I just finished reading House Rules by Rachel Sontag. It is a memoir about her childhood growing up with a psychologically abusive father. It is a very brave book. Rachel’s father set out these very strict rules for each of this two daughters. They had to be home by a certain time and he was so fanatical about it that Rachel often hitch hiked home in order to avoid her father’s wrath. If she wanted to study at the library, she had to write a proposal of what she wanted to do while there. The worst was that he would often get her out of bed in the middle of the night and spend hours berating her, telling her she was scum, a slut and never amount to anything. Her mother made a choice to stay married and Rachel paid the price. When she graduated from university her mother wanted her to write an apology letter to her father so her mother could go (because her father had forbade it). But Rachel’s mother chose her marriage over her daughter. Rachel’s father was at a medical conference in New Orleans, so her mother could have come if she was willing to stand up to her husband.
When the book was published, Rachel’s father wrote nasty reviews of the book on Amazon and even set up a website refuting the book. I found the website and took a quick look at it. The man thinks he is refuting Rachel’s book, but all he has done is prove just how sick a man he is. I won’t provide the link, but you can find it with a little Google sleuthing.
This book reminds me a lot of my own childhood. My father was extremely controlling, made fun of in inappropriate ways, called me horrible things and told me more than once that he wished he’d never had children. My parents are divorced and now I can can count on my father to call me or be interested in my life when he is between girlfriends. I’ve tried to write about this before, but I have stalled after 50 or so pages. Deep down I fear what my family would think. I found a couple of interviews with Rachel, who encourages people who want to write about their families to write the first draft and then worry about the possible reaction. There is also the fact that people don’t see themselves as you see them and may not even recognize themselves. My own story has been banging around my head for ages and I feel I must write it out in order to move on with my life.