Lost Imaginations

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Leaving My Paradise Island (Excerpt from How to Save Your Inner Wonder Woman)

Leaving My Paradise Island (Autobiographical) [Excerpt from How to Save Your Inner Wonder Woman]

“They say I have been so many things to them I never meant to be. But I am grateful all the same.”

Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman #750, “To Me” (2020)

Journaling has always been a part of my healing process. As a child, I consistently wrote about my thoughts on love, relationships, life, and trauma. Writing has always provided me an escape toward understanding myself and others. This first autobiographical chapter explains my exit from the Paradise Island of my childhood and the creation of my trauma mastery in an attempt to cope with the adverse childhood experience of my childhood sexual abuse. This chapter also includes the thoughts of my wife, Sarah, as she helped guide me toward the path of healing rather than coping with the trauma of my childhood trauma in adverse ways. This is done to help caregivers and survivors know that healing cannot be accomplished alone. Without Sarah’s guidance, this book (and all the others) would never have been written. She explains how, similar to Wonder Woman, she answered the call to help me battle my demons, leaving her Paradise Island to become my Wonder Woman.

Kenny

I am a male survivor of childhood sexual abuse. At eight years old, I was sexually assaulted by my thirteen-year-old sister. For two years, while my parents believed I was being babysat while they went to work, or spent time with one another, friends, and family, I was being groomed through the use of pornographic videos and raped in the basement of our home. In my memoir,
Raped Black Male, I explain how for two years the sexual assault continued, until one day, after church, she told me, “We can’t do that anymore. It never happened, and if you tell anyone, you’ll get in trouble.” Afterward, I was confused, angry, and lived in a constant state of fear. For over twenty years of my life, I kept this secret hidden away and worked at building an armor of protection in the form of perfectionism, hypervigilance, workaholism, and humor in an attempt to feel safe.

On the outside, I lived under the façade of perfection. On the inside, I felt like anything but a hero as I battled anxiety and depression while attending Peoria High School, college at Bowling Green State University, and into my career as a secondary educator in Baltimore, Maryland.

After marrying Sarah and moving to Baltimore, the trauma of being raped as a child began to take its toll on my mental health. I remember morning panic attacks that would leave me incapacitated on the floor of the bathroom of our two-bedroom apartment, crying and repeating, “I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine.” Sarah would hold me in her arms, attempting to stop my body from violently shaking. Those mornings, I would force myself to put on dress pants, a button-up shirt, tie, dress shoes, and walk out the door to teach at-risk boys and girls who looked like me.

At the time, there were numerous reasons to not give up as a secondary educator. Although the job was difficult, I believed it was my responsibility as a husband for my newly formed family of choice to stick it out, no matter how difficult it was to work. Second, as a male teacher of color who suffered from the effects of an adverse childhood, I knew the high stakes of my job. I knew there was a necessity to be at school every day with an engaging lesson and a safe learning environment, because for most of my students, school was the only respite they had from a society that viewed them as an adult when they were only an eighth-grade student. School was their opportunity to eat a (usually) healthy breakfast and lunch. It also provided students with the opportunity to succeed, fail, and act with the carefree nature that should be the right of every child, rather than the responsibility of being the man of the house. These thoughts are what developed my attempt to master my own childhood trauma.

At the end of the workday, I would return home exhausted but also relaxed, knowing that for at least a few hours, the pressure of needing to perform the role of a man who had it all together could be locked away until the new day. At the time, I was in denial of my poor mental health and panic attacks from the previous morning. Sarah would attempt to coax me into discussing the severity of the previous morning, but I would refuse, claiming, “Everything’s fine. I’m fine.” Instead of discussing my emotions, I would visit the gym to relieve accumulated stress and anxiety. The lifting of weights and running on the treadmill would succeed in making me numb until the next morning when the cycle began again.
This was the cycle for the better part of the first years of our marriage. Over time, Sarah began insisting I visit a therapist. Rather than agree, I insisted we did not have enough time or money. To calm her down, I would say, “I’ll find one over the summer, I promise.” A promise that was never fulfilled, because with the heat of summer came the relaxation every teacher strives to reach throughout the haze of standardized tests, SLO’s, lesson plans, and parent-teacher conferences. For three months, the panic attacks would subside. The necessity of needing to relieve accumulated anxiety through the incessant running of miles on the treadmill would be no more, making the need for a therapist obsolete—that is, until the approach of September and the beginning of a new academic year.

For three years, I lived in a state of denial, perfection, hypervigilance, and workaholism that placed more strain than necessary on our marriage, causing my mental health to decline until it completely collapsed shortly after the purchase of our first home, the completion of my master’s degree in education from Johns Hopkins University, and the birth of my daughter, Mirus.

As a child, I was sexually assaulted by my sister from the age of eight until I was ten, the victim of the domestic abuse and alcoholism of my father, and homeless following the foreclosure of my childhood home, all before the age of eighteen. Since then, I lived in a state of fear, coping with my childhood trauma rather than healing from it. This is because healing cannot take place in an unsafe environment. The uncertainty of my future as a college student and young adult caused me to exhaust my energy while attempting to survive. However, in 2013, that all changed. The purchase of our first home and a career that provided a livable salary made it possible to address the adverse childhood experiences of my past, and Mirus ensured I no longer lived in a state of denial.

With Mirus’s birth, there was no longer time available to spend hours in the gym numbing my emotions, afternoons lying in bed battling depression, or mornings on the bathroom floor battling severe anxiety about the unpredictability of teaching a new unit to loving (but very difficult) class of teenagers. Mirus needed to be fed, changed, bathed, rocked to sleep, entertained, and loved. Sarah, who is also an educator, had her own lessons to teach on top of the responsibilities of being a mother. Placing more pressure on our marriage due to my trauma and mental illness was not an option, but rather than talk about my emotions and seek help from a therapist, I suffered a mental breakdown.

Severe depression and thoughts of suicide left me unable to get out of bed. Unable to be ignored any longer, Sarah’s support guided me towards finding a therapist, getting on medication, and beginning the process of healing from my childhood sexual abuse. Over the years, I have learned to communicate with Sarah about how I am feeling, and we both are better at communicating with the other about what we need. We learned to lean on one another following the loss of her younger brother, TJ; the passing of our son, Cassus; the infection of the pericardial sack around my heart resulting in a viral heart infection; and stress-filled work environments leading to anxiety, burnout, and compassion fatigue. This guide is meant to help people like my wife and Susan Todd, my therapist, who are the wonder women in the lives of so many others who are battling to recover from the traumas of their past. I hope they find the support needed to take care of themselves while also helping others to heal and grow.

Winning the Rat Race

How to Slow Your Inner Flash addresses the need for many survivors to become rat racers. Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D, explain in his book Happier how a rat racer lives life in hope of being happy in the future. This is a form of workaholism in which the survivor strives to achieve the next promotion, or big raise in hope of finally being successful. Ben-Shahar explains how as a society we are taught as children to delay gratification in hopes of achieving success in the future. The only problem is that success does not equate to happiness. Survivors of childhood sexual abuse sometimes become rat racers in hopes of ridding themselves of the shame felt following their childhood assault in hopes that their extrinsic success will create an intrinsic selflove. Unfortunately, beginning the process of healing from childhood trauma is the only method to create lasting change. These thoughts of overcoming workaholism, childhood trauma, and striving to win the rat race made me think of the short story “Race” written and published in my book of short stories, Thoughts in Italics in 2008. At the time I had not begun my journey of healing. Instead, I attempted to cope with my own childhood trauma through the use of creative writing inspired by episodes of The Twilight Zone and stories written by my favorite author, Ray Bradbury. It’s still one of my favorite pass times. Below is the story. I hope you enjoy.

Race

The race begins and all that is seen is a puff of smoke. In that half of an instant the silence that was once unheard throughout the field a few seconds ago was now echoing with cheers and yells of encouragement. A thunder of hundreds upon hundreds of feet hit the now shaking green grass. The field is limitless and extends into a very distant sunrise. Hills and curves can be seen along with a line of self proclaimed diehard fans who’s yells reach and shake the heavens causing and raising hell. The runners have no idea how long the race will last or why they are running it, but none the less they still race.

The runners begin the race.

In the beginning a few fall and stay down as others pass them by. Out of these few fallen runners at the starting line few get back up. Those that don’t are left on the field to watch and wonder what could have been. To wonder if the circumstances were different if they would have finished or even won the competition. In the end they are left with their thoughts and a conscience full of what ifs.

Many sprint off and try to take the lead. A few, a very few, out run the pack and get some distance on their competitors. As these few sprint towards the rising sun the crowd see their spotless running shoes, and never before run in uniform and know they cannot, will not, be stopped. At least so they think.

They forget this is a race and no one, except God, can predict the outcome.

The crowd loves these few exceptional human beings and yell louder with more passion, and in turn pushed the rest of the pack to try and catch up to these imaginary titans so they can gain the same glory, attention, and respect as the runners ahead of them.

Soon the masses of sweating flesh, beating hearts, exhausted legs and lungs get far enough away from the starting line to stay, and feel, they have begun the race.

The last few that lag behind receive little to no encouragement, but still they push on.

The race continues and runners continue to run.

In the beginning the course is clearly marked and the crowd is still thick along the side lines yelling and cheering. The competitors know where to go, and how to get there, but as days go by the crowds begin to thin out until there are only a few spectators still on course.

The race continues and runners continue to run.

Spirits become tired and many want to stop, and a few do. Some fall from exhausting themselves in the beginning of the race and not having anything left to keep their feet moving across the grass and soil beneath their feet. A few fall back and retain the positions they originally had, but the categorizing of people is no longer so easy to determine. The line of runners stretch back for miles with, in most cases, large and numerous gaps, and the leader of the pack often alternated with no definite winner in sight.

The runners felt the constant green carpet underneath their rubber soles with metal spikes and saw it extend in front of them for, as much as they could guess, for an eternity. Coming to the crest of every hill was the hope that the finish line could be seen somewhere, anywhere, in the distance.

With each hill came new hope and disappointment with the realization that the only thing to look forward to was more land and the fact of knowing they had to keep looking and moving forward. Legs became lead, arms became Jell-O, lungs became fire, and spirits began to fall. The brightness that glowed in all their eyes as dawn broke on that first morning began to fade, and in many were a heartbeat and a stumble away from going completely out.

But still the race continued and runners continued to run.

Some stopped to rest for a moment and never took another step. Some cried for help as they were passed by runner after runner in hopes of a savior that would never come.

People were pushed off the course, to the ground, or tripped by other runners. Many retaliated by committing the same crime, others stayed in the spot where they were done wrong to hate the injustice they were forced to endure, and very few did nothing at all. These few dusted themselves off, found their composure, and began to run again only to be dealt the same underhanded blow time and time again.

Everything imaginable that can be done to hurt another individual was done on that field. Acts of kindness did exist, but they were too exhausting and, in many cases, went unrecognized so were few in number. They just continued to move and push and grind forward without purpose or meaning, but still the race continued.

The cheers and applause of the exuberant crowd were not even a distant echo. Many had forgotten the race still existed, and others simply did not care.

The remaining few runners numbered less than a quarter of the original runners that occupied the starting line so long ago. The weather had changed many times and they had learned to pace themselves in all terrain and in all circumstances. They were tired to the point of death from exhaustion, but they still refused to stop. What drove them now was something more than fame or glory. They did not seek respect and they had stopped looking for the finish line so long ago they had forgotten it even was said to have existed. They sought something else. They did not know what it was, but they felt it and they knew the truth of what it was.

The course had stopped telling them where to go. They followed their own path.

In each one of these few remaining athletes was a look in the eyes that showed years of different landscapes, millions of minutes of thought, and countless seconds of coming to an understanding of a question they did not know the answer to. If you could take one look in their eyes you could understand that they weren’t running to win the race anymore.

They were running to finish it.

The finish line existed wherever it was they stopped and lost hope. This is what beat them. Not the people running around, and next to them. You would see they refused to be beat and to give up was not an option. They would continue to run until the last breath had escaped their lungs and they had strength left to move one more step. They would finish the race.

And the race continued and the runners continued to run.

Grooming Dion

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What is grooming? It’s about making sure the person or people you are going to abuse come to accept the abuse as normal. If done effectively, it not only affects the victim, but the people surrounding the victim as well. Others begin to see the behavior as normal and acceptable. This can be seen in Raising Dion with the character, Pat. Now, if you have not seen season one of Raising Dion and you do not want spoilers stop reading now.

Now that they’re gone let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Pat, Dion’s godfather and Mark’s best friend was the villain! How did people not see it coming? Well, I kind of did, but mostly because of watching “Unbreakable” and remembering Mr. Glass said that the villain and the hero often begin as friends. Also, Pat’s migraines seemed odd. However, the reason the characters on the show did not notice is not because they did not see one of the few good M. Night Shamalyan’s movies. It’s because Pat was able to groom the individuals around him into accepting his socially awkward and boundary breaking behavior.


For example, when Pat was told not to show up after work, there he would be, at the door, with a pizza. When he was told to go home, he would stay just a little longer. “Pat, don’t investigate this woman. I can handle it on my own.” Against, Nicole’s wishes he did it anyway. He consistently broke the personal boundaries of those around him, and rather than be called out on it, they often let it slide. Not only that, but they called on him to pick Dion up from school, take him to school, take him out for pizza, keep his secret from the hospital, and so much more until he began to be a necessity. Grooming is how abusers retain their power. They pray on the weak to the point where it appears their life is impossible to live without them. They make boundary breaking because it’s “needed” or they “want to help” or “they know best”. Pat knew Nicole did not have many people in her life to help with her son so he knew he that eventually he would find a way to become a necessity in their life. With Pat, he knew Nicole needed help with her son. With other abusers it could be that they know their victim needs money, time, a break, anything that relieves the stress of life, even if it means wavering on well established boundaries. But what happens when hard boundaries are finally drawn? Pat offers an example for this as well.


When Nicole tells Pat that he could not dictate her choices and that he could not be a part of Dion’s life, he became defensive and angry. He told Nicole, “I think you’re taking advantage of me.” He made himself appear to be the victim who is not appreciated for always being there, and always being willing to help. When this does not work he becomes angry. He lashes out, becomes controlling, and obsessive until his true colors as a villain are revealed. Abusers who groom their victims and have to live with established boundaries they attempt to make themselves appear to be the one who has been wrong and taken advantage of. Eventually, they become angry and obsessively controlling.


The goal of survivors is continuing to maintain healthy boundaries, no matter how hard the abuser attempts to weaken the borders. It is the only way to keep the Crooked Man out and save your inner Dion. 

The Superman Facade and Childhood Sexual Abuse (Excerpt from "How to Conquer Your Superman")

Superman

The below excerpt is from my soon to be released guide for male survivors of childhood sexual abuse, How To Conquer Your Superman. The guide is still being written and revised. This means, I would very much like feedback to know what I do right, what I do wrong, and how I can improve. More portions of the book will be released over the coming months as How To Conquer Your Superman : A Guide for Male Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse using DC Comics Superman is planned to be released in March of 2020. Thank you for your support and valuable feedback.

The Superman Façade and Childhood Sexual Abuse

When you hear, Superman what image comes to mind?

When you hear “Man of Steel,” do you visualize a large red “S” emblazoned on a background of gold in the center of the superhero’s chest with matching perfectly curled “S” dangling from his jet-black hair?


How do you feel when you hear the phrase, “Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s Superman!?” Are you filled with hope and confidence that the day will be saved?

You may picture bullets bouncing off the chest of the hero as he swoops in, foils the bad guy’s plan for world domination, and flies away with a smile, never asking for a thank you in return. You may be filled with a sense of unwavering optimism in believing, beyond the shadow a doubt, that everything will work out fine, and good will triumph over evil.

It is for this reason that although Superman was the first superhero, and for many, he will remain the best. He does what is right rather than what is easy no matter how difficult the choice may be. He is a savior and a true hero who is always willing to sacrifice himself to save a single human life. He is strong, kind, confident, and unbeatable. In essence, he is perfect! With these qualities, it makes sense why children double knot bath towels around their neck and run through their home with fists in the air pretending to be the Big Blue Boy Scout.


Being Superman feels good. It feels right. Being Superman and possessing his abilities to run faster than a speeding bullet, and leap buildings in a single bound is everything a survivor wishes they could be and do. This is because, rather than feeling strong and confident like Superman, male survivors of child sexual abuse live in a constant state of fear, anxiety, stress, and worry. Ellen Bass explains in 
The Courage to Heal how many male survivors have been sexually abused as children tend to feel:

  • Bad, dirty, or ashamed
  • Different from other people
  • That there’s something wrong deep down inside
  • That if people really knew them they’d leave
  • A pervasive sense of shame
  • Alienated or isolated.

These feelings cause some survivors to:

  • Hate themselves
  • Feel compelled to be perfect.

These emotions and thoughts are the exact opposite of what it means to be Superman, and is why male survivors sometimes cope with the effects of these negative thoughts and feelings by creating a 
Superman façade to fake being confident and in control. 

The Superman façade is born in an attempt to filter the interactions, thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and behaviors survivors feel about themselves and others through the lens of a savior and what is believed to be right in order to feel safe through predictability. The reason some survivors of childhood sexual abuse may create a Superman façade is because during early development, when consistency and routine are needed to develop confidence in themselves while build positive and secure relationships with caregivers and other adults, children who are sexually abused, or suffer a form of C-PTSD, live in a constant state of unpredictability and fear. These children do not, and often cannot, create secure attachments to adults and other individuals, losing the skills needed to create a positive view of the world. To cope, some latch onto the predictability and safety of superheroes, adopting the behavior of heroes to develop a Superman façade that lives by a 
“hero code” of their own creation.

Male survivors of childhood sexual abuse live in a reality of chaos, filled with fear, shame, guilt from their sexual abuse, and unreliable adults who are unable to provide protection and safety. However, in the world of superheroes and comics, whether on television or on art filled pages, heroes provide the predictability of safety. They follow a code of doing what is right and punishing the bad guys that they wish adults in reality possessed. No matter if a superhero has the ability to fly, move at lightning speed, or materialize objects with the help of a super-charged ring, each hero shares a code to protect the weak and consistency the child survivor needs. This “hero code” is an unwritten code that guides a hero’s actions, separating their behavior from that of a villain, informing the survivor how not to become like their abuser, creating a definition of safety that is not provided by caregivers. The “hero code” defines the core of a superhero’s character, while also dictating the rules need to function under the guise of a Superman façade. Without the “hero code”, both the hero and the survivor would be lost.


The male survivor who develops a Superman façade as a child survivor develops a black-and-white view of the world, filled with absolute beliefs of right-and-wrong. These young males latch on to the rules of their “hero code” for safety and predictability, but mostly because of the benefits associated with helping others while maintaining a sense of control. Seth J. Gillihan, PhD explains in 
Cognitive Behavior Therapy Made Simple how helping others leads to improvements in anxiety and depression symptoms. He states how researchers have found that:

  • Focusing on others can distract from one’s own distress.
  • Helping others provides a sense of meaning and purpose.
  • Prosocial behaviors may cause the release of oxytocin, which is involved in trust and bonding with others.
  • Doing nice things may stimulate the release of dopamine.
  • Reaching out to others may lower activity in the stress response system.

Meaning, the Superman façade is an attempt for the survivor to

  • be liked and accepted by others in an attempt to eliminate feelings isolation,
  • ensure the survivor does not identify with their abuser in an attempt to not become a villain,
  • latch on to predictable and positive examples of caregivers,
  • hides their feelings of shame and guilt with smiles and kindness to eliminate feelings of shame and self-hatred.

To illustrate how the Superman façade can translate into a “hero code” male survivors feel obligated to follow there is no better comic to be used then 
Actions Comics #775.

Killing My Batman (Excerpt from "How to Kill Your Batman")

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**Before reading this blog it is important to know that within the last few weeks my father has apologized. I will update my readers in the coming weeks and discuss “How to Save Your Superboy” in my soon to be released book How to Conquer Your Superman. **

How to kill your Batman is different for every male survivor. For me, it means learning to become a better man, husband, father, teacher, and mentor as a recovering male survivor of childhood sexual abuse. 

When reading Tom King’s, Batman, the need to become a better man seemed to be a recurring theme in numerous issues. Throughout the series there were no perfect fathers, or father figures, but there were those who strived to be better men. For example, there’s a scene in Batman #6 when Alfred, dressed as Batman and driving the Batmobile toward a deranged Gotham. The butler talks to himself, as if to calm his nerves concerning the absurdity of what he is doing, about when he agrees to be Bruce Wayne’s Godfather. He says, before ramming the Batmobile into the former hero, Gotham:

Well, Thomas, allow me to be the first to say what an honor it is to be asked. For you, possibly, to entrust me with the care of Master Bruce. Well, sir, I am humbled. But of course the need for such care will never arise. It is not as if on some dark night you are going to just go walking down Crime Alley with Martha in her best pearls. That would be…absurd. But, if such unlikely circumstances were tragically to come to pass allow me to assure you that it will not be a difficult burden to bear. Bruce is such a good boy, sir, as you well know. Quiet and calm and yet still compassionate and curious. Caring for him will be more a pleasure than a chore, sir. A life of mild days reading books. Tranquil nights playing board games. Perhaps a charity ball now and then.

Afterward, Alfred jumps from the vehicle and confronts Gotham. While his actions are meant to bring a moment of comic relief, at any moment Alfred could be ripped in half, or disintegrated by the hero turned villain. Instead of running or refusing, the butler stood his ground and did something insane for his son, Bruce. His actions gave Batman the needed time to arrive and save the day.

Throughout this series, Alfred was more of a hero than Batman could ever be because the love he had for Bruce conquered his fear. By all intents and purposes, Alfred failed at raising Bruce. Rather than help the boy heal from his childhood trauma, he grew up to fight crime dressed as a giant bat. Although he did not succeed in raising Bruce, he did the very best he could, and continued to do the best he could as Bruce took on the role of Batman. 

The villain, Kite Man, also comes to mind as a flawed, but still doing the best he can, father. During the “War of Jokes and Riddles,” Kite Man loses his son in Batman #27. Charles Brown becomes a pawn for Batman, the Joker, and the Riddler as each try to gain ground in the war. The casualty was Charles’s son, Charlie Brown, killed when Riddler sent a kite to the young boy with a rope laced in poison. The death of his son pushes Charles to become the villain, Kite Man.
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In no way was Charles a perfect father. In fact, he was kind of worthless as a father, but he still tried to be the best he could. In Batman #30, Charles narrates a conversation with his son, as he continues to be pulled from one side of the war to the other, like a kite in the wind. The conversation shows how Charles is viewed by other characters in the comic, but not his son.

Charlie:Daddy, can I tell you something?

Kite Man: 
Sure, Charlie. What’s up?

Charlie:
Mommy was talking on the phone I don’t know to who.

Kite Man: 
Okay.

Charlie:
And she said…well, she was talking about you, and…well, Mommy said you’re a joke.

Kite Man: 
What?

Charlie:
Why did Mommy say you’re a joke?

Kite Man: 
She said that in front of you. That I’m a joke.

Charlie:
Well, it was on the phone. That time. She said it before, too. That was probably
in front of me. She says it lots.


Kite Man: 
Your mother shouldn’t–don’t worry about that, Buddy. That’s not your business.

Charlie:
But, Daddy…are you a joke?

Kite Man: 
Your mother didn’t mean that like it sounded. It’s fine

Charlie:
It sounded like you’re a joke. Is Mommy a liar?

Kite Man: 
I mean, she didn’t — I mean, maybe she’s not a liar. No. Okay. Sometimes I am. I guess. I play with kites too much, and your mom is — she does a lot of stuff for you. So maybe she’s right.

Charlie:
Are you a joke, Daddy?

Kite Man: 
I mean, look, buddy, here’s the thing. I try a lot of things. And I’m not always good at them. And when I fail, people laugh. I get it. It’s funny to watch. Like I’m slipping on a banana. And maybe when they watch and they’re laughing, they say, “He’s a joke.” I’m a joke. And so I guess I am. But what am I supposed to do? You know? I’m supposed to just quit? Just so they stop laughing? Just so they don’t call me a joke? There’s an old story. I ever tell you this? Like a guy is pushing this boulder up the top of this hill. And he’s cursed. So, like, every time he gets it right to the top, it rolls down. That’s the curse he never makes it. But he has to get it up, so he goes back down and gets it and does it over. Pushing it up again. Watching it fall over and over. Forever. That’s a joke, right? It’s funny. Right at the top, he’s happy and…whoops! Ha ha ha. Ha. Ha. And that’s me. That’s all of us. We’re all just pushing a boulder. Whatever we’re trying, we’re going to watch it fall, we’re going to hear them laugh. Right at the top of the hill. All of us. We’re all jokes. But the thing is, right, you got to laugh, too. It’s the only way. I mean, you got to laugh with them. Okay, I’m a joke. I’m a joke and I’m funny! Then you’re laughing with them. And if you’re laughing with them. Then at least your laughing.

Charlie:
Daddy, you know how I don’t like to fly kites ‘cause I can’t get them to fly?

Kite Man: 
Yeah. Y’know I can show you.

Charlie:
You want to go outside and do the kites? Like now?

Kite Man: 
Really? Charlie, you want to go fly them? With me?

Charlie:
I never get it up. It’ll fall, I know. But if it falls, then I’m a joke. And I can laugh. We can laugh, right? Me and you, Daddy. It’ll be funny.

Kite Man: 
Yeah, Charlie. It’ll be hilarious.

While flying the kite, Charles asks his son if he liked the kite. His son’s response was, “hell yeah.” Charles tells Charlie that “hell” is a bad word. The father explains to his son how his mother and grandmother said when he was a child that if he said the word then he might go to that place. Before dying in the hospital, Charlie asks his father if he was going to go to hell because he said the bad word. Before Charles could answer, Charlie dies. So, while it may seem to be a running joke that every time someone says, “Kite Man” the response is, “Hell, yeah,” it is actually in remembrance of his son.
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No, Charles was not the best father, but the love of his son was evident. He tried. Failed. And tried again. When Charlie died, Charles became the villain, Kite Man, only to get close enough to the Riddler to avenge the murder of his son. In the end, when it was all over, Charles was lost. He continues as a villain only because he does not know what else to do. Again, a father doing the best he can with what he has.
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Thomas Wayne telling his son, Bruce, to no longer be Batman so that he can happy. Bruce attempting to protect his sons from Bane’s wrath by telling them to leave Gotham until the trouble has passes. All of them make me wonder why my father, who claims to do (and did) the best he can, will not apologize for telling me to forget the sexual abuse committed by my sister from eight to ten-years-old.

Better Man


A number of years ago I told my father that for two years I had been raped by my sister (his daughter) from eight to ten-years-old. After explaining the details of the sexual assault he told me, “Forget about it. It’s in the past. The best thing you can do is move on.” Rather than cower and continue to harbor the secret I had been carrying for over twenty years, I responded with defiance and honesty. 


I told him that I couldn’t forget. The abuse was something I had to live with every day and that it could not be forgotten. 


He apologized, hung up, and did not speak with me for nine months. It was not until Daniel (my brother) told him that he needed to start talking to me that my father proceeded to text and talk with me as if nothing had happened. The illusion of normalcy was not something I could return to, so I asked my father for a written letter apologizing for abandoning me after I told him about my sexual assault. Rather than reply, he responded back via text. He said:


Okay son. I will respect your request. You are a grown man and able to make your own decisions. I’m glad you are doing better and I’m really sorry to hear about Sarah’s brother. Let me say this…I love my kids the same. You, Daniel, and _____are my life. I don’t love one no more or less than the other one. If I could take your hurt I would. I can’t so I can do only what I am able to do. But remember this. We can only start healing after we forgive. If I could change things I would. I’m sure your sister is hurting. I’m sure she had no intention of hurting you. Then or now. She has to live with the fact of what she did and face everyone who read your book and label her a rapist. This has to be really hard for her. I’m sure this has been really hard on you. I can only imagine how hard it has been. I know my kid and know you are strong. You can and will overcome this. It’s in the blood. No matter what you think, this too will pass. If you need me I will always be there for you. Don’t be a stranger. I don’t want you to one day think I missed out on a lot of my family’s life. She, Daniel, Tina (my mother) and me are your family. Love you unconditionally. Da


In 
Heroes, Villains, and HealingI analyze what this message means, the impact it had on me on me then, and the possible thoughts of my father after writing it. Since my father sent that message, I have yet to receive a letter of apology, but I have spoken with him.
This past August, Daniel (my brother) called to let me know that my father was having serious medical problems and not managing his diabetes. Photos of my father’s legs forced me to call in an attempt to tell him to stop being stubborn and go to the hospital. I lied and said I had already called an ambulance, but he still refused. After making a series of excuses about not having the money and going to VA Hospital, I became angry. Really angry! His pride and stubbornness pushed me over the edge. I began cursing, telling him how he did not prepare me for how hard life could be. Through tears, I told him how my wife and I had almost gone bankrupt attempting to survive paying for daycare and continue to work on the salary of two teachers. How fear of losing our house in Baltimore the same way I had last my home in Peoria made me stubborn, just like him. To survive we sold our home and moved to Ohio to be closer to family. I explained how we were living with my in-laws and attempted to articulate my anxiety, fear, and feelings of being a failure as a father and husband. 

I yelled.


Screamed.


I begged for an answer.


Why would he not apologies for leaving me alone when I needed him the most? His response: “I can’t do something I don’t believe is right.”


My world stopped.


Until that moment, I believed, beyond a doubt, that maybe my father did not understand what I wanted from him to do to begin to repair our broken relationship. I thought that maybe be believed the text message he sent constituted an apology. His response proved that I was being naive.


There were no more tears as I heard him say, “It’s good to hear your voice.”


There was no more emotion as I heard him ask, “How are my grandbabies doing?”


I knew I had lost my father.


Afterward, I told him to take care of himself, and hung up the phone.


In the home of my mother and father-in-law, after selling my home, and ending the career and life I had made with my wife and children, I cried. I mourned the loss of my father. I mourned the loss of my childhood. I mourned the loss of my family of origin.

I have never felt so alone and like such a failure. 

My father has often attempted to justify his actions told me, “I did the best I could.” I know now, this is not true. As a father, I look into the eyes of my daughters and my heartbreaks at the thought of not having them in my life. I love them more than I ever believed I could love another human being. If they needed my life, it would be theirs. My life 
istheirs. This is why I do not understand why my father will not apologize. If he loved me, if he did the best he could, he would do whatever it took to remain a part of my life. Instead, his pride, hypervigilance, and idea of manhood defined by the “boy code” keep him from saying three words; I am sorry.

I’m sorry for not showing up to your high school graduation.


I’m sorry I never paid the mortgage, ran away to Alabama, and you and your mother were homeless for two years.


I’m sorry the fights I had (physical and verbal) with your mother and brother ripped our family apart.


I’m sorry I didn’t protect you from being raped when you were eight-years-old.


I’m sorry I didn’t protect your sister when she was raped by Mr. Miller.


I’m sorry I told you to forget what happened to you.


I’m sorry you were raped.


I’m sorry I wasn’t a better father and husband. I could have done and been better.


These are the words I will never hear from my father. His Batman will live until the day he dies.Each day, my daughters and my wife kill a little more of my Batman. With each kiss, hug, and I love you, my Batman fades from existence. I attempt to conquer my hypervigilance to be a better father, husband, educator, coach, and mentor. Each day I fall short, but each morning I rise to try again. My Batman will never fully die, but I will always attempt to be a model for those striving to be, become, and know a better man.