“In My Father’s Arms: A True Story of Incest”–the unthinkable

DeMilly III, Walter A. “In My Father’s Arms: A True Story of Incest”, University of Wisconsin Press,  1999.

The Unthinkable

Amos Lassen

When one thinks of societal taboos, incest is high on the list. We know that there many forms of incest but sexual relations between father and son is unthinkable. Walter Milly, in his short memoir, “In My Father’s Arms” is one of the few accounts available on the subject. This book tells a story so horrible that it is sickening to think about. I found it extremely hard to understand the lies and the trickery involved in being a serial ale pedophile. The book is beautifully written and the language is pristine but it is still deeply disturbing. The book is a study in how evil triumphs. We have a loving family which is plagued by a man so dangerous that we cannot conceive of such deep evil.

I am sure that many of us are not aware of the large number of male survivors of incest—we rarely hear about them. Milly’s story is compelling and extremely informative about father-son incest. His vivid descriptions are disturbing but in reading them, I found it easier to understand multiple-personality-disorder. His father maintained great control over him and the incest was clothed in utmost secrecy.

The material in this book is hard to take but the story never really becomes maudlin. I was surprised to read of how sympathetic Milly is towards his father and the author’s ability to convey a bevy of emotions clearly and candidly is absolutely amazing. Milly’s father did terrible things and he was a horrible man but he is also a study in ambiguity. The tragedy of this incest was tragic for both father and son. I don’t understand it and I never will but the demons in the father’s mind were so powerful that he could not conquer them.

I am sure that his was not an easy book to write. Yet it was written beautifully. Milly’s sad story of his abuse and his relationship with his father and how he dealt with it is an accomplishment in itself. Losing innocence and disturbing memories are very difficult to write about—they are personal. I cannot imagine a life like this and the way the book conveys the pain of the kid is hard but real just as its impact on his changing body.

I find memoirs and autobiographies to be interesting and full of intrigue. A writer who puts his own story on paper and shares his life with others. It is hard to think how Milly wrote this and even more important that he was wiling to share this story. His sensitivity and his pain are real and sincere and they pull you in. As a child he could not tell his story to anyone. He knew something terrible was happening and he had to suppress it. As he matured and realized his own sexual identity, he became even more confused. Did he become a homosexual because of his father? This we don’t get but we do get a whole lot


It is impossible to walk away from this book untouched. In gaining understanding of incest, we hurt but if that hurt can prevent future incest then Milly’s memoir is a valuable piece of literature. If not, it is a fascinating but depressing read.

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