When Dad Falls: A Family's Ordeal with Pornography
- 2004 21 Sep
What do narcotics and pornography have in common? According to Richard Young, assistant professor at Brigham Young University College of Nursing, "pornography consumption can be as mood altering and as addictive as narcotics."
For many, such a claim seems unrealistic. For others, like Sarah Smith (not her real name) and her family, this devastating effect of pornography is much too real.
While the effects weigh heavy on Sarah's family, she admits, "I don't know if we have dealt with the reality of this. We have all been trying to process the illness for years now. As far as the divorce, it is still so fresh. We are simply trying to get through it." Sarah speaks of her family's present situation resulting from her father's addiction to pornography.
Christian Homes Not Immune
Family Safe Media reports that pornography is a $57 billion business worldwide and a $12 billion business nationwide. Thanks to an industry with revenue larger than combined revenues of ABC, CBS, and NBC and larger than combined revenues of all professional baseball, basketball, and football franchises, what was once a "Beaver Cleaver" family is no more.
"We had lots of high standards and values that we were taught and expected to live up to. We always ate dinner together around the table every night no matter what was going on. This is the family time that I grew to love and hope for my own someday," Sarah said of her Christian upbringing.
Unfortunately, Christian homes are not immune to the pornography plague. According to Family Safe Media, as of 2003, 47 percent of Christians admit pornography, in the form of adult Internet porn sites, is a significant problem in their homes. In comparison, 47.78 percent of families, in general, identify pornography as a problem in their homes, as evident from a 2003 poll taken by Focus on the Family and reported by the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families (NCPCF).
Knowing who can be affected by pornography is almost as shocking as the effects. Surprisingly, the porn addict does not have to be the stereotypical degenerate found in the aisles of a back-alley liquor store.
"I wasn't some guy hanging out in bars, or a bum. I wasn't a pervert in the sense that people look at somebody and say, 'I know there's something wrong with him,'" said the late Ted Bundy, infamous serial killer. He made these remarks in an interview with Dr. James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, just hours before his execution.
"I was a normal person. I had good friends. I led a normal life, except for this one, small but very potent and destructive segment I kept very secret and close to myself," Bundy said.
For Sarah's father, the same potent and destructive segment was well kept from his children, at least for a while.
As Sarah grew up, her father was a deacon, businessman, sports coach, and "the fun one of our parents." He served on community and church leadership committees. She always looked to him for coaching tips, fun stories, laughs and adventure. "He seemed to balance my relationship with Mom so well," she said.
Unfortunately, the balance began to teeter soon after the computer and Internet entered the Smith home. "I discovered sights that had been visited that had words in them such as photos, bikinis, and many objectionable phrases," Sarah explained.
As a deterrent to the inappropriate Internet searches, the family switched to a filtered Christian Internet service. Unfortunately, the Christian filter did not filter everything.
In addition to Mr. Smith's accessing porn from the Internet at home and work, the family soon realized the Internet was not his only means of fulfilling his desires.
Although Sarah learned of her father's illness about four to five years before her mother asked him to leave, she later realized that her mother had found magazines even in the early years of their marriage.
"In the beginning, it fuels this kind of thought process. Then, at a certain time, it is instrumental in crystallizing it, making it into something that is almost a separate entity inside," Bundy explained.
Sarah eventually found pornographic videos hidden around the house, but what was most indicative of the problem was her father's changed attitude and personality. "I noticed my dad becoming less and less the fun social person I had always pictured," Sarah said.
She also noticed her father's lack of eye contact and interaction with her college friends. Sarah was disappointed. Tension began to build. Father/daughter conversation was silenced. "Things seemed to go unsaid a little more in a household that had always been very open and honest with each other," she said.
Despite their shame, the Smiths decided to have a family meeting.
"We confronted Dad with the truth about what we knew about his habits and how it made us feel. He sat and listened and never really responded," Sarah explained. "Once confronted several times, he admitted that he struggled but never to the extent that his addiction really went," Sarah said. "Towards the end, it was amazing what he was willing to risk in order 'just to see a picture.'"
"It started with magazines, led to videos, books, and eventually to the Internet and to photographing real women," Sarah said of her father's addiction. But it didn't stop there. "He became very angry, defensive, blaming everyone else ...," she said.
He also claimed that all men struggle with it and lied about his actions by covering his steps -- signs of a sexual addiction according to Fires of Darkness, an organization focused on reaching out to pornography addicts and their loved ones.
"It was awful to know the truth of what was going on and have to listen to lies and not be able to speak out. I felt that I couldn't because of my role as a daughter to a father," Sarah explained.
At that point, the relationship between Sarah and her father deteriorated as she and the rest of her family feared his temper.
Since then, her father has received some counseling but not to the extent Sarah would like to see. She desires complete healing and restoration for her family.
"This addiction, like alcoholism, has places where people can go and live for weeks. I desire that for him," she said. "I do love him and know that I need to practice this [love] because he will always be my dad, but it is very hard and the relationship is very broken.
"I never saw and still have yet to see a desire [in him] to truly change. I have seen a lot of justification, rationalization, and blame," Sarah admitted.
Such excuses do not lessen the long-term effect on Sarah and her family. For example, Sarah admits that this particular situation has caused her expectations to falter when considering her own desires for a godly husband.
"Trust is a huge thing for me at this point," she admitted. "I think that I will struggle through trusting my [future] husband, wondering if I am good enough physically or better than all the false images that are out there for men to see ... I will always wonder what men, not just my husband, really do when they are behind closed doors."
But the evil mystery behind these closed doors does not prevent Sarah from finding comfort in her spiritual Bridegroom. "My heart is broken, but God touches me daily to remind me that even in the brokenness, He completely fills and satisfies," she said.
Although it is still difficult for Sarah to comprehend the actuality of this happening to her family, she knows they are not the only ones fighting the battle. "I have learned through all of this that pornography affects so many families. Many people have experienced the hurt and shame this causes but are just unwilling to share it," Sarah said.
She is also saddened by the realization that "churches don't seem to deal directly with this huge issue that is running rampant in our society."
The reality is that it is happening to families nationwide as pornography keeps a tight rein on the hidden hearts of millions of believers and non-believers. However, these reins are not too tight to be loosed through the power of prayer.
"No matter where you are in your struggle with pornography addiction or sexual addiction, prayer is the beginning of change ... ," said Tom Buford of Fires of Darkness, a former pornography addict.
A steadfast relationship with Christ continues to bring Sarah and her family through the dark days of pornography. "He has blessed us 'with every spiritual blessing,'" Sarah said. "He does always receive the glory and I am seeing this daily, even on the hardest day."
Resources for Those Dealing with Sexual Sin
www.purelifeministries.org -- Website of Pure Life Ministries, a premier ministry to Christians dealing with sexual sin. Ministry includes an intense 6- to 12-month resident care program.
www.firesofdarkness.com -- On-line site of Fires of Darkness, a Christian ministry founded by Tom and Mera Buford. Excellent source of information and resources for those addicted to pornography and for their spouses.
www.moralityinmedia.org -- Website of Morality In Media, an interfaith organization that works to combat obscenity and uphold decency standards in the media.
www.afafilter.com -- A powerful Internet filter developed by Bsafe and endorsed by the American Family Association.
Rebecca Grace, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is a staff writer with AFA Journal, a monthly publication of the American Family Association. This article appeared in the September 2004 issue.