Father, Father: Justice & Closure

Two years ago, I wrote a piece called Fathers & Forgiveness. It was a vague piece about the troubles I’d had with my father, our estrangement, and my attempts to forgive him. Recently, I reread it and realized how much has changed since then. I remember when I first published it and I got praised by various people about being “real” and “honest” but honestly, I read that piece now and I see just how much it hurt, and how much I had to restrain and repress myself just to write it. The fact that I couldn’t bring myself to talk about what my father is tells me everything I need to know.

My father is an abuser. Only physical to me, my mother had to bear so much more than that. My parents marriage ended in a brutally violent climax on January 5th 2013, a date I still have a hard time forgetting. I will spare the details because it’s not something that’s easy for me to relive. The consequences of that night ended in court dates, a 5 month prison sentence for my father, trauma counseling for myself and my mother, and months of never-ending nightmares for me.

I decided to stop speaking to my father when, one day, after he’d been released from prison, he called me out of the blue to ask how I was like nothing had ever happened. At first, numb with fear, I went along with it. Eventually, the anger rose and I snapped. How dare he? I asked him just that, “how dare you? You beat the shit out of us, you try to kill my mother in front of me and you have the nerve to call and ask me how I am?”. I demanded an apology, he replied by saying I owed him one by convincing my mother to go to the police and send him to prison. I hung up. It would be three years before I saw his face or heard his voice again.

Three years passed. I did a lot of healing in that time, I had to reconcile a lot of things about my past, my childhood, my parents. I think one of the hardest things about becoming an adult is realizing your parents are humans too. They also make mistakes and they’re not perfect, they don’t know everything about life the way you spent your childhood thinking they did. But how do you reconcile that with the fact the same man you previously spent hours discussing movies and music with is also a monster? How do you accept that the man who believed in you more than you believed in yourself sometimes  – how do you reconcile the image of that man with the one who abused and oppressed your mother for 19 years?

I had to learn, and am still learning, human beings are not heroes and villains. Moral absolutism is a trick; the world is not black and white and neither are people. But then I made the mistake of trying to forgive my father, not because I wanted to, but because I was tired of people treating me like I was damaged. I’ve read the statistics. Young victims of abuse are more likely to be abused or turn into abusers as adults. We’re more likely to suffer from mental health issues, we’re more likely to have trouble maintaining relationships. All of this fucking shit that is supposed to affect us for the rest of our lives because of something that happened to us that we had no control over. The product of a broken home. Fucking fabulous. I was so scared that I was damaged and broken, that I would never be “normal”, that I was prepared to forgive a man who wasn’t even sorry in the hopes that it would “fix” me. It took me a long time to realize that I didn’t need to be fixed, and I’m so sorry I was so hard on myself about it.

I let too many people put their two cents in. I let too many people make it seem like it was my responsibility to make amends with my own abuser, my own father – and they made it seem like I would be damaged for the rest of my life if I didn’t seek closure. Closure is important, sure, but it comes in so many forms – and telling abuse survivors that they absolutely must forgive the very person who traumatized them in order to attain it is sickening.

Fast forward to present day. My father hasn’t been in our lives much. Despite my forced attempts to reconcile a while ago, I can still count the times I’ve seen him since 2013 on one hand. In May 2013, my parents divorce was finalized and he fled to Algeria in an attempt to get out of paying child support. My mother never pursued the case until two years ago, despite my valiant efforts to convince her to bring him to justice, she just wanted peace. Two years ago, she was polite enough to ask him to contribute a little to our trips to Algeria, to take a little of the financial burden off her during our annual trips there. He essentially told her to go fuck herself, leading my mother to finally contact a lawyer to bring her case to court.

Anyone who has had any experience with Algeria’s justice system will know that it’s a very long and drawn out process. Algerian divorce law is also complicated and favors the men the majority of the time. My mother petitioned the court to force my father to start paying child support for my brother and sister, as well as asking they make him pay the five years of unpaid child support for both of my siblings – I was already 18 when their divorce was finalized. Algerian Law has changed in recent years due to the number of fathers who found loopholes in the system to get out of paying – nowadays the law states you either pay the full amount or serve five years in prison to clear yourself of your debt.

After multiple postponements, we finally got the news yesterday. The judge ruled in our favor. Not only that, but because my parents got divorced in Belgium, and because my father initially signed a document agreeing to pay the child support set under Belgian law (thinking he could escape to Algeria and not pay anything at all), the document held in Algeria meaning not only does my father have to pay the euro equivalent for both of my siblings, but he also has to pay two years of unpaid child support for me as Belgian law requires parents to pay child support until said child is twenty years old. The decision is final, and once the paperwork is done, my father can either pay the amount in full – or he can serve five years of prison time.

While I prefer that my father pay the amount he owes, if only to lighten some of the financial burden my mother has carried raising three children on minimum wage for the past five years, I will not be any less chuffed if he serves his sentence. This decision does not reverse the trauma or the shitty situation we were in for years post-divorce, but it is a form of justice we were robbed of so long ago. My father deserves to be punished for what he did. He does not deserve to move on and live the rest of his life like nothing ever happened. While this judgement is not his punishment for the violence he subjected us to, I’m still taking it as a form of justice. Justice that I didn’t realize I so badly needed to move past this.

My family doesn’t necessarily understand why I’m so happy. They didn’t even understand my initial anger, but that’s fine. I am allowed to be angry though. You don’t survive the shit I’ve been through without some sort of rage. I know people love that peace and love bullshit but that is not me. Different people deal with things differently and anger is a perfectly valid feeling. And yes, maybe I’m hurt, maybe I’m vindictive, but all I know is, for the past five years I’ve had a massive cinderblock on my chest pressing down on me. Today, I feel half a ton lighter.

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