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On Writing Daddy's Girl
After I had been through many versions of the manuscript (written over almost a decade) I decided that for this book to have validity it would be necessary not only to show the past but also to give a picture of the present-illustrating how the events of my childhood affected me at the time, as well as later in life as an adult and a parent.
Given that I wrote the book in the first place as a document that I hoped would be useful to others who'd suffered abuse and also to professionals, I felt it was very important to present detailed portraits of the child I was and the woman I grew to be (in large measure as a result of trying to cope with the long-term effects of the abuse.) As well, I thought it was vital to illustrate how fallout from the abuse can be felt down through the generations, if one fails to exercise awareness and caution.
So the book weaves back and forth between past and present (the present being 1979, when the final version was completed). I also had to decide at the very start whether I was going to dole out snippets of truth or be completely truthful and address the issue as fully as I was able. There seemed no point to writing an autobiographical account of incest if I was going to be anything less than completely truthful. It was not difficult to tell the truth, nor was the writing of the book a cathartic experience, as many have imagined it to be. The fact is that I had long-since confronted my personal demons and had managed to relegate the past to the past-something exceedingly difficult for many victims of any/all forms of abuse to do.
A few years ago in correcting the page proofs of a new British edition of the book, I reread DADDY'S GIRL, and was gratified by what I'd written. (Often, with my novels, I am not at all happy when I reread them.) I think that as an author I have little, if any, objectivity about my work once it's completed and so am not necessarily a good judge of it. But I am proud of DADDY'S GIRL. Since its publication in 1980 it has been of help to a lot of people. And, ultimately, it's my way of returning some measure of the kindness and attention people showed me when I was working my way along the rough roadway toward my future.Top of Page
On Recovered Memories
While I was trying to decide what, specifically, I wanted to say on this matter, I couldn't help thinking that the central issue in my own, well-remembered, experience of incest was power. I had none, my father had it-at least in that situation-completely. Now, looking at the issue of "recovered memories" what keeps catching my attention is the issue of power. The "therapists" directing these "recoveries" seem to be playing my father's role: exercising an inordinate degree of power and control over people who, for whatever reason, feel they have none. I find the situation very scary, and absolutely infuriating.
Those of us (and since 1977 I have met with literally thousands of others) who have always been aware of our abuse have spent our time in the aftermath of the experience seeking two things primarily: absolution from any responsibility for having in some unknown fashion brought the abuse upon ourselves, and a degree of power over our own lives. The majority wished to be able to live without self-hatred and to comprehend why this monstrous thing had happened to us. Certainly, many longed to have the truth come out about a problem that had been kept secret for far too long; some, understandably, wanted never to see the abusive parent again; all of us were angry, alienated to some degree, fearful, yet, overall, trying to be optimistic. We wanted our futures and some measure of inner peace. Not once, in the almost ten years I traveled extensively, speaking out on the subject, did I ever encounter a professional who advocated an individual's complete break from his or her family. Common sense dictated that in most cases it would be disastrous to sever connections with our entire families and, therefore, our composite pasts. The very notion of assisted "recovered memories" drives me wild. People recover memories every day. A particular perfume, the scent of fresh-mown grass, a toy, a book-countless things can revive something that's rested dormant in a distant corner of our minds for years. Until fairly recently I'd never encountered anyone-man, woman or child-who'd forgotten being abused. We remembered every bit of it, and had the attendant fears and psychological tics that go along with having lost our right to privacy and to our own bodies.
But in the past couple of years I've started getting calls from people wanting validation for their recovered memories. After all, I wrote the book; I'm the genuine article-an honest-to-god abuse victim who opened a door that had been very firmly closed for far too long. I can offer sisterhood, fraternity, if I'll just apply my personal stamp of approval to the tales these callers tell with alarming, almost ghoulish, relish. What the hell is this?Top of Page
A woman I've known for over thirty years who's always been searching for her "gift," for the career move that will finally bring her happiness has now got memories that fill her with purpose. After falling out of touch for a decade, she telephoned to say, in essence, "Guess what? Me, too!" But in very new tones of tremendous self-importance. This woman who'd never been able to find something to do in life that would bring her any satisfaction was now positively brimming with it. With the help of her therapist, she'd at last found her calling-as a victim!
She had ludicrous, unbelievable tales to tell of satanic abuse-in the heart of one of Toronto's oldest, wealthiest areas. Right! Somehow I couldn't help thinking the neighbors in the flanking houses (built very close together) would have seen or heard something. And what about her housewife mother? Wouldn't she have noticed that her work-at-home husband up in the attic studio was performing bestial acts upon their young adopted daughter? And how come school didn't fit into any of this? Didn't she go? She was legally removed as co-executor of her father's (substantial) estate because her brother, also adopted, vehemently denies anything happened and is sickened by her proliferating claims. She was pretty bitter about all of that. But it was okay, really. She'll get her inheritance regardless. And there's a happy ending to her ongoing story. At the age of 50-something, she's planning to go back to school to become a therapist, and then she'll be able, at long last, to exercise her newfound power.
What is going on? It's as if some sort of collective lunacy has taken hold of people-the patients and therapists, both lockstepped in a march toward finding a past history of abuse at all costs. Victimhood as a desirable status is anathema to me, and to all the others like me who lived in shame for so long because ours was a secret too terrible to reveal. And if we took the risk and told somebody, there was the very real likelihood that we'd be condemned as vicious liars.
Nevertheless, after my father's death (and without ever naming the members of my family) I took it upon myself to reveal the secret in the hope that it would help others. I hate the idea that Daddy's Girl might become the equivalent of that underground "cookbook" on how to create home-made bombs. And the only way I know how to prevent that happening is by affiliating myself with a foundation whose work I believe in.
I am in the fairly unique position of having acquired objectivity about my childhood-not then or now do I blame anyone; I believe that my father loved me; and I have never broken contact with my family-and of being fully cognizant of the many, many long-term effects of incest. So, to help, I am committed to speaking out once again in order to try to stop this madness.
July 23rd 1996Top of Page