.99 for the ebook through 2/25/17
Publisher Redemption Press
.99 for the ebook through 2/25/17
One woman’s search for acceptance and love takes her on a 12-year journey into deception in a restrictive and legalistic cult. A true-life Cinderella love story of losing everything and regaining freedom, redemption, and faith.
Home is something I ran from—the ties—the disapproval—the hypocrisy. I wanted to be on stage . . . I wanted the acclamation and attention I got from performing—from being out front—from being seen. I pulled away from my parents—especially my mom—husband—children—into the arms of what I thought would bring me happiness.
Along the way, I allowed myself to be deceived—by abuse, Scientology, mysticism, and eventually twelve years in a restrictive, legalistic cult posing as a church that took everything from me.
This is my story of how God brought me full circle. How He brought me home . . . to a place I had always longed for, but never knew how to find.
Athena Dean Holtz
I woke up groggy from the anesthesia, clutching my empty abdomen.
My baby . . . my baby was gone.
My soft center, the place where my heart should be, felt like a rock.
I will not cry. I will not cry.
The man who said he loved me was gone. He started
walking away . . . easing out . . . when I told him about the baby.
I guess he isn’t going to leave his wife for me after all.
Used. I feel used, like a crumpled old tissue.
“Your life will be ruined, Athena. The last thing you need is a baby.”
No. The last thing I need is to trust anyone.
I’ll never let anyone use me again.
All bad behavior is really a request for love, attention, or validation.
—Kimberly Giles, Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness
In the slightly out-of-focus, old black-and-white photo, I’m a blond two-year old on my mom’s lap . . . reaching out . . . unhappy . . . wanting to be elsewhere. Her attention is fully focused on my quiet and calm brother at her side, while I look desperate to be elsewhere.
Where did it all start—that pulling away from my mom, that need for the next thing?
My father wasn’t in the photo. Was I reaching out for him?
I knew my dad, Arthur L. Sikking Jr., loved me, maybe because I was the only girl. Or was it because he saw his own traits in me? Like him, I was outgoing and craved attention.
Dad found affirmation in his success in sales. I didn’t know it when I was a child, but Dad was one of the best salesmen ever. A self-made man, he started out selling door-to-door and worked his way up to becoming vice president of sales for Encyclopedia Britannica, making record-breaking achievements and seven figures a year.
What mattered to me was being with him, not always a frequent occurrence. When I did see him, I wanted him to see me—Athena.
See me! See me, Dad! I’d dance and twirl and laugh and try to catch his eye. I wanted to be the center of attention, his special girl. He’d bring out his movie camera with the blinding bank of lights across the top, and I’d come to life. He’d sing me silly songs from old commercials and tell me stories about himself.
When he was home, which wasn’t often, he would pay attention to me and spoil me. He said I made him laugh. “There’s my girl,” he’d say. I was his girl. He’d look in my eyes and say, “If there were a thousand little girls in a big field, and I flew over in my helicopter, I would look and look until I found you. And I would pick you out of all the other 999. You know why? Because you’re special. Because you are you.”
Athena Daphne Sikking was born on March 28, 1953. Yes, that’s me! It seems I was difficult for my mom from the start. We were living in Honolulu as Dad was selling encyclopedias there for Colliers. Allergic to milk, I was fed poi. Mom told me I almost choked on the cereal made from taro root more than once. I’ve wondered if my bond would have been different with my mom if she had breastfed me. Maybe it wasn’t done in our social circles.
I was the little girl who spilled India ink on a valuable oriental carpet while visiting my grandma’s house and killed the tropical fish by turning up the heat on the tank. Naturally curious and full of energy, I was a handful.
Because of Dad’s drive to succeed in his career, and his workaholism, we enjoyed the fruits of his labor, while seeing less and less of him. With my father’s business success came the demands of frequent travel.
The Sikkings, Dad’s family, were mostly Dutch. In the Great Depression of the 1930s, the family struggled financially, losing their home in 1934, but later became well off as my grandfather worked in engineering, and grandmother rose in status as a minister in the Unity church.
Mom, Angela Seraph Sikking, was Greek—hence the origin of my name. She was a reserved and unemotional, dark-haired beauty, an elegant entertainer, and a perfectionist. Mom made sure our façade was presentable—her makeup, clothes, hair, of course, and the house, the decor, the meals. Impressing people was important to both Mom and Dad who cared deeply about appearances. But the ideal marriage and family were not within her ability to arrange.
My parents’ marriage was a sham. When Dad would come home, he’d be the life of the party; but the party was over for my mom. Dad was leading a double life with ongoing relationships with other women. When I was about eleven or twelve, he fell in love with a flight attendant named Kathy, and the relationship lasted until he passed away at age eighty-one.
When Mom found out about Dad’s relationship, she just made him move into a different bedroom. She didn’t divorce him. They’d go out together socially—to see and be seen and keep up the sham of their showcase home and family.
Dad spent as much time as he could with his new love and at home became an absentee father. When I did see him, I tried hard to win his approval. He was my sun, my solar system, and I needed the warmth of his full attention and approval.
Atlanta was home from age one to eight; my only memories from there come from the home movies Dad took when he showed up. As I got older, it felt as if the attention Dad was paying me was just for show. He says he loves me, but he’s going to leave again. I felt starved for his words of affirmation—anything that would make me feel special and unique. He gave me that affirmation at times, but the words didn’t feel real when he left us again.
I wasn’t the kind of little girl who played with baby dolls or played house. Those things didn’t interest me. I didn’t dream and play make-believe about growing up and having a cozy home and children with me as the mommy. I just wanted to stand out from the crowd and win approval. At school, I was competitive, always trying to outdo my peers, and win in all the games we played—and I usually did. Being the best was important to me. While I got along well with my peers, I’m sure that got old.
My brother Jim is three years my elder, while my younger brother, Arthur Leland Sikking III, was born when I was eight. The addition of my younger brother just cemented my position as the only girl. Because of the age difference, he and I never had much of a connection.
In Chicago, our second home was in one of the most affluent suburbs in a million-dollar house with an indoor swimming pool. Dad had a helicopter he’d land on the hockey field of my private school in Wisconsin to pick me up for weekend horse shows.
My passion in childhood was horses, so my parents started me on lessons at age eleven. I’d get to the horse barn early in the morning and ride after school every day. The equestrian world gave me an opportunity to shine, to compete and excel. I always wanted to be the best in my class. I rode hunters, and at one time had seven horses; two were my dad’s, but I rode them when he was away. When I began competing in horse shows, showing four of them every weekend, I was hooked! My parents were fully behind me and never seemed to regret the expenses and time it required. Being highly competitive himself, Dad wanted to give me the opportunity to succeed at competitive riding.
My drive to please my father by winning the blue ribbon became an obsession. Once when my dad was in town for a rare appearance at my horse show, I finished a round with a perfect score. I looked out into the stands, caught his eye, and saw him give me a big smile and a “thumbs up.” A warmth filled me inside and a sense of satisfaction. I had pleased my father!
By the time I was eighteen, my winning streak in horse shows had taken me across the Midwest, and I had gone national at the all-star horse show at Madison Square Garden. That was my last show, and I was showing my third horse, “Isle of Erin,” a grand champion. Dad bought her for $15,000, and shortly after showing her at the Gardens, sold her for $30,000. She was then shown by George Morris, famous in the horse world, and sold for $150,000 in the 1970s.
At holidays, Dad was the life of the party, but it felt like it was all show. Most of the time, Dad wasn’t there, and I felt empty without his approval. When we were together, he’d pump me up by telling me, “You can do anything you want to do if you just want it bad enough.” I had everything material I wanted, but I didn’t have him or his full attention most of the time. Would Dad still love me if I didn’t win? I wondered.
My relationship with my mom wasn’t good. She found me excitable, strong-willed, always causing a ruckus, like my dad. She wanted me to be like my big brother, Jim, who was docile, calm, and compliant . . . like her.
When I was five years old and living in Georgia, something happened that would change my young life. Our black maid, Odessa, began sexually molesting me. She’d say, “Little girl, this is our secret.”
I didn’t tell. I only have the conscious memory of one incident but know the abuse was ongoing until we moved to New York when I was eight. Those three years are mercifully like a blank page in my life; I can’t remember much from those years. But the seeds of sensuality had been sown into my young life.
Mom never knew what happened, and Dad wasn’t there much. I didn’t turn toward my mom for comfort, but away. We were so different from each other. Mom was critical and demanding. I was messy, leaving each room looking like a tornado had swept through. I was loud; she was quiet. Did my outgoing personality traits remind her of my father, whose womanizing had left her to raise us practically alone in a loveless marriage?
She did come to every horse show and even every practice session. She’d keep a sharp eye on me to make sure I did everything exactly right. “Athena, keep your toes in and your heels down.” Or, “Sit up straight! You look like a slouch!”
I’m sure she thought she was doing this for my good, but it communicated rejection to my young heart. You’re not doing it right. You’re not good enough. You have to try harder!
Jim, reserved and cooperative, didn’t give her trouble. He was an A student who enjoyed the same things she did—classical music, opera, and intellectual pursuits.
I was the strong-willed child who always wanted my own way. Maybe I sensed her ambivalence about me so I’d push her to the limits of her patience. I’d choose clothes she didn’t approve of and exasperate her at the dinner table by not following the correct rules of etiquette. I don’t think I ever set out to please her, only my dad.
Without the constant, reassuring presence of my father, I turned elsewhere. By the time I was a young teenager, my rebellious attitude had morphed me into a boy-crazy wild child who craved attention from the opposite sex. When we’d visit my aunt and uncle in Huntsville, my cousin Kerrie and I would dance around on the balcony playing Sonny and Cher music at full blast to try to get the attention of the boys in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, the only attention my cousin got was from Uncle Henry and his leather belt...
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Athena Dean Holtz has been at the forefront of Christian custom publishing for the last 30 years. The co-founder of WinePress Publishing, she now leads Redemption Press. Author of three previous books and a highly-rated personal blog, she serves as president of the Northwest Christian Writer’s Association, is a president’s club member of the Christian Women in Media Association, and a member of the Advanced Writer & Speaker Association. She is host and interviewer on “Always Faithful Radio,” AM 630 KCIS, Seattle. Married to Ross Holtz, pastor of The Summit, Athena enjoys her grandchildren and time spent sailing. The couple makes their home in Enumclaw, Wash.