My Father is the Happy Face Killer

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Rejection and Self Love

I am the daughter of a serial killer.

My suffering and self-inflicted guilt and shame went beyond my father’s name in national news, his creepy smiley faces left on letters to the detectives who were looking for the crazed murderer. They would find out later all of it was unmotivated by money, greed, jealousy, or passion. All murder is senseless, but without any motive, the trail of women’s bodies found along wooden paths didn’t add up to much of a pattern that could help detectives determine if the murders were linked. Finally, their work would become a lot easier. The authorities had the wrong people in custody for one particular murder, and my narcissistic father just couldn’t take it. He wrote letters to authorities begging them to notice him. Who knows, if his ego didn’t get in the way, maybe he’d still be driving his truck on long-hauls, dropping into my house to rustle the hair of his grandkids.

In 1995, my father was arrested and is now serving multiple life sentences at the Oregon State Penitentiary.

At some point in my life in between witnessing my growing children and my aging relatives, I realized that life is but a blink. What was once a forever moment of holding my newborn has turned into a flash of a teenager’s life. What was once me being the little girl, has turned into not remembering how to do child’s play.

And in those small spaces where time slips away, I have spent so much of it in self-deprecation, filling voids with food, numbing guilt with isolation, succumbing to anxiety in favor of a good night’s sleep, seeking solace in religious practices, and generally believing that this was pretty much it — the way it goes. But then there was a point in my life, call it mid-life or simply the pivotal moment when you realize all it really comes down to is a choice. I can choose to hate, chip away at relationships, remain living a false identity created by labels, other people’s opinions, fear, hopelessness, blame, and an irrational need to do penance in order to pay restitution for other people’s sins.

But what if I chose joy? What if I chose to wake up every single day knowing that in the grand scheme of things my life is just a handful of years. So few, that my whole existence could be but a dream to a few generations from now, even within my own family. If that sounds like a downer, believe me, it’s not. It’s a gift when you can really intellectualize how short this process we call life is. One day, I just decided to say yes and receive the message – the one alerting me that I am squandering my only time here — and to get with the program.

The question then became, what is the program? There are several practices that while, not etched in stone tablets somewhere, are the tenets of life itself. I hadn’t grasped them or explored them in any real way until recently.

Like most survivors, I had developed coping mechanisms, or reactions, that helped me to survive the violent environment I was raised in. It was a necessity to protect myself and to meet my needs. Many of us who are survivors of trauma, whether from abuse or otherwise, have been trying to cope with outrageous circumstances and our efforts have been both admirable and heroic. We have done the best we could. However, sometimes these self-protective methods have outgrown their usefulness. The things we do to protect ourselves can turn on us and hurt us, like in my case becoming co-dependent and desperately seeking approval and love from those around me. When you are deprived of acceptance and love you will seek it from anyone and you will change yourself or your identity to gain the love you need to survive.

Coping With Rejection

On the Dr. Oz show I explained to him that I had a moment of feeling “unlovable” and that it was a struggle to not interpret other people’s behaviors (and my father’s crimes) as a reflection of my own self-worth. What I’ve learned through those moments of feeling inferior is that we don’t have to feel less than if someone in our lives behaves inappropriately or illegally. Each person is responsible for their own behavior.

I’ve also learned that we don’t have to take rejection as a reflection of our self-worth.

If somebody who is important to you rejects you, as in my case with the former girlfriend of my father, it doesn’t reduce my self-worth. I can choose not to reject myself. What hurts more than another person’s withdrawal of love, is our own rejection of ourselves.

It was very difficult to allow the cameras to catch what would be an otherwise “embarrassing” moment, being rejected when I sought the support from a person who I used to deeply care for. However, it has helped me find my self-approval. As I told Dr. Oz, it’s still very much a process for me, I’m slowly developing my self-love everyday.  Because of this journey, I have gained more respect for myself and am really coming to like the person I have become.