Trigger Warning: This post deals with issues of sexual assault and may be triggering for survivors of abuse.
When I was sent a copy of Richard Glover’s latest book, Flesh Wounds, I tore through it, expecting to chortle and guffaw.
I was wrong. I ended up sobbing.
On air (he’s the host of ABC 702’s drive program) and in his writing Glover is, well, lovable. His legion of radio fans have kept him in the number one spot for most of the past decade. His weekly newspaper columns are warm and witty.
“…I never felt like the favourite, which is hard when you are an only child,” he writes.
And later: “Can you really be self-raising, like flour? Or is that just a glib way to pretend that bad parenting doesn’t hurt?”
At first his parents seem quite odd, but harmless.
His mother fabricated a posh family background and adopted a fake British accent. She changed her name often and was known as Alice, Anna and Bunty. She joyfully told everyone Richard was the first artificial insemination baby in Australia – not because of fertility issues, but because she refused to have sex with his father. After 12 sexless years of marriage, she fell pregnant thanks to a turkey baster.
“My mother and father didn’t really behave like parents to me or as partners to each other. It was more a case of two self involved individuals who happened to rent a room to a boarder of mystifyingly modest height.”
Not surprisingly, his mother ran off with another man. What is surprising is it was Richard’s English teacher – a Tolkien devotee, nudist and stuffed-toy collector. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.
Richard’s father couldn’t cope with the betrayal and basically spent the rest of his years drunk, marrying a number of women but always pining for his first wife.
Both parents made it clear that looking after Richard was a burden.
But there is a dark side to parental indifference. In the book Richard alludes to both sexual abuse and pedophilia.
As for me I was having adventures and misadventures, and both were probably the product of negotiating an adolescence unencumbered by parenting. Some of the experiences were great and some quite awful. I don’t need to recount them all, but to summarise: when a young person is unprotected and needy, pedophiles from miles around seem to instantly know, as if they are on some sort of text alert. I remember at age 16, having been invited to stay at some older man’s flat in Sydney, opening a cupboard door to see a swill of child pornography on the floor and thinking: ‘How did I get myself into this? And how do I get myself out of it?’
This vulnerability to older men continued. Richard’s mother packed him off to London at age 19 to stay with a family friend. This obese, much older man made Richard his sex slave for five awful months.
Lionel was after companionship more than sex, although every few weeks he’d more or less force me into bed, as I’m sure he’d done with at least some of the young ‘house guests’ before me. Afterwards he would stand up in his bathroom, with the door open and scrub himself with pHisohex to remove any trace of what happened, strangely keen for me to see how he was sanitising himself, despite the fact the sex had been at his insistence. I had a bedroom at the other end of the apartment in which I would cry myself to sleep most nights, burying my head in the pillow to muffle the sound.
The thought of the confident and outgoing Richard I know now being in a situation like this made me cry.
I’ve been a regular on Richard’s radio show once a month for 11 years so far. Richard and I had a ‘he said/she said’ debating segment once a week on the Today Show, back when Steven Leibmann and Tracey Grimshaw were hosts (yep we’re that old). In all that time I never had an inkling of how horrible his childhood was, so I was shocked. When I saw him for our regular spot on Weekend Sunrise I gave him a hug, but he looked a little uncomfortable.