Bastard Child Un-witnessed (part III)

It was Father’s Day 2012. My sister lay dying from her heroic battle with cancer. In this series of VI blogs I tell the story of how four generations of denial, secrecy and being the un-witnessed child led to the last forsaken phone call to my dying sister. In part III I share excerpts from my book, Ragdoll Redeemed, and the childhood obsession of meeting my father. I believed the meeting itself could redeem me from the bastard label.

I was sure that in meeting my father, I could overcomne my illegitimate label. As if just meeting him would somehow magically redeem me. Growing up, I ingested the term “bastard” that was often directed at me with the same pejorative nuances as the word, “whore”. There was also the oft quoted biblical words bantered about−surely not meant for children’s ears−“The bastard shall not enter the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation.”  (Deuteronomy 23:2).

All of my life, I had understood a bastard as not belonging, not being real, not being legitimate, a foreigner. I recall thinking if my father would just welcome me; I would be known and therefore authenticated.

Gloria Steinem writes about Marilyn Monroe’s sadness at not being accepted by her father when she contacted him. “I can only imagine the heartbreaking disappointment that Marilyn felt the day that she finally got up the nerve to call her father. Her first husband, Jim Dougherty, said that she slumped down, put the receiver back and said, “Oh, honey, he hung up on me.”

I imagine she felt as I did, only wanting a few moments of his time, a glance at his face, perhaps a smile of approval. I   b e l i  e v e d  he held the key to a legitimate life. He was my beginning, the very stuff I was made from. My mother and grandmother had told me many times that I was conceived in love. If that was true, then meeting him, touching him, seeing him with my own eyes, would somehow enable me to know myself.

In my January 30th blog, I write about the stain of the title “bastard”. Young people of today have little if any of the past stigma illegitimacy brought to bear upon the shoulders of children born outside of marriage. In those times, the dominate culture’s attitude imprinted a type of permanent deformity into the very soul of children born out of wedlock. Being one of those children, as was Marilyn, “Shameful, embarrassing, defective,” became the standard by which everyone, including ourselves, measured us.

It’s much easier to wear the mantle of the bastard label if you’re a girl child born into a family with mental illness, alcoholism, violence, serial parents, rejection, foster care, and sexual abuse. Labels seem normal. I thought that I was the label – a conditioning ripe for depression, addictions and suicidal ideation. Most of us are familiar with these haunting aspects widely reported about Marilyn’s life. To Be continued.

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Bastard Child Un-witnessed (PART II)
Bastard Child Un-witnessed (part IV)