Trekking in Nepal. Climbing Snow Creek. Camping in Anza Borrego. Mountain climbing and hiking in the High Sierras. Horseback riding and rock climbing in Canon Tajo. Stunning mountain top vistas, unexpected storms, gold mines, and icy alpine lakes are the backdrop.
I have written for others for many years. Now, I have written my own story. After a stint on Wall Street, I made a change in life, joined Main Street, and took up mountain climbing. Along the way, I encountered rhinos, crocodiles, monkeys, eagles, elephants, tigers, coyotes, bears, and a pack of Wild Englishmen.
What lessons did I learn in my real-life adventures? Speaking truth leads to a clear pathway that truth wins.
My commitment to truth, even when someone else worked relentlessly to stop me, was worth every struggle on that pathway.
The early trauma was childhood sexual abuse. My grandfather was a Bishop in the American Lutheran Church, and he was a pedophile who preyed on little girls in his own family.
My book looks at the secrecy that surrounds this timely issue. Rather than address the actual sexual abuse, I hope to enlighten the reader about why anyone would keep these secrets. I hope to convey some of the lasting damage that sexual abuse of a child can cause.
Targeted Age Group:: 20-50
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I want to increase awareness of a topic that is very difficult to discuss. However, society needs to address abuse that happens in the home and within a core family unit. The #metoo movement played a role in inspiring me to write this book. But, the true inspiration came from Marilyn Van Derbur, Miss America of 1958. She published her own story in 2003 about her pedophile father, who was a prominent man in his community. The sex abuse scandal has also prompted me to write this book. Society is just now beginning to grasp the depth of the problem of child sexual abuse.
1. The Rules of Mountaineering
At some point in my life, I began climbing mountains, although I don’t recall the origin of this inclination. When I was a child, my family had a vacation home at Lake Arrowhead in the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California. Yet, we were the type of family that strolled on easy mountain footpaths only when the comforts of enjoying hot cocoa by the hearth of a large roaring fire beckoned in the evening. Nor do I have any recollection of camping with my parents or even that they owned a tent.
My only experience as a child with camping came when I was about nine years old, maybe younger. My aunt and uncle took my brother and me to Mount Whitney in the Eastern Sierras where we hiked to the first lake. Perhaps that trip provided the impetus later in my life to head off to the Sierras whenever possible for the beauty and solitude.
Mountaineering differs from hiking. The term mountaineering describes a wide variety of activities related to climbing mountains. At one end of the spectrum, mountaineering can include peak bagging, for which little or no technical skills or equipment are necessary to reach the summit of a mountain. The other end of the spectrum includes full-blown expeditions to the highest peaks and the worst weather conditions on Earth. Some hikers consider themselves to be mountaineers. They are not. In truth, I am at best a peak bagger since I haven’t climbed any of the truly big mountains of the world.
A mythical, all-inclusive set of mountaineering rules does not exist. However, over the years, I have discovered that each individual mountaineer tends to develop his or her own set of rules. Some are philosophical, frequently with a humorous bent such as: climb with passion; it’s always taller than it looks; talk is cheap; no guts, no glory; and expect dead ends. Some rules speak to ethical behavior as a mountaineer: pack out more than you pack in; don’t leave anyone behind; and render assistance to anyone who needs it regardless of the risk.
And some rules pertain to the practical aspects a mountaineer should focus on: if you are caught in a storm while in your tent, wait it out; don’t take unnecessary risks; use the correct gear for the situation; buy the best gear you can afford.
My personal rule of mountaineering is this:
1. Check your gear.
2. Double check your gear.
3. Triple check your gear.
A climber experiences increasing difficulty as the elevation rises. With each step, breathing becomes more labored, and the heart races almost uncontrollably due to the decreasing amount of oxygen available. Headaches, nausea, and dizziness sometimes occur.
To me, the view from the top is always worth the effort. However, each mountaineer has his or her own reason for climbing to the summit. The most famous reason came from George Leigh Mallory in 1923. When asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, Mallory retorted, “Because it’s there!”
Non-mountain climbers do not realize that reaching the peak is only half the trip. Once at the top, a climber can briefly enjoy the view, but then must descend. Depending on the peak, getting down from the top can be as difficult, if not more so, than the climb up. More people die on descents than on ascents.
However, climbing the smaller peaks, while challenging, is rarely as dangerous as an ascent of a giant mountain. Still, I am the only person in my family that embraced the sport and adventure. My parents adopted me as a newborn infant, so I sometimes wonder if it’s genetic. I imagine my biological family carries some adventure gene that prompts them to seek out the higher altitudes despite the hard work just for the view from the top.
My adoptive family was a typical Southern California, middle class family as I was growing up in the 60s and 70s. We lived in a tiny college town east of downtown Los Angeles called Claremont. My father, Ritch Whitaker, was a mechanical engineer. As many engineers in Southern California, he worked on various aspects of NASA’s race to the moon. He designed cryogenic valves and actuators used in the fuel systems of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions. Later, he designed components for super tankers that ship liquified natural gas. He was logical, rational, kind, and he had a quiet, wickedly funny sense of humor that would sneak up on you. His health was fragile due to type 1 diabetes and chronic bronchitis, but I can’t recall any moment that he ever complained about how he felt physically.
Like many fathers, he enjoyed reading the sports page over breakfast. However, he would first pull out the Radio Shack ads to track the declining prices and shrinking sizes of the first Texas Instruments handheld calculators. He could barely contain his excitement when Texas Instruments released the very first handheld calculator with a sine/cosine function. As an engineer who had knowledge of the technology developed through the space race, he would occasionally opine, “You know, someday cars will drive themselves.” The technology existed in the 60s and 70s, but viable, affordable consumer applications were decades away. He would say these things, and I would think, “My dad is so smart, he knows the future.”
My mother, Gretchen, graduated high school and attended a teaching hospital to attain her R.N. She worked hard to help put her husband through college, but after adopting children, she stayed home until my brother and I were in kindergarten. Later, she became a successful business woman and owned her own fabric stores. She was, and is, gregarious and well-liked by many. She was a gracious hostess who frequently opened her home to many family get-togethers at the holidays.
Her home was always decorated with impeccable taste, and she kept everything spotless despite two children. She was an excellent cook, skilled at sewing and homemaking, and she enjoyed collecting unique dishware and serveware that she used for her parties and holiday dinners. Her taste in home furnishings was always perfect.
She and my dad met as teenagers at a Luther League beach party—Luther League being the Lutheran Church youth group. She was 14 and he was 17. I don’t recall if the family stories relate that it was love at first sight. However, the family legends do relate that Ritch asked her what her father did for a living, so I always assumed that he had an eye for her. She told him, “He’s a Lutheran pastor.” Then she asked him the same. His response was classic for Ritch. He said, “My dad’s a rabbi.”
Gretchen didn’t know what a rabbi was, so the joke was lost on her. After he asked her on a date, she asked her parents for permission to go. Of course, they wanted to know about him, including what his father did for a living. Gretchen responded, “Oh, he’s a rabbi.”
Family legends tend to become exaggerated over time, especially for the effect of humor. The version I heard as a child included Gretchen’s parents retreating to the bedroom, and yelling could be heard coming from within.
This was 1950 in America, and it was post WWII. Both of Gretchen’s parents were of German descent—first generation in America—and the native tongue was occasionally spoken at home. It was most likely just as shocking for a German American pastor to hear that his daughter wanted to date the son of a rabbi as it was the other way around; the son of a rabbi wanted to date a second-generation German girl.
Eventually, the truth came out. My paternal grandparents were of English descent, Methodist, and Ritch’s father was an all-American Ford dealer. When Ritch proposed to Gretchen, he told her, “I’ll always be rich,” a play on his name. They married when he was 22 and she was 19.
At some point, they discovered they couldn’t have children. About six years into their marriage, they looked into adopting children. They adopted my brother first and two years later, I came home to them.
My parents ascribed to the “children should be seen and not heard” rule of rearing children, which was typical for many parents of the time. No one discussed emotions from what I recall. Conversations remained exceedingly polite even when discussing hot topics such as politics. Among the adults, opinions were respected. However, the adults expected excellent behavior and no complaining from the children. In fact, complaining was frowned upon in general. “To complain is to put a burden on others” was a phrase I heard frequently. As ill as my father was, despite the years of pain, I never heard a gripe or a single mention about suffering or discomfort.
As parents, my mom and dad presented a united front to the children. I never saw or heard any disagreement between them. My mother deferred to my dad. If she had other thoughts, she would save them for behind closed doors.
However, as a couple, my parents seemed truly happy, and Gretchen loved to prank Ritch. He graduated from USC, and the annual football game between USC and its crosstown rival, UCLA, was an exciting event. One year, my dad invited his USC friends to join us at the cabin in Lake Arrowhead for a weekend of USC festivities including watching the big game. Just as the men sat down in front of the TV to watch the lineups, my mother disappeared. As the players ran out from the locker rooms onto the playing field, my mother charged down the stairs into the living room dressed in a UCLA blue pleated skirt and yellow sweater while cheering for UCLA and waving blue and gold pom poms. My dad was so shocked, he spilled his coffee on his lap.
Several years later, we were seated at dinner. She had served corn as the vegetable, which was my dad’s favorite. Every time we had corn, he would finish his entire meal. Then he would ask Gretchen if there was any more corn. She always had more made for him. However, one time she must have been tired of being asked.
So, on this particular night, she waited for him to ask, “Is there any more corn?”
“Yes, honey, of course there is. I’ll get it for you,” she replied.
Instead of taking his plate to dish corn onto it from the pot, she brought the pot to the table and poured its contents onto his empty dish. The result was a mountain of corn that barely stayed on the plate. There was a moment of silence before they broke into laughter.
When I was in high school, she began to take vacations to many different areas of the world. Up until that point, my father would occasionally join on a short trip, but his health didn’t allow for much travel. Soon, Gretchen began going on her own with my dad’s encouragement.
As far back as I can remember, my relationship with Gretchen was never good. I felt that she never seemed satisfied with me, and this feeling escalated as I moved into my teen years. Not being the cheerleader type as she had been, I tended more towards introversion and reading quietly in the library. I earned good grades and focused on academics. I thought it was this personality difference that caused the friction between us until many years later.
However, there were key events that solidified my feelings of inadequacy as her daughter. For my 16th birthday, she sat me down to tell me exciting news. She had a very special birthday present for me, and she knew that I would be so grateful. She had booked an appointment with a plastic surgeon for me to have rhinoplasty, a nose job.
After her lengthy lead-in about this magnificent gift that was going to be so expensive (but she would sacrifice for my benefit), she asked me, “Aren’t you just thrilled?”
I was not thrilled. Rather, I was offended by the affront. Backtalk or impudence would be punished, and by that time after years of abuse, I had become very quiet and withdrawn. In addition, discourse with Gretchen was a futile endeavor. She dominated conversations when she wanted her way. She clearly wanted her way with the offensive “gift.” She couldn’t see beyond her own desires to observe the effect the offer had on me. I couldn’t speak for myself at that point as that capability had been robbed from me long ago. With great reluctance, but polite thanks, I agreed to go to the appointment.
During the initial consultation, my mother and the surgeon spoke to each other and referred to me in the third person. He explained the procedure and offered several options.
Then my mother asked, “Which one will make her cute?”
The surgeon shot back at her, “She’s already cute.”
I remained silent through the entire appointment. But once home, I told my mother that I had changed my mind.
“But it’s a gift. You should be grateful. I didn’t raise you to be ungrateful.”
I didn’t budge, which was a rare moment for me. Typically, I simply gave in to her. But not this time. I thought I was cute enough, and she should have thought so too. To Gretchen, I was supposed to be filled with appreciation and thankfulness for her thoughtful present even though I had never expressed any disappointment in the nose that God gave me. I learned early on that Gretchen seemed incapable of understanding that she delivered insults wrapped as gifts.
Several years later in my early 20s, I came home for a formal dinner. I arrived before the other guests, and Gretchen greeted me at the door. As I stood in the entryway, she told me to wait a minute. She had been on a diet, although she was always slender. She came back with the bathroom scale, and she put it down in front of me.
“Let’s compare. Who weighs less?” she said.
“I’m two inches taller than you. It would be comparing apples to oranges,” I responded.
“Come on, just step on and we’ll see who weighs less,” she pushed.
“Why? Is it a competition?” I asked.
She had no response as I stood there waiting for her answer. She shrugged her shoulders and took the scale back to the bathroom.
My brother arrived with his girlfriend, Lynne, and they announced their engagement at dinner. I didn’t know Lynne well, but I was happy for the couple. However, as we were all saying our farewells after dinner, Gretchen hugged Lynne and said, “You’re the daughter I’ve always wanted!” I was standing right there but said nothing, although I was deeply wounded. My relationship with Gretchen, always shaky at best, took a deep dive with that comment. I began to stay away and attend only major holidays afterwards. Gretchen never questioned why or tried to invite me home more often. That was a very loud silent message. I wasn’t pretty enough or outgoing enough for her. I felt as if she had written me off as her daughter—rejected and ignored.
Both of my parents were devoted Christians, and they taught me to count my blessings rather than focus on less than perfect circumstances. I was to thank God for the good things I had even in challenging times. Indeed, this practice of thanking God during difficulties and unpleasant moments is a tenet of Christianity as the Apostle Paul exhorted to the early church at Thessalonica in his first letter to them:
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18
Be grateful, appreciative, thankful, and always respectful towards the adults in the family. Regardless of how your mother treats you, impudence or complaining about anything was strictly verboten.
2. Sola Fide
My maternal grandfather, Konrad Frederick Koosmann, lived in Covina, California, which is a suburb only about 20 miles west of Claremont. My maternal grandmother, Alice Koosmann, née Kolpack, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly when I was nine years old. I recall very little about her, only that I liked her, and she kept chocolate-covered ice cream bonbons in the freezer for the grandkids. At the time of her death, I felt sad. Still, I had no comprehension of the enduring legacy she left until much later in my life.
Konrad was an ordained pastor of the American Lutheran Church, which later merged with the Lutheran Church in America to form the current Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He served as the Bishop of the Pacific Region (or District President as it was briefly called) for several terms before returning to pastoring a single church, Christ Lutheran Church on Citrus Street in Covina.
He grew up in rural Wisconsin deep in farm country, and he first worked as a schoolteacher before going off to seminary. He loved to tell stories about himself growing up, and typically they involved pranking others, which I assumed is where Gretchen learned to do the same.
Links to Purchase Print Books
Buy Family Legends, Family Lies Print Edition at Amazon
Buy Family Legends, Family Lies Print Edition at Barnes and Noble
Links to Purchase eBooks – Click links for book samples and reviews
Buy Family Legends, Family Lies On Amazon
Buy Family Legends, Family Lies on Barnes and Noble/Nook
Have you read this book? Tell us what you thought! All information was provided by the author and not edited by us. This is so you get to know the author better.