I knew I would address this at some point in my writing here; I just didn't know when. The time to do so would come around naturally and I would be ready.
My focus isn't solely, or even mostly, on my own experience; it is just the one I know best. Many books have been written and read about other children who were abused and many of them speak a louder volume than mine; I just know mine best.
My purpose is twofold. I hope that any who may come across this blog and read it will benefit in some manner. If you are a good parent but you know a child who is being abused, don't look the other way; report it. Don't blame the child; be more kind and compassionate - just your smile or a few words in passing can make a difference in that child's life. Give your children even more love.
If you are a "bad" parent, then take several steps back from your life and make the necessary readjustment to become a better parent. Reach into your heart as far as necessary in order to make things right. No matter where you may be in the raising of your children an "about face" will bring joy and happiness. Children are not only very resilient they are also very forgiving. Even if you can't address the acts of abuse out loud, acknowledge them to yourself without turning away from them and move forward in a different direction. You will change your child's life, both now and in their future.
If you are a child who is being abused, speak out, ask for help, don't feel obligated to protect your parents; you must first protect yourself. If you are an adult child who endured parental abuse, then I hope you will find something here that will help you.
A long time ago I had a dream that will never be forgotten, nor will the emotion conjured by that dream be lost; I will always have it. I dreamed that my father was a different man. He didn't look different because I never clearly saw his face within this dream; but he was a father who loved me unconditionally. Something happened; I had failed in some way.
This father of my dreams was a rock, an anchor. He supported me; he loved me anyway and he made me feel so secure, so well loved. When I awakened I felt a long moment of awe. This is how it would have felt! This is the glorious sense of security there could have been and I had never known it. The dream was like a precious gift. Although I hadn't truly lived it; it was enough to have had such a glimpse into what unconditional love would have been. I often relive that dream.
It wasn't only my father who was abusive; my mother was too. But, you'll read something of that in my essay "Good Parents/Bad Parents." I've nothing more to add. First, I will share a poem written some time ago, then the essay and that will be enough. In order to keep all of this together, I'll include it in one post.
For the Battered Child
A man, like a tower, eyes wild with
Fury, face reddened and fists clenched,
Determined to make another cower,
A multitude of defenseless offspring whose
Eyes widen and weep silent tears beseeching mercy
Never granted. Days are dreadful. Nights are haunted.
Feeble chins, they tremble, but the resilient
Spirit somehow remains undaunted.
Yet in that moment of terror heartbeats
Quicken. Little hands are raised to protect
A face that is stricken first with incredulity
And then with blows from flesh and blood.
The room becomes smaller and filled with
Furniture. No matter how many doorways
There is no place to run. The hammering
Won’t stop until he knows he has won.
All that is needed is one drop of blood or
A slump to the floor, just any indication
That fury can control, conquer and maim
Proof that this being can’t take any more.
Sometimes in the gloom, with the dying of the light,
Sobs erupt, a tiny chest heaves. A heart is broken
But courageous still. Busted lips flutter like the wings
Of a butterfly. An anguished prayer is spoken.
“Please don’t let my bones be broken. How can
I explain if my eye is blackened? Dear God, help me be good.
Give me the right words, the most humble posture.
Help me to be clear and not misunderstood.”
These children are hidden and even if they live
A lonesome grave is dug as stability and innocence dies.
Another requiem is said. One more soul has been bled.
Somewhere in this world another Battered Child cries.
Good Parents/Bad Parents Essay
Won “Writer’s Hood” Contest April 2003
I felt loved, special and secure until my mother fell down the steps. That is when I began to feel guilty, frightened and ashamed. I entered the first grade when I was six years old so this incident must have occurred when I was about the age of five. I remember that I had not yet started to attend school. I did not yet have a yardstick to measure the differences between my parents and those of others. I had not yet learned what the term dysfunctional meant. Indeed, I didn’t know that I too would, for many years, also be dysfunctional.
My parents were having an argument. Mother ran upstairs to their bedroom. My father remained in the kitchen. In the midst of their quarrel Mother would call. “Caryn, come up here!” I would go running to her. My father would then call “No Caryn, you want to stay with me.” I would turn and run down the hallway toward the kitchen. I recall the confusion in my brain and I can feel my little legs running. Back and forth I ran between my parents. Up and down the stairs I ran. Until my mother dashed from her bedroom and reached to grab me before I could turn and run away. This is when she fell down the stairs, tripping over an untied shoelace.
I thought that I was to blame. This was the beginning of feeling unloved and insecure. Or am I mistaken? I have an earlier memory. We lived in two downstairs rooms on the other side of this same house. My bed was a cot positioned against the kitchen wall. At night I would hallucinate. I know these were not dreams. By my cot, against the wall, I would see a cave wherein lived two bears. They would threaten me. “Caryn, you have been a bad girl today so we are going to come out!” I kept my replies silent. “No, no! I was a good girl today!” Most nights the bear remained at the entrance to the cave. Their threats continued until I fell asleep.
I also have good memories. My father was unemployed, seeking work. My mother worked at a factory next door making panties and bras. While she worked Daddy and I would clean the house and I would be allowed to dust the furniture. I remember that Father had to pick me up so I could reach the top of our Buffet. My favorite things to dust were the many books kept stored in the cabinet of our used black and white television set. While Mommy worked Daddy cooked and cleaned. He also taught me to read before I entered the first grade.
Daddy also taught me to sit on a barstool and quietly sip a Coke, occasionally dipping potato chips in the fizzy liquid, while he drank beer or liquor. He would make me promise not to tell Mother where we had been. Sometimes before he went to the Mountain Chateau to drink he would drop me off along side the road near woods filled with Evergreen trees. I would play amongst the trees, hiding beneath their umbrella of needles until Daddy would blow the horn signaling me that it was time to return home.
Often there ensued a scene of Domestic Violence. Less likely, but on at least one occasion there was humor. I had once told Daddy that “of course I can keep a secret.” Later while my parents were watching television I sauntered into the living room, sat on Daddy’s lap and said “See, I told you I could keep a secret. I didn’t tell Mommy we were at the Mountain Château!” Fortunately Mother was in the mood to overlook such transgressions.
Such was the substance of life until September 1963 when I entered the first grade. My first day of school was an exciting time for all three of us. One of my favorite cartoons was The Flintstones. Mommy and Daddy surprised me with a square metal lunch bucket featuring Dino playing the role of school bus. Inside this lunch box was a little thermos decorated with The Flintstone characters Wilma, Fred, Barney and Betty. My parents knew just the thing that would make my first day of school less frightening. In retrospect I know my mother must have sewed dozens of bras and panties to pay for this gift.
My first grade teacher brought to my parent’s attention that I spoke with a slight lisp. I could read but I said “Watch thally play and thee thee thpot run.” My parents agreed that I should be enrolled in a special speech class. For the next two months my childish mantra was “See Sammy snake slithering across the green grass.” My father was endlessly patient as he worked with me, trying to teach me to control my tongue for the proper sounding of S. What he would or could not control was his drinking and violent temper. And Life was about to teach us that much is beyond our control, that disaster can change our entire future.
In November of that same year our house burnt to the ground with nothing salvaged. I didn’t know that the strain of this tragedy would be the catalyst to plunge my parents into greater dysfunction; and I would be in the center of a vortex of violence that would escalate until I left home at the age of seventeen.
Several weeks before Christmas we found a new home. My father found a job and my mother had quit working. December 31, 1963 my baby sister, Barbara, was born. This was no surprise to me. I had been looking forward to her birth. For many months Mommy had been sewing baby kimonos and bellybands. All of which had been lost in the fire. My mother’s heart must have ached when she thought of all the hours of love that had gone into the sewing of those baby clothes. It must have been a tremendously difficult time for my parents. The Red Cross had assisted in providing us with furniture. A Church group shared with us other of life’s necessities.
Monday through Friday my father was a hard working man, still prone to outbursts of anger and even rage; yet he provided for us materially. Starting early Saturday afternoons and continuing into the late hours of the night my father drank whiskey mixed with soda. Alcohol exacerbated his quick and unreasonable outbursts of violent temper. Those were days and nights filled with fear and trepidation.
It was my job to scurry to and from the nearest little market for supplies of soda. He drank whiskey with Squirt. I’ll never forget the name of that soda. It will always bring back horrible memories. Sunday was the day to tip toe around the house while Daddy recuperated from his hangover, preparing to return to work on Monday.
It was on one of these Sundays that I recall the first savage battering. I know it was Sunday because my parents always took a nap on Sunday afternoon. It was my job to feed my father’s hunting dog. I never needed a reminder. Every day at four o’clock I fed Rex. On Sundays, if my parents were still sleeping, I was to gather the day’s food scraps, add dog kibble and make that daily walk to the end of the property where Rex was housed in his dog box.
It was winter and my sister was still a newborn child in her bassinette. I prepared the dog’s food and waded through the snow out to his box. I was to use the back door because it entered into a large pantry/mud room. From this unheated room was the door to the kitchen. When I returned to the house the door to the outside was, as usual, very difficult to close and even more difficult to latch with the dead bolt. I struggled with it until I believed it was properly latched. It wasn’t.
By the time my parent’s awakened, even though the kitchen door had been closed; the frigid winter air had permeated the house through the wind-blown back door. Mommy and Daddy dashed down the stairs to find out what had happened to the furnace. Barbara was sleeping in her bassinette. They were afraid she was going to become ill from the cold. It didn’t take Daddy long to discover the source of the cold.
He was furious with my “stupidity.” I stood in the kitchen doorway that led to the dining room appalled and humiliated that I was to blame. My father rushed at me and began banging my head against the doorway. Over and over again he bashed my head, all the while screaming that if the baby got sick “it’s going to be your fault.” When I fell to the floor I was violently ill. My mother did nothing. I was sent to my room and later my father came upstairs to make sure I was “okay.” I recall very little of what happened afterward. I can only remember pain accompanied by an overwhelming sense of shame.
I remember another beating, one more of countless. This time my father used his fists. Once again I was in the kitchen doorway. Was I always looking for an escape? I can still see my father’s fists coming at my face. Like someone who has died and claims to have seen herself from above, I can see myself lying on the floor. My mother was at the kitchen sink. Our eyes locked as I silently begged for intervention. She looked away. My mother always looked away. She would stand up for herself but never for me. Sometimes she even instigated my father’s attacks.
But she was not oblivious. Many years later, while I was in high school, I made an innocent remark that caused my mother to reveal not only her own pain but also her own lack of control. She was in her bedroom folding clothes. I had just returned from delivering a care package to a very poor family who lived down the road. I entered my mother’s bedroom from where I could see this family’s home. Their little daughter was playing in the yard. I commented to my mother that I felt sorry for Lori Ann because her father drank, came home drunk and then her parents fought. I failed to se the parallel in my own life. My mother was not so blind. Furiously she attacked me, pummeling me over the head with her fists and screaming. “Do you think you had it any better? Do you think you had it any better?”
I left her room in greater mental wonderment than in physical pain. In that moment I had an epiphany; somehow my mother could not help herself. Did that mean that my father was also at the mercy of his own torment? I did not understand but I was changed by this event. I realized that I, my mother, father and siblings were all in life together. We all had to make choices; and decisions were not easy. Life wasn’t always as we wanted or as we had planned.
But my mother was a good homemaker. We always had clean clothes that were neatly ironed. When there was no money for new school clothes my mother sewed beautiful dresses for me. We never went without a meal. Every morning when Mother would awaken me for school there was always something prepared for my breakfast. In the winter it was something hot. Our home was always clean, neat and tidy.
Life sometimes smiles fortune upon us. When I was in the third grade we moved into the upstairs of my paternal grandparent’s eleven room house. It was my grandmother who saved my life. It was she who would intervene when my father’s violence erupted. Once when my father was slamming the back of my head down into the porcelain kitchen sink it was my grandfather who stopped the abuse.
Oh yes, there are many bad memories. They appear before me like pictures in a family photo album and all of them are painful. The bad memories far outweigh the good. I lived in fear until I moved away from home. But I loved my family. I didn’t leave until I had graduated from high school. I had a job working as an Executive Secretary and I was capable of supporting myself.
In a rage and in a state of mind uninhibited by alcohol my father entered my room and hit me so hard that I landed on the floor behind my bedside table. For the first time I felt an anger that overpowered my fear. Staggering to my feet with my fists clenched I glared at my father, my eyes daring him to hit me again. My own father challenged me to a fistfight. I knew I had to leave home.
For three months both of my parents refused to speak to me. But, they never threw me out of the house. I would visit and be a silent presence. I loved my brothers and sister. I went home to see them. My grandparents invited me to share their Sunday dinner. And I loved my mom and dad. Oh, there were many times when I would walk the streets at night crying because I missed life with a family! I could stand on a bridge and look across the water and see my parent’s home. I would stare into the windows of my old room hoping to see my sister walk across what had been our shared space.
For many years I have pondered such memories. I have dissected them and searched for understanding. Mom and Dad were not the traditional “good” parents; yet I cannot judge them as “bad.” I’ve learned that life just doesn’t always help us to make the best of choices. Have I forgiven them? I’m not certain because I’m not sure there is anything to forgive. They did the best they could with the skills they had. Before they were my parents they were Fred and Ann, two teenagers who fell in love, quit high school and had a child. Their house burnt to the ground before the birth of their second child. They had two more children, both boys.
I cannot deny that my life has been affected by the physical and emotional abuse. My optic nerves have been damaged by the trauma to my head. Some of the rods in my eyes have been damaged further complicating a visual difficulty. I will never drive a car. But I can still read and my father taught me the love of books. My mother lacked many of the maternal skills which would have made her a “good” mommy; but she was barely sixteen when I was born. She did teach me other things like sharing. My mother did without new clothing and fancy furniture so her children could have the necessities of life.
Someone once told me that when people do things that seem wrong they either don’t know any better or they have a reason. I can’t see any reason for why my parents abused me. I can’t even say that they didn’t know any better. In addition to the physical injuries I have suffered emotional scars. But a scar is sensitive so I have become a more compassionate and tolerant person. I have no need to confront my parents with our past. Because it is our past and it was our life, the one we had lived together.
Our parents are our memories until we become adults mature enough to understand that first they are human, just like ourselves. They make and continue to make decisions. Some of them are splendid and some of them are mistakes.
I too will make errors in judgment. I’m quite sure that I already have and on many occasions. But time is life and it moves forward ever so quickly. All too soon I will grow old and my parents will grow even older. My past is part of me but it is not the whole. My parents poor parenting skills were part of them but they are so much more than just my parents. They are Mom and Dad. They are Fred and Ann. They are deserving of unconditional love.
I know that they love me too. Life fooled them and things went awry. Events and actions snowballed into an avalanche of chaos and disorder, violence and abuse. But I have learned to swim and make a breathing space for myself. I hope that Mom and Dad can do the same because then we shall be rescued from ourselves.
The footnote included below was not a part of the original essay sent to Writer’s Hood. I was limited to the number of words the essay could contain to qualify for the contest.
Footnote: Since writing this essay I have begun therapy to work through the parts of my past that haunt me. Ironically the things that made me suicidal were not the things my parents had done to me. It was a peculiar state of mind that made me wish to erase the past from their minds. My father is in denial. He would never admit to the abuse. My mother knows and she carries tremendous guilt.
I knew I needed help when during a visit with my parents my father made a remark about my sister’s ex-husband. Dad said “I always thought that Bill had probably been abused. I just had a feeling about it.” My mother was sitting across the table from me. Her eyes briefly held mine, she bowed her head and I thought she was going to cry. My mother doesn’t cry. My heart broke. As my husband drove along the turnpike toward our home I had an almost uncontrollable desire to open the car door and fall into the lane of traffic. There were other suicide attempts and most of them caused by feelings of helplessness to change the past for my parents – to replace any bad memories with good. Or at least to eliminate their memory of the past.
Therapy hasn’t blighted the love I feel for my mother and father. But I have been helped to realize that they DID make choices and they could have chosen different ones. They really were not at the mercy of some uncontrollable force that drove them to violence. I now realize that they must live with their memories because they created them. I am not responsible.
My mother now admits that she doesn’t particularly like children. She certainly isn’t a good grandmother. We were all told that if we ever had children she would never baby sit for us. Well…I guess that was being honest eh?
I chose to remain childless. By the time I was thirteen I had decided I would never have children. My reasons were fallacious. I thought that having children gave you unremitting power over another human being and that power could break them. Never having had a normal childhood made me believe that my experience would or could also be the experience of my own offspring. I didn’t know about multi-generational dysfunction, I just knew I never wanted to hurt another child as I had been hurt.
My mother also thrust the responsibility of raising, disciplining and caring for her other children to me. My youngest sibling, Allen, is more my son than my brother. I was fourteen when he was born. It was me who answered his cries in the middle of the night. He remembers how I used to rub his arms and back if he awakened in the middle of the night and needed soothing. He recalls the lullabies I sang as he fell asleep.
When I moved away from home he and my sister, Barbara, would often meet me at a local restaurant and we would share a “family” meal. Allen spent the weekends with me. But it wasn’t until his late twenties that he told me how abandoned he felt when I left home. It had left him with some scars. Fortunately, we were able to discuss our past and resolve some of the things that haunted him.
Before I left home my father told me “You will never get out from under my thumb.” He meant it. It has been a very long haul. For many years, even after I married, he could manipulate me. He saw my husband as an extension of me and Bruce has had to endure much from my parents. In a way, he is a victim too.
My mother tries desperately to make up for the past. When we visit she can’t do enough for us. She prepares our favorite food. She loves Bruce as much as she loves me. We have become friends and confidantes. My father and I are on good terms but there are still occasions when he tries to manipulate me and my “obstinacies” baffle him. It is almost funny.
I will never be that child in my dream; I'll never be the adult that child would have become, but I've found a niche for myself in the world. I think I've learned much about people and become more tolerant of others. I'ved said enough!