My Father Told Me I Was Fat

Cherie Burbach - Milwaukee, Wisconsin
As heard on the This I Believe podcast, January 26, 2015
Cherie Burbach

When Cherie Burbach was a young girl, she believed her father's cruel words defined her, and her only escape from his verbal assaults was to write about her emotions. Now, as an adult, she values her words over her father's, and she continues to write to express who she is.

Age Group: 30 - 50
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My father told me I was fat. And lazy. And stupid.

I combated my father’s words with words of my own, hiding in my room while my chubby eight-year-old fingers scribbled out poems and stories. The words I’d written would lay about me on my bed—my shield and protection to help get me through the night.

But by each new morning, my father’s words would shake me awake. The words fat, lazy, and stupid would echo through my head, until I finally opened my eyes and saw that they were true. I would hurry out of bed and destroy all the words I’d written the night before.

This same routine of verbal assault went on through my teens, and into womanhood. They shaped my mind, spirit, and vision. When I looked in the mirror I really did see that stupid, lazy girl my father saw.

And yet each night, I would write. I’d write as if my life depended on it. From time to time I would even read over my words and think they were pretty good. But as soon as this thought fought its way into my brain, my father’s words would chase it away.

Each night I would find comfort in the words I’d write. As if all my emotions could be wiped clean with a stroke of my pen. I carried self-doubt with me like a favorite blanket. I wrapped myself in it each time I met a new man or had a new opportunity pass my way. And I still destroyed my writing, because that way, I told myself, no one could tell me how bad I was.

The possibility that it just might be my father who had the problems didn’t occur to me until I was 31 and received a phone call that after years of alcohol abuse he had taken a gun to his head and ended his life. He was gone, in an instant.

His words remained behind, but I knew then they didn’t have to define me. Like I had done so many nights before, I sat down and wrote. I filled notebooks upon notebooks about my father, my life, and my faith. And this time, I awoke in the morning to read them again. I decided it was silly and shameful to throw my words away.

As years went by I was amazed at how prolific a writer I really was. I decided that I would publish my poetry just for the sake of showing myself that I was over my father’s words, so much so that I was willing to put my most private emotions on paper for anyone that cared to read them. I knew then it didn’t matter if people didn’t like what I wrote. I’d still just keep writing.

And this I believe: that my father’s lie has vanished, and that fat, lazy, stupid girl has an intelligence, spirit, and beauty all her own.

Cherie Burbach is a Wisconsin poet, mixed media artist, and freelance writer specializing in lifestyle and relationships. All of Cherie’s fiction and nonfiction centers on relationships and faith. She also likes to express herself with mixed media art, combining Bible verses and her own poetry with special papers and acrylics. When she’s not putting words on paper or creating art, she’s making soup for her husband and cheering on the Green Bay Packers.