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A "man of God" is how someone describes my father to me. I don't remember who. Not my mother. I'm young enough that I take the words to mean he has magical properties and that he is good, better than other people.

He sends long letters to my mother, and sometimes, folded in with them, are little ones for me. In them, my father describes his work as a minister. He takes Christian youth groups into the slums, where they rebuild people's homes. They paint the walls white and bring blankets, food, and toys for children who have no toys. I have everything a child could possibly want, my father tells me. He hopes I'll have the opportunity to experience some poor people, because otherwise how will I learn to be grateful?

A letter dated two days after my fifth birthday inquires if I had fun. Did I have a party? On that day, my father was in a home where people don't have money to celebrate birthdays. He met a child there, a little boy who looked like an angel and who was very smart but had crossed eyes. My father is seeing what he can do to have his vision corrected.

Ashamed that I don't persevere bravely in a slum, and ashamed of my clear vision, I begin to cross my eyes experimentally.

"They'll get stuck like that if you don't stop," my grandmother warns, and she tells me that if the direction of the wind changes while I do it, they'll remain crossed forever, I might as well be blind.

At Thanksgiving, my mother arranges for an edifying way for the two of us to celebrate the holiday. From a social service agency she gets the name of a needy family who is willing for us to come and prepare dinner for them. In the home we visit, several children share a room half the size of mine at my grandparents'. When I add flour to the gravy too quickly and pour nutmeg on the floor, my mother isn't angry as she would be at home. She doesn't yell or snatch anything out of my hands.

The meal we cook is consumed in silence. The children eat quickly and furtively; my throat constricts, knowing as I do that the visit has been prompted not by generosity, but by my father's desire that I have an appreciation of what it is I have to be thankful for.

FROM: Shattering the Secrecy of Incest: Mackenzie Phillips' Follow-Up
Published on October 15, 2009

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