I introduced this story in yesterday’s post, so if you haven’t read it yet, I suggest you do so first. Below is the story that I told at the Moth in October 2017.
I’ve always thought that I have such an amazing father. He’s so patient, so loving, so supportive, so kind. Truly, I have always believed that I have the best father in the world. He would do anything to support me and care for me and do what he could to ensure my success in life. I am close with my family. As a result, it was rather challenging for me to move all the way across the country, when I was 22 years old, in 2001, to attend graduate school in the Boston area. One night, a few weeks after the move, I was feeling a bit lonely, so far from home, and I stumbled upon a genealogy website, and I decided to search my family name.
Surprisingly, in the online forum, I immediately came across a man looking for anyone related to my father, Charles Aden Hardaker Jr. I got rather excited, could this be a long lost relative, perhaps? I quickly sent off a response letting him know that I was the daughter of the man he was looking for. But, as I awaited his reply, I began to explore some of his other posts, and I became disturbed when I realized that all of his posts seemed rather…creepy. They were all related to death, and murders, gruesome murders. And I wondered, what have I just done, contacting this death-obsessed man?! And then I received his reply.
“Dear Laura, Thank you for contacting me. I’m very excited. It’s so rare for me to connect with a relative of someone who murdered their child.”
Um…excuse me, I think there must be some mistake here. I don’t know anyone who murdered their child, let alone am I related to such a person. He must have the wrong “Charles Aden Hardaker Jr.”
His reply? “Oh, this is fascinating…it appears you don’t know. This happens sometimes, in families. Well, I’m a reporter, and I’m writing a book on women who murder their children. Long ago, your father’s mother killed his 4 year old sister.”
Silence for a moment, on my part. Oh, okay, I’m sorry, but this is absurd. Now, I will admit, I did grow up hearing the tragic tale of how my father’s sister, when she was 4, died when she (my father’s words) “cracked her head open on a cement bench at the park” – this was a cautionary tale that he had told me repeatedly throughout my childhood in order to inhibit me from engaging in reckless behaviors where I might get hurt – but that was a horrible accident. Murderous intention was not involved.
And then the reporter sent me the old newspaper articles.
Apparently, my father’s mother had schizophrenia, and she freely admitted to bashing in her daughter’s head at the park, because spirits told her that she must do so, in order to release her daughter’s pure soul. She was committed to a mental institution.
After she was committed, my father’s father, who was an alcoholic and a horribly neglectful father, then re-married, but this time, it was to a truly evil woman who physically and emotionally abused my father throughout his childhood.
And that is why it is so amazing to me, that despite being raised in such horrific circumstances, with no good role models, the worst role models possible, my father was such an amazing father to me. He’s so patient, so loving, so supportive, so kind.
However, I should probably tell you that, when I was 24 years old (so, 2 years after this disturbing revelation), I learned that my father is not actually my biological father. But that is another story…
There are a few reasons why I plan to share this story in my book about family trauma and how it has shaped my identity.
This is probably the number one reason – While I did not know (until I was 22) that my father’s mother had schizophrenia or that she killed his sister, I did always know that my father had experienced significant trauma throughout his childhood, and that has made an enormous impact on who I am.
He told me, all the time as I grew up, that he was never loved by his family. That he was abused and neglected. That no one had ever cared about him. He wasn’t exaggerating. I found out later that he was even told that his own mother put him in an oven to die when he was an infant (he was thankfully saved by his grandmother, who heard his cries immediately). What kind of damage must that do to a person, to hear that your own mother tried to kill you when you were a helpless infant? And then, to have a father not give a shit about you? And then, to have a stepmother beat you and make you a slave in your home?
My father was loving and kind and generous to me. He gave me everything he possibly could. But he also gave me these stories. He shared with me his traumas. He shared with me not only the words, but also the feelings that he carried with him at all times. The feelings of unworthiness, of being unlovable. He could not help it. He was so damaged by his childhood, he still has nightmares into his 80’s. He never has processed or healed from what had been inflicted upon him. He never had the chance or the tools to do so.
And me, being an empath, I absorbed these feelings of unworthiness, of being unlovable, into my own self. I wasn’t aware of it. Not in the slightest. It wasn’t until 2020, after my life had fallen apart, that I realized that I took on his trauma and absorbed it into my own being. That’s not to say that I didn’t think that I was completely unaffected by his painful experiences. I knew that I was. I was aware that I felt a strong sense of guilt my entire life, that my father had been abused by his parents while I had been treated so lovingly by mine. That my father, despite his horrific childhood, did his absolute best to give me all the love that he had never been given. And so, in my attempt to ease his suffering, I tried to spiritually take away his pain and draw it into me instead. And it wasn’t until I was 42 that I finally realized that I cannot ease his burden for him this way, and that not only does it not alleviate his suffering in any way, but it leads me to unnecessarily suffer as well. I have finally realized that, yes, I can be loving and compassionate to others, but that does not mean that I should allow myself to absorb the pain of those around me, no matter how much I love them. It just weighs me down and prevents me from being my own true self.