Archive for the ‘daughters’ Category

My Daughter, There Is An Evil In The World

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

I don’t want to have to admit that it’s possible for a 20 year old woman to endure week long torture and rape in the country where I live. Those things happen in Bosnia, Peru, Rwanda, Sudan, and are probably going on right now in Iraq. But not in the United States, right? Wrong. It happened in West Virginia.

I’ll leave it to others to provide you the barbaric details of what took place, if you haven’t read them for yourself already.

Stories describing the torture and rape of women are not for the fainthearted. The Bible is full of them. (I’ve written about these stories in Battered Love.)Few of us want to look at them closely. We are afraid because these stories never have a happy ending, not really. They are just there for us to muddle through their meaning: the rape of Dinah and Tamar; the butchered concubine in Judges; the sexually ravaged woman in Ezekiel; Hosea’s battered wife Gomer; the woman caught in adultery, just to name a few. We can’t afford to overlook these stories just so we can keep up our belief in the notion that bad things happen only to bad people, or that women are safe as long as they do what they are told, or that tragedy can be kept at bay by praying it away. It does not happen that way, not always, not for everybody.

Rape is an especially heinous crime. What makes it so? It has a way of eroding the fabric of a community in a way that few other weapons can. Rape can be devastating because of the strong communal reaction to the violation and the pain that engulfs entire families. The harm inflicted on a woman by a rapist is an attack on her family and culture, after all in many societies women are viewed as repositories of a community’s cultural and spiritual values.

Listen up: rape is not about sex, even though ejaculation takes place. Rape is about stealing and devouring a woman’s dignity, dividing her from her larger community and shattering all relationships she’s currently in or ever hope to be in. Rape estranges the family from the victim, and the victim from her culture.

Raise the story of the West Virginia’s woman’s rape and torture and somebody’s bound to have questions. What is a black woman doing associating with a white man (along with his family and friends) with such a violent past? Didn’t she know better than to go to some remote West Virginia house with a bunch of crazy folks? See what rape does? It isolates a victim from her family and community in ways that see to it that the victim is made to relive what happened to her every time she looks into the faces of those who question her judgment and innocence.

Women in Bosnia, Peru, Rwanda, Sudan, and Iraq will tell you that gang rape and torture leave permanent damage, both physical and spiritual. The victim who finds her way back to sanity does so with the help of a community that surrounds her with unconditional love. The victim who lacks the support system needed to rid herself of the shame end up often reliving her rape by going on to become a prostitute. We can only hope and pray that this West Virginia woman who was not only raped, but endured days of unspeakable torture, gets the long term help she needs.

“I don’t understand a human being doing another human being the way they did my daughter,” the mother of the West Virginia victim said to reporters. “I didn’t know there were people like that out here.” Evidently, there are. And that’s part of the truth we have to face and pass on to our daughters and sons. Part of the Bible’s lesson to us in the form of stories about rape, physical abuse, and ethnic cleansing is this: There is evil in the world. What can we do about evil as women of faith? Although I sound sure of most things most days, I don’t always know the answer to this one. The temptation is to order our daughters, granddaughters, nieces, and goddaughters inside, lock the doors, and pull down the shades. The more intelligent thing would be to teach them how to differentiate between hate and love.

One thing is for sure: we can’t fix it until we face it. And that starts with calling it what it is.

Evil. That force in the world bent on shaming persons, dividing families and communities, and conquering the soul.

Daddy’s Girl

Friday, June 15th, 2007

Although I’ve spent the greater part of my life as a writer, a minister, a scholar, and a thinking woman fighting patriarchy, even I do not believe that fathers are expendable. Neither do I believe that fathers are replaceable, not even by two good mothers. That nearly 60% of black babies born in this country are born to single mothers should make us all pause. Have we come to think of fathers as superfluous to their children’s development? I hope not. While I am the first to believe in tracking down deadbeat dads and making them take financial responsibility for the children they begat, children need their fathers in other ways as well.

“Tell me about your father.”
This simple request has enough voltage to reduce grown, intelligent, successful women to wailing, snotty-nose, stammering girls. Summoning memories of silent, withdrawn, disapproving, detached, overprotective, authoritative, punitive, abusive, lustful, or absent fathers is difficult enough. But coming to grips with the possibility as a woman that your childhood experiences of your father are even now influencing your reality — your reactions to your mate, your self-confidence, your sense of safety, your eating habits, your career ambitions, your notion of God the Father– why, that’s shocking revelation to most women. Bring up the topic of my father and I withdraw from the conversation.

The English novelist Virginia Woolf wrote once that women think back through their mothers. If that’s true, then what fathers give their daughters, perhaps, is the confidence to envision and fight for a new future for themselves. A father offers his daughter a model of authority, responsibility, and decision-making that will help when the time comes for her to tap into her own power and stand up to the stereotypes and assumptions others harbor about women like her.

Most of us admit that we hardly knew what to expect of the men who passed in and out of our lives, if at all, bearing the title “Daddy.” We figured out from their detached reserve, their dark moods, and their extended absences to be grateful for whatever attention they directed our way. Fortunately, not all women report having painful memories of their relationship with their fathers. Many can actually recall fathers who were affectionate, loving, open, sensitive, caring, stable, patient, supportive, dependable, someone who took an active role in rearing them. A large number remember fondly their role as the favored daughter in the family, affectionately dubbed by their fathers as “Daddy’s girl.”

The night my father lay dying in a hospital bed and I sat trying to comfort him (and myself) by reading random passages from the Bible, a strange thing happened. The nurse had turned the television around to face my father during one of her many visits to the room, for no apparent reason, except that God had used her to do it. God intervened that night through the lyrics to a song playing softly on the television. Above the din of my mumbling Scripture, the sound of Luther Vandross’ hauntingly beautiful song to his own father, “Dance with my Father” seeped into the hospital room. Luther soulfully recalls memories of his father dancing with his mother, of his father frolicking with him, carrying him to bed, his father’s unexpected death, and eventually pleads with God to let his father return for one last encore with him– or, better yet, with his mother. It was just what I needed to make peace with the man breathing shallowly before me.

Sometimes the only hope a Daddy’s girl has for growing up, letting her father go, and living beyond the wounds her father inflicted upon her is to accept her father for the man he was and release him from the man she fantasized him being but never was.

Oprah: Poor Girl, Rich Girl

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

For those of us who have had moments when we’ve fantasized about what it must be like to have Oprah’s millions, we got our answer this week.

It is great to be a wealthy icon, I suppose, but it’s also lonely and perilous.

If you’ve been keeping up with the news you know that Oprah’s dad, Vernon Winfrey, has been withholding an important bit of news, namely he’s writing a tell-all book about his famous daughter.

Oprah is quoted saying that she laughed when one of her assistants said, “The Daily News is calling. They say they heard your father is writing a book about you.” Oprah replied, “That’s impossible. I can assure them it’s not true.” But then Oprah’s sister said, “I think you should call your father.” “I called him and it turned out he is writing a book. The worst part of it was him saying, ‘I meant to tell you I’ve been working on it.” Oprah was understandably upset. After all, she’d just seen her father a few months ago when he accompanied her on one her trips to Africa. Asked point blank how she felt about the fact that her father was writing a book about her, Winfrey replied. “I won’t say ‘devastated,’ but I was stunned. The last person in the world to be doing a book about me is Vernon Winfrey,” she added. “The last person.”

It’s that last sentence that makes me hurt for Oprah, and I’m not one who keeps up with her shows nor her change of hairstyles. I feel her pain when she says that her father was the last person she expected this from.

Oprah was devastated alright. But she’s old enough and smart enough now to know that there are some truths you keep to yourself. Learning from others that your father is writing about you has to feel like a blow to the solar plexus. It’s enough to leave a woman staring for hours out her penthouse window with tears running down her cheeks. You know now that you are really alone. For a price, everyone will tell what they know about you– even if you’ve told it already.

What is it like to be an uber-rich, mega-celebrity like Oprah Winfrey? It means that you can’t trust anyone to protect you, not even your own father.

Should Oprah forgive her father? Is that possible in a situation like this? Perhaps it is for some folks. But forgiveness is not the only path to resolution, I don’t think.

Sometimes in our struggles with the hurts and betrayal we suffer, it’s enough to understand what made folks behave as they did and do what they did to us. Understanding. There’s, admittedly, sadness in understanding, a sadness in coming to grips with the fact that people are not who you hoped they were and needed them to be. But with the passing of time, it’s a sadness that’s no longer tinged with anger. Which comes close enough to forgiveness.