It’s February 22nd 2015 as I start writing this, and we finished running a retreat for high school kids that weekend. A lot of things happened during the retreat, but none more personally powerful than seeing someone being in the exact same position I was in eighteen years ago. It brought me back to that fateful Saturday night in 1997 where I began a journey that has not yet ended, that will never end. In a life with many struggles, one remains the constant – the struggle to forgive. And in my case, to forgive one man for abuse. To forgive the man who should have protected me, should have guided me, but instead acted in physical and emotional betrayal.
The man I am speaking of is my father. Abuser of children, rapist of women. And now the time has come for me to share the start of my journey, my walk moving on from the weight of hatred. My journey towards living.
My name is Richard Morin, some people call me Rickard. And this is the story of the beginning of my journey “home”, the beginning of the Vagrant Catholic.
My parents divorced when I was a young child, I believe near the age of two or so. My mother had two children (myself and my sister) with my father, and was his second wife. My father had two children from a previous marriage, meaning on his end I was the fourth of four kids. After he divorced Mom he proceeded to marry another woman, soon thereafter having an additional two children with her (he eventually had another two, bringing his total number of children to eight). Initially my childhood was shared between two homes, my Mom’s during the week and my father’s on the weekend.
Emotional abuse was very prevalent. Nothing was good enough for him. He already had two sons, and now had a daughter that shared his intellect. A polyglot, he mastered at least three languages – so he was not impressed with his son who could even master one language during that time. A son who showed zero academic abilities, and few (if any) physical abilities. A son who lacked command of his body, a son with deformed feet. A son whom he expressed consistently about how he was such a disappointment compared to his other siblings, who could never measure up. A son that he didn’t want around, wasn’t worth investing in, not worth attention. Unless I did something negative, then I received attention – a lot of it. Which in the impressionable young mind of a child, getting negative attention was better than no attention at all. All of that made things worse when, wouldn’t you know, I had a desire and craving for attention. And when I brought about attention to myself, punishment was swift and physical. Hands, belts, other objects, whatever my father had lying about he used under the guise of “discipline”.
Which brings me to a specific weekend in my childhood. That one evening which will be burned into my mind for the rest of my life, the moment where to this day I still have flashbacks to and nightmares over. I was sitting on the couch reading my favorite book, when my father pulled me off the couch for no good reason and mounted on top of me. He started tickling me, and because I was pinned down I started to panic and cry hysterically. My father yelled at me “why are you crying?”- I said nothing. He slapped me again and yelled “why are you crying” – again, I said nothing. A third time he slapped me, this time screaming “why are you crying”. For reasons I’m still unsure of, I told him that I was afraid he was going to pinch me. My father then then proceeded to yell “well then I’ll give you something to be afraid of” and started pinching me all over my body. This continued for several minutes, with me screaming myself hoarse. We went to bed that night, and after a day or two I went back to my Mom’s house. That first night we were back at my Mom’s, she noticed a couple of bruises. She asked me to take off my shirt, and I complied. There were bruises all over my body. She asked how they got there, so I told her what happened. My mother, now knowing exactly what was going on made a promise that stopped things dead in their track:
“You’re never going to your father’s house again”.
We took him to court for child abuse, in what at the time could have been a damning thing for a teacher. But no one believed me, or my sister, outside of Mom, our Aunt (who was a Godsend during that trial, a pillar for an under-10 year old boy to look at for encouragement), Grandpa, and the rest of Mom’s family. In the end, we lost the trial. We lost the trial for a three reasons – one was my father’s lawyer was quite good, and took advantage of an innocent error that was made. The second, and this really shouldn’t come as a surprise; my father lied on the witness stand. The third reason, well, that will bring us to a little detour.
At this point, I’ll be sharing something publicly which exactly three people know, so people can understand what goes on in my brain sometimes. Those of you who know me know that I have a compulsive need to help others. Provided it does not impact my family, regardless what it may cost me physically or emotionally, I will do what I can to help. I have threatened others on people’s behalf, I have been threatened by others on people’s behalf. You can look at a singular moment to understand how this was formed; that my father’s third wife sat in that rocking chair, staring right at us, seeing me crying hysterically and getting slapped viciously three times. Seeing me be pinned down, with bruises forming. She sat there and did nothing. Then later, during the child abuse trial against my father, she committed was responsible for the third reason my father was found “not guilty”; perjury – she also lied on the witness stand. Her lack of action became yet one more pillar that formed my code of honour as years later I crawled out of the darkness I was in.
Despite losing the trial, my mother stayed true to her word. She made sure that we never went to his house again, and that I never saw him or spoke with him. This was illegal, he still had custody. Mom didn’t care, she risked having legal action taken against her to protect us, and I’ll never forget it.
While my father not being around did make things better from an abuse standpoint, it didn’t make things better from a behavioral standpoint. I continued to act out, and seek attention. Complicating matters was that I not only inherited my father’s legendary faculty for holding a grudge, but also obtained his penchant of using violence to solve problems. Some of these are genetic, some of them were learned through observing him as an impressionable young child. And, of course, untreated-ADHD, which during those late 80’s/early 90’s years no one really knew what was going on with that.
All of that boiled together to form a little ball of hate. Hatred and anger, impatience, lashing out at everyone. No one liked me, no one wanted anything to do with me. I was never invited anywhere, I was never treated with respect. I felt disrespected and under-loved. Oh sure my Mom loved me, but that’s like getting a participation ribbon for showing up. All of that rage with a single point of focus; my father.
I can say, without hesitation, that during that time period there was nothing more than I wanted for that man to die.
What no one knew then was how close I was to leaving things behind permanently. Ending my life because it simply wasn’t worth living, all alone. Hated by my peers. There were very few people outside of Mom who basically helped me hold it together. My Grandpa, who for years was the sole male role model in my life (yes, we named our son after him). And my friend Phillip, who somehow put up with me before my reversion back to Catholicism (his parents, two of the kindest people I have ever met, also put up with me). My Mom had no idea any of this was going on, because I simply didn’t tell her. So it really was a “God thing” when she offered to send me to a conference at the University of Steubenville. I thought nothing of it at the time except for “hey bus ride some place, okay!”, so I went along with it.
Nothing exciting happened the first day, to be honest I forget everything that happened that Friday except that it was the second of August. Because the third of August brought about the event that altered the course of my life forever.
August 3nd. It was Saturday night, and it was during the conference that there was a time of Eucharistic Adoration. For those who don’t know, Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, that the substance of the bread is transformed into the Body & Blood of Christ. As Catholics, we believe during this time that we are face-to-face with God. At the time, I knew none of this, I had no idea what was going on. The priest placed a consecrated Host within this gold thingy I never saw before, and everyone was paying rapt attention. Songs were being sang, people were deep in prayer or were having emotional moments. I joined people in keeling, still not sure exactly what was going on. It wasn’t until the priest walked up to where I was kneeling, and he was holding onto the Monstrance (which I later found out was the name of the aforementioned “gold thingy”), and he stopped. He stopped and held aloft the Monstrance. And I stared. I stared at it intently. I stared in the middle of it where that consecrated Host was located. I stared at what I later came to know as being Jesus Christ, physically present. During that time, hyperfocus kicked in with time standing still. Just me staring, and gradually I saw the face of Jesus staring back at me. Time continued to stretch beyond all measure, until I felt something come over me; the love of Christ for his child. His love for me. And in the greatest miracle of all; I no longer felt alone. I was no longer alone. I am no longer alone.
The hyperfocus wore off, as it always does. Adoration continued, with myself now singing as loud as anyone. This was a new experience for me; something that other people called “joy”. I prayed and gave thanks to the Lord for this new feeling, with prayers being sincere – the first sincere prayers I had ever prayed.
But the night was not yet over. There was an additional act that had to happen. Although I felt joy, there was still confusion. Despite that amazing experience, I had yet to forgive my father for what he did. I walked around in a haze of sorts, a feeling that to this day I can’t describe. There came a point where I reached a tent. A tent with a bunch of priests sitting in chairs talking to people my age.
It was the confession tent. And, to be honest, someone “upstairs” must have guided me there, because to this day I have no idea what propelled me over there. I waited in line, no knowing anyone else around me. Eventually I ambled over to a priest and sat down. And for the longest while, sitting is all I did. I sat there for minutes unable to talk. Those minutes added up, but that old-ish man from God-only-knows-USA sat there with his eyes closed, saying nothing, waiting patiently for me to speak. This was not hyperfocus either, I later found out that I was there for around 20 minutes not able to speak, either crying or screaming in frustration. Eventually, I confessed one thing, and one thing only.
I hated my father, and I wanted him to die.
The priest was quiet for a couple of moments, likely reflecting on this. He told me something after. He said, for my penance, to imagine that Christ walking with me to the Cross. To have Christ put his hand on my shoulder as we stand there. And while there, to forgive my father and move on. To live.
I did that while sitting with him, and he gave the words of absolution. And after he said that and he did the Sign of the Cross, there was a rush that I never felt before, a feeling that was unknown, a feeling that even now I can remember and desire. For the second time that night I felt an emotion for the first time.
I felt freedom.
I felt freedom that I had never felt before, I felt something simply leave me. What was a constant companion for fifteen years was now lifted, it was time to start fresh. It wasn’t just time for me to reclaim my childhood (which I did), it was time to reclaim my life. I was time to move forward and rebuild. And that night, I looked in the mirror, and I saw someone different. Someone on a journey. And I resolved myself then and there, that I would spend the rest of my life dedicated to rebuilding the house of Morin, to make that name something to be proud of. Along with the code of honour I had built, this driving force fuels so much in my life. That night it started, and since then it continued.
The process of rebuilding my life took time. Maturity was still an issue, not only was I reclaiming my lost childhood, but there was additional complications of not hitting puberty until I was 19 or so. That said, I developed some close friendships with several folks, we became a tight-knit community. I began acquiring skills that I never knew I had before. Skills in writing, skills in speaking – I overcame 98% of my speech impediment, these days people hardly notice my rural accent. My personal skills with others improved dramatically, with no better example being my chief rival in high school gradually became friendly rivals with me, then becoming great friends. I acquired a love of communications technology. And, crazy enough, I became a mentor to someone – he became my best friend in high school, riding shotgun in several adventures. During this time there would be hiccups, and the temper was still present. I still struggled to forgive those who trespassed against me, but growth slowly started to happen. The journey to rebuild my name was progressing, and continues to this day.
The above is a lot to take in, and usually after people hear about it they ask a couple of questions. One is “do you think you will ever see your father again”? The answer is a slightly morbid one; “most likely when he’s in a casket”. Which actually brings me to the most important part of this post. And if you made it this far, then you’ve reached the one portion I want you to remember. If you’re sharing just one section of this post with someone, I want you to share this portion with them:
We are call called to forgive. We are *not* all called to reconcile.
I do not need to call up that man to forgive him, I do not need to introduce him to my wife and son. I do not need to sit down and have a heart to heart. I can forgive my father, I can move on. I can even grow to love him as a human being, and pray for his conversion. But I know what he did to me, what he has done to others. I found out when I was eighteen that he raped the wife who lied for him on the witness stand. I learned that she was not the only one. A child beating rapist, it will take nothing short of a miracle from God for him to change into a different person. He’s reached out to me twice over the last twenty five years; one was to ask me who my “real father was”, which was a not-so-subtle way of denying being my father. The second was a message with an obvious intent to manipulate me using my faith. What he didn’t know was that I forgave him long ago, I’m continuing the process of moving on without him, and there’s no need for me to be in contact with him to forgive him. That said, if God calls me to talk to him, I will. If God tells me not to, I won’t. If God tells me nothing or says “use your best judgment”, then I will – for now my best judgment is to not be in contact with him.
The only one we are called to reconcile with is God, through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. That divine reconciliation helps fuel us to forgive those who trespass against us.
Another thing that people often ask me is if I would I change things. The answer; no. These events formed and shaped me into who I am today. I would not be the man I am today if not for these events. My vocation of being a father, my vocation in whatever ministry God calls me to do. Using the gifts he has given me. That I have such an appreciation for forgiveness, joy, and freedom. And of course, being driven to be the best husband and father I can be. Without those things I would not have been refined like steel in a fire.
Along with the above, I need to stress that forgiveness is an ongoing process. You need to forgive daily, endlessly. I had nightmares for years over what happened, nightmares over inheriting my father’s legacy. Even now there’s a couple of things that can trigger a primal reaction based on what happened. And after every failure in school or any screw up, I could hear his admonishing voice. To this day I must forgive him, over and over. Because there’s always the danger to grab a hold of that bitterness and rage, and to be weighed down again and to start pushing others away. I don’t want that, I refuse to lose what I have gained.
Which is amazing in of and of itself. After all of what happened, God has blessed me in such a radical way. Now in my life, a wife and a son to help me with my journey. Plus even more blessings; several kids who have come through the youth program at Annunciation of the Lord. What some may not know, is that when someone younger than I walks through those doors, I think of them all as my children. Every one of them, youth and young adults alike, I think and care about as if they were my own kids, with the love and respect a father should provide for his children. I went from being alone to having a family within my home, and an even larger family than I could ever dream of.
3000 plus words later, it comes to this. To see the past made present so vividly, it struck me – to the point where I felt the need to write down my journey. Fast forward nearly eighteen years, and there was someone in the exact same position. Same age, same crossroads. Feeling as I did, with the weight of unforgiveness, feeling all alone. Having that chance to ask Jesus to come into their life, and forgiving those who did unspeakable things.
My child, you are never alone.