My Sister’s Tragic Early Death—The Possible CSA Backstory (4 of 4)

Alice_on_swing

Trigger Warning

Continuing from my previous post (3 of 4) of the same title . . . :

Was there any way that my mother could have prevented the surpassing tragedy of her husband sexually abusing her own children?

There was not, I’ve come to conclude, given my mother’s background and the prevailing social milieu of the time during which the sexual abuse occurred.

My Mother’s Background:
As for my mother’s background, I will here give one example of the way in which this background influenced so heavily the degree of my mother’s ability—or lack thereof—to detect, and respond effectively to, her husband’s sexual abuse of her children, citing, for this example, my mother’s own words from a video-recorded conversation I had with her, within a year of her death, about her husband’s sexual attraction to and sexual abuse of children.

In one part of that conversation, I and my mother were talking about a specific incident—occurring, apparently, in the second half of the 1950s—that had brought to her awareness her husband’s behavior of masturbating in front of at least one of her children (which at the time consisted of two boys—myself and my brother; Alice was yet to be born). Concerning this incident, one part of my and my mother’s conversation went as follows. (My mother’s use of “father” refers to her husband—her children’s father. I’ve added material in brackets to provide clarification of the meaning in cases of redaction to protect anonymity and to provide context from the relevant portions of the conversation preceding this excerpt):

ME:
. . . OK, so basically, the reasons why you didn’t ask anyone at that, at that point [as to whether this behavior by your husband was normal or not], um, when [you became aware of this behavior], were . . . I mean—

MY MOTHER:
It never occurred to me there was anything wrong with it.

ME:
OK. That was the basic—

MY MOTHER:
It never occurred to me not to take what father said at face value.

ME:
OK, all right . . . and I think you had told me once that you had been raised . . . you had been socialized in your family or raised to believe that a wife should obey her husband and believe, sort of follow her husband and this, this was, came into it also, right, that—

MY MOTHER:
Certainly.

ME:
That you should place your trust in your, in your husband’s judgment or something like that?

MY MOTHER:
Right.

ME:
So, that if he said that [that masturbation was the means by which fathers taught their sons about sex], then . . . then you should trust in his judgment in the matter or whatever.

MY MOTHER:
Yes.

ME:
OK. All right.

MY MOTHER:
Especially things like that.

Clearly, my mother’s background—involving, as it did, socialization of women to place a complete and unquestioning trust in the correctness of their husband’s judgment with respect to matters of such utmost centrality to child-rearing—predisposed her to minimization, rationalization, and outright blindness when it came to her husband’s sexually abusive behavior towards her children.

(I should also note that at another point in this same conversation, between me and my mother, my mother recalled getting angry at our father as soon as she learned of this behavior on his part, and confronting him on the spot, shortly after the behavior had occurred. In other words, based on these recollections, it seems that my mother did, in fact, sense that something was seriously amiss in her husband’s behavior, but that her background countervailed against this immediate reaction to a degree sufficient to allow her mind to accept her husband’s behavior as being, possibly, within the realm of legitimacy.)

The Prevailing Social Milieu:
As for the prevailing social milieu, my mother’s remarks during our conversation included the following:

MY MOTHER:
If I had know then what I know now, I would have picked you all up in the car and left town. . . .

ME:
OK . . . OK. So, if you, if you had known . . . then what you know now about child sexual abuse and, uh, the harm that it can do . . .

MY MOTHER:
What else could I have done? Not, not—there wouldn’t have been one soul in this world who would have believed a word I said.

ME:
All right.

MY MOTHER:
The only thing I could have done was to have left . . .

ME:
OK

MY MOTHER:
. . . with all of you.

ME:
Because the, the atmosphere back then was such that . . . things like that were hardly ever talked about, and . . . there was no . . .

MY MOTHER:
And father was a . . .

ME:
Yeah.

MY MOTHER:
. . . great person.

ME:
OK.

MY MOTHER:
Everybody liked him.

ME:
OK. So he had a very good image as a . . . teacher at that time . . .

MY MOTHER:
After all, yes, that was, that was long before he got . . .

ME: Yeah.

MY MOTHER:
. . . overtly so very sick [with alcoholism, manic-depression, etc.].

ME:
OK. So, it would have been . . . it, it would have been . . . hard or maybe impossible for . . . for most people to believe that a . . .

MY MOTHER:
Oh, no, nobody would have believed it.

ME:
. . . a, a successful, a successful Vander- [Vanderbilt University professor, as my father was] yeah—

MY MOTHER:
I would have told ’em, but nobody would have believed it.

ME:
That, because he was a . . .

MY MOTHER:
Not a soul.

ME:
. . . successful professor at Vanderbilt and . . . and, um, was intelligent and . . . OK . . .

MY MOTHER:
He taught Sunday school classes.

ME:
OK.

MY MOTHER:
He had given, he had given the sermon at our small church in Athens one time . . .

ME:
OK.

MY MOTHER:
. . . and did a good job of it.

. . .

ME:
. . .  in any case the point here is is that there was nothing about his, um, ex, his reputation, his external image that would have caused anyone to believe that . . .

MY MOTHER:
No, actually, at that, that, that time, he wasn’t even drinking enough for most people to have realized there was a problem.

. . .

Clearly, the prevailing social milieu of the time was extremely inhospitable to the notion that a man of the social standing and economic and educational levels of our father might sexually abuse his own children; and may, perhaps, have been even far more inhospitable to the notion that the possibility or suspicion of such abuse was something worthy of being broached even in the most private of conversation, even by a party so centrally concerned as the mother of the children involved. (I.e., the “no talk” taboo may have been much stronger, even, than the underlying taboo against what should not be talked about—adults behaving in a sexual manner with children.)

(In this same conversation, my mother spoke of her own discovery of our father’s—her husband’s—child pornography. Those parts of our conversation may be included in a future post or posts.)

(Sidenote Regarding Lolita:
Considering the assertions of the preceding paragraph, one might then wonder about the position in American society of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita, whose first American edition was published in 1958, gaining an immediate popularity, and whose initial film version, directed by Stanley Kubrick, was released in 1962. As you may be aware, Lolita revolves in substantial part around the erotic-romantic obsession of its narrator-protagonist, Humbert Humbert, with the, at the story’s beginning, 12-year-old daughter—named Dolores and whom Humbert nicknames Lolita—of his landlady. As the story progresses, Humbert, after becoming Lolita’s stepfather and following the death of the mother, enters into a sexual relationship with Lolita—a sexual relationship regarding which Humbert later characterizes his behavior as having constituted rape and for which he expresses deep remorse.

Whatever one may think of Lolita and what that novel may say or have said about the social milieu, in America, of its time (a detailed and, it seems to me, well-balanced assessment of Lolita is provided in the novel’s Wikipedia page) , suffice it to say, for purposes of this post, that the on the whole positive, highly-romanticized vision concerning sexual behavior by adult males with girls in their tweens or early teens which some significant number of readers seem to have understood Lolita as affirming would have stood at a distance approaching infinity from the complete and utter horror of what my sister Alice would have experienced in being sexually abused by our father if her experience were at all similar to my own of our father’s sexual abuse and which I describe in Preludes, an extended short story focusing on my sexual abuse as a child by our father. This is not, of course, to say that our father may not—from his own, highly distorted perspective—have viewed any such behavior on his part toward my sister within the rubric of some such positive, highly-romanticized vision. Judging by the imagery on the packaging of the child pornography that our father had in his possession involving pre-pubescent girls—imagery that, as I recall, attempted to depict the girls as sexually willing nymphets—he, or some part of him, at least, may well have viewed his behavior in such a fashion, which would only have made the utter tragedy of the deep and vast destruction he, by his behavior, was causing to his daughter all the more immense.)

* * *

I can never think of my sister’s tragic early death without this possible backstory, of my father’s having sexually abused Alice during her childhood—a backstory whose probability of having actually been the case seems to me quite substantial—coming to my mind. That it does so serves, more than anything else, to strengthen my conviction of the need for the pursuit of whatever measures may be taken—on an individual, family, and societal level—during our present time and going forward, within the context of an enlightened, humane society, to raise awareness concerning the existence and nature of child sexual abuse and to lessen both the possibility of its occurrence and all of its consequent suffering.

(Note:
The entire contents of this post and the previous connected posts – outside of a few for the most part minor changes and additions – can be found in a single very long post I posted on July 19th of this year [2014]. I’m re-posting that longer post’s contents again, as a 4-post series, to make them more easily digestible, and also since, now that I’ve started using Twitter and can post tweets linked to this blog’s posts, the contents of that longer post are among the most important of this blog’s posts to me personally and, I believe, the most potentially useful to others. If you want to read everything at once and together, click/tap here to view the July 19th post.)

2 thoughts on “My Sister’s Tragic Early Death—The Possible CSA Backstory (4 of 4)

  1. You’re welcome, and thanks very much for your interest in my posts.
    It’s been a long time since I’ve read “Lolita,” but I think it could be well worth your reading it for that purpose, including on the point that many child sexual abusers don’t at all view their abuse—at least at the time they’re perpetrating it—as being detrimental to their victims’ current and future well-being (although, of course, many abusers do so view it but either don’t care or are actually sadistically excited by this aspect of detriment to the victim).

    Like

  2. Thank you for your continued research and writing concerning this topic. I know this is deeply persona for you. My daughter has suggested I read “Lolitta” for purposes of viewing child sexual abuse from the perpetrators viewpoint.

    Liked by 1 person

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