My Father’s Keeper

My Father’s Keeper

Emmeline Parham

Terry Peder Rasmussen, the “Chameleon Killer,” is known to have murdered at least four people and is suspected of murdering many more, including his own wife and daughter. Rasmussen was adept at targeting lonely, desperate women, and progressively isolating them from their families, eventually leading to their disappearances.

He was known as a chameleon, not just for his ever-evolving aliases and appearances, but also due to the personality shifts observed by those who knew him. Appearing unkempt and frightening to many, Rasmussen enchanted his targets. He reminds me of my father Carter. Like Rasmussen, Carter is a highly manipulative, violent misogynist, and like Rasmussen’s children, I’ve wrestled with my father’s identity throughout my life. 

When I was five, my grandfather and I set out from the old blue house on Alabama Avenue to the hiking trail we liked to trek every Saturday afternoon. We traversed the small winding road directly behind Alabama Avenue that led to the wooded trailhead. As we passed a yellow house snuggled into the mountain side, two large dogs charged towards us on the road. 

I began to cry just as my father’s truck rumbled down the one-lane road. The big, green Chevy stopped a few feet from where my grandfather stood, holding me. Carter, seconds from detonation, exited the cab. The owner of the dogs was standing on her front porch, calling their names with unheeded commands.

 “I’ll shoot you and those dogs, bitch!” my father screamed. 

My grandfather attempted to intervene at first, but my father ignored his pleas and continued his assault on the woman. My grandfather took me back to the old blue house as the woman called the Chattanooga police. I watched through the trees in the backyard as blue lights flooded the scene. 

I was terrified for my father. I knew the police became involved when there’s trouble, and more than anything, I didn’t want Carter to get in trouble. I was still crying, but not because of the dogs. I was crying for my father. 

My dad sat at the kitchen table, head in his hands, sobbing as I watched from the doorway. He was supposed to be taking me to school, which was starting soon. 

“I’m a bad person!” my dad cried. 

I was stunned to see Carter, a firm believer that men should never show any emotion but anger, openly express his sorrow. It’s the same gut-punch shock I received one Christmas morning several years earlier when I watched my mother descend the stairs with a black eye. I begin to cry uncontrollably. 

I desperately wanted to reassure my dad and stop his crying, so I lied. At age eight, I knew Carter was not a good person. We’re fair-weather Christians, but I was infatuated with faith and the idea of good and evil. I knew my father was destined to an eternity of fire and brimstone. 

I couldn’t tell my father he was good, so I told him that I didn’t think he was as bad as others seemed to think. 

School was starting, so I decided to ride my bike the two miles to Lookout Mountain Elementary. At school, the principal asked me to explain my tardiness, I told her that I lost track of time on my commute, intentionally omitting my father’s part in the belated arrival. I didn’t want him to get in trouble. 

It was 5:00 on a cold November morning. I was ten and riding shotgun in my dad’s truck as we careened down the winding back roads of Lookout Mountain. My dad hummed the guitar solo to Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”. He explained who was doing what as each note played. 

“That’s Jimmy Page playing. Now, listen to Robert Plant sing…hear how they mirror each other?”

We parked on a rocky, wooded trail, and laden with rifles, we hiked through the thickets to the tree blind. My dad showed me how to walk across the leaves and sticks quietly. 

“Place your heel down first and roll your foot,” emphasizing the “roll,” he said.

I was bored and cold as we sat silently in the blind and watched for deer. I kept my eyes peeled for a flash of movement and listened for the snap of a twig. 

My dad broke the silence with a long sigh. He complained about the lack of deer, the weather, and about people. He berated his current wife, his ex-wife, his mother, his customers, the cashier at the convenience store, and every person who’s ever upset him. He mocked their words, called them names, and remarked on their looks, apparently failing to notice his own frumpy appearance. 

I was treated like one of his drinking buddies instead of his 8-year-old daughter. I kept quiet as he spat venom about my mother and grandmothers. I was never the target of these tirades. 

I was not another person, but “Carter with long hair” as the Parhams said. This comparison arose from our shared brown eyes, dark hair, and precocious personalities. 

In the second update episode of Bear Brook, Eric Rasmussen laments the captivating blue eyes he shares with his father, Terry. Like Eric Rasmussen, I “just don’t want” all those things that make us similar to our fathers (00:9:32). 

We know we’re not copies of our dads, but the similarities are enough to foster doubt. To my father, I’m little more than a vestigial twin, completely dependent on him for my survival and composed of his spare parts. As Carter with Long Hair, I am never the target of the tirades, but I am always the one to hear them. I hope that my father will refrain from abusing my family by allowing him to vent his frustrations with me. 

 “I think you’re the only person who loves me, E” he often bemoaned.

This was probably true. I never bore the brunt of his anger and resentment, and despite witnessing him brutalize my mother and brother, I always felt like my dad was misunderstood by those who hated him. I understood his actions were atrocious, but I didn’t see a violent, angry, narcissist. 

To me, Carter is simply a deeply hurt, depressed, and pitiful man. Like my father, Rasmussen appeared repulsive to most who met him, but his targets seemed inexplicably drawn to him. In certain ways, I’ve been inexplicably protective and forgiving of my father. 

Carter is an irredeemable monster to most, but I only viewed him as a broken and pained human. I felt like I owed it to my father to love him, as I was the only one who seemed capable of this impossible task. Despite his horrific actions towards countless people, I am not and never have been angry with my father. Since I was a child, I’ve been my father’s keeper, defending, protecting, and loving him when no one else could. 

Like Rasmussen’s victims, I too have been a victim of a vicious, manipulative man. Yet, I feel profound sorrow for a soul poisoned by perpetuating misery and abuse and a life wasted by untreated mental illness.