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In My Father's Arms

A True Story of Incest

Walter A. de Milly III

Publication Year: 1999

The TV-perfect family of Walter de Milly III was like many others in the American South of the 1950s—seemingly close-knit, solidly respectable, and active in the community.
    Tragically, Walter’s deeply troubled father would launch his family on a perilous journey into darkness. To the outside world, this man is a prominent businessman, a dignified Presbyterian, and a faithful husband; to Walter, he is an overwhelming, handsome monster. Whenever the two are together, young Walter becomes a sexual plaything for his father; father and son outings are turned into soul-obliterating nightmares.
    Walter eventually becomes a successful businessman only to be stricken by another catastrophe: his father, at the age of seventy, is caught molesting a young boy. Walter is asked to confront his father. Walter convenes his family, and in a private conference with a psychiatrist, the father agrees to be surgically castrated.
    De Milly’s portraits of his relationships with his father and mother, and the confrontation that leads to his father’s bizarre and irreversible voluntary “cure,” are certain to be remembered long after the reader has set aside this powerful contribution to the literature of incest survival.


Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

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pp. ix-x

This story has been nearly impossible to tell. On one hand, the purpose of this book is to tell the truth. Yet doing so exactly would embarrass or hurt many innocent people. So I have omitted certain individuals altogether, substituted fictitious or composite characters for real ones, and obfuscated...

Part One

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pp. 3-5

Five months later, one of the largest private bunkers in Tallahassee sat at the back of our house. It awed me. I gawked at the five dead bolts on the heavy lead door. I could hardly comprehend the yard-thick concrete walls. But what fascinated me most was the only window: a port the size...

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pp. 6-8

OUR BEACH CABIN SITS ATOP A SUGARY-WHITE SAND DUNE AT THE SOUTHern boundary of raw, simple country, the pine woods and great savannas of northern Florida. A state road a half-mile inland follows the coastline. Cars pass infrequently, their whine burning through the sky....

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pp. 9-17

IN A COOL, CRINKLY SEERSUCKER SUIT, MY FIFTY-YEAR-OLD FATHER WALKS along the main street of Tallahassee, headed toward his office at the bank. He comes upon a childhood friend who has never had much luck earning a living. In the moment of recognition, my father nearly leaps into a state of delight. His brows jump above glittering eyes. His jaw drops. He pauses...

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pp. 18-25

THE PROSPECT OF BEING SEEN AT A PSYCHIATRIST'S OFFICE DISTURBED my father down to his blood. So, in the weeks that followed his initial consultation, he defended his privacy with a simple ploy: each time he entered the doctor's office, he carried a briefcase. After all, he told himself, he was a businessman....

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pp. 26-30

ACCORDING TO DR. LINDA MILES, A PSYCHOLOGIST MY FATHER SAW after his tenure with Hahn, my father's earliest memories were of the habitual trips he took with his mother to the old city cemetery to mourn for her first son, who had died of dysentery at the age of twenty-two months. The graveyard is cloistered within a wrought-iron fence and...

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pp. 31-42

APRIL 1956. AT SIX O'CLOCK ON A SPRING MORNING IN THE THIRD year of little Walt's life, his dad awakes. He rises, knowing what he wants to do. He will take his son on an outing. He puts on his khaki slacks and hiking boots, walks into the den, and finds Walt. "We're going exploring today," says Walter, picking Walt up by his arms....

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pp. 43-49

IN THE FALL OF 1964 I WAS ONLY TEN, NOT YET OLD ENOUGH TO JOIN the scouts, but Dad decided it would be a good idea to take me on a camping trip with them. It may not make sense that I wanted to be in his company, but I did. The everyday Walt adored Dad and would go anywhere with him. At that point in my life, the other Walts--the peaceful...

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pp. 50-58

1968. I BEGAN TO SPEND TIME AT OUR COUNTRY CLUB, SWIMMING and taking tennis lessons. One spring day, Vincent showed up at the court. I'd never seen him before. He attended a private school. When he smiled at me, my first thought was that he'd come to save me. How he would do it, or exactly what it was I needed to be saved from, I didn't know....

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pp. 59-65

ONE MORNING WHILE I WAS AT SCHOOL, MOTHER REACHED INTO THE nightstand by my bed, saw my diary, and learned exactly how I felt about Vince. Then she found my will and my goodbye notes. I'm going to run away, I wrote, or kill myself. She sat on my bed and nearly collapsed in tears....

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pp. 66-71

NATURE SELDOM IGNORES THE BROKEN PIECES OF A CHILD'S LIFE, AND during my first year of college she began fooling around with mine. I had decided to become a doctor, and I entered Oxford College of Emory University, where I could begin my path to the Emory School of Medicine. The college had only four hundred students and a freestyle academic...

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pp. 72-76

SEPTEMBER 1975 AFTER FOUR SEMESTERS AT OXFORD COLLEGE I forgot about medicine, adopted philosophy as my new major, and settled into my junior year at the main campus of Emory, in Atlanta. Wallace went on to Georgia State, though we managed to see each other. Emory brought a sea change. In my history of philosophy class I met an impossibly...

Part Tvvo

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pp. 79-83

ON THE WAY HOME FROM OUR 1984 THANKSGIVING HOLIDAY AT MY sister's, Mother and Dad and I were quiet as the dead. Our car might as well have been a sarcophagus. I felt embarrassment, not from the silence but because we were driving through clouds of black and yellow lovebugs, millions of them, everyone in the act of copulation. Through...

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pp. 84-88

I PLEADED WITH Bo TO COME LIVE WITH ME, BUT HE REMAINED TENTATIVE as ever and in Key West. If my real estate investment business had not required so much of my attention, I would have moved there. My father and I worked together every weekday at the office, and we never discussed my friends, my nights, my weekends, my deepening determination to make my...

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pp. 89-93

I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT TO DO. THE BUSINESS WAS GOING ALONG WELL enough, but we also had problems. Bankers were becoming impatient and critical because of the disappointing performance of our investments. I didn't know how to respond when they called me. Unrelenting fear-of everything and everyone-flooded my mind. I'd come to the office, close...

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pp. 94-105

NATHAN, THIN AS A NERVE, WOULD SIT STIFFLY IN HIS WINGBACK CHAIR and slowly twist a pencil between his long fingers, listening more compassionately to me, it seemed, than any other psychologist ever had. Odd accentuations in his eyes made it seem as if he was in a constant state of subdued reaction, guarding a multitude of impressions, correlating every...

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pp. 106-111

1990. UNSHAVEN, AND HONED THIN BY WEEKS OF FEAR, I SAT AT MY dining table shoving piles of papers aside to make room for a nautical chart. I snarled at a stack of unread magazines and threw them across the room. Stop it, I told myself. There's no need to panic. Serious work lay ahead of me and it required my full attention. I took a breath an...

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pp. 112-118

I rode my bike there often. Today, in the noon sun, I had driven to the end and stopped. Sweat streamed down my wrists onto wet handlebars. I fixed my eyes on the horizon. The breath of the world came to a pant, ruffling little waves here and there. Flecks of silver scattered across the sea....

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pp. 119-123

For a few minutes we talked about the funeral and how my life would change now that Dad was dead. I looked down at the floor. When I looked up, I was someone else....

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pp. 124-131

When he arrived I saw that he was pale, beautifully tentative, more lovely and sensitive than ever. It was spring in Key West, the air sweet in jasmine, cool to the skin. We decided to walk to the community pool for a swim. No one was there. We lay down beside each other and looked at the sky. He asked me about Wallace....

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pp. 132-133

We didn't talk much along the way. Since Dad's death I'd talked to her only on those days when I felt a little happy or encouraged. Now I wasn't sure if she was thinking about me, or Dad, or the roadside scenery. We arrived at the beach at midmorning. I parked the car under the shade of an old crab-apple tree. The cabin still sat on the dune as I remembered,...

E-ISBN-13: 9780299165130
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299165109

Publication Year: 1999