Somewhere, there is a child who is far too young to care about who is and who is not present in his life. Somewhere, there is a child who is not yet aware that she has been completely sealed off from a loving parent. Somewhere, there is a child who cannot comprehend that one of his parents is missing from his life; that there is a void; that there are questions being sown. Deep, churning, subconscious questions that have yet to form and grow and gnaw.
But then, the curiosity slowly builds. “Do I have a dad?” she asks. “Do I have a mom?” he wonders. “Where is he?” “Where is she?” “When will we see him again?” The parent who is present (i.e. the abductor) carefully considers the child’s age before replying. When they’re 4, 5, or 6, the brush-off is a snap. However, by the age of 8, 9, or 10, these tactics wear thin as the pain increases along with the hunger: “Did we do something wrong, Mom?” “Is Mom upset with me, Dad?” “Why isn’t Dad here? Doesn’t he care about me?” For as long as possible, the responses are pithy and pat. When that doesn’t work, a harsh pivot to anger is just the thing to quash any burning curiosity: “Who gives a s—t about her?!!” “How the F—K should I know what your father is thinking or feeling?!!” Sometimes, this shuts the child up for a few days. Sometimes, for a few months. And sometimes, forever. But the questions never go away.
How did our child get to this bleak and lowly place? The answer varies. Frequently, a parent simply violates a court order and vanishes with the child. He or she will change names or move to a distant state or leave the country altogether. Naturally, they will always have their explanations (“I was only acting in my son’s best interest.”), but it never alters the illegality of it all, not to mention the moral questions. Imagine what it does to a child when she is shuffled from place to place simply because her delinquent, runaway dad doesn’t want to be detected. Imagine what cruelness is it to a boy when his world has no patterns, no sameness, no routines, no certainty. Children have an innate yearning to understand where they fit in—with their parents, with their siblings, with their peers, and with the bigger world, beyond. So what happens when there is nothing to fit in with? The simple answer is, it is devastating; when the basic structures of a child’s life are disrupted or destroyed, it is an emotional calamity that never quite recedes.
Sadly, this is an aspect of child abuse that is too rarely discussed or reckoned with. Physical abuse, though awful to contemplate, is easier to wrap one’s mind around; it is more clear-cut, more visible, and more solvable (E.g. separate the child from the abuser). Emotional abuse of the nature described above is shadowy, nebulous, and harder to grasp. Further, it is challenging for the victim to understand, as well, for there is no discernable ‘it’ for her to point to. There is no singular moment, no monster, no scar, no thing to accuse and blame for the unrelenting void the victim feels in her heart. There is only a dark, fearful place that one tries—at all costs—to avoid. After all, to go there would only mean to stir up deep and enduring pain. You see, this is the place where the child hears the voice of her mother or father (the one who was present AND the one who was not) saying again and again in echoing waves: “I don’t love you. I don’t love you. I don’t love you. I don’t love you…”
But though the room can be avoided, it can never be forgotten. The child becomes a teenager… becomes a young adult… becomes a twentysomething, thirtysomething, fortysomething, and so on. But the room never completely fades away. Simply put, what has been done to the child has effects which are everlasting.
Please consider this the next time you hear about someone who went missing twenty-some-odd years ago. Consider it when you glance at a coffee-shop bulletin board and notice an old picture of a child side-by-side with a modern picture of her electronically-aged, adult ‘match’. Please have a second look. Please give it a second thought. Think hard about it.
Or perhaps you’ll hear about a woman who, at the age of 29, found out that her father was NOT dead and that her last name wasn’t what she’d always been told it was! Please think about her, for at that very moment her mind is likely racing at top speed while it replays all those many times she’d heard her mother say awful things about her father and, and, and now she’s suddenly come to know—THEY WERE ALL LIES!
And please consider her father and give him a second thought, as the damage done to him assuredly fits hand-in-glove with the damage done to the girl. From the girl’s 5th birthday onward, he’s missed every single milestone of her life. From Christmases to school performances to sports accomplishments to relationships to graduations—he missed it all.
And while you’re at it, think about all the other fathers and all the other mothers—and all the daughters and sons and uncles and aunts and grandparents who have everlasting holes in their hearts, too. Who knows? You might even know one of them. Maybe one of these individuals is in your bowling league, attends your bible study, teaches your grand-kids, or styles your wife’s hair. You’ll never know unless you start paying attention. Such a simple act of caring can literally change lives. Remember, the people live with these life problems every day.
One of them might even be YOU!