Is there hope for healing if the daughter maintains her father molested her?

REBUILDING A SHATTERED FAMILY

December 27, 1990|By Randi Henderson | Randi Henderson,Sun Staff Correspondent

College Park

When they describe their family life, it seems impossible that college professor Frank J. Munno and his daughter, who accused him of sexually abusing her for 18 years, are talking about the same family.

"We were a typical nuclear family," Mr. Munno says of himself; his wife, Pam; their two sons and only daughter, Angela Mattson. A family, he adds, that enjoyed doing things together: fishing, spending a week at the beach, going on a Sunday drive along Skyline Drive, taking karate lessons together.

But Mrs. Mattson puts a startlingly different cast on the picture.

"Some people might have seen us as the Norman Rockwell model family," says Mrs. Mattson, now 29, on the phone from her home in Kansas. "We worked very hard to project that. And I just wasn't going to play this game anymore about making us look perfect."

The game Mrs. Mattson says she played lasted from when she was 8 years old until she was 26, according to a criminal complaint she filed last January against her father. She accused him of sexually molesting her many times through those years, a pattern of behavior that she said began with fondling and fellatio and included numerous incidents of intercourse.

Mr. Munno, 54, a professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, for the past 32 years and director of the school's nuclear engineering program, was indicted on incest and child abuse charges last June. He has steadfastly denied the charges. On November 29, a Prince George's County jury acquitted him on all counts.

But the story hardly ends there.

Now the Munnos are faced with trying to put a fractured family back together -- something all five family members agree is desirable. They differ, however, in their opinions of how this can be done.

"There [are] a lot of years left in our lives, but I don't see any reconciliation possible until my dad recognizes what he did was wrong and goes for therapy," Mrs. Mattson says resolutely. "Until then he's going to just play these mind games and control people."

"This whole story is far less important than family rebuilding," says her twin brother, Jimmy Munno, who testified for the defense at his father's trial, saying he had never noticed anything unusual in the relationship between his father and sister. "I'm going to focus my attention on what's ahead of us, not behind. I'm certainly willing to make the first reach."

John Munno, Jimmy and Angela's older brother by one year, testified for the prosecution at the trial, claiming that he had seen his father and sister kissing in a way that involved tongue contact. Family healing is possible, John says now, "only if my father admits what he did and seeks help. But that's what we asked for two years ago. There's nothing we can do to initiate it."

Frank Munno makes the point again and again that he will not be part of his children's adult lives unless they invite him to be. He emphasizes that there is no reason for him to seek any kind of therapy because he doesn't need it.

Nevertheless, "I think there's a possibility of reconciliation," he 22 says. "We have hope for healing. There comes a time when you have to say, the past is past. Do I want to keep my anger? Anger makes a bad bed partner."

"In time," he wife adds quietly. "In time. The door's always there. We're not closing it."

*

In the family room of the comfortable College Park house where the Munnos have lived for 23 years, Mr. Munno talks about his relationship with his daughter in tones that range from dispassionate to pained.

The conversation is interrupted by telephone calls from his son Jimmy, from his sister and mother, from a neighbor. There has been no shortage of moral support for Mr. Munno in this year that he says has been the worst in his life. His No. 1 supporter, he points out quickly, is Pam, his wife of 32 years.

"She's been a rock," he says simply.

Mr. Munno is critical of trial testimony from Angela and John about the troubled state of his marriage, implying that he and Mrs. Munno never divorced only because he is Roman Catholic. (His wife converted to Catholicism when they married.)

"Like that's the only reason you don't divorce someone," he says sarcastically, pointing to other divorces in his Catholic family. He describes his marriage as solid and fulfilling, although the couple did have a trial separation lasting several months when the children were young.

All three children talk of their mother's emotional problems and periodic hospitalizations as they were growing up. "I just blamed my mom for my dad's unhappiness," Mrs. Mattson says. "She was having emotional breakdowns, and because she was so often unavailable, I had to fulfill her role."

"In a way it was destabilizing and in a way it was binding," Jimmy Munno says of his mother's health problems. "It tears you apart and it binds you together. My mother can be an extraordinarily caring person."

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