It’s day 13 of of Domestic Violence Awareness Month for Men and Boys. “Disconnected” is back to explain In His Own Words how his childhood experiences helped to make him a prime target for abusive women like his ex, sociopathic stalker extraordinaire, “Q.”
The Making of a Knight in Shining Armor
Sitting at the conference table, I looked around at my fellow engineers. Of the five of us, I was the least educated. My two bachelor degrees fell short of the PhDs and Masters degrees held by my colleagues. They were discussing their educations and how their family supported their professional careers. As I listened, I let myself drift away from the moment. Then it happened, they turned to me and asked about my family.
Some people have natural abilities, others of us train our whole lives for something. Without even knowing, I trained my whole life to be a white knight.
My parents divorced when I was young. The custody battles went on for years, not because my sister and I were “wanted,” but because neither parent wanted the other to “win.” My sister and I were nothing more than unsuspecting weapons used to inflict as much damage as possible.
At the age of 6, I remember finding my mother at the kitchen table crying, her head buried in her hands. Terrified, I asked why. She never lifted her head, but only said to me, “Because my children are such horrible children.” At a time when “Mom” is synonymous with “Deity,” those words were crushing. I had no idea what terrible thing I must have done.
As the court battles went on, my mother told me in chilling detail of the physical abuse that awaited me with my father. When he would pick us up, I was always afraid of the monster that my mother described; a monster that never reared its ugly head.
We lived with my mother’s family. As my father’s antics escalated, her family became increasingly involved. As a child I was shielded from a lot of the details, but I have very clear memories of the fistfights and the screaming.
One night stands out above the others. My father had a friend run a story in the local paper about how successful he was as a single parent. The day the paper was published, my mother’s family was visibly upset. My mother was crying and her parents wanted blood.
That evening, my father was scheduled to pick us up. When he arrived, my grandmother grabbed a handgun and ran to the door. There was a fight; my mother’s boyfriend wrestled the gun from her hands. All the while my sister and I watched in horror. In the end, we were loaded into my father’s car fearful and confused.
Shortly after that evening while on the way to school, my mother explained we would be moving to a new place, far away. She told me this was a big secret; that I was not to tell anyone. She told me that if my father found out, he would beat me. I asked about seeing my father and she said he would be allowed to see me if he wanted (there was an implication that he had no interest.)
At school, I spent most of the day crying. One of the teachers sat me down and talked to me. I told her what my mother had said. I told her as much as I knew about her “plan,” and that it had to remain “secret.”
My mother picked me up early that day. Her boyfriend waited down the street with a U-Haul. We drove the rest of the day and into the night. My mother tried to make the trip fun. She tried to tell me I was enjoying it.
We stopped at a hotel for the night. I asked repeatedly how long the trip was, how many days we would be driving, where we were going, etc., etc. That night, we were startled awake by a sheriff deputy pounding on the door. My mother took my sister and I and hid in the bathroom while the boyfriend confronted the sheriff.
It seems my teacher called my father the minute I left the school. By chance, he happened upon my mother’s car when he pulled off the interstate to get gas. There was a fight in the parking lot. I can still hear the shrill voices. I can feel the cold night air and the arm of the man who held me like a football.
In the end, my father took me and left my sister with my mother. I was scared of my father. I had been taught that he was cruel and abusive.I was literally thrown into his car, as I cried for my mother, the only one I thought would protect me.
I am not sure how long my mother and I were separated, but it was more than a year. During that time, I did not hear from her. My father, who fought so hard to get me back, dumped me off with friends, relatives, anyone who would take me for a few days. I spent the time largely without adult care or supervision, and of course, without affection. Having me wasn’t about spending time together; it was about hurting my mother.
When my mother returned, the custody battles resumed. She won full custody of my sister and I, despite the previous kidnapping. I was only allowed to see my father 2 weekends per month. Even with my father’s lack of interest in my life, his house had become “home;” if not home, at least “safe.”
The thought of living with my mother now scared me. She tried to act supportive. She repeatedly said, “Anytime you want to go live with your father, just say the words and I will help you pack.” Of course, as a child having to tell one parent that you choose the other is not easy. I was very careful to wait until a relatively chaos-free week to finally ask.
We were driving to school; with tears in my eyes I said, “Mom, I really love you, but I think I want to try living with my father for a while.” The car swerved off of the road and slid to a stop. A barrage of fists came hurling down upon me as I retreated into a ball against the car door. As she wailed on me, she screeched, “How dare you! That is the meanest, most terrible thing anyone has ever said to me.” I did not bring it up again.
My mother quickly remarried. He was an abusive, angry man with children of his own. They worked menial labor jobs and did not make enough to feed and clothe us. They relied heavily on child support and handouts.
The first few years were not so bad. Things at home were strict, even “abusive” by today’s standards, but this was a different time. I cried often, as I hated to see people hurt one another; something that happened daily. My step-father made sure I understood that crying was a weakness. When the screaming started, so did my tears. Then, out came the fists. His favorite word for me was “pussy.”
[If you read my account of ‘Q,’ she was aware of this, which was why she chose that specific word to attack me.]
My mother and step-father were the fodder of the retail world. They held minimum wage jobs, with no hope of advancement. The financial stress and lack of self-worth eventually found its way home. Punishments were doled out daily. Fists were used to force compliance to ever-changing rules.
In the morning I was told that performing a chore would take no more than 15 minutes. By the afternoon, I was being hit because “no one can do that chore in under an hour.” One night I was going out driving with a friend and my mother said, “Be home at 11:00.” I returned home at 10:30 and she started hitting me. I was turned over to my step-father for “punishment.”
When I asked why, I was told that I was supposed to be home by 10:00. The next time I asked to go out, I thought I would be clever. I said, “Mom, I have a really hard time remembering what time I am supposed to be home. Can you write it down for me so I don’t forget?” After they stopped hitting me, I was sent to me room for 2-weeks for “being a smart ass.”
The worst of the abuse was not mine; that belonged to my step-brother. Actually, in the hierarchy of physical violence, I was at the bottom of the list. Still, I was forced to watch the worst of it carry on around me.
I learned not to cry, not to draw attention to myself. Though, like a good pawn, I often sacrificed myself so that my step-brother would be spared. The reasoning was, “I knew they would go easier on me, and besides he had been through so much.”
One night, we were in our room as we heard angry voices from down the hall. My step-brother and I tried to be quiet, as we looked for some distraction. Then his name was heard followed by silence. We pretended we did not hear it. The door opened. His father stood there and calmly asked, “Did you lie to me?”
There was no answer that was going to avoid what we knew was coming, so we both sat there in silence. “Answer me,” he demanded. Then he picked up his son by the throat and pressed him against the wall. The ground was several feet beneath him. “Answer me,” he demanded again.
The boy couldn’t speak. As his father began punching him repeatedly in the face, I curled up in a ball in the corner and wished this away. I loved my stepbrother, but I was not about to get mixed up in this.
After what seemed like an eternity, he threw the boy into the closet and stormed out of the room. My stepbrother’s face was swollen and already bruising. Before I even moved the door flew open again. This time, my stepfather had brought a plate full of food. He threw it on top of the boy and said “There! Eat off the floor like a dog.”
By this time in my life, I was old enough to make changes. I moved in with my father. What my father’s house lacked in physical abuse, it made up for with emotional abuse, but that’s another story for another day.
I went to college against my family’s wishes. They regularly insisted that I “drop out and get a real job with a future.” During those first college years, I tried to live at home. My father’s health was waning and I was terrified to leave him alone with his wife.
She had been threatening suicide, even threatening to kill him. Eventually, she made it clear that I was no longer welcome. I had to accept the fact that my father was an adult, and had made his own choices. I was 20 when I moved out.
It is funny how abuse can make us feel responsible for the abuser(s). It is a fiendish trick. Still, even armed with that knowledge, it was no less devastating to receive that phone call, “Your father was found dead this morning.”
Turns out, the wife’s new beau was tired of waiting for a divorce, so she “helped” things along. That was the last piece I needed to complete my armor. That was the piece that taught me what knighthood was truly about.
I went on to finish my education. I spent years learning to recover and to trust people. In many ways, I have over compensated. Still, I cannot help but to feel drawn to those in need. After all, if I can rescue myself, I can surely rescue another.
As the echoes of my past rang in my head, I was back at the table. I wondered how long my colleagues had been waiting to hear my response. I polished my armor and donned a smile as I said, “Where would any of us be without family.”
In His Own Words is an effort to help raise awareness about the invisible victims of domestic violence, men. If you would like to submit your story, please follow the guidelines at the end of this article.
Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD helps individuals work through their relationship and codependency issues via telephone or Skype. She specializes in helping men and women trying to break free of an abusive relationship, cope with the stress of an abusive relationship or heal from an abusive relationship. Coaching individuals through high-conflict divorce and custody cases is also an area of expertise. She combines practical advice, emotional support and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Schedule a Session page for more information.
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