A Letter From A Parent

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Graphic: Jim Cooke (GMG), Photo: Shutterstock

Eds. note: We received the following email from a reader, who requested that we publish it because he thinks it can help other people. We strongly agree. After verifying facts of the story, we are republishing it in full—with names changed and lightly edited for clarity, and with the express permission of him, his wife, and the approval of their advocate at the child advocacy center. Please be aware that there are potentially disturbing discussions of child sexual abuse and suicide.

I want to thank everyone who worked on the Larry Nassar (and the Jerry Sandusky) stories. This compilation of all the people accused of enabling Larry Nassar sticks out in my memory. But there are more articles I read or even just saw the headlines that hammered into my mind the importance of listening when someone reports something of this nature to you, however they do it and whoever is involved.

My preschool-aged daughter, we’ll call Jenny, spent a couple nights with my parents. They are both retired, so she would often spend a night or two with them when she was sick. She loved staying over at their house, and they loved having her.

The day after getting back she and my wife, we’ll call Lynn, were eating dinner. I was in an adjacent room where I could see Lynn, but not Jenny. Out of the blue, Jenny said while laughing, “Grandpa licked my butt, isn’t that funny?” For what it’s worth, “butt” tends to be a catch-all term Jenny uses for the general area. I put the exact quote to illustrate how easy is can be to dismiss, as my wife and I almost initially did, as a joke or silly story like “wouldn’t it be funny if…”

Lynn initially asked “What?”, and Jenny repeated what she said. I caught Lynn’s eye and we shared a “what the hell?” look. Lynn started asking a few detail questions, and the replies remained consistent. We took a little break to regroup where Jenny couldn’t hear us. Lynn said to me, “This is your father we are talking about here.” My father was every kid’s favorite grandparent or uncle but as I would later say to a police detective, “not in a creepy way.” He was Jenny’s favorite person, period. Most people we told were shocked it was my father, he was the last person anyone could imagine doing this. A police officer friend later told us she usually has a good creep detector, but never got anything from him.

Back to my wife’s statement, I thought of all the people who thought “But Jerry is great with kids!” or “But Dr. Nassar is a medical professional!” and did nothing. I replied to Lynn, “Isn’t that what everyone says?” Even knowing everything I do now, it still feels surreal it came out of my mouth.

We decided Lynn would ask Jenny about it again, to see if the story remained the same, which it did. There were a few new details about seemingly innocuous things like “snow” or a “statue” we are glad we took note of. The professionals we later contacted found importance in those details, as young children often put things they don’t understand into terms they do. The story was consistent enough we knew we couldn’t completely dismiss it a joke, but were hoping it was a giant misunderstanding.

We learned later it is not ideal to ask many detail questions, or to bring the subject back up ourselves. Also avoiding leading the child is of utmost importance. If anyone reading this is ever in a similar situation, we have learned the best response is along the lines of “Thank you for telling me, that was very important information. Is there anything else important you want to tell us? I love you,” while remaining as neutral as possible.

The next morning, after very little sleep and a lot of googling, we decided our next step was to call our therapist for advice. If she thought it was something we needed to pursue, our next step would be to call a child advocacy center. When I talked to my therapist and told her what happened her immediate response was “Kids that age don’t make this kind of statement up, you have to take it seriously. Yes it is possible it is a giant misunderstanding, but if you were to confront your father, he likely would give you the same response whether it was a misunderstanding or not.” Her tone indicated she did not think it was a misunderstanding.

I talked to my wife, and we called our local child advocacy center. They told us the same thing about kids that age and said either we could Hotline my father or they would do it for us. Still hoping this was all a giant misunderstanding, we thought we should be the ones to hotline him to make sure all the details were correct. Hotlining my father is the single hardest thing I have ever done in my life.

After Hotlining my father, the child advocacy center set up something called a forensic interview where Jenny could tell her story. A forensic interviewer is trained to talk with a child in a neutral and supportive manner without traumatizing the child any further with negative reactions, which are nearly impossible for a parent to avoid.

The end result was two days after the police interviewed my father, he took his life and admitted in his suicide note Jenny was telling the truth. We are still trying to clean up the pieces and deal with the fallout from all of this. But most importantly our daughter and anyone my father hurt can get the help they need, and he cannot hurt anyone else. So thank you again for helping instill the importance of listening, no matter what.

If anyone reading this is ever in a similar situation, be sure to contact your local child advocacy center as quickly as possible to get your child and yourself the help and support you need. RAINN.org is also a great resource for anyone needing more information.

RAINN’s national sexual assault hotline can be reached at 1-800-656-4673.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.