I was struggling last night with conflicting emotions about my father. If I love him, the other stuff can’t possibly be true, can it? It was scrambling my brain. But wait, I reminded myself. I had promised to believe the girl. So I went back to the letter writing that has been so helpful to me.

Hi again little one,

Today I want to talk to you about your father and the confusing, conflicting feelings I think you have about him.

On the one hand, you love him. He’s funny.

On the other hand, you have the memories you buried. You feel sick about them. You remember crawling into the closet. Your nightgown was wet. You were afraid, confused and ashamed. You worried you did something bad. You felt so bad.

It’s normal, dear, to feel bad about what happened. But that doesn’t mean you are bad.  You are the same wonderful girl you always were. You may not believe you are wonderful, but I promise you that you are. You are loved now, and you will be loved in the future.

You feel confused, I know, about your dad. Does he love you, you wonder. While I can’t see inside his heart, I suspect he loves you in the best way he can, which is not in a healthy or responsible way. He doesn’t understand people very well, and I think he doesn’t understand that what he does is harmful to you. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay. It’s not. It was very, very wrong. Fathers aren’t supposed to touch their daughters like that, to do what he did.  It’s not okay.

I know that you have asked yourself sometimes whether what happened was truly harmful. After all, he was the grown-up, and he should know. He acted like it was no big deal. Maybe he was right, and you are making too much of it, you think. But I can tell you that scientific research is on my side. There is plenty of evidence that what he did harmed you. Adults’ violation of children is harmful, and that harm lasts for a long time.

I also know you struggle a lot with this contradiction: your dad loved you–still loves you–as much as he can, but he did things that were very harmful to you. But it’s possible for both of those things to be true at the same time. You don’t have to doubt one in order to believe the other. He could love you and still be selfish and irresponsible and thoughtless. People are complicated.

You wonder sometimes if you should hate your dad or be mad at him or forgive him. Here’s my answer to you: there’s no should about it. Sometimes you will feel one way and sometimes another. All of those reactions are normal, and it’s normal that they will change from time to time. I give you permission to feel whatever you feel in the moment. I give you permission to change your mind, back and forth, multiple times. I will love you and accept you no matter how you feel about your dad. I promise.