It Took Me Far Too Long To Cut Ties With My Toxic Stepfather

by Jessica Hoefer-Land
Originally Published: 
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Growing up, my mom and I lived under the fierce tyranny of a dictator; he was her husband and my stepfather. We both experienced a great deal of verbal abuse, and at times, it was physical.

We were prisoners in our own home. At random periods during my high school years, my stepfather wouldn’t allow me to attend school. He used this as a threat because it was my only contact with the outside world. He was extremely paranoid and has bipolar disorder. Sadly, we were the ones who had to deal with the effects of his illness.

I know the answer sounded simple enough: to run away. But the solution seemed much more easy than it really was. First, we were observed as the model Christian family in our small, rural community. We would be hard-pressed to get someone to believe us, and we had extreme fear of being found by him if we left. He had an uncanny ability to win at everything.

We sang in the church choir and attended every potluck to preserve the guise of normalcy. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the community at large, my stepfather operated an illegal marijuana growing operation which serviced the greater Northern California region. Only after the DEA raided our home and searched for his grow facility did he go even more underground in order to preserve his innocence.

Of course, I always had to be under close surveillance, lest I be tempted to share my plight with some unsuspecting church member. We were constantly threatened and controlled with a heavy hand. We became in serious fear for our lives as his rage continued to escalate. My stepfather would force my mom into the car late at night and drive off into a remote area threatening to kill her first and then come home and kill me. Each time, I wondered if I would ever see my mom alive again.

And then he kicked me out.

Now that she was alone with him, it was only a matter of time before the threats became a reality. One night he took a gun to the side of my mom’s head. We don’t fully understand why he never pulled the trigger, but we count it as miraculous. The next day, despite whatever consequences, my mom did indeed run away to a safe house she had discovered from the help of some Catholic nuns. I remember it was a terrifying day trying to get her out, and it took careful, decisive planning to pull it off.

Fast-forward several years later, and once again my stepfather made a reappearance. Only this time he claimed to be a “healed, changed man.” My mother has more empathy than any woman I know, so she, feeling optimistic, welcomed him back but under strict conditions and as cohabitants only.

But once an abuser, always an abuser, and as the years progressed his anger surfaced once again. He still had control, even over me who now had my own family and my own life. Because his abusive presence affected my mother, it also affected me, and I would be subject to hearing the latest stories of his rage. At times, it would rear its head when I was visiting my mother after he indulged in one of his drinking binges. Instead of standing up for my mother, I was fearful and used tactics to try to calm him down.

Of course, this only heads into a downward spiral and culminated in physical abuse of my mother yet again. This resulted in a 911 call, and four officers trying to subdue him after he attempted suicide in the bathtub by cutting his wrists with a pair of rusty scissors. Even though he was arrested for domestic violence, evaluated in the local psychiatric ward, and issued a probation officer after he bailed himself out of jail with a credit card, he was free-range once again.

My mother refused to leave her place of residence because she was insisted she would not be bullied by her ex-husband. He would watch her from afar, however, and broke into her home after he watched her drive away.

Throughout all of this, my step father would attempt to make contact with me as means to solicit sympathy. He claimed his suicide attempt was a “joke” and denied every act he committed, instead blaming my mother for any travesty that ever occurred in the span of their 30-year marriage.

But one day, one and a half years ago, I finally said, “No more.” I could no longer take his accusations against my mother, his pleas for help and money, his threats to those who had wronged him, and his anger against the establishment.

Not only did I owe it to myself, I also owed it to my mother. By allowing his phone calls and requests to meet, I was essentially a contributing factor in his quest for control.

After a quickly escalating phone call in which he brought up years of his angst, I lost it. I told him I was done, that my life was mine and he no longer could control it. I told him to leave my mother alone. I told him he would never see my children. I told him he would never get away with his abuse of us ever again. I screamed at him to stay away or he would regret it.

I ignored his phone calls that ensued after and blocked his number, and I haven’t heard from him since. My mother and I choose to not speak of him, preferring to think of him as dead.

But he’s still there. I still look over my shoulder in public. I still watch the street in front of my house. I still question unfamiliar numbers that light up my phone, I still warn my children that he may try to show up at their school, and I still jump when I hear a door slam. This is my reality.

With this experience, however, I feel free. I have finally blown the lid off his years of violence. I have outed him. I have drawn the line in the sand. I finally stood up for myself, my mother, and ultimately, my children. They will see that abuse will never be tolerated.

I’m stronger than ever before, all because of one phone call in which I finally said, “Enough.”

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