Boundaries and parental behavior

Dear Sex Educator,

I need to know whether this is appropriate behavior. When I was in third grade my dad did something that seems inappropriate to me, but maybe it’s not. One time when I was home alone with my dad he asked me if I had ever seen a man’s penis before. I said I hadn’t, and then he asked me if I would like to see his. I said no and left the room. Then a little later I heard him calling for me, so I went to my parents’ bedroom. He walked out of their bathroom naked with an erection, and asked me if I wanted to touch it. I said no and left the room, and that’s all that happened.

I remember even at the time I thought that maybe there was something wrong with it, because when my mom got home I followed her around the rest of the night, trying to get up the nerve to tell her what happened, and make sure that it was okay.

Last year I told my sister about it, and she was pretty shocked, but she figured he was just trying to be educational. I don’t know what to think, and I don’t feel comfortable asking him what he was thinking at the time. I know that you don’t know my dad, so you can’t know for sure, but what do you think? The only other thing that happened that I thought was inappropriate was that one time when I was in high school he was giving me a backrub and he started rubbing my butt. I was like, “That’s not my back.” And he asked, “You don’t like butt rubs?” And I said no and he stopped. It probably seems kind of silly to be concerned, since I am 24, and its not like he abused me or anything, but it’s enough to make me think twice about whether I will want to leave my children (if I ever have any), alone with him. Plus, it is just difficult thinking of my father being like that. I just don’t know what to think.

You have already answered your question by saying that your father made you feel uncomfortable with both of the actions you write about. That discomfort is your self saying, “Hey, this doesn’t feel right, hey!” Neither showing you his penis, nor rubbing your butt was an appropriate thing for your father to do, particularly after you had said no to him. I realize it makes you uncomfortable to think these things about your father, but you did not make him do these things, and your discomfort is a warning signal.

None of us likes to think of our father as being “like that”, but some fathers are. It has nothing to do with you, and is not your fault. It is important to know this about him, and make sure he doesn’t have the opportunity to put another child in your position.

I think you are right to be worried about leaving him alone with (future) children, and I suggest that neither you nor your siblings ever do so. He twice demonstrated a lack of respect, and an abuse of his power in the actions he took that went over the line into your personal space. Please trust your feelings on this, and understand that your discomfort was a great way to protect you from what could have become a more abusive situation. I am glad that nothing else happened that you consider to be abusive; but these two incidents clearly upset you, so were inappropriate.

If this makes you upset or uncomfortable, I encourage you to seek the assistance of a therapist for a short period of time so that you can have some help thinking through this for yourself. Please take good care of yourself, and give yourself some time to process this.

The Sex Educator