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barbara tieken 1940s
My Mom, Barbara Tieken, 1940s

Born in rural Missouri to parents who were drunks and constantly fought

Barbara suffered the indignity and shame of being molested by her father

A heinous act he never acknowledged or apologized for

When he became a Christian his past was under the blood

God may have forgiven him

But she never did

barbara and steve tieken 1940s
Barbara and Steve Tieken 1940s

She was a beautiful child who grew up to be an attractive woman

A woman who attracted the attention of men

At seventeen she found herself pregnant

At the age of eighteen she married

Did she marry the father of her baby?

There are doubts

barbara gerencser 1956
Barbara Gerencser, 1956

She found her husband to unreliable, never able to keep the bills paid

He moved her from house to house, town to town, and state to state

Along the way she birthed another boy and then a girl

She loved to read and was passionate about politics

She wrote letters to the newspaper, a staunch defender of right-wing Conservatism

She campaigned for Barry Goldwater and George Wallace

Like so many white, rural Americans of her time, she was a racist

She loved to cook

When her oldest son started playing baseball she came to his games

Her son’s father couldn’t be bothered

When she was thirty-one, her brother-in-law raped her

Her oldest son was home sick from school when it happened

So much trauma

Is it any wonder she had mental problems?



Mental hospitals

Attempted suicides



Slit wrists, the kitchen floor, a pool of blood, her oldest son found her

Yet, she lived

Over time, her body collapsed, rendering her an invalid

barbara gerencser 1957
Barbara Gerencser, 1957, Holding her newborn son Bruce (Butch)

By then, her oldest son was a preacher

She was proud of him

He was not proud of her

She was an embarrassment, a pill junkie, she just needed to get right with God

Four marriages

Numerous men in and out of her life

Yet, she never lost her mental acuity or thirst for knowledge

She watched the news day and night, ever ready to rage against those she disagreed with

She told her oldest son she wanted him to do her funeral and she wanted everyone to sing the Star Spangled Banner and say the Pledge of Allegiance

barbara tieken 1950s
Barbara Tieken, 1950s

Over time, her oldest son came to accept her as she was

He would come to Columbus and take her shopping or to the doctor

She didn’t like his driving

Her phone was often disconnected

Her latest husband, just like everyone before him, couldn’t keep the bills paid

The oldest son’s father died from surgery complications at age forty-nine

Her oldest son had to call the police to give her a message since her phone was disconnected

Awhile later, in a pouring rain, she called from a phone booth

They talked and wept together

And then she moved to Quincy, Michigan, six hours away

Her oldest son only saw her a few times after the move

They talked on the phone every month or so and wrote to one another

After church one Sunday, her oldest son answered the phone at his house

His aunt was on the other end of the phone

He heard what he never hoped he would hear

His mom was dead

She had turned a Ruger .357 on herself, pulled the trigger, and ripped a hole in her heart

In a moment, her heart stopped and the life drained from her body

Her oldest son wonders why, but at the same time he knows the answer

The graveside service was an exercise in profound, excruciating grief and denial

The preacher son could barely speak

There would be no singing of the Star Spangled Banner or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance

Even in death she was ignored and denied

Her father spoke of Jesus

Her son saw only a father who molested his daughter and scarred his mother

She was fifty-four when she died

Her son misses her

Oh how he wishes for a do-over

To tell her, I love you

To proudly show off his grandchildren

But all he is left with is emptiness, pain, and regret

And memories

barbara gerencser 1978
Mom and Bruce, Rochester, Indiana, 1978


  1. Avatar
    maura hart

    gorgeous! she was gorgeous! i’d be proud to be her grand daughter. just imagine what she could have achieved!
    she was a survivor. you should be proud!

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    I remember your mom. Back in my church going days I would sit with her or talk with her after services. We got along well and I liked her. Funny how you think you know someone…but I am finding that the more we talk and the more I read your blogs and posts there was so much you didn’t talk about and things going on that I (or our mutual friends) knew nothing about. This is a good reminder to be kind, be nice and be non judgmental because everyone has their own issues they are dealing with at some point. Thanks again for sharing from the heart. Hugs…

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    Sorry Bruce. My mom was wracked with mental illness her whole life—and I unfortunately had to stay at home with her a lot and be dragged down emotionally by it all. It was very difficult. I sincerely wish that your mom and my mom had had happy lives. I just don’t know what else to say—a lot of pain in this world I guess—and we collectively as a people either cannot do anything about the dysfunction or will not do anything about the dysfunction—and the biggest shame is the latter—if that is even possible. Hell, I don’t know Bruce. I am just thinking out loud and not even understanding what I am saying. It was just such a sad story. Thank you for telling it.

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    You know, when I read what you have faced from a very young age, it triggers shame in me that I sometimes feel so angry and hurt by being brought up in a Baptist preacher’s family. I never faced the misery you did in your family, Bruce. I never faced the huge losses in my youth, both mother and father abandoning because they were unable to do anything else.
    Alice Miller writes so insightfully regarding incest and family abuse and has enriched our understanding of how very serious it is in the foundational development of our lives. Most lately, I have been reading references to new studies that show actual brain effects, actual damage to the developing brain in abuse. These changes that occur in the brain are lifelong, not temporary. The psychologist, Arthur Janov has demonstrated some good success in assisting through his primal therapy, a feeling way that allows us to go back and re-experience in our feelings what became our essential damage. Sometimes it is sexual abuse or beatings. Sometimes it is cultic harm and brainwashing. Only through slowly approaching, over time, this harm in our past, do we find our way our true beginnings. Then, as I understand it from his writings, we can live-through it again and the body regulates and lets it go in a more healthy way. This is not easy therapy and of course it costs but it seems to me a far better direction than drugs and other allopathic responses.
    I admire your courage, Bruce, in being able to look at your history and feel it deeply so that perhaps some relief or healing can be had. When we are abandoned, what recourse do we have but to blame ourselves as children? It is a long hard road. I am so thankful to know that you found such a faithful woman to bond with, your Polly, and that she has the character to appreciate you and share your life fully with you.
    What huge challenges you have overcome. When I sometimes call you names with regard to your old ways, I do it with great affection for a brave man. You have much to offer us all with what you have endured and overcome in your life. It is my privilege to support you as I am able.

  5. Avatar
    another ami

    I followed the link here from your post, “A Few Thoughts About Mental Illness” where I commented at length. Here, I echo Brian. It is a privilege to read your words. I hope our reading and comments of support somehow ease your pain.
    My family had a lake cottage at Nyona Lake, just 9 miles south of Rochester. I got pregnant there (at 15), got married and lived there 1975-76. I also lived in Denver, 1996-2004, 14 miles south. I still live roughly 40 miles away. We might have even known some of the people, back in the day. They would have been the ones you were against. 🙂

  6. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    A sort of poetry, these snapshots and brief words so full of love and longing. I am so sorry your mom had to endure abuse and that you had no way to save her, even though you loved and longed with her. I understand that your submersion in the IFB was your survival. I do not thank some Gawd for your demise into addictive religion but I am grateful you had the spirit to endure, that you found a journey worth your spirit and that it has brought you here to share your heart and mind. My deepest admiration and thanks for your work, Bruce.

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    I’m so sorry about all of the unfair and hideous things that happened to your mother in her life. I’m also sorry about how her trauma affected you throughout your life. There’s no changing the past or fixing your own stressful childhood, but look at what beauty you’ve produced in your own children and grandchildren. You wrote a touching tribute to a beautiful mother. I’m sure she felt your love for her in this life. We should all appreciate the suffering and sacrifice of our mothers as much as you do.

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    Karen the rock whisperer

    Barbara was dealt a really crappy hand by life, and she played her best. So much trauma and struggle–she couldn’t help but let it spill over onto the people she loved.

    Thank you for sharing her with us.

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    What a tragic life your beautiful Mom had. You can still sing to her and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Above all, you need to forgive yourself.

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    No longer believing in the Great Equalizer, I still hope that somewhere, somehow the lives of people that suffer like your mother serve some purpose and the sufferer finds meaning and peace.

    For decades the promise that God would set things right brought comfort. Now old, retired and with time to research and study, it appears it was nothing but a panacea. Or, as Patsy Cline once sand, “I’ve been so wrong, for so long…”.

    Bruce, your personal stories are why I tune in from time to time. May you find peace today – and every day.

  11. Avatar

    The picture of your mum from the 1940s reminds me of Shirley Temple at that age, and she turned into a very attractive woman. What a shame her life fell apart!

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    Becky Wiren

    Oh Bruce, this is so sad. She was beautiful and interesting, and didn’t deserve what happened to her. 2 people should’ve gone to prison for what they did to her. So sorry.

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    Paul Brown

    Powerful, poignant well written and easy to read and absorb for such a heartbreaking subject. Thanks for a glimpse into a life . It reminds us that so many deal with injustice. Empathy for all our quiet pain so many endure.

  14. Avatar
    Julie S.

    What a sadly beautiful post, Bruce. I am so sorry things turned out the way they did. So many hugs & peaceful thoughts to you.

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    You share so deeply and generously about your painful past. Somehow I always see the beauty first and then the pain. Both are unforgettable, both give me helpful insights about my own background. Thank you.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    I read this the other day. It stopped me; I couldn’t respond until today.

    It’s beautiful and excruciating at once. When you wrote, “she ripped a hole in her heart,” I said to myself, “beside the ones that were already there”: the ones that were ripped all of those years ago by her father and brother-in-law. And she could not fill them.

    “Even in death she was ignored and denied.” If that isn’t the saddest and truest epitaph, I don’t know what is.

  17. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    Bruce, this was an amazing column regarding your late mom. I see a lot of my own mother in her. And because of family issues, none the least being Grandpa Teiken not paying for his deeds with a stay at the big house. What a shame that there were no adults around to get your mom out of that dangerous situation the first time it happened ! Ol’ Grandpa shouldn’t have been tolerated. I can just imagine the rage and despair this caused . That’s how learned helplessness starts. Manic depression often kicks in during middle-age, when the thought come that no matter what you do,how hard you try, you never will have anything. The fits that she had must have been hard to watch. It’s primal rage. The churches failed her utterly. And they are still at it. So glad I quit them ! Any time I see abuse happening somewhere, I call the cops. Your poor mom had no one to pour her heart out to, it sounds like. You’d think the women in the family would step in, logically, but most times, the opposite happens. They didn’t escape their own traumas and won’t allow you to escape either ! They act as gatekeepers, when you think about it. I’m glad that becoming a teen Mom, she didn’t hold your birth against you. Most of the time, the babies born to teen parents are mistreated. I saw it often enough. .,.. Your mom had many talents, and loving books, she should’ve been in a field that involved them. No doubt she was forced away from those positive things by family drama. Not permitted to enjoy life and live her to her full potential. Ah, going no contact ! It was unheard of, I’ll thought of in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s,mostly. That’s what really saves people. Going NC, and prosecuting these abusers. It would have saved my own mother so much pain, just disappearing at 18, for good. Earlier even ! The churches intervened, on behalf of abusers then. And they are only too glad to do this today. Only now, if I see this playing out someplace, I take them on. For others of course. For my mother or myself, the damage is done. It’s better to catch on later, than never.

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