Barbara Richard Barbara Richard
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MOM & DAD
Mom & Dad
winter
Winter 1952
mom
1953 - Mom, age 38
five fiskes
The Five Fiskes
Dancing on His Grave
“A page turner, a difficult and important story of survival in nearly unbelievable circumstances. The father emerges as the most heinous character in the history of western literature. I found [one scene] the most disturbing primary account I’ve ever read.”

Judy Blunt, author of “Breaking Clean.”

Walking Wounded

The continuing story of five sisters and their mother, first enduring and then escaping their father’s psychopathic abuse, only to find themselves cast into the world drastically ill-equipped to cope with the demands of adulthood, marriage and motherhood.

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WELCOME TO MY WRITING WORLD

My name is Barbara Richard. I’m a survivor of domestic violence. Since I escaped my father’s house nearly fifty years ago, I’ve lived what most people might call a normal, productive life. But there have been secrets - masses of terrible secrets - hidden in my family history and my childhood memories.

I started writing my family’s story nearly twenty five years ago, a few months after my dad died. It was during the breakup of my second marriage, while I was going through that terrible period of self-recrimination and disillusionment that accompanies a dying relationship. I hoped that writing my story might help me make sense of my life and discover why I had a history of bad choices, bad relationships and bad decisions. When I first started the project I asked each of my four sisters and my mother to give me their thoughts by writing or taping a “chapter” for me. They all worked through and around their pain and contributed to the story. My mother typed (and taped) about forty pages of her recollections from the perspective of a recovering battered wife. She had been away from my dad for about fifteen years by then. She also gave me access to forty years of her personal journals.

I worked on the manuscript for about a year, but with the final divorce it became necessary for me to earn a living. So I put the story away and taught myself to write grants. For the next twenty years, in addition to grant and loan applications for all kinds of public projects, I wrote community and economic development, land use, and other plans and documents for state and local governments. The experience taught me a lot about writing: How to do research and conduct studies, to collect and organize material, to draw defendable conclusions, to present my research and conclusions in public, and the business end of writing.

When I retired in 2002, the idea of taking up the memoir surfaced again. This time, I told myself, I would write more about our family’s daily way of life and leave out all reference to the abuse and deprivation. This time I’d write for my grandkids - about the way we lived, funny incidents, our favorite recipes, and so forth. I guess I thought it would be easier to leave out the incidents that disturbed me, and I would be more likely to finish it.

Fortuitously, at about that same time, I received inspiration by learning that a woman I had known when she was in high school, Judy Blunt, had written a wonderful best-selling memoir. She was now a university professor and would be holding a summer class. I was lucky enough to obtain a seat in the class.

One of our first exercises in that class was drawing a sketch of our story setting, and describing it verbally. I need to comment here that I have spoken in public for more than thirty years, and I’ve even run for county commissioner, with all the speeches and public appearances that requires. But in Judy’s class, when it was my turn to discuss my story, I opened my mouth to speak, and experienced a complete melt down - the worst panic attack I’ve ever had. I had no warning that trying to talk about my childhood would bring me to my knees. It later occurred to me that I had never before discussed my childhood in a group larger than two or three people, and that was usually my sisters and me. I realized that when I tried to discuss specific incidents, I was no longer sixty, I was six, and my mother’s voice was saying: “He’s your dad, and you don’t tell!” And the panic would begin.

Over the next three years, the story began to come to life. I could no more have followed my original plan and left out the scenes of abuse and terror, than I could have written in a foreign language. The story took over. As I deliberately brought the memories back, I suffered nightmares, sleeplessness, crying jags, and depression, all the symptoms of stress. These started to fade as the story developed.

What first emerged was a 700 page epic that covered nearly 150 years, starting with the Civil War and ended in the current era. It included my mother’s journals, transcriptions of my sisters’ tapes and written contributions, my mother’s narrative fifteen years after she got away from my dad, and a great deal of information on family history that my two oldest sisters discovered when they took up genealogy as a hobby. I practically needed a wheelbarrow for the manuscript. So I split it into three parts.

The first book, that with Judy’s help I titled “Dancing on His Grave,” is the middle part of the 700 pages, and covers my sisters’ and my childhood. Judy has worked hand in hand with me, graciously serving as my editor, through this entire process. A New York agent is now searching for a mainstream publisher for “Dancing” and “Walking” and I am completing the third and final book of the trilogy, titled “Chasing Ghosts.”

However, last year my oldest sister, a key player in this story, turned seventy, and I decided I didn’t want to wait any longer. I wanted my sisters to see their story in print before we all got too old to derive benefit from the catharsis of telling the story. So I contacted a company that offers “print on demand” services, contracted with a graphic artist for the layout, cover and other elements, and self-published “Dancing on His Grave and then “Walking Wounded.” They are available for purchase from Trafford Publishing. The website are www.trafford.com/06-0409 (Dancing) and www.Trafford.com/06-3339 (Walking).

SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT THE STORY

In my years of research, I’ve come to believe that my father was not mentally ill, in the moral or legal sense. I’m convinced that he was a narcissistic sociopath, a personality disorder that is untreatable, but is not considered mental illness. He knew right from wrong, but believed that the world revolved around him, and therefore the rules of decency that other people live by did not apply. In other words, in my estimation, he was born without a conscience. Studies have indicated that as many as one person in twenty five - four percent - of the population fit into this category. That means that when you sit in a room with one hundred people, as many as four may have no conscience, and therefore, no constraints on how they treat other people. Their only objective is to get what they want - to serve their own needs. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a scary thought!

These abusers are so alike that they perform as if they have access to a manual or textbook on abuse. They isolate, indoctrinate, and manipulate their victims, and administer abuse with impunity. And most often, (with the exception of the occasional serial killer) they are not caught or held accountable.

There was never any alcohol or drugs involved in my father’s behavior. I never saw him take a drink until after I was grown, and aside from his copious non-prescription pill-popping for real or imagined headaches and other ailments, no mood altering drugs. All his abuse was administered cold sober.

The isolation and the deprivation we experienced are important factors in this story. Unlike most of our contemporaries, we never had a flush toilet or bathtub, a furnace or heated bedrooms, in eastern Montana where winter temperatures frequently dipped to twenty degrees below zero or lower. We had a well for only four years, and for at least six of the first twenty years of this story, we did not even an outdoor toilet - just a shovel and a lot of cleanup in the spring. These were lifestyle choices made by my dad, and were part of the set of tools he used in his indoctrination and manipulation, to keep us from resisting his control.

I invite you to walk with me, through these three books, holding hands with five little girls and a battered, delusional woman, whose every day experience is terror and minute to minute survival.

 



Questions? Call (406) 860-3263 or email me. ©Copyright Barbara Richard. All rights reserved.