Teen Michaela Smith found out one of the worst things a daughter could possibly find out about her father -- he'd been reportedly secretly taping her in her bedroom and bathroom with a hidden camera. Her father, Michael, was eventually sentenced to a year in prison. He was convicted of setting up a video camera four times to catch her over the course of a couple of months as she changed clothes and went about her life in what she thought was the privacy of her own room.
Michaela, who was already dealing with a life-threatening abnormal heart arrhythmia, was changing in her room one day with her mother when she noticed a blinking red light. Her mom, Rhonda, said she got a "bad feeling" but didn't want to worry her daughter, so she told her she had put the camera up there while cleaning and didn't know how to turn it off.
Her mother took the camera and sent it to a daughter from a previous marriage, who knew a computer forensics expert. What came back was startling and horrifying -- someone had been recording Michaela in her bedroom and bathroom. That someone was her own father. "I've never felt so destroyed," Michaela told AL.com.
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Michael was arrested. But he had high-priced lawyers and got out on bail. The case dragged on and eventually the family became divided.
Michaela went to a biblical therapist who taught her how to see her betrayal as a "gift." Now she could help others who had also been betrayed. She counseled groups of teens and young girls. She came to believe that people do bad things when they feel bad about themselves. She told AL.com:
I was starting to realize that without what my father had done, I would not be able to touch the lives of children and others in the way I can now. It was at that moment I became truly thankful for all that had happened to me ... I realize it was horrible but it was a necessary price in order to help my father and to use this experience to help others.
Woah. Helping others I understand. But helping her father?
Hasn't this poor girl taken on enough? Not only trying to heal herself, but strangers ... and him too?!
No, it is not her responsibility to heal and help him. He needs to do that for himself. I hope to god this girl doesn't feel it's her task in life to change, heal, or help people like her father. You can only support people in their own journey.
But apparently Michael found God in prison, and Michaela forgave him "instantly." She believes he didn't do those things, his addictions did.
I think it's often easier, especially when you are young and impressionable, to believe that someone you loved and trusted was ruled by something outside of himself rather than his own sick desires and choices. To some extent that is true. But as you get older, you realize that people do have choices in this life. And you must be strong enough to let other people make their own choices and judge them accordingly.
Thankfully, Michael is not allowed to speak to his daughter or he will go back to prison. She envisions a relationship with him down the road, but not now.
Good. Her father would need many, many years to earn that trust. And she's just too fragile and in too much of a forgiving state of mind to make him earn that trust the hard way -- by being there for her in actions, over and over, for many years.
Michaela's mom, Rhonda, never divorced Michael and the two of them attend church together. Michaela says she is okay with that.
Perhaps this is the best way for Michaela's heart to begin to heal -- but it's a fine line between forgiveness and codependency. You can forgive someone in your heart but still not hang out with that person.
I would personally never be able to be friends or anything else with a man who did this to my daughter -- though I may "forgive" him in theory.
As for Michael, he says he is extremely regretful for what he did to his daughter. He blames it on his porn addiction.
These are extremely complex emotions and dynamics -- and an almost unbearable amount for one young girl to process. I'm very glad she is using what happened to her to help others. But I can't help feeling that she's not confronting her anger and wonder if the entire family is letting Michael off too easy.
Would you forgive your father if he did this? What about your spouse?
Image via Daily Mail Online