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I'll start out bluntly: I grew up with domestic abuse in my family. But please, before I say more, put away those PSA or Lifetime movie images that are doubtless loading in your mind -- a beaten wife, girlfriend, or child -- because that was not the situation. My mother abused my father.
What makes the situation doubly painful is that some people refuse to even acknowledge that domestic abuse exists “the other way around.”
I've heard people say it themselves. Well, honestly, how would a man even let his wife slap him around? That's pretty pathetic. I see jokes all the time about it on TV or the Internet or whatever. Society has this idea that domestic abuse is the result of some sort of dependency -- that the victim “sticks around” because they need the money, or the housing, or something else. Thus, the idea of a breadwinning professional of a husband being physically/verbally abused by his homemaker wife is more comical than anything to a good majority of people.
My family moved to the United States of America when I was about six years old. Like countless waves of immigrant families before us, we were without friends or other family, and found that the American dream is a difficult one to attain. In the midst of a recession and without a green card, my father was forced to take a low-paying, stressful job that he was far overqualified for. We had been poor enough by the standards of our home country, but our finances took an even harder hit buying a home and paying for immigration/visa fees.
Forced to live in the bad side of town, we were routinely harassed and bullied by our neighbors. Life wasn't great.
A little high-strung by nature, my mother quickly deteriorated. Stuck at home alone every day while my sister and I went to school and dad worked, I imagine she had little to do other than scrutinize the meager finances and listen to our neighbor hit golf balls a the house siding. She started fighting with my dad. A lot.
She started making threats of leaving him, taking my sister and I back home with her. The subjects of the fights varied, but they steadily occurred more and more often. As the frequency increased, so did the amplitude.
My weeknights were punctuated with the sound of slamming pots and yelling in the kitchen. And before you ask, no, alcohol was not involved -- we didn't have the money for that.
I will not write into the details of these fights, although in my first draft of this story I did. I will honor the logical, mathematical nature I inherited from my father and state the facts instead: My mother physically assaulted my father. She threw things a lot. She threatened his life with a knife at least once.
Most often, she verbally abused him, calling him a “doormat,” questioning his masculinity, and accusing him of ruining the family. The reader may note I don't mention my father's defenses in these fights. He rarely yelled or raised his voice, so I could never hear what he said in response to to my mother. I don't imagine it was much. He never physically acted against her. He just took it.
Time went by and, on another eventful evening, my mother kicked my dad out of the house for what would be the first time of many. I remember listening to my mother's abuse crescendo, until she forced him out of the house. I cried all night long. My father came back the next day, which I would later despise him for.
Unable to legally work, my mother couldn't kick him out for good -- she needed his salary. The entire family did. Nonetheless, the abuse and threats of evicting him from his own house continued for years.
There is no real happy ending here. Eventually, my dad got a better job in another state, we moved, and as I grew into my teen years, the fights slowly stopped happening. Today, their marriage seems happy and stable. I have noticed, however, that my dad never questions my mother's slightest opinion, and almost immediately backs down when challenged. Something in him is broken or bent, but it is a peaceful surrender.
The shameful part of this tale lies not on my dad for staying with my mother, but on me, for what I thought of him. Hearing my mother tell my father he was a doormat every night, hearing her blame him for all of our problems, I started to agree.
For years, I harbored a slow-burning resentment against my father for taking all that abuse. Why didn't he stand up to mom? Why did he make me and my sister suffer through all that? Why didn't he leave her? It's not like he depended on her for anything at all! He was the breadwinner!
I'm even more ashamed to say I finally confronted him about it a few years ago, asking all those questions. He looked uncomfortable, and said “I did it for you and your sister. If I had left, you would have had to grow up with a much worse life.”
By that, he means the financially crippled existence we would have had back in our home country, living with my mother's parents. I am not sure if it is the only reason, or if there is more to the story. I have mixed feelings of gratefulness and something else, something uneasy.
Today I am slightly older and wiser, and possess slightly more perspective. Today I realize that whatever my dad's reasons were for staying, there is no way I could ever have the appropriate context or understanding. I don't condone it, but I don't have the right to judge.
I am no longer in contact with my parents -- whatever resentments I harbored against my father, I held in triple against my mother, and we could never get along. Dad always sided with mom, so when I left her, I was forced to leave them both.
I must forgive my father without spoken words. I must forgive him for mistakes he obviously made, but most importantly I must hope he forgives me for the blame and accusations I have placed on him. It is clear to the world he is at peace with himself, and that is all that should matter.