Eleanor Cowan

 

My First Unsuspecting Year in My Marriage to an Exploiter

My First Unsuspecting Year in My Marriage to an Exploiter 

With a sparkling wedding ring on my finger, I’d claimed a much-desired new identity – no longer the binge-drinking daughter of an alcoholic mother who’d taken her own life, no longer the thrice-raped young woman drowning in shame, but instead newly married to a handsome, highly educated university student. I’d begun a whole new chapter of life.

Still, I noticed things. Little things that I dismissed. That summer of 1973, after my regular work hours at the library, I waitressed part time for the extra cash to pay for my fall university courses in Paris. While I noted my husband’s five-year high stack of unpaid student loans, I decided that his finances were none of my business.

“One thing I admire about you,” said Stan one evening, “is your pleasantness. Everyone likes you.” He smiled at me before lowering his head. “Whereas for myself,” he added, “I guess I sound complicated to most ordinary folk. I’ve been studying for so long, I’ve lost that simplistic touch, that down home manner.” There was something about that comment that irked me, but, thrilled that we’d both soon be off to school in Europe, I brushed it off.

“If the Loans and Bursaries Department can manage to do their jobs properly, my student loan money will arrive soon,” Stan said. When the funds hadn’t yet been approved and flights needed to be booked, I offered to help until Stan’s his newest loan kicked in.

“Two flight tickets paid. Three months advance rent on our student residence – paid. Enough for groceries too,” I proudly announced the day before Stan was fired from a library job I’d secured for him through a work contact.

So far, I’d never seen my husband so angry. He railed at being unfairly terminated by a demanding librarian who insisted work be done according to her finicky-precise directions. Stan said he’d shown his new boss a more efficient technique to proceed and her reaction was offensive. Stan’s dismissal came two weeks before our departure and, since I had no idea what happened, I let it go.

When the telephone company called twice in one week to say they’d traced to our phone number a barrage of threatening calls to the woman who’d fired him, Stan swore on the bible that the phone company got their wires crossed. After all, I’d called him at the library using our phone, hadn’t I? I believed him. Off we flew to study in beautiful Paris. So exciting.

Every day of our first four months in Europe, I checked the mailbox in our student residence. No cheque. Tension mounted. I asked Stan for his application papers so that I could refer to them when I called Canada. Oh no, they seem to have been lost – not only by Stan, but by the Government Loans Department who claimed they’d never received them. It was exam time and Stan said he was overwhelmed about the tests to come. I offered to quit my classes. I offered to find a job. I could always study later.

“My family thinks the world of you, Eleanor,” Stan said. “You handle distress like a queen, you’re forgiving about the lost loan papers and you’re not letting me down. I married the right woman.”

I found three part-time jobs in three different locales at which I remained for the rest of our stay. With no more talk about the missing forms or any other financial aid, we relied completely upon my salaries.

I worked twelve-hour days, leaving our room in the early morning and returning just in time for the evening kitchen meal with the other students. One evening, there was a bus jam and I missed supper. The kitchen had closed – but after eating his meal, Stan forgot to bring a plate for me. “I’ve so much on my mind!” he said. “You’ve no idea! I can’t believe you’re actually angry with me about food!”

I said I understood – but I didn’t. I knew in my heart I’d have brought Stan a good meal. Since we could store only dry food in our rooms, I munched on crackers and went to bed. It would be okay. I calmed myself, but when it happened again, and I wept to a new friend down the hall, I was told that I’d married an ‘absent minded professor’. She counseled I let it go. “It’s only a minor detail” she said. “Don’t make a big mountain out of a tiny molehill.”

One afternoon, I received a letter from a former colleague at the library who said that a barrage of anonymous letters deposited in the book returns box threatened harm to Stan’s former boss and that the librarian’s terrified mother insisted she quit her job and return home immediately.

“See,” said Stan. “Obviously, I couldn’t have sent mail from here, or the post mark would have condemned me, but, not surprisingly, she’s attracted another enemy.” It was his lack of dismay and his use of the words ‘another’ that made me wonder. Was Stan her enemy too? Had he got someone to hand deliver the threats for him? I soon felt shame at my strange suspicion of my husband.

The following day, at a celebration for one of the staffers at one of my workplaces, I was warmly welcomed to a delicious lunch with lovely people – who hoped I’d stay in Paris for years to come. I felt so grateful and happy. I also drank too much and arrived home looking drunk.

“You terrify me,” said Stan. “Do you want to die of alcoholism like your mother? I thought I could count upon you to conduct yourself with integrity!” Filled with remorse, and confusion, I vowed to become a better person. It was all my fault. All my minor suspicions paled in the face of my own disgrace.

The following day, Stan shared his tremendous anxiety about his student loan repayment schedule now due. I offered to start making the payments which he very gratefully accepted. After all, I had to redeem myself. I had to restore peace, equilibrium and my self-respect. 

Eleanor Cowan   www.eleanorcowan.ca

Quelling is Not Coping - how my siblings and I dealt with our sociopathic mother

Published by Lovefraud.com August 9, 2017

In our family of ten, our main objective was not to recognize gross abnormalities, but to quell them. When a storm erupted, we’d leap into action. Unpredictable rages meant that we, Mother’s children, speedily grouped to control the situation and do as needed to quiet her distress and end the drama.

Lightning-fast signals fired between us: “Storm clouds overhead,” I’d say or “Hurricane Warning!”If Mother was revving up for a full-scale crackdown, “Earthquake! Earthquake!” would bewhispered as we gathered our younger siblings to dash outside or hide in the basement.

Usually, one of us would front the voluble outrage, the insults and screaming about how our mother was a victim of selfish children whose never-ending needs and wants were driving her crazy.

Maybe someone forgot to put the top on the ketchup bottle, again, or one of us failed to get home on time after school to awaken, dress and take care of the toddlers who napped for three hours every afternoon while our mother slept in her locked bedroom.  Our selfish dawdling after school meant it would be hard to get the kids back into bed by 7 p.m.  Special arrangements had to be made between us if one of us wanted to do anything different after school other than come right home.

 Mother’s lashing out could take the form of slaps across the face or on the back of the head. She waved a Mexican horse whip and a long black leather strap under our noses. While these hurt, the insults, mostly to our intelligence, hurt most of all. “How incredibly stupid can one human being manage to be? You stupid twit!” Mother would scream, or “Get your long donkey face out of my sight, you idiot!”

Earlier, Mother’s rages would be directed at an older brother, for his “failure to comprehend” repeated instructions for the daily cooking or cleaning required of him. Once Gordy began to earn an academic reputation at high school, though, Mother backed off and turned to her daughters.

One Saturday, when our mother was upset and screaming, little Paddy, our four-year-old with an asthma condition, ended up in hospital – again. For the third time that summer, he’d made his way outside and found a mound of small pebbles. One after the other he stuffed the tiny stones up his nose and deep into both ears. Fortunately, the local hospital was across the street so that once he was discovered, unconscious, the doctor quickly cleared his ears and nose and gave him oxygen.  The hospital administration had a little meeting with our mother who came home seeing red. Paddy’s crisis was all our fault.  Once Dad got home from this one of his regular six-week business trips and heard about Paddy’s near-death, he expressed his “serious disappointment” in all of us. 

Rosie began to pull out hair on the back of her head, strand by strand until a bald patch appeared. She bit her fingernails down to the quick where tiny droplets of red blood oozed from her finger tips. Irene withdrew into a cocoon. She began to hide little treats for herself under her clothes in our dresser. Rosa and Irene became mother’s reliable slaves, spending all their free time cooking, cleaning and caring for the younger children. They had no friends and missed a ton of school.  Mona began to wear white cotton gloves to soak up the copious amounts of sweat on her palms.  Another sibling got terribly upset if the salt shaker on the counter did not align perfectly with the pepper shaker. They had to stand side by side. Dinner plates had to be placed equidistant one from the other on the supper table. 

Just after Paddy’s last nose and ear clearing, I got permission to have a money-making paper route. I delivered my papers, bought the daily chocolate bars that made me feel better – and, importantly for me, looked into a lot of different living rooms and kitchens on each collection day. 

It was a first introduction to different ways of family living.

Eleanor Cowan     www.eleanorcowan.ca

Never Good Enough (My childhood adaptation to abuse)

Published by Lovefraud.com  - July 26 , 2017

I was eleven years old.  “Do you know what you are? asked Mother, thrusting open my bedroom door to find me, as she knew she would, in a predictable spot reading a predictable book. “I’ll tell you who. You’re a big, fat, lazy nothing.” Waving her souvenir from Mexico, a horsewhip, she flicked my hair up at the back as I hit the stairs to begin new tasks.

Even though I weighed less than a hundred pounds, even though my chores were done and I’d earned the right to read for awhile, I did not defend myself.  There was no talking back, no disrespect, no arguing. Only one rehearsed sentence was permitted. I said it: “Yes, mother? What can I do to help?”

Standing up for myself would have meant facing both my father, a traveling salesman on the road half of each year and then, at Confession, Father Rich, the man who believed my mother was a shining example of religious womanhood. The priests lived far enough away that, unlike the neighbours, they remained ignorant of Mother’s constant screaming, yelling that ceased when visitors appeared.  Still, I sought my mother. I needed her affection. I spared no effort to earn her approval. I tried harder to please her. While I cannot recall ever receiving a hug or a kiss from her, I do recall a few smiles from her serious face – but these were not directed at me.

For some odd reason, my mother’s insults drove me on. I’d show her! I’d clearly demonstrate that I wasn’t a “colossal idiot, a dumb bunny or worse, a lying tart.”  She’d be proud of me one day.

I had no idea that eighteen years of “name-calling” had any effect at all – nor that it was abuse.  I never stopped doing my best to convince my mother that I was worthy of her love. Even more confusing, her rare moments of thoughtfulness somehow erased months of cold hurtfulness.  My solution was to assume responsibility. I’d gotten it wrong. I’d try to be a better person. I took full responsibility. I began to beat myself up for minor mistakes. In this way, I assumed full control and all blame. I apologized a lot.

It took me decades to realize that the two adolescent boys my parents adopted were, in fact, used as servants in our home, as were the five older children who became parents of our five younger siblings as soon as they arrived from the hospital.

I was pleased to see that one afternoon, mother invited Mrs. Rio, a widow with three little boys, over for a visit. Soon after, however, the struggling mother found herself with four children to care for, my baby sister added to her responsibilities while Mother left for holiday. This was the beginning of mother’s giving her children away, one by one, to whoever would take us on.

When she applied for and won a Best Mother Award in our county, one that came with a washer, dryer and some cash, I wondered why I felt so upset. I had no vocabulary for the dark distress roiling inside.  During her public celebration, I stole sugary Rocky Road ice-cream from the freezer and ate it all by myself in the basement.  Mother then dubbed me “the ice-cream thief.”

I wish I could say that I had an aha moment where it all came together for me.  After I left home and got a good paying job in the city, Mother called regularly, asking for money. She’d stay on the line with me to help me figure out my next payday, how much I could send, and the exact day she’d be at the post box, waiting for my check. She made me promise that I wouldn’t let her down – and not to discuss my gifts with my siblings.

Only much later, did my sisters and brothers share with me that they’d also contributed on a regular basis.  When my mother ended her own life because her boyfriend decided he needed a better-quality mate, I was still living in a dark basement of unconsciousness, eating ice-cream, secretly binge drinking and always a) blaming myself and b) trying to be a better person – trying to qualify for love.

A year after my mother’s death, at 25, I married a pedophile, a man who assured me he’d greatly appreciate my love, talent and financial support for the amazing doctorate he’d soon earn.

Fourteen exhausting years later, at 40, with the help of our sexually-abused daughter, I arrived at the top step of a cobwebbed cellar door, and opened it.

At my first meeting at the Parents of Sexually Abused Children, our social worker warmly welcomed us with words of non-blame, “There are thousands upon thousands who’ll never, ever get here. I’m so glad, so proud and so grateful that you have”

I still remind myself to not be ashamed of how dissociated I was. I’m just grateful that I woke up to begin my authentic life.

Eleanor Cowan is author of “A History of a Pedophile’s Wife,” which is available on Amazon.com. Visit her at eleanorcowan.ca

How, as a child, I became a people pleaser - Published by Lovefraud.com, July 12, 2017

“Shut your big mouth and buzz off!” my mother exploded at me as she slammed a boiling hot cloth against my brother’s face – her cure for his chronic swollen acne.

“Do you know how much money your pimple treatment costs this family?” screamed mother. Pressing on another steaming square, she ignored Gordie’s pitiful cries. Slightly taller than my mother, my brother’s strong-muscled arms trembled at each side as tears streamed down his face.

A capable teenager, he could have landed her on the kitchen floor in an instant. Or, he could have run.

But Gordie knew the drill. The Fourth Commandment. “Honor your Father and Your Mother.” He knew what would happen if he disrespected God’s injunction, the one my parents leaned on to sanction their abuse. If he spoke up for himself, if he attempted to honor his own life, there’d be worse consequence. For transgressions reported to Dad, by mother, Gordie was beaten in the barn, naked, until he was 10 years old. This education effectively trained my brother to never fight back.

“Mummy! Stop!” I dared to protest as her electric grey eyes blazed at me.

“Do you need another reminder to shut your big, fat mouth?” Mother reached for her Mexican horsewhip, the one with the long tails of heavy knots at the ends. I snapped shut like an oyster clam.

I was six. I knew when to retreat, to keep quiet and to silence myself – or Mother would do it for me. If I tattled to our chronically absent father about Gordie’s suffering by the stove, (treatments which never took place when Dad was home) Dad would placate. He’d smooth over. He’d invite me to consider that our poor mother was pregnant with her seventh child, that she was doing her best to help Gordie with his persistent skin problem, that she was run off her feet as it was, and that I should be more helpful.

A strict, humorless religious family, we’d kneel to pray the rosary, just before Dad left for one more of his six-week sales trips. I told Mother about my sexual abuse only once. She called me a bloody liar and a tart. That was the end of that – not of the abuse, but of any hope of support for me.

Its funny how a single instant can be forever etched in memory. Watching my brother tremble under the undisputed authority of our enraged mother – I decided. I’d never be like her. I’d never scream. I’d never shout. I’d never criticize or complain. I’d be like the honored saints Sister Caroline told us about at school. Each silently swallowed injustice became a gift God would richly reward one day, after my death. Over time, I became hyper-vigilant. I said please and thank you way too much. I became Dad’s smiling little friend and worked hard to earn my mother’s generous tolerance.

In this way, I was groomed to accommodate bullies whose permission to be angry or cruel remained unchallenged. Without the vocabulary to articulate it, I came to understand that love was not freely given. I had to dance. I learned to two-step with entitled bullies, those whose authority, education, power or sway remained unquestioned by me.

A bee in a jar of vinegar, I thought it sweet because I knew nothing else.

Eleanor Cowan is author of “A History of a Pedophile’s Wife,” which is available on Amazon.com. Visit her at eleanorcowan.ca

Review of A History of a Pedophile's Wife by Playwright Carolyn Gage

“How could a mother NOT know that her child was being sexually abused in the home?”

I’ve asked that. But it was never a real question. I was always sure I knew the answer: “She couldn’t.” In other words, guilty.  Because any mother who was so indifferent or oblivious to the signs and syndromes of her victimized children and/or the inevitable trail of clues from the perpetrating partner should be found guilty of criminal negligence… right?   

And then, of course, if the mom did know… well, lock her up as an accomplice.
 
When I asked that question, what I was really saying was, “How could my mother not have known?” As a child, I was a bundle of behaviors, from food refusal to self-mutilation. My father had a disgusting collection of pornography, which included torture pornography. He was compulsively adulterous, even taking a date to an office party when my mother (his wife) was in the hospital giving birth. He was violent, forcing sex on her immediately after an episiotomy. He was cruel to animals and a bully to children.

I was completely terrified of him. How could she not have known?


​Self-righteousness is the pendulum swing to the far side of shame. Both emotions carry sweeping indictments. With shame it’s a personal indictment. With self-righteousness, someone else is guilty. Both engage black-and-white thinking. Both have a tendency to flash-freeze an experience and prevent growth or movement forward. Both are motivated by a desire to protect. In the case of shame, the desire to protect the perpetrator(s) has become internalized. This brainwashing has been part of the perpetration.  In the case of self-righteousness, we are protecting ourselves from blame.

For the first three decades of my life, I experienced a great deal of shame and confusion… from the trauma, but also from the complex PTSD that pervaded my young adult years. It was a great relief when I became politically aware of the oppression of women, because it enabled my swing over to self-righteousness. Still stuck, still rigid, but at least not at fault anymore.

My new mantra became:  “How could a mother not know that her child was being sexually abused.”
 
So, here comes this book that takes my question more literally than I ever did

A History of a Pedophile’s Wife is a page-turner memoir by Canadian feminist Eleanor Cowan, describing the toxic landscape of her family life in the twentieth century, surrounded by secrets and patriarchal theology and institutions. Reading Cowan’s book, the question in my own mind began to morph into “How could my mother have known?” 


Unlike Pandora, my mother knew what was locked away. My own mother would never admit the truth about her first husband or about my experience. At one time, when I was asking her about the nature of the pornography collection, she became uncharacteristically emotional and said, “You don’t what you’re asking me to do! You don’t know what you’re asking me to open the door on!”

 Following Cowan’s journey, I had many occasions for remembering those words. The perpetration I experienced was probably the tip of an iceberg. My mother, a lifelong practicing alcoholic, had protected her marriage in so many arenas, hiding her drinking, hiding his philandering, standing by him in political scandals, making up excuses for her bruises, rationalizing the chronic emotional abuse … I really have no idea what was behind that door she was so afraid to open. And I have no idea what that avalanche of truth might do to her. She knew the answer to both when she begged me to drop the subject.
 
The author of A History of a Pedophile’s Wife has the courage my mother lacked. She does open the door, and there is an avalanche. And she shares it in compelling detail. 

New question: “Why are some mothers able to open that door, while others cannot?” 

One of the answers is “support.” Cowan’s journey led out of the 1950’s into the explosion of feminist consciousness characterized by the 1960’s and the 1970’s. Women were telling the truth, naming the real perpetrators instead of policing each other. Social services were being provided for battered women and rape victims. Birth control happened. Divorce began to lose its stigma. Health care providers began to break their silence. Mandatory reporting became law.
 
Cowan found something else: a group called Parents of Sexually Abused Children. The attrition rate was very high, but those who stayed learned how to shatter the silence about family secrets. In this group, the author lost her shame, found her voice, took ownership of her experience, became accountable to her children… and shared the story.
 
My own mother went to her grave with her secrets, and the best I could do was to manage a diffident wave “good-bye” across the enormous gulf of denial that separated us. No closure, I thought. But actually I did get closure, and I got it from A History of a Pedophile’s Wife. I saw the parallel universe, the alternate reality, and I think that has healed me a little.
 
So, with that, I recommend this memoir to survivors, to mothers who failed to protect, to providers working with trauma patients, and to survivors of religious abuse… especially those whose trauma was perpetrated or enabled by Catholic teachings and institutions. Also a great read for anyone who appreciates a courageous and dramatic memoir!

 

Moon to Earth - Recognizing my Experience was actually abuse

Published by www.lovefraud.com , June 28, 2017

From Moon to Earth - recognizing that my experience was really abuse 

“Your son lives on the moon! “Teddy’s Grade 2 teacher complained, her grim face and gruff tone an accusation to me.  “Teddy’s somewhere else – far away and all of the time. He stares out the window. He hears nothing. He dozes off. What’s distracting him all the time? Something at home?

“Boy, she needs a communication course,” I said to a parent at the school gate. “Can she not speak less offensively to parents? My son’s a smart, imaginative kid! Maybe he’s bored in her class?”

What my disgruntled self didn’t know was that Teddy’s chronically unemployed and highly-educated father regularly molested his sister – and probably him – while I waitressed nights to pay the rent, bills and groceries.

But where was I, really? Who was I during those years of blind ignorance? I’d read an article about two types of time – Chronos and Kairos. One is clock time, tick tock, tick tock.  The other is the time we become conscious, awake and aware.  I began to learn that, for a long time, despite my frenzy of daily accomplishment, I’d been in a deep sleep. I’d slept through every alarm.

Slowly, very slowly, through watching others, through comparing their happiness with my own constant undiagnosed anxiety, I awakened to understand a simple fact:  I wasn’t happy.

“Women fought for decades for the right to work, have careers, be breadwinners,” said Stan. “You have that hard-earned privilege and you’re complaining?” Despite a deal we’d made that once he’d finished the university studies I paid for, he’d support me while I stayed at home with our two toddlers, that pact never happened.

“I’m over-educated, “he claimed when the time came, “while you can do anything from waitress to secretary with ease cause you’re so pleasant.”  So, Deep and Profound stayed at home while Bubbly Nice waitressed at night - work that allowed me to be home with the kids during the day.

Stan focused on his interests. He forgot to take the kids to the lessons I’d paid for and accused me of being hysterical when I got upset. “You treat me like a criminal!” he shouted.  I began to cook before I left for work and to clean up when I got home. Over time these double shifts affected my health. Some nights I’d dream of running desperately through thick, restraining tar.

I paid the high price oblivion cost – and so did the children I loved.

When my children were ten and twelve years old, with the help of good people I trusted, my haze cleared enough to crawl away from fourteen years of comatose craziness, abuse, and exploitation.

Walking home from work several months after I’d left Stan, I suddenly stopped. Sunshine filtered through golden autumn leaves overhead, their maple shapes dappling the sidewalk below – and I gasped – with joy! I had full custody of my children, work I loved, and was studying to upgrade my profession. It was the first time I’d felt so allied with myself.  A new self was coming home.

I had no idea, though, that leaving Stan was only the beginning. Sure, I was free of one abuser – but unless I changed, I was told, I’d be a magnet for more of the same.

Soon, the blame started.  An inexperienced social worker taught me new vocabulary. “You’re what is known as a ‘colluder’, an ‘enabler’”, she said during a home visit. “You need to wake up to your own part in this mess. It takes two to tango, after all.”  My self-esteem plummeted. My fragile confidence shook with this new knowledge - about myself.  Fortunately, a more senior social worker dismissed the trainee from my case and instead, invited me to a twice-weekly support group. I was given a pile of books too.  I read them all and stuck with the group, despite the diminishing numbers. It got tough to take the focus off the abuser and to keep it on ourselves – our fragility, our pathological loyalty, our chronic passivity and tolerance of abuse – and the terrible cost to the children left unprotected.

Page by page, meeting by meeting – I awakened. I began to respect my own wishes. One small example is that I learned about “policy statements”, such as “Let me get back to you about that,” when invited to do unpaid overtime or volunteer despite fatigue.  If I couldn’t yet say ‘no’, at least I could stall. I learned I could press 4 to review a phone message until my ‘no’ sounded just right.

I learned vocabulary such as incest and rape survivor, post traumatic dissociation, adult child of an alcoholic, people-pleaser and chronic co-dependent. I was stunned they all applied to me.

If I’d have been an awake woman of high self esteem, if I’d valued myself enough to listen to the clues, I’d never have married Stan - nor would he have chosen me. Or, I’d have left much, much sooner.

One summer’s evening, a full two years after I joined a wonderful group I never imagined I’d be part of - the Support Group for Parents of Sexually Abused Children, I sat together with my son on the back porch of our rented home. He pointed afar.

“Look, Mom, it’s a full moon!” Turning to me, he added, “I’m glad I live here on planet earth, with you.”

“Me too,” I replied, “I’m so, so grateful we’ve landed at last.

 Eleanor Cowan, Author of: A History of a Pedophile’s Wife  (www.eleanorcowan.ca)

 

Review by www.lovefraud.com

Book Review: A History of a Pedophile’s Wife — Memoir of a Canadian Teacher and Writer, by Eleanor Cowan

Review by Donna Andersen of www.lovefraud.com (May15/17)

People born to disordered parents are likely to be vulnerable to psychopaths later in life. I’ve explained this to many, many people that I’ve spoken to in my personal consultations.

Eleanor Cowan’s book, A History of a Pedophile’s Wife, explains exactly how it happens.

Childhood without love

Eleanor was born in 1948 outside of Montreal, Canada, the second child in what would become a large Catholic family. Her childhood was molded by the dictates of the Catholic Church, wholeheartedly accepted by her father, and the disinterest of a personality disordered mother.

Eleanor, who was nicknamed “Norda” by her sister, pined for her mother’s love and approval. She never got it. Although Norda’s mother, Ann, didn’t beat her kids, as some antisocial parents do, she did ignore them, preferring to sleep all afternoon, with the assistance of alcohol and sleeping pills. Or, the woman used her kids, and played them against each other.

Eleanor wrote:

As I look back on growing up in our strange and unloving home life, it seems to me that my siblings and I milled about together without getting to know each other very well or forming close friendships. I think we all knew we’d betray each other at the drop of a hat for a moment of attention.

For example, when Mother criticized Maureen for her slumped shoulders or for eating with her mouth open, I’d zero in for an instant of short-lived glory.

“Not me, eh Mother?” I’d pipe up. “I stand up straight and I eat with my mouth closed too. I eat like a lady.”

“Yes, and you lie like a rug, too,” was a typical retort from Mother.

When Norda was in sixth grade, she represented her class in a public speaking contest. She begged her mother to come to watch her deliver her speech. Ann never gave her an answer. The day of the event, Ann said she was “exhausted beyond human belief,” even though she had driven to another town for her own public speaking course the night before, and had slept all afternoon. She never showed up.

In the most poignant story from her childhood, Ann invited Norda, and of the eight children, only Norda, to accompany her to a family party. Norda excitedly packed a party dress and shiny shoes. She wanted to chatter with her mother during the train ride to Montreal, but Ann wasn’t interested.

When they arrived at her grandfather’s house, Ann said that if Norda wanted to stay up late for the party, she should take a nap.

Eleanor wrote:

Handing me a pill and a glass of water, she said, “Take this vitamin and I’ll wake you in time for the party.”

“I’m so excited, Mummy,” I said. “I’m so excited my stomach hurts.”

My scheme to lie back on the pillows, enjoy my taffy for a while, and then get up, claiming I couldn’t sleep, wasn’t successful. Instead, I awakened stiff and aching. “Time for the party, Mother?” I asked, stumbling into the kitchen to a breakfast scene of toast and eggs.

“It’s over,” she said. “You slept through it.”

Ann had given Norda one of her sleeping pills to make sure that she would miss the party.

A few weeks later, Norda’s parents, and three of her sisters, left for a two-week vacation. Norda was left home to help care for the babies. Her mother told her that she had already had a solo vacation in Montreal, so it was only fair.

Abusive encounters with men

By the time she was a teenager, Eleanor was dealing with her emotional pain by smoking and eating chocolate. She failed multiple courses before she was able to graduate from high school. When she got older, she took up drinking as well.

Desperate for attention, she became involved with men who used and abused her. On several occasions Eleanor was sexually assaulted. But it wasn’t that she was hanging out with the wrong crowd. One of the men was a college classmate. One was an employer. One was introduced to her by her college professor.

Why did Eleanor have so many abusive encounters with men? Although she doesn’t explain it in the book, I believe it’s the result of the damage done to her by her disordered mother. Throughout her childhood, Eleanor endured coldness and betrayal. As an adult, her relationships again involved coldness and betrayal.

Sociopathic husband

Eventually Eleanor married Stan. She’d actually known him since she was a child — her parents were friends with his parents. It was through Stan’s mother that they reconnected, at a dinner to celebrate his master’s thesis.

Eleanor doesn’t write much about the courtship, but eventually she and Stan married. Then the real exploitation began. Stan offered Eleanor a deal — if she would support him while he completed his doctoral studies in Paris, they would then start a family and she could be a stay-at-home mom.

So Eleanor worked while Stan wrote a dissertation. When the babies came, Eleanor still worked, while Stan did nothing. For 14 years he pretended to look for work, but now he was overqualified. And if he did take menial work, he soon quit or was fired.

And, as Eleanor eventually learned to her horror, Stan sexually abused their children. And they weren’t the first children that he molested.

Cause and effect

Eleanor’s book, A History of a Pedophile’s Wife, clearly illustrates how cold, unloving parenting primes children for a lifetime of abuse. Being starved for love and attention all her life created massive emotional wounds, which made Eleanor a target for predators.

It went on until, to save her children, Eleanor stopped denying the reality of her husband’s disorder and escaped. Then, she worked on healing her life.

In the end, Eleanor attributes the turbulence in her life to religious indoctrination and patriarchy. I think the bigger problem was personality disorders, which she mentions but does not dwell on.

Eleanor’s mother, Ann, appears to be a card-carrying narcissist. Her husband, Stan, exhibits the behavior of a psychopath as well as being a pedophile.

But what’s important is that Eleanor overcame the years of abuse. She writes that she is doing well — and that is a magnificent achievement.

A History of a Pedophile’s Wife is available on Amazon.com.

UC Observer Magazine - Carolyn Pogue - about my memoir

SIGHTINGS by Carolyn Pogue 

Dear Mother of Judas,

I know you walk among us, still. You, the mother of the turncoat, criminal, suicide. 

Your son's name is used as a metaphor for "wicked." How did it turn out this way? You must have asked that question a million times.

I see you in the haunted eyes of mothers and fathers who have buried their children, visited them in prison or detention centres or psychiatric wards. I remember you particularly during Lent, when we walk this winding path. I always walk these long, dark days with Mary and with you. I wonder, dear Mother of Judas, did you ever sit and have tea with Mary afterwards? Did you hold one another in the unspeakable deaths of your children? Did the other women gather around both of you — or just around Mary? Did you even allow them to offer you comfort?

I see other parents, too. On the news, sometimes, a parent stands in front of a microphone and tells the world that “no, the murderer of my child or my grandchild should not go free when I live in a prison of sorrow and my beloved lies underground. No fair. No fair!"

But rarely do we see the parents or families of murderers, rapists or pedophiles. That privacy is honoured, at least. I am glad that we allow them time to try to stitch new lives together from the broken, tangled threads that they have been left with. I do sometimes wonder about them, though. I occasionally send a prayer out for them that they do not feel alone. Being sad and being alone can be such a harsh combination.

I teach creative writing at Calgary’s Alexandra Writers' Centre periodically. 

That is where I met Eleanor Cowan, the author of A History of the Pedophile's Wife: Memoir of a Canadian Teacher and Writer. 

The title of the book, itself, took my breath away. Such courage.

The book goes a long way toward helping readers understand how women are drawn into relationships with men who are so sick that they would rape a child. It can help us to better understand what a pedophile might look for in a wife. Cowan leads the reader through her early life in a compelling way; I barely closed the book. Interestingly, she and I are the same age, and as she chronicles her childhood, early marriage and motherhood, she notes the books that she read at the time of an event.

Naming the literature created a bridge between us. For example, I would think, “Yes!” I read Margaret Laurence at exactly that age too, and Laurence helped me to see women's lives differently. 

Dear Mother of Judas, I know that you have seen it all and heard it all. What is new under the sun, after all? I wonder what book you would write about being in the family of your son who became so reviled? What words from your shattered heart would you share with us to help us to stand bravely with you?

Sending you gentleness this day,

Carolyn

 

Carolyn Pogue is a Calgary author and longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..

Review of my memoir on 'Not the Life We Chose' by Author Janet Mackie

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Honoring one Mother's courage to speak out: Comparing our stories with theirs, and discovering pathways to protect the next generation of children that we love

 A History of a Pedophile's Wife by Eleanor Cowan is that rare memoir written from the perspective of a wife and mother with courage to speak out. This memoir is well worth reading. (the link to Eleanor Cowan's  web page/ blog is http://www.eleanorcowan.ca/contact.


Eleanor Cowan's  memoir focuses on her traditional upbringing in a Catholic community in Canada. She recounts the lasting influence child sexual abuse had upon her early life, her choice of husband and, sadly, upon her children's fate. A History of a Pedophile's Wife is a personal story told with clarity and courage. It is a sadly familiar story many women on Not the Life, and perhaps making their own choice to  stay or go, will recognize:

"Bending his face to his knees, Stan wept. His shoulders shook. He told me I had stabbed him through the heart, that I was killing him, that I was merciless and vengeful. In the past, Stan's powerful emotional outbursts, especially his tears had convinced me that he was genuine. But this time I unraveled the bizarre twist that had confounded me for so long. I realized that Stan's feelings were, in fact, a hundred percent authentic, but they did not extend beyond himself. He wept with deep feeling only when his own safety was threatened.  Even as his tears fell, he blamed me. His predation was my fault. I dressed our daughter in flannelette nightgowns he found seductive. Mere seconds after I'd caught him molesting her, I was the guilty one. I should apologize," (pg 215 A History of a Pedophile's Wife) 

I found Eleanor Cowan's courageous memoir unique. It lights the path for many of us showing the steps she took in her own recovery from the effects of child sexual abuse inflicted first upon herself and subsequently inflicted by her husband, Stan, on Eleanor's daughter and son.

I highly recommend this insight-filled memoir to women, wives, and mothers like me, searching for shelter, solace and community here on Not the Life I Chose.  www.notthelifeIchose.com

Review by American Playwright Carolyn Gage

A History of a Pedophile's Wife: A Highly Personal Reaction by Carolyn Gage

 ​“How could a mother NOT know that her child was being sexually abused in the home?”

I’ve asked that. But it was never a real question. I was always sure I knew the answer: “She couldn’t.” In other words, guilty.  Because any mother who was so indifferent or oblivious to the signs and syndromes of her victimized children and/or the inevitable trail of clues from the perpetrating partner should be found guilty of criminal negligence… right?   And then, of course, if the mom did know… well, lock her up as an accomplice.

When I asked that question, what I was really saying was, “How could my mother not have known?”  As a child, I was a bundle of behaviors, from food refusal to self-mutilation. My father had a disgusting collection of pornography, which included torture pornography. He was compulsively adulterous, even taking a date to an office party when my mother (his wife) was in the hospital giving birth. He was violent, forcing sex on her immediately after an episiotomy. He was cruel to animals and a bully to children.

I was completely terrified of him. How could she not have known?

Self-righteousness is the pendulum swing to the far side of shame. Both emotions carry sweeping indictments. With shame it’s a personal indictment. With self-righteousness, someone else is guilty. Both engage black-and-white thinking. Both have a tendency to flash-freeze an experience and prevent growth or movement forward. Both are motivated by a desire to protect. In the case of shame, the desire to protect the perpetrator(s) has become internalized. This brainwashing has been part of the perpetration.  In the case of self-righteousness, we are protecting ourselves from blame.

For the first three decades of my life, I experienced a great deal of shame and confusion… from the trauma, but also from the complex PTSD that pervaded my young adult years. It was a great relief when I became politically aware of the oppression of women, because it enabled my swing over to self-righteousness. Still stuck, still rigid, but at least not at fault anymore.

 My new mantra became:  “How could a mother not know that her child was being sexually abused.”

 So, here comes this book that takes my question more literally than I ever did

A History of a Pedophile’s Wife is a page-turner memoir by Canadian feminist Eleanor Cowan, describing the toxic landscape of her family life in the twentieth century, surrounded by secrets and patriarchal theology and institutions.

Reading Cowan’s book, the question in my own mind began to morph into “How could my mother have known?” 

Unlike Pandora, my mother knew what was locked away. My own mother would never admit the truth about her first husband or about my experience.

At one time, when I was asking her about the nature of the pornography collection, she became uncharacteristically emotional and said,  “You don’t know what you’re asking me to do! You don’t know what you’re asking me to open the door on!”

Following Cowan’s journey, I had many occasions for remembering those words. The perpetration I experienced was probably the tip of an iceberg. My mother, a lifelong practicing alcoholic, had protected her marriage in so many arenas, hiding her drinking, hiding his philandering, standing by him in political scandals, making up excuses for her bruises, rationalizing the chronic emotional abuse … I really have no idea what was behind that door she was so afraid to open. And I have no idea what that avalanche of truth might do to her. She knew the answer to both when she begged me to drop the subject.
 
The author of A History of a Pedophile’s Wife has the courage my mother lacked.She does open the door, and there is an avalanche. And she shares it in compelling detail. 

New question: “Why are some mothers able to open that door, while others cannot?” 

One of the answers is “support.” Cowan’s journey led out of the 1950’s into the explosion of feminist consciousness characterized by the 1960’s and the 1970’s. Women were telling the truth, naming the real perpetrators instead of policing each other. Social services were being provided for battered women and rape victims. Birth control happened. Divorce began to lose its stigma. Health care providers began to break their silence. Mandatory reporting became law.  Cowan found something else: a group called Parents of Sexually Abused Children. The attrition rate was very high, but those who stayed learned how to shatter the silence about family secrets. In this group, the author lost her shame, found her voice, took ownership of her experience, became accountable to her children… and shared the story.

My own mother went to her grave with her secrets, and the best I could do was to manage a diffident wave “good-bye” across the enormous gulf of denial that separated us. No closure, I thought.

But actually I did get closure, and I got it from A History of a Pedophile’s Wife. I saw the parallel universe, the alternate reality, and I think that has healed me a little.

So, with that, I recommend this memoir to survivors, to mothers who failed to protect, to providers working with trauma patients, and to survivors of religious abuse… especially those whose trauma was perpetrated or enabled by Catholic teachings and institutions. Also a great read for anyone who appreciates a courageous and dramatic memoir!

carolyngage.weebly.com

 

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