so assiduously make efforts to maintain, and the problems the family is concealing can, in the case of a family in which child sexual abuse is occurring, be thought of as exceeding by orders of magnitude the distance involved in the case of families in which no such abuse is occurring and in which open discussion, within society, of the problems being concealed—such as alcohol addiction or verbally or even physically abusive behavior, depending on the degree of the physical abuse—is comparatively less taboo. The key point here is that a child being sexually abused within a family context may, on some level, begin to sense the vastness of this distance—between the family facade and the reality of the abuse it is suffering—from an early age, and that this awareness can multiply exponentially the child’s massive sense of isolation, which the child already feels (again, at some level) within the secrecy dynamics of the family itself. Thus, the child realizes that not only must it keep the abuse secret and distant, within the family’s private life, from family members other than the perpetrator, but that, also, the distance between the fact of the abuse and the world outside the family—society at large—is so great as make the abuse and this outside world seem as though they exist in separate universes.