When your father sits you down to talk about rape, lend him your ears. Offer him your understanding. Pay attention to the confusion in his eyes, seek to unravel it. When he tells you of his childhood, and the stories of his late-blooming, of how he was bigger than his peers, never forget that he was still nothing more than a child. When he tells you of the temptations of free meals and late afternoon errands, listen attentively to the quiver in his voice — for in there is the music of old pain he can yet not understand.
When he tells you of predators dressed as prey, of women and their red-lipped smiles and open want, do not interrupt him; do not seek to educate him. There are softer wars lost before they were ever fought than those broadcasted with guns blazing. When he tells you of their soft comforts and their lures of cooked meals and promises of leftover change, see it for what it is. Do not try to rationalize it, do not try to excuse it—see it for the truth that it is: a predator setting her bait. Open your heart now, his story will break and scatter here and shards will tear the insides of his throat, but listen nonetheless. Listen despite your bleeding ears. Let his words wound you now so you understand that old pain.
When he talks of consent and music and recitals, do not brand him mad. Let his story show you the blue-black bruises on the insides of his lungs. When he tells you of their soft hands pulling him down and closing around him, do not laugh and call him a ‘smooth operator’, do not make jokes about what a legend he is for ‘hitting it’ that early. Do not even think it. Dust off your empathy and hold it like tape against your mouth. Listen. Notice that same confusion in his voice and realize that its sister, fear, has joined the party. Do not try to take away from the sobriety of this moment. Hear the words he cannot say—remember that he was still a child untrained in the study of yeses and nos. Remember that these women with their red-lipped smiles played his body like a banjo when he didn’t know how to dance. Do not trivialize it, see it for what it is: a predator going in for the kill.
Now hear. Hear. Hear the confusion in his voice underneath his effort to fling that old pain aside. Do not let him try to bury his fear. Show him that you understand. Show him that you heard. That you listened. Tell him that he wasn’t/isn’t weak, that his fear wasn’t and still isn’t irrational. That it isn’t his fault. Call those women by their names: predators—who took from him something he was not yet equipped to give—and vindicate his shaking suspicions, invite them into the light. Show him that his fear isn’t misplaced, that it was and is okay to be afraid. Do not laugh off this trauma. Accept him for what he is: a child still struggling with assault.
Remove the confusion, tell him the truth he has tried (and failed) to understand: he was prey. That he was victimized and abused and used.
In the most insidious of ways.
When your father sits you down to talk about rape, lend him your ears. And understand him.
Dreamer; I sleep all day