From an early age, I knew I was different from the other kids. I grew up fatherless, being raised by a single mom who lived with her older sister and mother. I have no brothers or sisters. These circumstances were not common in suburbia in the 1960’s. All my friends had fathers. All my cousins too. I didn’t have an explanation for it. I think most of my friends assumed my father had died somehow. I guess I came to believe that too. As I got into my teenage years, I knew some things didn’t add up — like why my mom still had her maiden name. Why she had never married?
Then one day, when I was 18, I found out the truth — my mother had been raped. Raped by a man that she knew. The circumstances under which my mom told me the truth are vague to me today. I do remember that she told me the truth in a letter and that it was always very difficult for her to talk about. There were only about three times that we actually talked about it but never at length. One thing I know for sure is that I was about the most important person to her. She gave up a lot to raise me as her own. As for what happened to my mom well she had been working in a diner at the time and there was a regular customer that winter. She talked to him and even knew his name. And then one night in February, somehow he got her into his car, drove to a park, and raped her. He left her there in the park and my mom was found a couple hours later by the police. Nothing ever came of the police report.
Wow! That news hit me hard. So, I was one of “those people.” I didn’t know what to do, so I buried that information. I ignored the truth of my conception and hid it from my consciousness. I rebelled. I rebelled against family and against God. Suddenly, I wasn’t too sure about God either. Oh, I knew about God. From my earliest years, I knew that there had to be a God. For two summers, I had attended vacation Bible school when I was about 10/11 years old. That second year, I remember reading the tract and saying the “sinners prayer” at the end, asking Jesus into my life. And when I was 18, right before I found out the truth of my conception, I had watched a Billy Graham Crusade on TV and became convinced again of the reality of the cross. But that news of my conception just didn’t fit into my notion of things at the time, and I turned away from the cross and the church — and my family to a lesser degree. I went on a journey to explore what I believed to be “the pleasurable side of life” in order to try to forget the rest.
That journey lasted about five years, and one day, I realized how miserable I was. I remember surfing the TV one night (this is back in the day when surfing the TV meant seeing what was on each of the 7 channels available) and stumbling upon a Billy Graham Crusade. He talked that night about Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. I felt as though he was really talking straight to me. I had not gone off to a foreign land, but I was just as far away as I could be spiritually and mentally. And much like that son in the parable, I was worn out by all that riotous living I had been doing. And, the answer to my problem was the same — repent, get up, and go home. I rediscovered my relationship with God that night through the death and resurrection of Christ. Since that time nearly 25 years ago, I came to know more about the relationship I have with God. One of the most important things I have learned is God’s promise in Psalm 68 to be a father to the fatherless. I came to own this verse as God’s personal promise to me. He cared enough about me to tell me he would be my father. I also see how God provided father-like men who taught me things at different times in my life. One of the most important was a man named Len who was an elder in the first church I joined. Len taught me a great deal about being a Christian man with flaws.
I would like to say that my life has been a nice, easy, uphill walk, but it hasn’t. I never had an easy time talking about my conception. For a long time the truth was something only my mom and I knew. I made every effort to avoid having to talk about my father’s side of the family. Even when my wife was pregnant with our first child and the pediatrician’ s assistant asked about family history, I avoided any information about my father. Of course, I really do not know very much about him anyway. The only thing I know about him for certain is that he had brown eyes. My mom told me once that she could see his face in mine, so I guess that’s why I keep part of my face hidden behind a beard. Then one day shortly after my first child was born, I told my wife the truth. My wife never really pressed for any information about my father. She waited until I was ready to talk about it and then I told her everything I knew. My wife has been very supportive of my life in every way possible.
For 45 years, I had never met another person who was conceived in rape.
Then one day while driving, I had heard a radio broadcast of Dr. James Dobson — Focus on the Family, with two women who each were accompanied by their adult children who had been conceived in rape. This was the very first time I ever heard of another person conceived in rape! I knew there had to be other people out there like me, but I had not met any. Then about a year ago, I was searching the internet for information regarding my maternal family’s history, and I stumbled upon Rebecca’s website (because of the Kiessling name.) As I read her story, I was shocked to find another person like me, and with the same last name! I had to find out more, so I contacted Rebecca. My wife and I went to meet her when she gave a talk an hour from where we live. It was oddly liberating to finally meet someone who had a history similar to mine. Since then, I have met a host of other people on the Stigma group who all share the same conception story as me!
Some wonder if I am pro-life. Absolutely! Some have wondered if my mom was prolife. Absolutely! I know from our few conversations on the subject that she would not change a thing regarding giving birth to me and raising me. She could not imagine a world that did not include me and, in time, her three grandchildren. She had no issue with adoption — it just wasn’t the path she wanted. But abortion? She often said, “Two wrongs do not make a right, and it is wrong to end one life because it inconveniences your own.” And she also said that, for all the pain that was involved, it was worth it in the end. She died a few years ago at the end of a life-long battle with type 1 diabetes and its various complications. As for my mom’s spiritual journey, I know that the rape caused her some real doubts that stayed with her. She believed in God and Christ, and for a very long time, she was Catholic. In fact, I bear a testimony to her Catholic faith as I am named after two saints.
For most of my life, I hid the truth of my conception from everyone — even myself. It may seem strange now to put this testimony out on the web. But I have come to the place in my life where I know there are other people like me out there and other people like my mom as well. Now I want to join Rebecca and the others represented here and say that our lives have value and purpose. People conceived in rape do not have to hide and be ashamed. We were uniquely created by God, though the circumstances were extreme. And I personally want to say that God is indeed still fulfilling his promise to be a father to the fatherless.
~ Tony Kiessling, university chemistry professor