As Mum scrubbed the kitchen, Daddy handed me my coat.
‘Come and get some fish and chips with your old man,’ he said.
I looked over at my pile of dolls and teddy bears. I was playing picnics, didn’t want to go.
But Daddy was already grabbing the key to his van, opening the front door. I knew better than to argue.
‘Sit next to me,’ he said as he unlocked the van and threw his work stuff in the back. ‘I won’t bite!’
It was true, Daddy didn’t bite. But he did other things. Things we didn’t mention – ever.
And as we drove to the chippy, the beefy hand he placed on my knee slowly crawled up my thin, bony legs until it eventually rested under my skirt.
I winced as he touched me, his hot, heavy breaths fogging the windscreen as the local radio droned on.
‘It’ll end soon,’ I told myself, watching the world outside blur as we drove past.
And as Daddy moved his hand to change gears, I took my chance and shot across the seat, pressing myself against the passenger door.
‘What’s wrong with you?’ he asked, turning the radio up and dancing along to try and make me laugh. ‘Don’t you love your old Dad anymore?’
And eventually, I would crack a smile. Because he was my Daddy and I did love him.
It had all started two years ago, when I was just four-years-old.
As the only girl, I was Daddy’s favourite. And at first, I revelled in it. What child wouldn’t? I always got the biggest bag of sweets, the last can of pop.
‘It’s not fair!’ my brothers would whine as he came home with another new toy for me.
But those toys, those extra sweets, came at a price.
‘You’re so pretty,’ he’d say as I winced and wriggled trying to get away. ‘This is how Daddy shows his special little lady how much he loves you.’
So although it hurt, I grew up assuming that our secret time together when Mummy went out was something special.
Dad was always telling me how much I meant to him.
For the next three years, Daddy would touch me every chance he got. But then when I was nine he suddenly stopped.
Dad didn’t seem to want me anymore. Instead, he flirted with Mum’s friends, laughing and joking as they batted him with long painted fingernails.
What was wrong with me? I wondered. What had I done wrong that he suddenly didn’t want me?
Desperate for his attention again, I started to dress like them, wearing crop tops and tight leggings.
But when Dad saw me –
‘Get that off, now!’ he roared. ‘You look like a slut!’
Suddenly, I reeled backwards, my ear burning. He’d hit me.
‘Now get in there and get that off!’ he yelled, shoving me into the bedroom.
After that, he would strike out at me at the drop of a hat. But instead of being shocked, I thought that was normal too. After all I’d grown up seeing him hit my mum.
Perhaps he did this to all the woman he loved ?
Then when I was twelve, Dad suddenly started taking more interest in me again.
Only this time it wasn’t just secret touching, kissing and cuddling. He started having sex with me.
‘You’ve always been my number one girl, you know that,’ he’d leer leading me up to the bedroom when mum was out.
The pain was unbearable. As all 24 stone of him bore down on my scrawny seven stone frame, I could hardly breathe.
Then: ‘I love you so much.’ He’d pant as he zipped himself up.
And afterwards, I revelled in being his ‘number one girl’ again. Once again he showered me with gifts and affection.
In a way I felt relieved, it meant he loved me again.
‘What do you want? Just name it and it’s yours,’ he would boast as he took me shopping.
But while he was free and easy with his money, he never let me out of his sight. I wasn’t allowed even near a boy.
Everyone assumed he was so strict with me because he was a doting dad. But I knew different.
‘You’re mine and I don’t want anyone else touching you,’ he’d tell me.
‘One day, when you’re older we’ll be able to live together properly and have a big house full of babies,’ he said when I was 14.
As shocking as it might sound, I’d grown so used to being with dad that it almost sounded normal.
I couldn’t imagine life without him and he was never going to let me go near another man so if I was going to settle down and have children perhaps it would have to be with dad?
By now, Dad was abusing me every time mum went out. But I was terrified I would become pregnant too soon and mum would find out what her husband and daughter were doing together.
And then, shortly after my 15th birthday, I started to get stomach cramps.
‘I’m taking you to the doctor,’ Mum said.
I was petrified.
‘Would you mind if I asked Katie a few questions of her own?’ the doctor asked.
Reluctantly, Mum left the room.
‘Are you sexually active, Katie?’ he asked me.
‘Is there a chance you might be pregnant?’ he asked.
I shook my head. No. No way.
But later that week, I picked up a pregnancy test – positive. It had to be dads. I was terrified he’d get angry with me.
All I could think was I had to get rid of it. But how? There was no way I could tell anyone, arrange an abortion. So I started buying vodka with dad’s money, downing it in bed every night.
And three weeks later, I woke up sweating, my stomach contracting in pain. I looked down at my duvet. It was drenched with blood. I’d had a miscarriage.
The relief was immense. Now I just had to make sure it didn’t happen again.
But then Dad started working away. Or at least that’s what he told us. Only mum got an anonymous phone call. Turned out he was having an affair with a 19-year-old girl who lived in town.
Mum confronted him and he admitted it.
As I watched him drive away to be with her I should have been relieved, but instead I was devastated.
I blamed myself for tearing the family apart. Maybe if I’d been more available to him he wouldn’t have left us all?
I felt rejected and hurt. I hated to admit it to myself but I was actually jealous at the thought of him with another girl.
She was just a few years older than me. Why had he picked her over me ?
Wasn’t it me he’d wanted to run away with? My young mind confused by the years of grooming and abuse felt rejected and lost without my abuser.
So missing him, I started to punish myself by stopping eating. Thin to begin with, I soon shrunk to a tiny size 4. I started drinking heavily and self-harming too. I was so angry at my dad’s deception but had no one else to hurt but myself.
I’d cut my hands with razor blades, anything to try and release some of the pain that whirled inside.
‘What’s that on your hands?’ my brother Darren asked one day as he saw the wounds as I washing up.
‘Nothing,’ I hissed, hiding them behind my back. I didn’t want Mum seeing.
Not that she’d have cared. It was like she hated me. I even wondered if she knew about me and Dad.
But she couldn’t bring herself to ask me the question and so she lashed out at me instead.
My only escape was work. In 2010 I’d started working in a nightclub and looked forward to my shift every night.
I shied away from men but one of the guys there – Simon – was softly-spoken with kind eyes. We started talking.
The complete opposite to Dad, he always asked how I was, listened to me when I spoke.
‘Come out for a drink with me?’ he asked.
But then one night that April, steaming drunk, I bumped into him.
‘What’s wrong?’ he asked me.
‘I can’t tell you,’ I eventually said. ‘You’ll hate me.’
‘Trust me,’ he begged.
So I did.
‘So you see, it was all my fault.’ I told him after it had all come tumbling out.
‘You were a child,’ he told me, tears in his eyes. ‘He abused you. Your dad made you think those things were right, but he was grooming you,’ he explained gently.
And deep down, I knew he was right.
As the weeks passed and Simon and I grew closer, I realised I hadn’t been in love with Dad at all. I’d been a child, and a victim.
This, what Simon and I had, this was real love.
I agreed to move in with him. It was the best decision I could have made. With Simon, I finally felt safe.
The following Spring I found out I was expecting.
That December, our little girl Ellie was born. And from the first moment I saw her I realised that if anyone hurt her the way my father had hurt me, well…
Caring for Ellie, seeing Simon dote on her, I was finally able to see how badly I’d been let down by the man I’d called Daddy.
‘I’m ready to go to the police,’ I told him one afternoon the following summer.
After I gave my statement, the police swooped. Dad was arrested. He was still living with his mistress.
I thought because I was stronger now I could handle the backlash, but I was wrong. My family turned against me.
‘No one believes me,’ I wailed to Simon.
‘I do,’ he promised.
But when I heard Dad had been released on bail it was all too much. I decided to drop the charges. Instead, I started counselling and a course of antidepressants.
Slowly, I began to see that I was nothing but a victim in all this. Betrayed by the very person whose job it was to protect me.
Now I’m a mother myself I can see that I never even had a childhood. My father stole everything from me. But even worse than stealing my innocence, he played with my mind to make me think I was in love with him and that we were a couple. How he could do that to his own flesh and blood, I will never know.
He doesn’t even deserve to be called a father.