I grew up in a Christian and loving home. My dad worked for a Christian company as an editor. My mom worked at the Christian school where my older sister and I attended. I had a wonderful childhood. My family had a lot of fun traditions for the holidays and birthdays. I was always in my dad’s lap and laughing at his jokes. When I was about 4, I noticed that I was not like the rest of my family. Once a month, there was communion served at my church. My family could partake in it, but I couldn’t. I would get so upset that I couldn’t have communion because I didn’t want to be different.
My dad would take me out on dates every other month. We always went to the same restaurant, and we would talk about my school and friends. Even when there was silence, I was comfortable because I knew I had my dad’s undivided attention. One day as we were leaving the restaurant, he asked if I wanted to accept Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. I remember getting very excited and with a huge smile said “YES!” I crawled in his lap, he prayed, and I repeated the prayer. I was almost 6 at the time. I did not think that I could ask for a better life.
Several years later, when I was 9, my life took a traumatic turn. In 1993, my dad became very sick with pneumonia and was in and out of the hospital for a couple of months. I thought he would get better, but he was not fully recovering. In the late spring or early summer of this same year, we had a family meeting. This was our first and only family meeting. My dad told my sister and me that he had AIDS. I had never heard the word before and did not understand what it meant. I had no idea what this would mean for my dad and our family. I knew it was something big when I was told to keep this a secret. This was our first family secret. It was not explained to me at this time how my dad contracted AIDS, and I did not think to ask.
As the months progressed, my dad’s behavior changed. I did not know the details of these next events or the reasons why they happened until many years later. One day we came home from school and there was a man who came out of our bathroom. I was nice to him because I thought he was another one of my dad’s friends who I had not met before. My mom began yelling at him, questioning who he was and what he was doing in our house. At that point, I knew that he was not one of my dad’s friends. My mom took my dad into the bedroom and began yelling at him. I later learned that the man was a hitchhiker my dad brought home. My dad was arrested one night at the mall for having relations in the men’s bathroom. He brought gay pornography into the home. He would hide it in the bathroom that my sister and I shared. Thankfully I never found it. My dad would buy expensive gifts to give my mom which she would return since there was not enough money in the bank for the purchases. I think he bought them as peace offerings for the pain he was causing. My mom continued to notice thousands of dollars missing in the bank account without my dad remembering where the money went or without him wanting to tell my mom what he spent the money on. He would go out to be with numerous men each week. Having AIDS didn’t slow him down. I don’t even want to think how many other men may have been infected because of being with my dad. My mom never knew how many men or how often he was unfaithful. My dad truly was living a second life.
My mom nursed my dad in our home until a week before he died. We did not make it to the hospital in time to be with him at his death. I hate that we were not there to say good-bye. He died with one arm reaching out and his head tilted to the side with his eyes and mouth opened wide. I know he was escorted out of this life into Heaven. He died in 1994 when I was only 10. We never talked about my dad’s death and how it affected us. I was actually relieved that my dad had died. He had not been my dad for several months, and I wanted my life to get back to normal.
I had come to my own conclusion that my dad got AIDS from his IV’s when he was in the hospital with pneumonia. I asked my mom if that was right. My mom then told me that he contracted AIDS through homosexual relations. I froze. Time stood still. I could not think. I could not speak. I could not breathe. I could not move. I was beyond shocked. How could my father, a godly man who led me to the Lord, MY dad, do something like this? I saw NONE of the signs that would lead to this answer. I decided I would stop talking about my dad. It was as if I turned off a switch to “forget” him completely. At that moment, I took all my memories of my dad and locked them up in a steel room, a steel vault in my heart. I completely cut off all emotions and thoughts that had to do with my dad. By shutting them out, I also shut off my personality and lost a lot of memories-the bad and the good of growing up.
Shame from my dad’s behaviors began to control my thoughts and actions. I stopped being me. I became very quiet and withdrawn. I was no longer bubbly or talkative like I had always been. Not feeling accepted at school, I never had any close friends. I also never had a curfew because I never went anywhere. I was always at home. I didn’t have anyone close to talk to about my feelings, and we never shared our emotions in the family…except for anger. I was silently struggling.
At the age of 13, I began contemplating suicide. I no longer wanted to live without a dad. I hated being the only person in my class at school without a dad. I did not want to live with this pain any longer. Every night for many months, I would cry myself to sleep thinking through all the different ways of killing myself. I thank the Lord I never attempted suicide. God showed me that He has been my Father and had not left my side. I knew then that I was not fatherless. To this day, I have not had any suicidal thoughts since that time.
No man has ever come into my life as a father figure since my dad died. My mom has not dated since my dad. I grew to not trust men. Part of that reason is that the only man I knew turned out to be a man I did not know. A man I did not like. A man I could no longer trust. Because of this, I did not think men were honest or trustworthy. I believed they would hurt me if I got close to them. I did not know how to relate to men nor was I comfortable around them. I never had any guy friends and was never asked out. I began to believe that I am unlovable. To this day, I have never been pursued romantically. My image of God was skewed, and I have struggled to believe He truly loves me and wants the best for me. I was afraid He would not show up when I needed Him most, and He would not be who He says He is. I am happy to say that He has been restoring my image of Him. Now I know He is constant. He is always loving. And He is continually pursuing me with His gentle love.
I was referred to Meleah Allard a few years ago for counseling. I have been facing thoughts and memories that I have kept locked up for nearly 20 years. I am learning that I have been living through a shame-based identity. I wanted to be invisible and had no self-esteem. I believed that because my dad’s actions brought shame to the family, and I am a product of my dad, then there was something shameful about me. I had this huge secret I could not tell anyone, so I could not let anyone know who I truly was. I continued to feel that I had to act as if nothing happened…and keep the family secret.
I am on a journey toward healing, but I still have a long road ahead of me and much more to learn. God has placed a desire on my heart to help others who are hurting. I have become a family counselor to help walk along side those who are in need of support. I am educating families on how to communicate effectively with one another and talk about their emotions without burying them inside. God is redeeming my pain for His glory by using me mightily to further His Kingdom in the lost world.
God has built a group of trusted people around me to walk in this journey together. He is teaching me how to walk in victory which has made all the difference. The shame I was carrying around has reduced as I share my story with others. I’m grateful I don’t have to walk alone anymore, and I know I can rely on God in every circumstance.