End Denial and You’ll End Abuse …

alt

“The initial trauma of a young child may go underground, but it will return to haunt us.”  –James Garbarino

I am coming to understand a few things very clearly:  child abuse is definitely multi-generational, denial allows it to continue, and abusers don’t always understand what they’ve done – they should, but they don’t.

There are those in my extended family, along with Pat, who are reeling – what they’ve read here has induced a kind of panic, a frantic need to hold on to their denial no matter the terrible personal cost today.  They will stop at nothing to avoid facing the truth.

Their truth is complicated and painful – it involves accepting that they were, in fact, abused children themselves, and that they went on to become abusive parents. This two-fold denial has become a shield protecting them from tremendous emotional pain and anguish.

When you are a child living in an abusive home, denial allows you to survive.  My parents told me I was bad and that I deserved to be beaten, it was all my fault; believing them provided a sick kind of comfort – a way for me not to recognize them as the monsters they truly were.  Our Abusers teach us to deny – denial is ingrained for victims of child abuse.

For the victim turned perpetrator, denial becomes the ultimate protector of the mind; locked inside are secrets so terrible they have the power to cause tremendous emotional upset and pain, perhaps even destruction.

Ed accepted a long time ago that he was a terrible father, but he didn’t know just how terrible he was until he read this blog.  His awareness pre-read was vague; it was there, but it was not clear.  He has also understood for some time now that he, himself, was abused as a child.  He wasn’t in touch with his own childhood reality in time to break the cycle for his children, and therein lies the tragedy; it is this understanding, this acceptance of our own childhood pain and trauma that allows us to successfully disengage from abusive patterns and behaviors – it is the key to breaking they cycle.

I remember how I felt as a child – the physical and emotional pain delivered by people who should have loved me and cared for me.  I remember the feelings of betrayal and the intense vulnerability.  I remember the rage I felt in being their victim.  I remember knowing there was nothing I could do about any of it. And I remember the conscious choice I made to stop denying; I hadn’t deserved any of it …

It is not easy to see your parents for who they are when who they are is so terrible.  It takes immeasurable strength to disavow everything they stood for.  To embrace your own philosophy and confidently proclaim your belief that hitting and love are antithetical.  To know that abandoning your child is harmful and wrong on every conceivable level.  To understand no parent has the right to play with a child’s feelings, emotions or mind – or attempt to make him hate the other parent no matter what the other parent may have done …

There are no easy answers here, but abuse and denial go hand-in-hand; to end one, we must end the other.

Giving the Devil His Due

alt

I’ve said a lot of negative things about Ed, my father, here.  I use this blog to work through my pain, anguish and anger over having been raised as I was – in an abusive home, and I’ve detailed the abuse and resulting estrangement and mental illness in detail.  Writing is cathartic and liberating for me in ways nothing else has been, and breaking the silence is both important and necessary, but today I won’t be sharing something Ed did wrong, today I need to acknowledge something Ed has done right:

He did not deny.  When confronted with his past, and what he did, he stepped up and said, “Yes, I did that – I hurt you – and I’m sorry.”  He has even taken responsibility for causing my illnesses as well as the pain his abusive parenting ultimately caused my wife and children – his grandchildren. He is working to do whatever he has to do to make this right, and to hopefully have me back in his life.  That says a lot about his character today, and what it says is overwhelmingly good.

Abusers deny – this is almost Universally true.  Pat is denying, and she is wrecking havoc with the lives of extended family members because they have chosen to include me in their lives again … it is tragic, emotionally devastating and never-ending when an Abuser denies.  (more on this to come)

I am, all at once, faced with a parent who has done the right thing, and a parent who never will do the right thing – so I clearly see what comes from both sides of this terrible equation.

It takes strength and courage to step-up as Ed has, strength and courage most Abusers never find.  His acceptance of responsibility for what he did, and for what it caused, means a great deal to me – far more than I ever thought it would.

A man should not be defined by his mistakes, but by what he does to make them right.  

He is trying to make them right, and I am not the kind of man who would fail to acknowledge that.

Breaking the Cycle of Abuse Part 2 — Questions for You, Dear Reader

alt

 

In response to this post, I received the following comment via email:

Tim

I can see how you broke the cycle, you had a supportive loving partner and she helped develop an environment that fostered a loving, hopeful life style and helped you with the changes.

I lived with Pat while raising you (enough said for that environment) and not until I married Marie did I find such an environment as you and Rhonda have. Way too late for you, but over our 30 years of marriage, I too was able to break that chain. In time for Tim  [Ed mistakenly referred to his step-son as, Tim] and Sally and their two children.

I just needed to say this after reading your blog,

Ed

My first reaction was utter disbelief – I was incredulous.  Did he actually say to me that he broke the cycle of abuse with his step-son and step-grandchildren?  Jeff, Ed’s step-son, was eight or nine years old when Ed married this child’s mother, and his real father lived nearby – his real father who was there for love and support and most of all in this case, protection.  And step-grandchildren?  Give me a break …

I toned down my initial emotional response before offering the following reply:

 

Ed,

 

You didn’t raise me – you endured having a child, very different.  What I did was raise children … and Jeff, a step-child who had his real father for support and protection, does not count as your having broken the cycle of abuse.  Neither does having step-grandchildren; It’s just not the same thing at all.  But I understand what you’re saying; if you and Marie had had children of your own, you believe you would have been a good father to them because of Marie’s love and support.  We will never know … all we know for sure is that you abused your own children.

 

 

That is the first negative thing I have ever heard you say about Pat, but I agree – she was hell to live with. However, your unhappiness with each other does not excuse what you did to your children, nor is Pat entirely to blame for what the two of you did.

 

 

You need to understand how I feel about being a father – it is sacred to me.  Absolutely sacred.  I know I feel as I do because I never had a father, not really, and I knew all too well what it was like to be hurt and betrayed by you, but part of it is just me, just who I am.  My children are my life and there is nothing in the world I would not do for them … and I honestly believe any man who cannot, or will not, hold himself to that standard has no business becoming a father.

 

Tim

 

Dear Reader, am I being too harsh with Ed?

I am not trying to find evidence of his flawed thought process in the things he says to me – but sometimes, like this time, his words indicate a complete lack of self-awareness or understanding of the depth and scope of the subject matter he is discussing.

My lack of trust in Ed, and my unwillingness to be manipulated or taken in by him, is also at play here – I am viewing him in light of the man I knew as a child.  Do you, Dear Reader, believe that people can change?

I am trying to be fair to him – to give him a chance, but I’m not sure I’m succeeding.  It is important to me to always act in honor, with everyone – to be honorable.  In many ways I feel my integrity is on the line here – it is being challenged.  But I am a man, a father, who actually did break the cycle and I take great offense and find insult in Ed’s false assertions, misconceptions and demonstrated lack of understanding of what Breaking the Cycle truly means.

Just how much slack do I have to cut him?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking the Cycle of Abuse

alt

On Sunday afternoon, I spoke to my cousin, Mina.  One of the questions she asked me was how I became a good father after all the abuse I had suffered as a child – how I broke the cycle …

To begin with, my wife is a natural born  mom – and being an elementary school teacher, she had studied child development pretty extensively in college.  She knew definitively how she wanted to raise our children.  I knew what not to do from being Pat and Ed’s child, Rhonda knew what to do from instinct and study.

We were emotionally involved from the moment our oldest child was born.  We practiced Attachment Parenting – our young children were seldom away from us, they even slept with us.  We were always there for them, never allowing them to ‘cry it out.’  I spent many nights rocking a baby, or sleeping on my back while my child slept with his or her head resting on my heart.  We wanted them to know and understand we were always there for them.  Always.

We had immense respect for our children, and we built relationships with them.  We didn’t make arbitrary rules they had to follow.  We were not punitive.  As a result, our children wanted us to be happy with them, not disappointed in them, and their behavior usually reflected their desire.  Proper discipline is not punishing a child for making the wrong choice, it is gently guiding a child to the right choice.

I understand that there is a clear purpose for childhood; to explore the world and find your place in it.  To discover your passion, your dreams and your talents.  To find your gifts and learn who you are.  As parents, we play a critical role in this discovery – we facilitate and make it possible for our child to become who he or she was born to be.  We follow their lead – helping them achieve by setting goals and rewarding accomplishment.

I figured out what was important to me, what I thought they should know to be successful at life; namely, to question all authority, even mine – and I taught them this from the beginning.   I wanted them to know themselves, and to be true to themselves above all.  I wanted them to think for themselves and make their own decisions.  I wanted them to understand that they could talk to me about anything – there would never be judgement or reprisal.  They had to know that my life wasn’t my own, it was their’s … and that would never change.  I am their father; first, last and always.

I don’t think there is one right way to break the cycle of abuse, but for me it was all about understanding my role as a father, and the purpose of childhood.  They had to feel loved, safe, wanted and valued.  They had to have a solid relationship with their parents to be healthy and happy.  They had to have their emotional and physical needs met in order to do the work of being a child … and I had to make that all happen.

When you know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, everything in life is easier – being a parent included.  I had a plan – a well defined path to walk, and I did everything in my power not to veer off the path.  When I was at a loss, I thought about what my father [and mother] would have done … and I did something else!

I found that my deep and intense emotional attachment to my children was the strongest guiding force in my life – by investing myself so completely from the moment I became a father, I broke the cycle.   There was just no way I could ever hurt someone I loved so deeply, and respected so completely.

It’s fair to say that I feel abusing a child to be the most vile, immoral thing anyone can do — especially if you are the child’s father, the person who is supposed to love, protect and nurture.  I have never wanted to be like my father, not in any way, and knowing that was empowering all by itself; when you know better, you do better.

Today, my children are young adults, but they still come to me for guidance and advice.  They tell me their plans for the future, the future I helped make possible. One son studies medicine, the other studies political science and law, and my daughter, at seventeen, is already so accomplished in her chosen field her older brothers often teasingly tell her to stop for a while because she is making them look bad.  They share their fears, dreams and broken hearts with me – and they allow me to know them, to know who they truly are – and that is a priceless gift.

In retrospect, I don’t think breaking the cycle is so very difficult …

Continuing it is what is unthinkable.

My Character and Breaking the Cycle of Abuse

All this talk of Ed’s character has me considering not only my own character, but the principles that have shaped and defined it.  I often feel like an anomaly – no one taught me to be who I am, I decided to be who I am.  It isn’t like I felt a pull to become like my parents, quite the opposite in fact – always, but I didn’t know much about decent, good people from experience either, so I had to learn as a young adult what most people seemed to have known since kindergarten.

I’ve realized that my own character is founded on philosophical truth, and adopting the traits of a handful of people whose respect I wanted to earn.  To a degree, I imagine this to be true for everyone, but it was all I had; my parents may have been a shining example of what not to do, but that still left me to figure out what to do …

I was twenty-nine when my first child was born – and I was scared to death.  The morning my wife and I arrived at the hospital for his birth was surreal; we got there, I parked the car — and neither of us moved, we just sat there in silence.  We wanted this baby, he was planned and already dearly loved, but knowing that we were about to become responsible for another life – a delicate, fragile life we could easily screw-up was, in that moment, over-whelming.

So many people assumed that his birth would lead me back to my parents – I never understood this; having a child was the best reason of all to stay away from Ed and Pat.  I had to protect him, not only from physical harm, but from the flawed thinking that rules their lives.  These are not people who should be allowed to influence a child.

I understand the importance of family – let me amend that;  I understand the importance of family that functions as it should.  No family is perfect, that’s a given, but there has to be a standard.  There has to be compassion and good intent.  Motivation should be steeped in what is right, not in what is easy or what has always been.  Nothing will ever be more rewarding to me than knowing I broke the cycle of abuse.

Raising children is hard, but it is also crazy fun!  I have memories I wouldn’t trade for anything – I’ve even found a way to make peace with the memory of having stepped barefoot on Legos  many, many times  …  and I did not pummel the kid, now 21, who recently admitted to having left the evil things, on purpose, where he knew my feet would find them when I woke him up for school in the morning!  To be fair, I was a bit obnoxious in awakening him – cheerily, extremely cheerily [and loudly] proclaiming that he should wake up because it was a “bright, sunny glorious new day!”

I was the dad who coached T-ball and took his daughter for ice cream after her gymnastics lessons.  I’ve sat through more recitals, more performance and academic competitions than I can even remember.  I’ve surprised children with trips to Europe and Walt Disney World.  I stayed awake all night with babies, despite the fact that I had to work the next morning, because I wanted my time alone with them.  I listened to and validated their argument even when the answer had to be, no.  I taught them to walk and talk and swim and drive and to live up to their potential.  I taught them to love and to live …

And when I think about all of that, and everything being their father has given me, then, and only then, do I pity Ed and Pat who will never know the joy of being someone’s father or mother … or the comfort that comes from being part of a real, loving, caring, nurturing family they created.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ed’s Admission?

Yesterday, a comment by my paternal aunt left me emotional and contemplative.  Over the next few days, I’m going to address each point individually – addressing them all in one post would be overwhelming and exhausting to write, and to read.

In yesterday’s hastily written and non-comprehensive reply  to my aunt, I stated that Ed had said, ‘I may have been a bad father,’  he did say that, but he said a little bit more, too:

The exact quote: “I may have been a bad father, but there’s a reason for that, I was severely beaten too; it took you to break the cycle of abuse.”

No apology – and any admission was quickly negated by the words that followed: ‘but there’s a reason for that’

There is no reason for beating your child.  I’m going to repeat that, there is no reason for beating your child.  No one can justify an act of cruelty such as this, and no decent person would try.

I don’t know if Ed was telling me the truth, or grasping at straws hoping to find an explanation I would accept, but beaten or not, he failed as a father.  Period.

This conversation between Ed and I took place in email – I contacted him for a family medical history in 2010 when my health was in decline and my neurologist feared I may have a brain tumor. Ed gave me a brief history – offering no concern for my health, but giving me the backhanded apology I detailed above.

He then instructed me not to email him at work again because the network administrator could read our messages and he didn’t want him to know anything about his private life.  I had emailed him at work because it was the only email address I could find for him – I hadn’t seen him for close to twenty-five years.

Some thoughts and conclusions …

If you were abused, and you choose to bring a child into this world, you are obligated to break the cycle.  I did it, it can be done.  It has to be done.

Abusers aren’t usually born, they are made – so I tend to believe Ed’s story of having been badly abused as a child … it would explain a lot.

Normally, I have deep compassion and empathy for abuse survivors, but not when they perpetuate the cycle …

At that point, they have gone from victim to perpetrator and surrendered all rights to consideration from me.

I will say this for Ed, he didn’t actually deny abusing me — most abusers do, this is why so many therapists and psychiatrists advise survivors not to confront directly.  When an abuser denies what he/she did, or attempts to minimize the abuse – another common response, they only continue the abuse – it is emotionally devastating to be told, ‘that didn’t happen,’ or ‘it wasn’t exactly as you recall.’

But Ed said, “I may have been a bad father.”

No, he was a bad father.

And nothing, absolutely nothing, could serve as justification for what he did to me.