About My Father, My Own Personal Monster

(Trigger warning: this post contains disturbing material. Proceed at your own risk.)

My father, Daniel Lee Marsh, was from Jonesboro, Arkansas, and was alive from 1933 to 2010. At almost nine years after his death, there are still several things I cannot figure out about the man. Why did he do the things he did?

When he finally reached his long-delayed, long-anticipated expiration date, I had already been eagerly waiting for that day for years. I was utterly confused that my mother and sister reacted to the news of his death by becoming upset. He was finally gone. He could hurt no one, ever again. This was, in my view, an occasion for celebration, not mourning, for his long-awaited death meant he could harm no one else. They reacted with tears, while I was euphoric, and demonstrated that euphoria with hysterical laughter. I think I confused them as much as they confused me.

My father was a pedophile, who targeted young males, and horribly neglected the females in his life. Several of my childhood friends were molested by the man. He was also a teacher (as I am), and abused that position to find new victims. He was never punished by the criminal justice system. I did report his behavior to police, late in his life, but he had successfully hidden all evidence of his crimes by this point, and the police came to conclusion that my report was false. My surviving family had tried to convince me for years not to report his crimes, as a shameful family secret, but I eventually reached the breaking point, which means I had to act, which I did — not that it did any good. The police dropped their investigation, and then harassed me, as if I had filed a false complaint.

I have no biological children, having always being afraid to become involved in a pregnancy, for fear I would turn out like him. I do have two stepchildren, whom I love as if they carried my own DNA. I fear this is as close to fatherhood as I dare come. I have a strong memory of his cruelty — many, in fact — but one sticks out from when I was six years old. I was angry at him for something (I don’t remember what), and he handed me a scalpel, then invited me to stick it into his head, just behind his left ear, which he told me would kill him quickly. No six-year-old should experience that.

For a time when I was young, I had a roommate, a college student named Jerry. I had no idea that Jerry was secretly my father’s primary sexual partner, only learning of that years later. My mother discovered this, but did not divorce him immediately, staying in that hell of a marriage for the sake of my sister and myself. Much later, she did divorce him. I reacted by legally changing my last name to my mother’s maiden name, just to show whose side I was on.

Can you imagine being a teenager, and having your own father molest your neighborhood friends? I don’t have to imagine it — those memories are burned into my brain. I’ve had to go so far as to be tested for HIV, just in case I was a direct target myself, for it is difficult for me to trust my memory. Fortunately, the test results cleared me of worrying about possibly contracting AIDS.

There’s more. When the two of us were going somewhere in the car, he would often masturbate, while driving, to the point of orgasm, in full view of me, under the guise of “sex education,” in my tween and early teen years. I did not realize until later how harmful this was to me, but now I know this is one of several reasons I have to deal with PTSD for the rest of my life.

There’s also the matter of religion. My father hopped from one religion to another every few years, and tried his best to drag the whole family along with him each time. The new “word from on high” was in effect, and previous revelations were abandoned. These religions varied from the ultra-conservative Church of Christ, to a degenerate form of Buddhism called Soka Gakkai, to his own version of a Native-American-belief-based magic-mushroom cult, and many others. He was quite charismatic, and never had any trouble attracting a small group of “disciples” to follow him along whichever pseudo-spiritual “path” he was on. I grew up, unsurprisingly, with the attitude that all religions were both harmful, and deeply flawed. If you want to raise a young child to become an atheist, there is no more effective approach than what my father did with regards to religion.

The inconsistency of his “parenting” was horrible. One year, he would be providing me with age-inappropriate hard-core pornography, such as Hustler magazine — and the next year, he would mark as “forbidden,” in the TV Guide, any movie which contained nudity. I can’t explain this. It makes no sense.

This is not a complete list.

He’s gone now, but my PTSD remains. If you have kids, please do not torture them, as my father did. If you know of any situation like this going on around you, please report it to the proper authorities. Monsters in human form do exist, and it is the responsibility of all of us to stop them.

Daredevil Fan-Fiction: Why Did Matt Murdock’s Mother Leave His Father?

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I will start with an introduction, to set the context of this story.

In the issue of Superior Iron Man shown above (#4, published in 2015), Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man (having had a “moral inversion,” or good/evil reversal), is the villain of the story, while Matt Murdock, also known as Daredevil, is the hero. It isn’t a typical comic book, for, in this story, the bad guy wins. Stark uses advanced technology to overpower Murdock, and then this happens, near the end of the issue.

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In the next panel, Matt wakes up, in a hospital, with no memories of the conflict with Stark.

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It is important to note that, earlier in this multi-issue story, which begins in Superior Iron Man #1, Stark restores Murdock’s ability to see. Realizing that the price of this is far too high, Murdock deliberately shuns this “gift” from Stark, and voluntarily allows his blindness to return.

Now that the stage is set, on to the fan-fiction, which takes place, mostly, in the mind of Matthew Murdock, who is also an attorney, in-between the two panels shown above.

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Matt Murdock was blinded in a childhood accident, so he is used to darkness — but the darkness now enveloping him is far emptier than usual. His enhanced senses are gone. Hearing nothing, smelling nothing, tasting nothing, feeling nothing, and his “radar-sense” gone, he is now blind — really blind. Deprived of all sensory input, he also has no idea what is going on. However, he can think, and can also remember.

The first thing he remembers is a single name: STARK!

That name triggers a recent memory: the brief, recent period where one of Tony Stark’s inventions restored his sight. For a time — an unknown amount of time — he simply watches, as if watching a TV show, the things he saw during this short time. The show plays itself out, as if on a large screen. His anger at Stark forgotten, Matt watches the show of his recent memories, as one might passively watch a movie. He feels he is floating, in a void, as he watches. As this “movie” plays, there is a sudden freeze-frame: the pictures stop moving. Context is immediately forgotten. All he sees is a single image, which is what he happened to be looking at when the “movie” of his recent memories was suddenly, and unexpectedly, put on “pause.”

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A jar of peanut butter? Why did the images freeze at this spot? What’s going on? Did I see this in a store? Did I see it in my home? Where did I . . . ?

Daredevil is popularly-known as “The Man Without Fear,” but he’s always known that this description is inaccurate. For example, he fears the possibility of those he loves getting injured, or killed, by any of his numerous enemies, because of his exploits as a costumed hero — for that has already happened to him, more than once. He also realizes that he fears something else, but only if he sees it: peanut butter.

Peanut butter? Why that, of all things?

An earlier, strongly-repressed, memory then surfaces, and a great many things fall painfully into place for Matthew Murdock.

Oh, no . . . anything but this . . . . 

He is no longer seeing recalled memories from a few days ago, but from early childhood — before the accident that blinded him. He was very young, had a bad head cold, and could smell nothing, explaining why the smell of peanut butter never triggered this memory before.

Young Matthew looks around. He sees the kitchen of his childhood home. His parents, Jack and Margaret Murdock, are still together. He is wearing the clothes of a toddler, because that is what he was at this time. He’s on top of a counter in the kitchen, having climbed up there, using chairs to make a crude “staircase.” And there, on the floor, is a five-pound jar of peanut butter, surrounded by shards of broken glass. 

Matt, as a toddler, had only been looking for some cookies. He had not meant to knock his father’s gigantic glass jar of peanut butter off the counter, but the deed was done. The jar was broken, and could not be unbroken. There was broken glass in the peanut butter now; it could not safely be eaten. His family didn’t have much money, for his father’s career as a professional boxer was going nowhere, and his mother only made a little money, at the elementary school down the street, working as a substitute teacher. “Battlin’ Jack” Murdock, whom the adult Matt Murdock had idolized for years, was eating as much peanut butter as he could, simply to gain weight, and protein, in the hopes that this would, somehow, make him a better boxer.

The crash of the glass jar hitting the floor echoed throughout the family’s small Hell’s Kitchen apartment. With his earliest memories now unlocked, he knew what was coming next. Matt tried desperately to stop the memory-playback.

He failed, and his mind filled with fear.

Loud footsteps . . . Dad? No! Please, please don’t . . . I don’t need to see this happen again . . . not again . . . . never again . . . .

“MATT!” His father had just burst into the room, having heard the crash. He saw the broken jar of peanut butter on the floor. His son started to cry, afraid of what he knew, in hindsight, was about to happen. “You clumsy little %$#@! Do you have any idea how much that jar COST me?” An incoherent, deep-voiced, roar of rage followed — and the noise from his father seemed louder than anything the adult Murdock had ever heard, even from his arch-enemy, Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime, and even with his enhanced senses taken into account.

Matt’s father, already drunk, in the middle of the afternoon, kept yelling at his son: “I’ll KILL you for this, you worthless little son of a &*%$#!!”

And, with that, the enraged “Battlin’ Jack” Murdock grabbed his only son, by both shoulders, with his son facing him, and started shaking him as hard as he could. Young Matt’s head flopped back and forth, rapidly, just like a worn-out rag doll. Matt heard a sharp “crack!” sound from one of the bones in his neck. The shaking continued.

The adult Matt Murdock then remembered a legal case he had refused to take, over ten years earlier, defending a man who was then put on trial for murdering his son via shaken baby syndrome, which can kill children up to the age of three. Later, he learned the man had not only been convicted, but eventually put to death — the last legal execution in the state of New York, for killing his 2½-year-old son . He remembered smiling when he learned of this, but had not known, at the time, why this news had made him happy.

Now, all at once, he knew.

Luckily for Matt, the toddler, help was on the way. School had been dismissed, and his mother, Margaret Murdock, was just arriving home. She walked in on the most horrible scene she had ever witnessed: her husband attacking their only child.

She didn’t hesitate, and had, fortunately for her young son, entered the apartment unseen by “Battlin’ Jack.” She ran at her husband, a trained boxer, jumped onto his back, and began clawing at her husband’s face with every ounce of strength she could find, screaming as she did so. Not only that, but it worked — she saved her son’s life. 

“You rotten little %$#@*! This is all YOUR fault!” She had saved Matt, but only by getting her husband to redirect his fury at the only other target available — herself. This was not the first time Jack Murdock had beaten his wife, but it was the worst beating she ever took from him, and it was also the last such beating.

This was the last time Matt Murdock ever saw his mother — and, until many years later, as an adult, this was also the last time Matt heard her voice. Unknown to her son, or her monster of a husband, she escaped, to a shelter for battered women at a nearby church, but was unable to take young Matthew with her — her husband changed the locks after she left, and she was not able to gain access to him, in order to rescue him. She did, however, make contact with a friend who worked with New York’s Child Protective Services agency, and begged her friend for her help. She was (incorrectly, she later found out) told that, with no hard evidence available, there was no point in calling the police: an arrest of Jack Murdock would be, she was informed, impossible. However, she did convince her friend to have CPS keep an eye on the situation, for years, in order to ensure her son’s safety.

The toddler Matt, of course, knew none of this. In fact, even as an adult, he never did find out about the CPS-monitoring which his mother had arranged, for his protection.

As his mother was savagely beaten, young Matt laid limp, on the floor, his neck forming a very odd-looking angle, as the result of the trauma he had suffered. He could not move, nor could he speak, for he was in shock for over an hour. He could, however, see and hear. He heard his mother crying, and screaming, as her husband continued to beat her. He saw two of his mother’s bloody teeth fly across his field of vision. He heard some of her bones break, but could not turn his head to see which ones the monster of their lives had broken. He saw a calendar on the wall, and his adult self did the math, and figured out how old he had been when this happened: two and a half years old.

This was now Matt Murdock’s earliest memory — but not for long. The weapon Tony Stark had designed, built, and used against him was programmed to seek out (and record) a person’s most traumatic, but still repressed, memory, and then force them to relive it, vividly, and, next, allow that person to suppress the memory once again — and then keep going, wiping out all memories for several days before the device was activated. When Matt Murdock awoke in the hospital, he remembered nothing about either the conflict with Stark, or with his father. However, Tony Stark examined the recorded data about Murdock’s childhood, and filed it away, in case he ever decides to use it. And, of course, Matt Murdock’s earliest memory is not gone, but merely repressed. If Stark’s technology ever fails, which is certainly possible, these memories could always come back.

Tony Stark now understands Matt Murdock’s prime motivation for putting on a devil costume (despite the fact that he is Catholic), going out almost every night, and selectively beating only those people who seriously deserve to be beaten, and Stark enjoys knowing that he is the only person in the world with this information, to use however he sees fit, at any time.

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~~~

CREDITS

I took the picture of the jar of peanut butter myself. All other images in this post are from Superior Iron Man #4, published by Marvel Comics, written by Tom Taylor, penciled by Yildiray Cinar, and with cover art created by Mike Choi. For other credits, I refer you to this comic book.

The “fuzziness” of the comic book images is deliberate, and done with the intent of avoiding copyright infringement, while leaving the dialogue readable.

While writing this short story, I made every effort to keep it consistent with the decades-long story of Matt Murdock / Daredevil, a work which has involved dozens of talented people. Without their work to build on, I could not have written this story.

The information in this story regarding Shaken Baby Syndrome is factual, as of the date of publication. A search of medical sources with Google will reveal that it does kill large numbers of babies, as well as children up to age three. Everyone needs to know this: shaking can kill babies and children. In this story, Matt Murdock survived. In real life, the author of this story survived; it is my earliest clear memory. Not everyone lives: 25% of us die, and of those who survive, 80% have to deal with permanent damage.

Obviously, I’m among those who survived, but I’m also among the 80% of survivors with permanent damage. PTSD doesn’t just “wear off” once you get it, either . . . or at least, I haven’t found a cure for mine yet.

Issues of Control

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Issues of Control

There’s a common phrase which has been said to me many times — often enough, in fact, that I sometimes now find it amusing when I hear it. You’ve probably heard it, also, or perhaps have said it to other people, yourself: “You have control issues.”

I sometimes wonder why anyone would feel the need to point this out to me. It’s something that is so blindingly obvious, to myself, and to all who know me well, that it really doesn’t even need to be said. My usual response, the last few years, has been the following: “Control issues? I don’t merely have control issues. I’ve got a lifetime subscription.”

The painting at the top of this post was a self-portrait I painted many years ago, while still struggling with (metaphorical) inner “demons” that bother me much less now, compared to how I was even a few years ago, at a time when my mental health was far more precarious.

Am I, to use an informal term for it, a “control freak?” Well, yes, I am — but not of the common variety. I’ve discerned that there are two very different types of control freak in existence, and have labeled them, simply, as type I and type II control freaks. I’m of the second type, but the first type is far more common.

Type I control freaks, as I define them, put a lot of time and energy into controlling other people, or at least trying to do so. I see such people as insecure, on an unconscious level, and suspect they have a strong drive to force their will on others, simply as a way to help them feel more secure about themselves. Such people are extremely unpleasant for me to be around, and I avoid them whenever I can. When forced to be around them, conflict is common.

Type II control freaks are very different from those of the first type. They — or, rather, we — have no particular urge to control other people. We do, however, still have very strong issues related to control, and, yes, this can cause problems at times.

(As an aside, I should explain my use of the word “freak,” since some people find that word offensive. It’s a word I’ve applied to myself since childhood. I don’t ever use this word as an insult. If I call someone “normal,” though, that’s another matter. “Normal” is a word I do use, when I use it, as an insult — a synonym for such terms as “boring,” “ordinary,” or “typical.” The idea of being normal is, to me, horrifying in the extreme — and to be a “freak” is, of course, the exact opposite.)

So what’s up with these people I call type II control freaks? In short, what’s our problem, and how do we differ from control freaks of the more common variety? Well, in my case (and that of others like me, I suspect), we were subjected, when very young, to extreme amounts of manipulative, controlling behavior by others — to such an extreme degree that we are now hypersensitive to any real (or perceived) efforts to control us. In my case, this overly-controlling person — the overwhelming monster of my childhood — was my father, deceased since mid-2010, and, at least by me, completely unmourned. When I painted the painting above, he was still alive. Now that he is gone, and can, therefore, never harm another person, the chains depicted in this painting have, after many decades, finally been broken, even though I still have to deal with lingering PTSD, and likely always will, because of the trauma he inflicted on me in childhood. (The difference is that, now, I simply have to deal with the fact that I used to be “chained up,” and cope with the resulting memories, whereas, before he died, the chains were still “on,” even though we were estranged for many years.) Hearing the news of his death was, quite possibly, the most liberating moment of my life.

Type II control freaks have no need to control others — we simply have an overwhelming need to keep others from controlling us. We are lovers of freedom and liberty, and need it almost as intensely as all humans need oxygen. At least in my case, I can’t even stand to see the first type of control freak in action, against another, without feeling an overwhelming urge to do almost anything in my power to stop them.

I have no qualms about being, and openly admitting to being, a control freak of the second type. It’s simply a part of who I am. There are certainly less healthy ways to react to childhood trauma, after all — such as when someone turns into the same type of monster that terrorized him or her in the first place, thus perpetuating a multi-generational cycle which is unhealthy in the extreme.

As for the type I control freaks, I am unable to feel any sympathy for them. They victimize others whenever they can. They’re bullies. They need to be opposed, and they need to be stopped. They are, in a word, evil — and that’s not a word I use often, nor one I use lightly.

I’m a permanent part of the resistance to such people, and have no reservations about this. If it were in my power to change this part of who I am — and it isn’t, anyway — I certainly would not choose to do so.