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A Better Man Than My Father

Names have been changed.

My father abused my sister and I feel guilty that I didn’t stop it. She went into care, and then I went into care, too.

I didn’t admit something was strange with my father and my sister, because I didn’t want to think my father could do something this bad. I was shocked when the Child Protective Services (CPS) worker told me what he’d done, but when I look back, there were obvious signs. My father would walk in the bathroom when my sister finished a shower and was drying off. He talked about her “well-developed body,” and when he hugged her he pushed himself against her.

Besides all that, he wasn’t a good father to any of us. He never helped me with homework or set a good example for my two siblings and me. He’s been in and out of prison my whole life.

When I was 14, my mom sent me to spend the weekend at my godmother’s house. That weekend stretched into two weeks. Then my mom called my godmother and said, “David has to come home right now” to see a caseworker.

Too Broken

I wondered what had happened. I hoped my brother and sister were OK. My sister Cheryl was 16 and my brother Charles was 3. When I got home, my mom wasn’t there. Instead, there was a middle-aged black woman sitting on the sofa.

She said, “My name is Ms. Johnson.” Then she asked me how was school? How old was I? Were my parents nice?

Then, “Were you ever abused?”

I wondered where my parents were and why she was asking these questions. I said I wasn’t abused, not because that was true, but because I didn’t want to be beaten or killed by a family I didn’t know. That’s how my mom described foster care.

Ms. Johnson said, “Do you know why I’m here?” with a curious look on her face.

“No.” I was scared to hear the reason.

Ms. Johnson said, “Your father touched your sister’s private areas.”

I responded, “Where is Cheryl? This can’t be true.” I wasn’t feeling as upset as I think most brothers would. My dad beat me when I cried, so I’d trained myself not to get too emotional. He told me I’d look like less of a man if I cried or lost my head.

I’d always thought Cheryl was his favorite kid. If she asked for $50 he would give it to her, but if I asked he wouldn’t. If she asked to stay home from school, he would let her. He never let me stay home.

Ms. Johnson asked to check my body for scars. I had to take off my shirt, and she ran her finger down my back, I guessed checking for injuries. She asked to see my bedroom and looked in my drawers and in the closet. I wondered why my mom wasn’t allowed to be there. I wondered where my sister was.

Then my mom came out of her bedroom. Ms. Johnson talked about making a plan so my mother, sister, little brother, and I could “rebuild the family.”

Upsetting Questions

She asked me if I was safe. I said “yeah” because I wasn’t being hit that much, and because my mom was in the room. If my mom hadn’t been present, I might have said that she can get violent when she’s under the influence of substances.

My mother agreed to family counseling, but I knew our family was too broken to be fixed by that. After Ms. Johnson left, my mom said to me in an aggravated voice, “Your father supposedly touched Cheryl,” like it wasn’t true.

I asked if she’d seen anything.

My mom said nervously, “I saw him in her room and her on the floor crying.” Then she added, “This doesn’t give you a reason to hate or disrespect your father, you hear me?”

I said, “Why shouldn’t I hate him?” I felt nothing. I just didn’t want him in my life.

Making It Cheryl’s Fault

A week later, Ms. Johnson came to my school to talk to me in a small office alone. This time she was rude. She seemed to have decided my father was innocent. “I have babies being abused by their drug addict parents, but I’m here listening to this story.”

She told me that what my father was accused of could have been an accident. She said, “Your father said he walked in on her while she was getting dressed.”

Ms. Johnson then asked me, “Do you think your sister is accusing your father because she’s into older guys? Her last boyfriend was 22 years old.” She also said my sister didn’t wear a bra with her T-shirt when she was in the house. Ms. Johnson seemed to want to poke holes in my sister’s story. I didn’t know why Ms. Johnson would do that, but I knew my sister wouldn’t make something up that didn’t happen. I told her I believed Cheryl.

My father went to court and the judge asked for an order of protection forbidding him from seeing my sister. He moved out to a halfway house. However, I was sure he was coming back because he’d left most of his clothes behind.

The CPS case was closed after my father moved to the halfway house. My mom didn’t break up with him, but if he’d stayed in the house, she would have lost all three kids.

After this, things in our family got worse. My mom started to curse at me and hit me more, especially when she was high. My sister started to stay out way past her 9 p.m. curfew.

Four weeks after the worker first showed up at our house, my sister and I finally talked about everything. It was the first time I’d heard her version. I already believed her, because why would she lie? In addition, since I’d heard the news, I’d remembered how creepy he was around her.

image by YC-Art Dept

Cheryl said, “Mommy don’t believe me. I wish I was dead.”

I responded, “Why would you want to kill yourself? You know what happened.”

She said, “You don’t understand. My father, the man who was supposed to protect me, violated me in my own home while our little brother was asleep.”

I responded, “That’s not a reason to take your own life. We need you.”

She started to cry. I gave her a hug and said it wasn’t going to happen again. I realized she was always angry now. Then I saw cuts on her arms and legs. I told my mom but she didn’t do anything about it.

I told the caseworker that my sister was angry and I thought she was harming herself, and she said, “Your sister wants attention.”

I told my grandmother and she let my sister live with her for a month and the cutting stopped. Then my grandma had a stroke so Cheryl had to come home.

A few months later, my father started coming back to our home. My mom snuck him in and out. My sister didn’t know for a while. He came over every two days; my mom told me not to tell my sister or caseworker.

Even the Cops

After Cheryl found out our mom was sneaking our dad into the house, she started leaving for two or three days at a time. My mom worried and cried, but still hid the man who molested her daughter. I felt like the only people who believed my sister were the judge and me.

When the cops brought her home, they told my mom, “You can slap your daughter, but not hard, and not where it leaves bruises.”

My mom said, “If I hit her, she can call CPS on me and my other kids will get taken away.”

The officer said, “I’m telling you, it’s not a crime to discipline. It’s only a crime to abuse your child.”

My mom slapped her and my sister looked so upset I thought she was going to try to fight back.

The last time Cheryl went missing, the cops said, “Give her three days.” She was gone for a week, and they sent her picture around to the local precincts. She was spotted from a squad car walking near her school and was picked up and brought to the police station.

She told the cops she’d been raped by someone in a white van, but then changed her story. She made it clear that she wasn’t going home, so they put her in a group home in Manhattan.

I went to visit her there and asked, “Do you like it here?”


“Why? It’s like being in jail.”

She responded, “It’s better than being molested by your father.”

She had a point. Plus, in foster care, she could get the help and support she needed. She actually convinced me that signing myself into care was the best thing to help me grow as a person.

My sister is doing much better. She is 20 now, and in her second year of college studying social work. But she still has trust issues, especially with men. She and I don’t talk much anymore.

I never talked to my father about what he did, because I figured he would lie. I don’t talk to him about anything else, either. I am angry at what he did to my sister, and I don’t plan to forgive him for that.

My mom didn’t and still doesn’t show up to family court or answer my caseworker’s calls. The court terminated her parental rights earlier this year.

Crying It Out

I’ve lost my whole family. That’s painful, yet I have a hard time expressing my feelings. Because my father drummed it into my head that crying is not masculine, I never cry in front of anyone, especially a girl or woman.

Shutting down my feelings helps me get through everything and keep moving forward. I worry, though, that one day I’m going to have a breakdown due to not releasing my feelings.

I cry about twice a month, and only when I’m in the shower. I cry about my little brother, who I’m no longer in contact with, and what my sister went through. Letting out my tears makes me feel good. Before I cry I feel angry, as if I can hurt anyone, and while I’m crying the pain slowly drifts away. When I’m finished, I feel like a new man.

Once I was in care, I got counseling. I talked about the guilt I had about my sister being hurt. I denied that it affected me for so long. Now I know it wasn’t my fault. The therapist said I should continue to cry and let the pain out.

I believe her, but I still don’t talk to anyone except my therapist and my foster brother about painful stuff because I don’t trust people. (Writing anonymous stories feels safer.) I’m afraid people will say I’m depressed or a drama king.

Even though I don’t like to share my feelings, I enjoy hearing other people talk about theirs. That gives me a new way of coping with my issues. It takes my mind off my own problems, and I learn different ways of handling things. It also makes me feel good to be the one helping somebody by listening to them.

I get inspiration to let my feelings out from the rapper Young M.A. In her song “Quiet Storm,” she says, “I’m from the jungle/To feel success you gotta struggle/To get where I’m at I had to hustle/That’s why I’m humble/I had to cry/ I had to hurt/I was at my worst.” My home was like a jungle, and I placed myself in foster care, which has also been a struggle. I had to hurt, I had to cry, and in the end, I started to feel

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