Thursday, October 2, 2014

Assailed To The Breaking Point - Part 1

You may be wondering why I started this blog with a word whose origin is from the 1200s, Assailed. It’s not exactly a word we use much in modern speech. One night I was actually woken up in the middle of the night by this word and this title. And I knew it was something I needed to explore. I discovered these definitions of assail on and they seem to capture very well who my father, Fred W. Phelps, Sr. was and what he wanted to do to his children to “break” them.


verb (used with object) 1. to attack vigorously or violently; assault.

2. to attack with arguments, criticism, ridicule, abuse, etc.: to assail one's opponent with slander.

3. to undertake with the purpose of mastering: He assailed his studies with new determination.

4. to impinge upon; make an impact on; beset: His mind was assailed by conflicting arguments. The light assailed their eyes.

As you read this blog that features my precious sister Katherine, and my wonderful older brother, Fred Jr., perhaps you will understand my word choice. And why this title expresses well what my father accomplished in their innocent young lives.

My sister Katherine Rose was my father’s favorite when she was a baby. She had beautiful blue eyes and dark hair. She was very pretty and he would spoil her. He used to bounce her on his knee and sing 'The Yellow Rose of Texas' to her. Katherine was born 340 days after I was born. Knowing the stress pregnancy puts on women’s’ bodies I marvel at what my mom went through having 15 pregnancies in 15 years and suffering two miscarriages.

Somehow Katherine managed to get quite a ways into her life without having much negative experience with my father, directly, though she endured his standard violence and fit throwing like we all did. Then came a time when suddenly Katherine, at about age 16, got in my father’s doghouse. A boy had called on the phone one time, for Katherine. From that time on, my father commenced beating her, and he stayed on her and stayed on her and stayed on her relentlessly.

He'd beat her routinely in the auditorium area of the church building/house where we lived, requiring her to lean forward with her hands against one of the foundation poles that ran down the middle of the church auditorium to allow him best swinging room and clear access to her backside with the oak mattock handle.

He'd beat her with the oak mattock handle and then twist her arm behind her back and bend her backwards over the back side of the bench seats in the church auditorium. While holding her arm painfully behind her back, he would hit her in her face with his fists. Then he would spit in her face. He would curse her with filthy, garbage, derogatory, demeaning language as he beat her. She'd be screaming-bloodcurdling screams-desperate screams of pain and fear, with no one to help her or stop her father’s assailing assaults. Often my father would sustain the beating of Katherine for an hour at a time, and I lost track of how many times she suffered such beatings. And all of this devastating brutality was started because a boy had called her on the telephone. Once! You have to understand, my father wanted her to have zero contact; absolutely no contact with any boy; none . . . Ever!

My father justified punching his daughter in the face with his bare fists, because a phone rang in our house one day that might be a boy interested in her. Simply unbelievable, right?! But true. My father acting in deadly rage and anger toward a young girl who had the horrible misfortune of growing up with Fred Phelps, Sr. as her father!

And time and time and time again I would stand by and watch and not say a word, not move a muscle. I stood by in quiet anguish, despair and fear, watching the brutal, savage beating my sister Katherine was suffering at the hand of her father. Had my father been teaching me how to be a godly, mature young man, he would have taught me to rescue any young woman, anywhere, any time who was being savagely beaten by a male perpetrator twice her age!

But, not in our house. No, in our house, the young men had to hold back and stuff down every natural instinct we had to protect our sisters and each other, knowing that the savage beatings of our father could instantly be turned on us and ultimately make Katherine’s life even harder. As I think about the horrible existence Katherine had I truly have no idea how she lived under this kind of brutality and what it did to her young mind and heart. I think of her often and hope with all my heart she has found healing and hope for her life.

As I think about how much society has changed in the last 40 years in its attitude towards physical abuse I wonder how Katherine’s story might have turned out if she’d been born even 10 or 15 years later. Today if there were a father committing the kinds of criminal abuse my father was inflicting on his children there would be district attorneys lining up to file multiple charges against him. And gratified to know their actions would be protecting vulnerable children from abuse.

Today we have the NFL taking steps to deal with domestic abuse in its players and there are cries for judges to step down from the bench who beat their wives. Society has reached a place where it is raising a collective outcry against abuse. Just this last week in Topeka my family put up on the Westboro Baptist Church marquee that “God h8s domestic violence” Indeed he does! But apparently the head of Westboro Baptist, my father, did not hate it at all. In fact he was a violent perpetrator of it on his family over many, many years.

But the political and social climate of Topeka Kansas in the 1960s and 1970s was just not where it needed to be to protect children from violence perpetrated within families. So the cries of the Phelps children were left unheeded by any who heard them. And the few interactions our family had with the police showed us that for many children of abuse; and most certainly for us; a one-time interaction with law enforcement often gets children even worse beatings. And those interactions would leave the children in greater despair. If Katherine were a child today I believe Topeka, Kansas and our society in general would have found ways to stand up to this abuser and give her the protection she so desperately needed. But, in our family, that blessing of legal rescue never came.

It got so if the phone rang and the caller hung up the phone when he would answer, my father would assume it was a boy trying to reach Katherine, that she was 'doing' him, and then she'd get beaten again. Yes, you heard me right. Katherine was being beaten by my father because of something he just assumed was happening . . . with absolutely no knowledge that any of it was happening. He beat her mercilessly because something MIGHT have been happening. The injustice of this is more than I can even think about now as an adult and as a father. But it was Katherine, our amazing, beautiful, sweet sister who had this injustice perpetrated on her by the man in her life who should have protected her from evil and harm. Her father!

And, on top of that, Katherine and my brother, Nathan, were getting beaten several times a week simply because they weighed more than my father thought they should weigh. My siblings were being beaten for a body weight that bothered my father. They risked internal injuries from the beatings, malnutrition and a host of other problems because of my father’s desire to control and to inflict pain and misery on them. I marvel at the indomitability of the human spirit that existed in Katherine and Nathan and their ability to handle such incredible injustice and violence, and still find a way to go on.

When I was in college Mom would take all the children to sell candy, but she'd leave Katherine home alone with my father. Katherine would get beaten during those times, just like Nathan had been beaten when he had been left home alone with my father.

Oh the profound despair Katherine and Nathan must have felt to be left totally alone with their abuser; and with no one even able to hear their cries of anguish. My family was made up of children who were never heard appropriately by adults for the meeting of their most basic needs as children. Along with my mother, Nathan, Katherine, and my brother, Fred Jr., took the brunt of my father’s violent rage. Fred, Jr. was the first boy, Katherine, was the first girl, and Nathan was the child who consistently tried to challenge my father on the wrongness of the injustice he was perpetrating on his family. And for being “firsts” in the family they truly took the brunt of my father’s rage.

But what impact did this kind of brutality leave on the rest of the family? How must it have felt to my mother to leave a defenseless child at home, alone with a man who was going to beat that child? What kind of damage did that do to her soul to knowingly leave a child in harm’s way? And what damage did it do to a carload of children going to sell candy to know that adults simply were unable to protect children from evil? Well I can tell you for some of us it produced real despair.

For a period of about six years, the sweets we sold were often a principal element in our diet. So principal, that some of the children began to gain weight. This visible development, particularly in my brother, Nathan, and my sister, Katherine, caused my father great upset. For one thing, after my father’s own successful battle against obesity, he had little patience for anyone else in the family who he thought had a little extra weight. For another thing, my father suspected some of the sales crew might be eating the profits.

My father used rigorous diet controls according to his own arbitrary, vicious will.

My father employed daily weighing for my brother Nathan and my sister Katherine. When this did not work, and their weight increased, he apparently deemed it time to use the oak mattock handle to beat them into svelte bodies that lived up to his standards of “bodily correctness.”

Fear would permeate the faces, hearts and bodies of Nathan and Katherine, routinely.

It is difficult to imagine anyone who runs 10 miles a day becoming obese. In fact, at the time my father imposed his Nazi-like Weight Loss Program, my brother, Nathan, was 5' 10" and weighed 185 pounds. Not leathery and lean, but not worthy of comment on a large-boned male. But to my father, that extra thickness on his son meant thinner profits from the children's candy selling crusade. So my father took steps. He designed a weight-loss regimen for Nathan and Katherine.

Can any of us who are loving fathers even fathom this barbaric behavior? I believe my father chose to beat growing, developing children because of his own shame in not providing adequately for his family. My father well knew that his children were eating the candy because he often couldn’t or wouldn’t provide us with good nutrition. What we learned in my father’s response to the natural weight gain that would occur from eating too much candy, and not enough other wholesome food is that it was “all about our father”. The sad thing is every behavior we ever witnessed in our growing up years was “all about my father.” He truly was the evil center around which we all orbited. As children we had no way of knowing how to understand that his own self-loathing as a man unable to provide our basic needs was being heaped instead upon his children. And not that it would have mattered at the end of the day. Because when you are recovering for four or five days after a terrible beating you don’t really want understanding. You just want it to stop.

Katherine and Nathan were required to go through the shame, humiliation and terror of having to weigh themselves in front of my father each night, on the doctor's scales sitting outside his bedroom. Mind you, this was what they had to look forward to at the end of a long day; sometime after 9:30 at night; that included a normal length school day, 5 hours of candy sales for their father’s ‘church’, and an hour and a half of running around the local high school track. If they didn't weigh less than they had the day before, they got a beating with the oak mattock handle. Sometimes the two were beaten every night of the week with the oak mattock handle. They must have experienced such intense rage and despair and who knows what else, but frantic terror filled their faces and most assuredly devastated their souls.

There is a phrase that has been coined by young women in this culture called “fat shaming” which describes the American fixation with top model thinness as a cultural value. I think the women of today would be horrified at the level my father went to in his fat shaming of my brother and sister.

Nathan would eat lunch but he would make sure he would throw up before going home. Or take Ex-Lax. So would Katherine. My father was essentially setting up my siblings to be bulimics with all the serious physical risks that condition entails! Think of this. When my brother and sister had growing adolescent bodies in need of wholesome food my father set up a dastardly scheme to deprive them of it. All because of his “need” to have his children look good to the culture, because his children were his work and his life. And if they failed to make him look good, he truthfully had nothing else. My father who disdained culture was caught in a vise grip of need to live up to it nonetheless.

My father’s expectations were impossible, so the two teenagers had to learn to manipulate the scales.

By manipulating the scales they hoped to avoid the brutality at least some of the time. Their strategy was to place a small piece of tape with several metal nuts attached in the palm of their hand. As they stepped onto the scales, they would rapidly, with slight-of-hand, stick the tape with the metal nuts to the backside of the balance beam on the scales. This would show their weight to be lower than it actually was because of where they learned to place the metal nuts. I have creative and smart siblings!

Unfortunately, one day the tape wouldn't stick properly and fell to the ground along with the metal nuts. My dear father didn't see it fall, but he did see that their weight was eight pounds higher than expected. ‘You've been eatin' my goddamed candy again!' yelled my father.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the supposed man of God.

This event led to a 10 hour ordeal of beatings for the two of them, followed by marathon running sessions, followed by more beatings, followed by running. The net result was that, at the end of the day, Nathan had lost 14 pounds and seriously injured his hip. The irony is that, since that weight loss was all fluid dehydration, when he replaced the fluids, he regained the weight. But Nathan didn't realize this, and my father didn’t care WHY he had regained the weight.

The next day, when Nathan had mysteriously shot up 14 pounds, the vexed father fell into a frustrated fury and son Nathan got beaten once more. The incident manifests my father’s trademark career combination of ignorance and violence.

Afterwards, the teenager was literally forbidden to eat until he lost those extra pounds. My father was running the equivalent of a concentration camp in his brutality and starvation techniques! All to protect his precious public image! Remember the Narcissistic Personality Disordered person has an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. My father would never get that admiration from his children because he beat us and abused us. So while he would never get it from us, he continued to seek it from the public. My father was a man of paradoxes, to be sure, because this was the same public who he actually had zero respect for.

Breakfast!? Nathan was never to get it after that. And when the family lined up for the food cooked in the great pots, Nathan wasn't allowed to eat with them. If the menu called for cabbage, curds, liver pills, brewers yeast or raw eggs, his siblings would envy him. But if father relented and something tasty awaited the hungry children-chicken, spaghetti, Spanish rice, refried beans or stew- Nathan was never given any.

My brother Nathan was neglected, starved and abused. And my culture simply was not prepared to rescue this child from that abuse. I know the child abuse laws and their implementation in this country are not perfect. But their need was evident in the lives of 13 children in Topeka Kansas in the 1960s and 1970s.

Today, the man, Nate, is philosophical about the trials of the boy. "I'd just sneak food from the fridge later, or eat candy from the boxes," he observes. Incredibly, this father-enforced fast went on for five years. All the while, Nate's weight continued the same, and the pastor continued to accuse him of eating candy.

"Well...duh!" laughs Nate today. "If, after five years, I was still alive, I must have been eating something, right?"

Even our mother was not immune to the weight-watcher from hell.

My father got mad at Mom once; said she was getting too fat. Did my father understand anything at all about the toll it would take on a woman’s body to be pregnant 15 times in 15 years? Right in front of me, he beat her with the oak mattock handle. I mean . . . it was a really . . . really degrading, humiliating kind of experience to watch my mother being treated like that . . . by my father . . . by her own husband. This from a man who allowed his own weight to balloon to 270 pounds before self-imposing a fast of 47 days to reduce his weight to 135 pounds.

But as researchers about Narcissistic Personality Disorder would say my father “lacked insight” about his own life and behavior and had the characteristic lack of empathy seen in this disorder! It would never occur to him to have compassion for people who struggled with something he himself had struggled with.

There is a concept among people of faith that you can “sear” your own conscience by repeatedly ignoring its impulses to avoid wrongdoing. That over time you can ignore your conscience till it no longer has impact on your decision making. I believe that is part of what happened to my father. His increasing raging and violence at some point were no longer checked by a working conscience. He was out of the reach of any of the normal methods people have for pointing their compass toward good instead of evil. And of course, he no longer saw his own behavior as evil.

When my father was not successful getting Katherine’s weight under control with daily weighing, diet control and oak mattock handle beatings, he had another strategy up his sleeve.

It was time to confine his daughter, Katherine, in a nook outside his bedroom, upstairs. For 40 plus days Katherine was confined, without food, only water, and allowed exit only to use the bathroom, until her weight was acceptable to my dear father. This is the stuff of torture and concentration camps. I can hardly bear to think of it. I cannot imagine how this may be affecting some of you readers. My heart goes out to you right now in your pain as some of you think of your own perpetrators’ violence toward you.

I remember that either her sister Margie or her sister Shirley once smuggled Katherine a glass of tomato juice. Well, my father caught his eldest daughter with it. When Katherine refused to tell who'd given her the tomato juice, my father yelled and cursed and beat her for nearly two hours. It was one of the worst beatings she ever received. It was delivered by fist and oak mattock handle to a starving teenage girl. Katherine had an open sore on her backside for over a year because it could not heal due to such frequent beatings. I can still see my sister Katherine’s face in my mind’s eye; the terror, despair and frantic look in her eyes; and her quivering hands as she approached her mother to request help in tending to her sore.

Katherine tried to escape the nightmare called 'home' at the Westboro Baptist Church at least three times between the ages of 17 and 18. Each time, my father found out where she was living and led a Phelps' quick-reaction team to literally snatch her away from her life and bring her back. The dealer of abuse was bent on dealing his abuse against Katherine again and again! There was no escape from the torture!

In one incident, Katherine was living in a quiet Topeka neighborhood and dating a boy from our high school. It was the summertime, about 6:30 in the evening. Katherine’s boyfriend pulled in to pick her up on a date. We'd been waiting for her to come out of the house, and when she did, we just swooped in. We had two cars. I was driving one and my father the other.

It was a real 'Starsky and Hutch' covert operation. We blocked off the departing vehicle, and pulled Katherine out of the car while her date just sat there stunned. Back at home my father beat her terribly. It was then she was confined in the nook for 40 days on nothing but water. This 'parental intercession' was actually a kidnapping: Katherine was 18 when it occurred. She easily had a cause of action against my father if she had wanted to pursue it.

Katherine, if you are reading these words today, I ask your forgiveness for my part in bringing you back that day. Oh how I wish I had had the strength to stand up to our father in those moments. I have never stopped praying for you, sister, and hoping your life has turned out well when you were able to finally leave and begin again.

Though she eventually finished college and graduated from law school, I am concerned that Katherine has not yet been able to find resolution to her anger and the self-destruction that often accompanies this level of abuse. (And some might even argue that acts of “self-destruction” are beautiful signs of life as the abused person begins to make new and very different decisions than the ones prescribed by the controlling abuser.) She allowed her active status as an attorney to lapse, waitressed at Topeka's Ramada Inn, got laid off, and went on public assistance. Are you surprised? What might you have done living with the level of abuse and torture my sister suffered? What might any of us have done with the psychological and physical scars she has from the horrendous abuse she suffered? From the person who should have loved her, defended her, championed her, admired her, and sought to bring all good things into her life - - her father.

My precious sister, Katherine......oh, everything my father did to her...she's just been so deeply hurt as a human being. How my heart breaks for her. It is so difficult to accept that her life was so destroyed by my father. She had hardly begun her life and it was permanently crippled by her own father. I have a lot of righteous anger against my father’s actions towards Katherine as I am sure many of you who are reading this do! It was terribly wrong and should never have been allowed!

Once, while she was going to college and living in the family compound, Katherine went jogging late one night, as was her habit. But, this time, the sight of a woman running through a darkened residential neighborhood after 1 a.m. caught the attention of a patrol car. When the officer tried to question her from the rolling vehicle, Katherine turned and ran the other way. When he overtook her on foot, jumped ahead of her and tried to block her passage, she jumped on him like a wild animal. Other officers were called and Katherine fought them with the same intense ferocity. She was finally subdued and arrested. When the case went to court, my brother Nate was there: "The judge asked why she fought when the officer tried to stop her. She turned to him-and I was shocked by the hate in her face-and she almost spit out the words: 'I can't stand for a man to touch me!'" Continues Nate: "That face full of hate I'll never forget. My sister was very, very angry about something."

Hmmm, I wonder where all that anger originated!? Can you imagine the irony of this? My father, who had such an aberrant view of a boy even calling my sister on the phone, who could not stand the thought of my sister being in a normal relationship with a man, would create from his savage beatings my sister learning to hate the touch of any man. My father who was so twisted and tortured in his own soul managed to foist his own pain on those closest to him.

Katherine was willing to fight back with several police officers because she felt safer and more able to fight back with them than she did trying to fight back against her own father. She had observed her father’s rage and brutality toward her brothers and her mother and knew, deep in her soul, that any resistance or attempt to protect or stand up for herself against her father would only result in greater abuse and greater pain. We all knew this about our father because we were trained so skillfully and thoroughly from the earliest days of our lives. All of us knew his hair-trigger temper and the instant, vicious escalation of his rage at the least sign of resistance on our part! We all knew . . . there was no stopping my father!!

My father once had a sweet relationship with Katherine. She was truly the apple of his eye. And then she did what all children do. She grew up. And by growing up my father knew that she was stepping into adulthood and would one day not be under his control any more. Watching children grow up is not easy for parents. Even normal parents struggle with the end of the sweet relationships they once had with their small children. But, normal, loving parents push through to allow their kids to become all they can be. And appropriately push aside their personal needs and emotions to provide that freedom.

My father, however, was running a cult. And he followed the first rule of cults which is that mind control is the order of the day and no one is allowed to leave. I think my father’s heart broke as a father the day Katherine appeared to him to be a young woman. And he must have realized she would truly leave him. For her own life, and for a loving, caring man who might be her husband. And that my father would not tolerate. And as one who ran a cult he had powers beyond that of a normal parent. And he exercised them! My father even warned others of his children that the cult phenomenon would continue into their marriages. And that he would maintain control of them INTO their marriages. And make decisions for them. And that they would never, ever be treated as autonomous adults. Are you amazed that anyone EVER married into our family? I am!

My older brother, Fred Jr., wanted to be a history teacher. Ever since he'd been a kid, he wanted to be a history teacher. At Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas Fred Jr. was a masterful history student. He got A’s in history, even Chinese history. High A’s!! He wanted to teach history, and he held on to that. He'd say: 'I have that right!” and my father would try to beat it out of him, literally, with the oak mattock handle.

I can remember my father beating Fred Jr. when he was 17, 18 and 19 because of his desire to be a history professor and his efforts to accomplish this goal. I couldn't believe my brother, Fred Jr., would even try to argue with my father! I think I did not understand the depth of Fred’s desire to use the talents and gifts God had given him. And that he knew would express who he truly was. That desire must have been incredibly powerful, but I couldn’t believe my brother, Fred Jr., kept pushing and pushing; and getting beat over and over and over!

My brother, Fred Jr., was an amazing, strong, talented and gifted young man who simply wanted a chance to be! And he tried so hard to gain the right to be his own person. And my father took that simple, beautiful, honest desire to be a person and hoped to beat that desire out of him. He knew his first born was an example that would be set for other siblings and he simply had to break Fred Jr. Do you remember definition #3 of assailed was “to undertake with the purpose of mastering?” Well, my father planned to “master” young Fred and not allow him to be his own man. And master he did . . . eventually! But for those of us who saw the beautiful young man Fred, Jr. was becoming it was horrible to watch that process.

Personally, I had learned better! My father knew nothing of my heart, nothing of my interests, nothing of my desires and nothing of my needs! I was not about to reveal anything, only to be ridiculed and maligned . . . and beaten! I was a master at hiding who I was! My father thought I accepted every aspect of his filthy language, despicable lies and felonious destruction of his family. He continued to believe this until the night I left ‘The Place’ . . . permanently! And it is because of this meticulous hiding of my own heart that I survived and was ultimately able to leave.

Normal children in safe environments love to “try out” their dreams and desires by talking about them to parents, siblings, coaches, teachers and friends. To get advice, counsel, help and encouragement from people in that relatively safe world. But there was nothing normal about being a Phelps kid. So my stance of protecting myself and my dreams from all view and all critique ended up being a way to protect them also from destruction.

But when I think of Fred Jr. and his valiant efforts to be a person while under his father’s care, I admire him. I took a different path, of protecting myself at all costs, but I admire my brother Fred Jr’s tenacity in the face of such blatant, vicious, brutal abuse and lack of respect shown by my father for who Fred Jr. was as a person.

I remember when my brother, Fred Jr., was 18, and in his struggle to find his way, he had decided to move out of his father’s house to live on his own. My father vehemently opposed it, but Fred Jr. stood up for himself. After several beatings from my father with the oak mattock handle and Fred Jr. even still refusing and refusing and refusing to relent, the two finally compromised: the son would go and live with one of his father's business associates. Bob Martin was a retired army officer who ran Bo-Mar Investigations, a private detective agency. After Fred, Jr. had been staying with Martin for a week in his house, I remember my father received a phone call. It was Martin.

"Let's go!" said my father to me! I had become the squad leader in my father’s schemes. While we drove to the detective's place, my father explained the plan he and Martin had for Fred Jr.: wait till he was in the shower and then confront him; a naked man feels vulnerable and powerless. Fred Jr. had just come in from work and gone into the bathroom. "When he comes out, we'll be waiting," chuckled my father. And so we were. As Fred Jr. came out, towel around his waist, he was confronted by my father, by me, and a suddenly hostile Bob Martin.

"Get your clothes! You're going home!" snapped my father. The eldest son complied without argument. The next part I'll never forget. When we got out to the car, I was in the back on the right, my father was behind the wheel, and Fred Jr. was in the front passenger seat. Bob had followed us and he opened the door on my brother's side. Through the space between the front seat and the door, I could see him place a revolver against my brother's knee. And he said: "If you run away again, I have orders to come after you. And when I catch you, I'm going to shoot you right here." Of course . . . my father issued these orders to Bob Martin regarding his own son!

My father was not ABOUT to let Fred Jr. be who he was created by God to be, even if it meant violating the criminal laws of society. Fred Jr. was going to be a lawyer because that’s what my father said he was going to be. My father viewed his children as an extension of his empire, and in no way as precious, vibrant individuals who deserved to be able to have their own dreams. My father would have their dreams for them.

Eventually, I think, my brother's spirit was simply broken. And he capitulated to my father’s will and became a lawyer. After that, he submitted totally to my father. He'd lost his thrill for life. He went to law school, like father wanted; he married a girl father approved of; and he shouldered a role in ‘The Place’. And that's where he is today. He recently turned 61. But I doubt his heart has ever been in the things my father “programmed” into his life whether he wanted it that way or not! Fred was a dutiful soldier in a battleground he never wanted to be part of. The history teacher was finally beaten into total submission. And the world missed out on a magnificent teacher who could have opened up young minds and hearts through an honest look at history. This was our society’s loss for sure.

Let’s talk about what happened to the hearts of Phelps children. If you are a student of the human heart you know of its amazing resilience but you also know it can be pushed to a point of breaking. As little children our father took our hearts and pretty much stomped all over them. He was incapable of showing kindness or gentleness or any type of compassion to us and instead terrorized and physically abused us all. To the point where all we could think about was our own safety. I honestly still marvel at the courage my brother Nathan was able to show as he stood up to our father repeatedly. And I have never forgotten the initial courage of my brother Fred Jr.! And I never will.

But most of us first cowered and wept and then finally we became little automatons who tried to shut out all feelings. So we could survive. I had the immense blessing of being able to leave the fold and over several decades, was able to seek healing that was necessary to undo the work in my heart that my father had done there. But for those who stayed under my father’s domination the damage to their hearts continued. They were not just told what to do as young children, every waking moment of every day, in kind of a federal prison, every-decision-being-made-for-you way. These precious siblings of mine had to endure the shame of being considered non-entities who had no right to be young adults. No right to think for themselves. No right to pick a major or a career, a spouse or a way of raising their own children. Their lives continued to be scripted by their father, in details that did not reflect the respect owed an adult son or daughter by their own father.

Remember me telling you I was awakened one night by the phrase “assailed to the breaking point”? Well, I think that was exactly what my father was able to do with most of us in our family. He was able to “to attack vigorously or violently; assault.” He was able to “attack with arguments, criticism, ridicule, abuse, etc.: to assail one's opponent with slander.” And he was able to “undertake with the purpose of mastering.”

My strong desire, for my siblings and for all of you in my blog audience, is to give you the hope that the human spirit and psyche and soul is able to come back from that breaking point. That while it is true that enormous damage has been done, with enormous consequence, there is still tremendous hope for each of you.

What you will be reading about in the days and months to come in this blog is my return from the near breaking point of my own life. And that with hard work, helpful, kind souls and truly the help of God himself, I have come back. Or perhaps, I have actually gone forward. To new things I would never have dreamed possible back on 12th St. in Topeka, Kansas. And I hope and pray for those new things for each of you. If you need to write to me about the journey you are on or wanting to start, I would love to encourage you in that process. There is much cause for hope in this, friends!

Mark Phelps


  1. It would be wonderful if somehow your writings could be published, read or somehow delivered to Child Welfare authorities in Topeka! They need to know the horrible injustices done back then, and also, what a testimony against WBC. I am praying for the dissolution of the whole WBC.

  2. It's unforgivable how Fred Phelps treated his family. Sometimes I wonder what would've happened had young Fred Phelps Jr. stood up to Officer Bob Martin, saying something like "you're gonna have to shoot me then. Because I refuse to comply."