It would've happened sooner if I'd just talked to people about it.
But I'm autistic, which doesn't help with the whole "talking to people" thing. Neither does the fact that I was home-schooled in a religious environment, or that I've never lived anyplace more than six years. Even once I discovered the Internet, my neurotype, religion, and upbringing set me apart so much that I was rarely able to make lasting friendships.
Finding out that I could write stories helped. Especially when people started paying for them. Then one day, my father asked me to write one for him, and I panicked and didn't know why. It was like when a war veteran hears a loud noise; even if he can't remember the bomb being dropped, he screams and goes for cover.
Dropping the bomb
I tried to work through my feelings, talking with my significant other. Telling them about things I remembered. Things I had never given much thought to. Things I had always assumed were my fault.
My significant other cried. I was stunned. I'd never thought of it like that before. I'd thought I was lucky to have supportive parents. My father encouraged me to write, even though it didn't yet pay the bills, because he believed in me. Because he loved me. Parents who love their kids can't be abusers ... right?
Stuff my dad says
Imagine you realize you've hurt someone, badly, despite your best intentions. How do you respond? Are you mortified at the thought? Do you beg for forgiveness? Try to make things up to them? Say that you understand if they don't ever want to speak to you again?
That's not how an abuser responds.
I wasn't trying to "confront" my dad, on the phone. I started out by asking him questions. Does he remember this? Why did he do this? Is he aware that this is not okay, not normal, and extremely hurtful?
But within minutes, the conversation was no longer about me. It was about his hurt feelings, because his terrible child was getting upset at him for doing what had to be done. For doing what God wanted him to. For "mistakes," when he couldn't justify himself any other way. For "not forgiving," and "not remembering the good times." And then there was my favorite: When he told me "you have to forgive me," because if he'd known I was autistic things would have somehow been different.
Because it's okay to grab a neurotypical child and hold her upside-down by her legs, and beat her bare bottom like fury until you're not mad at her anymore.
Because it's okay to make a neurotypical six-year-old believe that the caffeinated soda she just drank will dissolve her stomach.
Because it's normal to take such an interest in your child's sexual development that you watch him get out of the shower naked, in order to see if his parts have grown hair yet.
It's okay to put the fear of God in him when he tearfully confesses to having touched those parts for pleasure, and make him terrified of his own developing body. Tell him he's damned, make him think he won't be with his family in heaven, stand silently outside the bathroom at night and glare at him when you catch him. Don't let him realize this is normal and natural, that every boy his age in his own church does this, and that the only reason you're trying to control him is your own sexual and religious insecurity. Make him so scared of "worldly" things that he shuts down the conversation with anyone outside the family who could tell him that.
All of this is okay. And if it's not, why was I making such a big deal out of it? Didn't we have fun together?
The bomb goes off
I exploded at him. I started yelling and screaming and swearing at my dad, with a rage that I didn't know I had in me. I'd loved him, respected him, but all that respect went away in an instant as I realized who I was dealing with: A bully, a monster, and a coward.
I hadn't recognized him, for the same reason no one else had. Because they think abusers "don't love" their kids. They think abusers wear wifebeater shirts, come home drunk from blue-collar jobs, and yell stuff like "Fetch me another beer" and "You'd be nothing without me." They think villains wear black hats and mean to be bad, and that everyone lives happily ever after.
But some villains are friendly, outgoing, and likable, at work and at church. Some villains even love their victims, or the people they want their victims to be. And some victims will never be able to celebrate Father's Day.