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Lions Roar : July 2018
Though there were never any pub- lic consequences for his actions, my father lived the last decades of his life in fear of public humiliation or crimi- nal charges and a consuming—though barely acknowledged—guilt. He used to tell me that he thought he was forgiven, but through the last years of his life he suffered from nearly debilitating depres- sion and frequent night terrors. On the last morning of his life, he was terribly agitated at one point and said, “We need to protect the children. We have to make sure they are safe.” He was right. But he was never able to acknowledge that he could have begun to do this by being honest about his actions. My telling this story now is not to defame his memory, but to have the truth be known, for his and other victims so they are not alone in their suffering, and so we—all of us—might protect the children. The Buddha’s teachings are decep- tively simple and easy to agree with: be present in the moment, let go of self- clinging, and act appropriately. But the true invitation of a Buddhist practice is not about intellectual comprehension. It’s about our capacity to live these ideas in our lives. How do we work with the greed, anger, and ignorance that con- tinually arise within us and in those we love? In light of the deep injustices and violence woven into the fabric of our culture, what can any of us do to make a difference? The good news is that the tacit acceptance of sexual abuse by men in power is being challenged across our culture. We are beginning to hold our- selves accountable in order to protect those who are vulnerable. Even white men in positions of power are no lon- ger immune to the consequences of their actions. ♦ but the duration and the actual condi- tions of his abuse were far beyond what I could have imagined. What my father had confessed to me was only a shadow of the truth. In speaking with my stepsister, I realized, for the first time, the terrible impact of his actions on her and the ongoing struggles of victims of sexual abuse throughout their lives. I listened as well as I could. I was thankful that she would tell me the truth and told her how sorry I was that my father had done such terrible things to her. I said how sorry I was that I had not asked for more details from my father about his actions and had not reached out to her when I first heard his confession. She was thankful for my listening and said it made a difference just to be heard and believed. My other mistake in response to my father’s confession was keeping it secret. I did tell my wife, and eventually my daughter. I also, very belatedly, had a conversation with his third wife. But I see now that my silence was a kind of col- lusion with his crimes. This silence was a continuing pain for his victims who could not have their truth acknowledged. Part of the violence of sexual violations is the silence that is maintained after the assault. I should have held him account- able for his actions and pushed him to confess and make amends to the women whom he had used so selfishly for his own ends. The silence was also destructive for my dad. I don’t think he ever came to terms with what he had done. He never went beyond shame and the fear of public humiliation. He never could have made up for the harm his actions caused, but there might have been some heal- ing for his victims and for himself in acknowledging his abuses with honesty and remorse. My mistake in response to my father’s confession was keeping it secret. “OUR WORLD NEEDS THIS BOOK.” TARA BRACH “Belongs in the hands of every activist.” PATRISSE CULLORS cofounder of Black Lives Matter and author of When They Call You a Terrorist “Powerfully relevant.” SHARON SALZBERG author of Lovingkindness “Wonderfully insightful.” MICHELLE ALEXANDER author of The New Jim Crow “Important medicine.” JACK KORNFIELD author of A Path with Heart LION’S ROAR | JULY 2018 24 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE