In My Father's Arms: A True Story of Incest by Walter De Milly
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
An interesting story that is increasingly choppy in it's narrative until it dissolves into insanity.
I felt the author did a great job at presenting a realistic viewpoint of his father. He was molested by his father, but he still only had the one father, and he looked to understand him and I appreciated the humanizing of the situation. I feel like too often in our society these abusers are painted as evil in black and white, and by looking at his humanity and some shades of grey we get a deeper understanding of the situation and how to treat and prevent it in the future.
Not that the father was necessarily deserving of such compassionate treatment. After molesting his son for years, when the son says he's gay the father says "I'd rather blow my brains out than have a son who's a homosexual."
In fact there were several times the father's actions infuriated me and I was yelling at the author to walk away. When the father is caught molesting a neighborhood boy, he attends a group therapy session. When the son asks how it's going, the father says:
"There's only one reason I'm going to these sessions," he told me.
"To bring each member of the group to salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ."
At that point, it's like, "Well, I tried. See you in the next life, I'm done with you in this one." But the author stuck around.
Perhaps it was the treatment from all the adults in his life that set him up to keep coming back for more. Like when he's sent to a psychiatrist to "cure" him of his homosexuality. The psychiatrist helpfully says:
"Once you're married, you don't even have to have sex that often," the doctor said. "All you have to do is find the right girl and get married. You'd be surprised at how undemanding she might be. It's not as bad as it seems."
Strangely, 10 to 15% before the end, the book gets into the 'lasting healing' section and descends into incomprehensible craziness. I don't know why, it wasn't like that for the first 90%. I don't know what happened.
Like when this random paragraph pops up:
Several weeks later I felt an incredible urge to go to the Pacific island of Bora Bora. Nowhere else. I didn't know why. But I had to do it. Four weeks later I arrived.
The book ventures into dream symbolism, the author has visions, he talks to people who aren't there, he cries as he murders panthers in his sleep. This is the healing?
At one point his father goes fishing with some boys and loses the son's fishing rod. The son relates it to the psychiatrist:
"I guess I felt like the rod was part of me... a phallic symbol? Anyway, it was like he used me so he could get his hands on the boys. The fishing rod represented my youth. That was me he had out there, that was me he was using to get other boys. And he lost us both into the deep."
The fishing rod represented my youth and was also a phallic symbol. Yep.
Then the author starts questioning how much the ocean really loves him:
"I decided to take my time riding home. I stopped by a dock on the Atlantic. There was a breeze, and a million fine waves slipping past. Did they have something to say? Did they love me? I will never know, I thought."
And finally he gives up all hope as:
"the prolonged stress of sexual abuse can cause such an abundance of certain hormones in the brain that they begin to—quite literally—excite neurons to death."
Yes, the author's brain cells had died after the ocean didn't love him and he lost his fishing pole penis. I don't mean to over-simplify a difficult situation or story, but in the world of reality, none of this makes sense. I don't see how this ending got published.
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