I have read a lot about the Dylan Farrow situation, in which she reaffirms her claim that Woody Allen molested her. Although I believe her, that does not really matter for this post.
I am coming from the perspective of someone whose family was wrenched apart by the revelation of sexual abuse.
My mother was sexually abused by her step-father when she was growing up. She initially told her mom about the abuse as a teen and her mom’s response was to leave the house to go to the store (thus leaving my mom with her abuser). He said he was sorry. My grandmother did not want to know what happened. So life went on as if it did not happen.
But it did. And the truth was buried for years.
We were very close to my grandparents – Grandma (my mom’s mom) and Paw Paw (my mom’s step-dad). Every holiday was at their house. When our house burned down in 1994, my grandparents came and got my sisters and I and took us to their house. My family stayed with my grandparents (for the most part) while our house was being rebuilt.
Grandma especially was a significant part of our lives. We took trips with her. My mom spoke with Grandma every morning before work and they were best friends. So many of my childhood memories involve my Grandma and being at my grandparents’ house. My mom taught in a school district close to my grandparents’ house and my Grandma subbed there.
About a year or so after we moved to East Texas, around the time of my first year in college, my mom started acting different. It was like her brain was short-circuiting. I knew she was in therapy. I knew she had started working out and losing weight.
I knew her step-dad had been a massive alcoholic while she was growing up. He was verbally abusive. I did not know about the sexual abuse. I cannot remember how I found out about it. I know that I found out before my sisters did. I cannot remember if they found out before or after Christmas 2004.
That Christmas, my mom confronted her abuser. Because she had lost weight, he was making comments about her body. My grandmother told her that Don had been laying in wait for her to come to their house so that they could play ping pong.
Before our Christmas get together at their house, my mom sent my grandparents a certified letter. It said that due to the history of sexual abuse from Don, he needed to refrain from making comments about her or her daughters’ bodies (Don had recently taken up a concern about my sisters and my weight).
Yes, my parents, sisters, and I still went to Christmas at my grandparents’ that year. We tried to act normal. It was, to say the least, awkward. Don hid in the back bedroom, playing on the computer. He claimed he was rejecting the commercialization of Christmas or some bullshit when my cousins (and perhaps my sisters – again, I cannot remember when they found out, though I vaguely remember having a conversation in the car in a mall parking lot about it) asked why he was acting butt-hurt.
I think I tried to maintain a relationship with my grandparents for a while after the revelation. After all, Grandma had been a significant part of my life. I sent them Christmas presents through the mail. Later I realized I did not want to maintain the connection.
My Grandma told my Dad that whatever had occurred was in the past, that my grandparents were different people now, and that it was Beth’s (my mom’s) problem. She did not care to know what happened. At all. My mom was just causing drama.
This was devastating to my parents, sisters, and me. My parents have always supported me and have unconditional love for me. That a parent would take the side of their child’s abuser was difficult to comprehend… then again, there has always been a sense of submission and dependence on the part of my grandmother to Don (filling his glass when it was empty, fixing his plate for him, having to thank him for working that day). She did not want to know when my mom was a teen and the abuse was fresh. She did not want to know years later. She still does not want to know. I should also not have been surprised given that she cut off all contact and relationship with her son years prior. The parent-child relationship is seemingly not important to her… though she has “adopted” adults I guess she treats as if they were her children – mostly ex-friends of her son.
This has been, of course, the opposite of Mia Farrow’s relationship with her daughter (based on appearances and stories in the media). Mia seems to have been protective.
My parents, sisters, and I refused and still refuse to play the game of “let’s pretend this never happened.”
My mom has told me she was so afraid that my sisters and I would choose our Grandma over her. She was not oblivious to the risks she was taking by breaking the silence. My dad and she encouraged us to, if we chose, to carry on a relationship with our grandparents. And we each did for a while. But it meant playing that game again. Our grandparents were a huge part of our lives, especially our family traditions. My mom was afraid that we would miss such traditions too much, that we would look at what we had then and what we have now and think we were wanting.
Starting our own thing has not been easy, but it is ours. It is honest. We do not play “let’s pretend this never happened.” We do not want for anything.
We cut ties. Fortunately, Don was not an acclaimed director so we did not have to deal with him. He was not given major awards for his work. When he died, there was not a retrospective in a magazine.
There was hope that my Grandma might reconnect. On the one hand, it meant that she would finally acknowledge what happened and do some work (like therapy) to deal with that. On the other hand, she would have waited until after he died to do anything, thus avoiding a huge conflict.
She did neither. She turned 71 this year. Last year, my mom sent her a birthday card. But, long story short, my grandmother made it clear that she has no desire to revisit the past or engage in “Don bashing.”
I sort of feel sorry for her in that she is missing out on relationships with vibrant, brilliant people. But she does not deserve it if she will not do the work or live in the light of truth.
As I have read about Dylan and the comments after such articles, I see different paths.
One path is a person who my mom and family used to be – not addressing abuse because it would mean breaking apart the family and that is considered too high a price. They are still playing the “let’s pretend this never happened” game.
Another path is the “all in their head” route. I have had nightmares about this and the sense of betrayal I felt when I woke up was palpable. If my mom was making it up – and I do not for a moment think she is – it would be a massive betrayal and my stability in the world would crash down around me. I do not know if my grandmother believes it is all in Beth’s head, but I would not put it past her. No doubt my mom considered the risk of my sisters and I taking this route before she revealed the truth.
Yet another path holds the abuser to be a good man now, his past be damned. When Don died, my grandmother’s “adopted” adult children claimed this about him. Though, even if he had not been an abuser, he was still an asshole, in my opinion (he was an ardent worshiper of Rush Limbaugh).
Although Dylan Farrow may not have been cognizant of the repercussions of her revelation when she was 7 or so, I have a feeling that she has considered them thousands of times since then. I don’t know if she has sometimes wished she could go back or even start to play the “let’s pretend this never happened” game. I hope she can take solace in the fact that she seems to have a mother and at least one brother who believe her, support her, and fight alongside her. I hope she does not blame herself for protecting herself (and her siblings and her own children) from her abuser. I hope she is happy with her family, even though it is not as large as it once was.
I know I am.