I read an article about domestic violence recently. It included a diagram on the cycle of abuse…. the abuse, the honey moon period, the period of tension, and on and on. The woman who wrote the article was brave and insightful.
This article made me think of my childhood and the way my father was always telling me to smile.
I remember sitting outside in the driveway playing or reading as a young child, maybe eight or nine years old. My father walked by and said, “Smile!” He said it in his cheerful, happy voice. The voice he used outside the house when neighbors or strangers might be around.
I just looked at him. He said it again. “Smile.”
I may have smiled for him. Sometimes I did because I feared him. Sometimes I just could not force myself. I may have forced a smile, making it obvious it was a forced fake smile, then going back to what I was doing.
It did seem that he would hit me and the next day act as if nothing had happened. I never understood it. .
I was seven years old. My father hit me and screamed at me over and over. He screamed the entire time he hit me and I remember thinking, every time that he was out of control and that would be the time he killed me.
Every night when he pulled me out of my bed where I had been sound asleep, and he stood me on my bed, held me by one arm, and yes he hit me only on my bottom, so now as an adult I realize he was not out of control. He hit me there where I was less likely to bruise. It was certainly not a place where a bruise would be seen by a teacher.
He was more of a son of a bitch than I had understood as a child. He used me and on other nights, my younger and much smaller, adopted sister, as punching bags.
He hit us and he screamed over and over, a man lost in rage. He screamed so loudly the entire time he hit us. He said the same thing every time. “Just admit what you did.” It was a mind fuck.
I didn’t know that as a seven year old little girl fearing for my life. I had just woken up from a sound sleep. I remember thinking, “What did I do?” The question he asked implied that if I told him, he would stop, and I very much wanted him to stop. If I could have thought of what I had done, I would have confessed. I just didn’t know.
I could not think clearly, my mind so foggy from sleep. The bright light hurt my eyes. My father hit my bottom over and over as he held my right arm, almost as he thought I would run away if he didn’t.
Every time I thought to myself, “This is the night he is going to lose control. Tonight he is going to kill me.” Every night I thought I was going to die. I was terrified. He screamed. He hit me over and over. I cried. On the nights he didn’t hit me, I could hear him screaming and my sister crying in her room. It was worse, because I wanted to protect her but I was terrified of my father and I could not move. I hated myself for not protecting her, for not trying.
Every time, my father stood on the right side of my twin bed and my mother stood on the left side. She remained silent, always until nearly the end, when she begged, not asked, not ordered….. begged, him to stop in the weakest, most pathetic voice. I hated her for that. I did not understand why she did not stop him, why she did not protect me, or my sister.
My father never hit my mother. He never shouted at her, never threatened her. He was her champion. She did not fear him. I want to be very clear regarding this.
Once my father’s anger was spent, he stopped. I never knew what I had done until he was done hitting me. Each time, when he was no longer angry, my father would tell me or my sister, over in her room, what we had done wrong. Every time it did not make sense.
I remember one thing. My mother had a golden apple candle. One thing I did wrong was move it from one spot on the end table in the living room to another spot on the same table. ( I did not break it or harm it in any way.) I remember being shocked and confused when my father told me this was what I had done. I thought that I did not know it was a rule but I would not do it again. I didn’t do it again and my father continued to beat me and my sister. Yes, I said beat, because I consider these beatings. My father said he spanked us, but FUCK him. He terrified me and my sister. He and my mother terrified us. That was abuse. They beat us.
Sometimes they woke me up to beat me. Sometimes they woke up my younger sister in the next room. Sometimes they let us sleep. But what they did to us was unacceptable.
The reasons they hit us changed. They made up new and different “rules” and offenses as they went along and none of them made sense.
One night I lay in bed listening to my father beat my younger sister, terrified, crying. Finally at the end, my mother begged him to stop.
Then he told her what she had done. I was horrified. I can’t remember what it was, but it was something I had done, and again I had not know it was a rule.
I summoned up every bit of courage in my seven year old body and walked down the hall and into my sister’s room. I expected to be beaten. I was terrified.
I found my father sitting on a footstool near the window with his head in his hand, as if HE was the one who had just been beaten. He asked me what I wanted and I told him that I had done it.
I will never forget his tone of voice, his body language, or the way he said it to me.
” How could you let me hit her for something that you did?” Then he just stared at me.
I was destroyed by that. I stood there and waited for him to hit me. He didn’t. He sent me back to bed and I cried and cried.
Still during the day my father wanted to be my friend, my “Daddy”. He wanted, actually, ordered me to go with him when he did odd jobs as a plumber or carpenter after his regular work hours. I went because I was a little girl and had to but I was painfully shy and it was torture for me. My father had lost my trust. He had not lost my love, but he had lost all rights to be “Daddy”. He didn’t think so, but I was afraid of him, genuinely afraid.
As I grew older, I didn’t respect him. I treated him with respect because I feared him, but he had lost my respect. He was different in the privacy of our home. At church he was the perfect father, husband, and deacon. At home, you did not want to make him angry but sometimes he was anyway. That’s how abuse works. It is private and it’s hard to believe that perfect man could ever abuse his children. My mother was also the perfect mother, wife, church member. She was not as outgoing and social as my father, quieter, but together they painted the perfect picture.
Yes, I still loved him because he was my father and you get only one father. And sometimes he was a good man. Yes, I still loved my mother. She was my mother and you only get one mother. Sometimes my mother was a good woman. He and my mother worked hard and they kept us in a house and they kept us fed and clothed. I appreciate the good things they did.
My father stopped hitting me except for the occasional slap on the ass if he was angry and I said something he didn’t like and I was standing to close. He hurt me with his words instead. He could be cruel. He caught me off guard usually. I tried to be prepared for him, but he seemed to know how to twist the knife in my heart when I least expected it. Even when I was an adult visiting for only a few days, he could do more damage with one sentence than anyone I knew other than my mother.
I graduated sixth in my high school class. My father told me it was not good enough. This is a small thing compared to many of the things he said to me, but it is an example. I got angry. I allowed myself this at this point and I walked out of the house and went for a walk when he said this to me as I stood in our kitchen.
That night he walked up to me and this was his version of an apology. “If being sixth is good enough for you, it’s good enough for me.”
I accepted it because that was all I was getting. It was not an apology. It was bullshit. I knew it.
So often during and after high school and later in my life, my father told me to smile. Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t. He always seemed to think he had the right to tell me what to do, to be my “Dad”. He lost the right to be close to me, to have my trust from the first time he beat me. He never took responsibility for his actions.
I know he was abused as a child and I am sorry that he went through that, but it does not excuse his behaviors. I believe my mother was abused also and I am sorry that she was. She must have been. I knew her father, my grandfather who was an angry, scary man. He died when I was young and I remember the funeral. I also remember him silencing a room full of adults week after week, when he watched baseball on television because the rule was that no one talked when baseball was on. The room was completely silent through the entire game. It was not respect. They were afraid of him. Even as a small child, I knew that. Yet, almost every Sunday we were there at my Grandparents house. The children, all of the cousins, were smart enough to go outside and play. This does not excuse my mother’s behaviors.
I guess what I am saying is that my parents abused us, then they acted like nothing happened. It confused me; it frightened me. I was in survival mode for most of my childhood. As I got older, I was still in survival mode. I had to be.
Being a parent, earning that relationship and that trust, is a special, amazing thing. When I spend time with the children in my life, I know that. The way they look at me, the way they laugh with me. I am honored to spend time with them.
During one of the beatings my father gave me, as I stood on my bed, so frightened,I remember thinking to myself, “I will never treat my children this way.” I think that is part of how I survived.
When I am able to spend time with my four year old nephew I am so happy. I love to listen to what he has to say. He is smart and kind. We have amazing conversations about everything from tornados to animals and preschool.
He is kind to other children and animals. He has the most amazing laugh. He is mischievous and loves to play.
I have been showing him that I love him and earning his love and trust since he was three months old. That is the way it should be. I set limits to keep him safe when I need to. I play and laugh with him. The children in our lives should know that they are safe with us all of the time. My parents couldn’t do that, but I can. Some people are not doing it, but family members, strangers, neighbors need to report anything they see that is not right. You can make the decision to support a family member or friend who is stressed or struggling. Don’t ignore it or walk away.
You can make decision to never abuse a child in any way, physically, verbally, in no way at all.
Treat children with respect, love, and kindness. I love the person that my nephew is. I love the person that he is becoming. I love all of the things that he teaches me. I don’t understand how anyone could abuse a child and I hope that people can work together to end child abuse. It breaks my heart that any child has to suffer.
I would be home for a few days and he would walk up to me and hug me and tell me he didn’t want me to leave. I hugged him back and thought how I needed to get out of there.
I loved the man, but there was so much pain in being home.
I remember calling my brother one time while there. I was on the telephone and sitting at the kitchen table. He asked how I was.
I started crying.
He said something that I forget now.
I said,”No, no I’m good. Really good.”
He said something to the effect, that I was okay but then I went to our parents’ home.
I said yes.
He said he understood. Although we did not often communicate and don’t now, our parents, and the difficulty of being there with them, we both knew.