The Autocratic Father’s Guide to Training Your Family

I don’t know about you, but I think there’s a whole lot of nonsense written about child rearing these days. When I was a lad, we were routinely locked in cupboards, given six of the best and mother and father would routinely leave us to fend for ourselves for a week or so twice a year. Made me who I am today, it did and it certainly didn’t do me any harm.

Personally, I blame the 60s for all this over-cuddly familiarity with the offspring. Everyone is so keen to be everyone else’s friend that we’ve forgotten the basics about who’s who. The local book shop is full of rubbish about ‘nurture’ and helping children ‘develop identity’. Rot I call it; character’s what they need! So I wrote this guide for you, the fledgling fuc… I mean father, to help you on the road to making your family what you damn well tell them to be.

1. Don’t use children’s names: these are all very well for filling in on forms and I suppose they are traditional, but generally they can be dispensed with. I find a number is much more effective. If you are sentimental then you can always use ‘number 1 son’ or ‘number 3 daughter’ but personally I prefer to economise on breath. Children will quickly know who you mean and it keeps communications brisk and functional, creating a lovely gulag type feel about the home. These are best used when speaking directly to a child. When speaking about them to another adult in their presence, refer to them in the 3rd person, for example ‘the boy needs to clean his shoes before he goes to bed.’ This helps to demarcate clearly between adults and children and they will greatly appreciate this show of acknowledgement.

2. Choose your words carefully: you need to speak in commands and these need to be easily understood at a distance. For example, saying ‘come here’ can easily become jumbled in the mind of the child. Much better is to simply use the word “report!” This can be heard clearly and is effective. The same applies to when you wish your child to stop doing something. Saying “stop doing that” is a mess. Much better is a single, sharp “desist!” and they will soon get the message! Combine this with the number system explained in point 1, and you’ll soon have them performing for you like a troop of circus monkeys.

3. Isolation: ideally, you will move your family to a desert island where you can rule them as a king, however this option isn’t available to those of us who have yet to have our innate brilliance recognised. Certainly, you want to remain a safe distance from in-laws, close friends and other do-gooders; the sorts who begin talking nonsense about rights and asking questions. A few hundred miles will do. If you can, move to a rural area, preferably with poor communication links, no shops and few people to talk to. Plus, you’ll have the beauty of nature with which to remind them what a wonderful parent and provider you are for bringing them to live here.

4. Financial control: it is absolutely key for you to have sole control over the money. You won’t allow your partner to work (who knows what they’ll get up to!) and you’ll need to organise how money is spent closely. If you allow your partner to have a separate account, you must decide how much is paid into it each month. Allow only enough for the basics and ensure that it is accounted for. It is worth allowing that little extra so they can treat themselves to a hair cut or buying some new socks once in a while ( you don’t want them in rags, it will reflect badly on you). The benefit of this is that they will be thankful for these small offerings and you can ensure that they are not allowed to forget it in a hurry. Remember to check statements and credit card bills so you can play merry hell if they get ideas above their station and start going out for coffee while you’re slaving away at work.

5. You come first: it is imperative that children understand that your needs come first. It is the duty of your partner to meet your needs before theirs. Be aware of opportunities where you can demonstrate this accordingly. Sulking on their birthday is a great way to draw attention away and reaffirm who is actually the centre the universe here. Should one of your children require hospital treatment for an appendicitis or some such emergency, make it clear that your partner needs to come home and cook your tea rather than loitering around in an A&E corridor.

6. Punishments: contrary to common belief, physical chastisements aren’t always very effective. Better by far is the threat of force. Make sure these are unspecific yet worded in terms that will leave the transgressors in no doubt as to the demise they face if they cross you again. The holy books of the various monotheistic religions are a good source for smiting words and phrases and it is always worth making it clear that the Almighty is on your side, whatever flavour your faith is. Personally, I like sending the children to their room with an instruction to remain there and I will ‘deal with them’ shortly. I then enjoy watching the clock and making sure I act when it isn’t expected. Sometimes I leave them 2 minutes, sometimes an hour. The important thing is to keep them on their toes while you savour the anticipation.

7. Physical punishments: sometimes, you have to do this. It is for their own good and children need to learn. I like to call it ‘clearing the air’. The important thing is that you ensure that you act without hesitation and that the perpetrator remembers the event in future. Don’t get drawn into a discussion about whether you have all the facts about the situation; if in doubt just thrash all of them. That way, they won’t repeat their behaviour. They will cry, plead and avoid you for a while; it is important to ignore this display of petty behaviour which is actually just a form of attention seeking. A cuff round the back of the head is quick and easy to dispense; there is also the option to put them over your knee. Older children can be grabbed by the throat or hair. Never apologise, but make sure to tell them you love them. I normally do this right before I give them a good slap.

8. The family home: it is important for you to make it clear to your partner and children that this is YOUR house and that you just let them live in it. Privacy is your right as head of the household but no one else should expect you to grant them this privilege. Bedrooms are dormitories where you allow them to sleep. Any choices about the room are yours and yours alone. In the event a child above the age of five become insubordinate, remind them that they need to be grateful to you for generously providing warmth, food and security. Teenagers may try to exercise individual tastes in music and fashion, but these should be suppressed in case they get ideas they are anything other than an extension of you. Remember that the teenage ego is delicate and that a few well chosen words will have them scuttling back to their rooms, preferably to tidy it. I find accusing them of being gay is effective.

9. Friends: children will insist on making friends: noisy, smelly, disruptive friends. Friends should be in and out the house before you return home. Make it clear to your partner that all evidence of them should be gone by your return. Creating an environment that people outside the immediate family feel distinctly uncomfortable in is the mark of an expert. Be sure to be charming to your children’s friends. This will ensure that any stroppy comments by your child about you will be met with derision and disbelieved: handy if you’ve implemented point 7 and become over ambitious. Don’t overlook monitoring your partner’s friends either. Look for the bad points in them and emphasise these. If your partner is too blind to see them, then belittle them accordingly until they see sense.

10. Do as I say, not as I do: this is the golden rule. To your family, your word should be as law, but this does not mean that you should obey it. Your partner needs to understand that you want to know where they are every minute of the day, but that if you want to stay out for a week, they have no right to stifle you. What they don’t know won’t hurt them. Likewise, if you set the family chores whilst you read the newspaper, you are simply engaged in what nature models: male lions sleep while female lions hunt. If a child or partner points out that they think you are being unfair, simply remind them “do as I say, not as I do!” While they try to figure out the logic, they can repaint the living room and you can get back to your paper. Good luck!

NB: author’s note: whilst the above is based on my own experience of emotional and physical abuse, the note of irony is entirely my own work.

You can’t be talking about me!? – on accepting the revelation that you have been abused.

When my therapist first suggested to me that I was a victim of domestic abuse, I was incredulous. Sure, I knew my family was a bit weird, but abuse? The word conjured images to me of kids covered in inexplainable bruises or were coerced into performing sexual acts. I was dismissive and indignant. My therapist was very calm, but firm about it.

“So what is domestic abuse then?” I asked, half laughing.

“You’re an intelligent person,” she replied, “go and read up about it.”

So that was what I did. What I found came as a revelation.

I came to realise that my understanding of what constituted domestic abuse was hopelessly narrow. Although I had always been terrified of my father, because he hadn’t resorted to physical violence very often, I had downplayed the culture of intimidation he had created within the family. Again my therapist helped me to see this:

“What do you think stopped him from hitting you more often?” she asked me.

“Because we knew not to push him,” I answered.

“How did you know when you were pushing him too far?” she asked.

“Because he’d give us the look.”

“What did the look mean?” she continued.

“Trouble,” I said, seeing the point she was making.

My dad conditioned us from an early age to not question his authority or flout his demands. His language was loaded with threats and intimidation. He’d regularly talk about bringing ‘the wrath of God’ down us, giving us a ‘thick ear’ or that we wouldn’t ‘sit down for a week’ if we persisted. He was a big guy and when he did hit, he made it count. As children, we could innately sense that he was someone who lacked self-control, boundaries or empathy. If violence was needed to make a two year old comply, violence would be used.

This kind of behaviour is broadly covered by ‘actual or threatened physical harm.’ However, domestic abuse also includes, but is not limited to:

  • name-calling or putdowns
  • keeping a partner from contacting their family or friends
  • withholding money
  • stopping a partner from getting or keeping a job
  • intimidation

My dad was guilty of all of these things. The victims were not just us children, but also my mother. I began to understand the culture of extreme denial that had been rife in my family- a denial that had been fostered by my mother’s rationalisation and justification of his behaviour and the silence of the people who knew what was going on and did nothing about it. Slowly I began to unpick the uncomfortable truth: I was an abused child from a highly abusive family.

Sometimes I still find it hard to accept. That little voice in the back of my head starts up when I hear a story in the news, always the most sensational examples of domestic horror, nagging me with accusations that I’m making a fuss about nothing; who am I to take a word like abuse and apply it to myself?

No, it’s true, I never had a tooth knocked out my skull by a fist and I was never raped by an adult or forced to drink bleach. I did, however, have a father or used verbal threats and bullying; who slept with shotguns under his bed; who belittled me because I didn’t want to go out shooting up the local wildlife; who got into a rage when my mother’s father gave her his old car because it broke his control over her; who forced my mother to have sex with him whether she wanted to or not; who pulled my sister across the local bus station by her hair whilst calling her a slut; who put all my other sister’s possessions into black plastic bags and took them down the local dump because she hadn’t tidied her room when told; who told me I was gay because I used deodorant; who told my brother and I not to cry at the funeral of our grandfather because boys didn’t do that.

It took a professional therapist to help me to see that this sort of behaviour wasn’t just a little weird; that it wasn’t just a case that my dad was a bit on the strict side. The examples I mentioned above were really the tip of the iceberg, but it has only been recently that I’ve come to understand that this was abuse and that this was unacceptable. Like a lot of survivors, I’d internalised my abuse: I was a ‘bad’ person because I wasn’t emotionally strong enough to cope and I was spineless for not having stood up more to my dad. I’m working on that issue, but it is far from easy; it isn’t helped by the fact that most my family still maintain that things really weren’t that bad and that I’m making a fuss. Part of the cathartic effect of writing this blog is hearing from others who confirm that this isn’t true.

As a teacher, I am frequently involved in child protection and I’m constantly vigilant for signs of abuse in the children I work with. It strikes me though that,as a culture, we are still missing the bigger picture. Many people still have a hopelessly limited notion of what constitutes abuse and within that, the victims feel obliged into silence. Recent statistics suggest that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are victims of domestic abuse during their lifetimes. I feel there needs to be a greater awareness and a wider conversation in society about what the roots of this epidemic behaviour are- without it, the cycles of misery, silence and trauma will continue.

The Sins of the Mother: Co- dependence

Hating my dad is easy. His violence and coercion was overt and explicit: he had affairs, he was the abandoner, he was abusive. I recognise my anger for him and can evoke it easily and recognisably.

Things are trickier with my mum. When I feel angry with my mum, I feel guilty, yet I cannot deny that I carry a great deal of hurt and frustration linked to my relationship with her. So, where is the difficulty?

Co-dependence is basically excessive reliance on a partner, either emotionally or psychologically. The partners of co-dependent people are frequently suffering from addiction or illness and therefore requiring excessive levels of support. From my experience, co-dependent people tend to attract towards traumatised people and vice-versa like moths to flames. I speak as someone who has been enmeshed in destructive co-dependent relationships and witnessed them in the people around me. The needy and the need-to-be-needed gravitate towards one another like opposite poles of a magnet and begin a fatal dance of annihilation; this is particularly true when one of the new couple is narcissistic and prone to abusive patterns of behaviour.

My mum met my dad when they were teenagers. She had been raised by an excessively over-protective father and her mother was frequently ill due to suffering from colitis. When she met my dad, she found his dangerous, challenging and alluring, yet at the same time, vulnerable and in need of protection. She recognised the dysfunctional side of his parents early, unaware that this translated directly into how he had been parented and therefore emotionally developed. My father was already a fully fledged narcissist but mum was sexually attracted to this in him. This is often the case with people who have been smothered as children and over-dominated; they feel a sense of powerlessness and are attracted to partners who they perceive as compensating for this. Unfortunately, these are often the same people who will also abuse this position, relegating their partner to a position of subservience and slavery: the exact condition they were trying to escape.

All this is very well and the rationalising is my attempt to make sense of what happened and why. So what is it like to be raised in a household where one parent is overtly hostile and the other co-dependent. Well, not much fun. On the one hand, mum would model total submission to my dad and expect us to do the same. Dad’s word was law (he often loaded his threats with religious language, equating himself with a vengeful Jehovah-like figure) and this behaviour was reinforced by mother. Maybe she was trying to protect us and herself- it’s common for women trapped in abusive relationships to try and keep the abuser calm and placated; in extreme cases, this can be the cause of why mothers don’t speak out when they are aware that their children are being sexually abused.

Thing is, you can’t explain that to a child. A child witnesses one parent acting in a destructive manner and if the other parent normalises this and presents it as acceptable, then what choice does the child have? The perception has been set and will eventually impact on how they interpret the world in general: a dark, forbidding place, where people cannot be trusted.

The co-dependent parent often has another side though. With my father frequently away at work or often disappearing off for months at a time, my mum tried to compensate for his punitive, petty and limiting behaviour. She did this by being as liberal as possible and utterly removing all the boundaries. So, whereas my dad would impose a world of regime, dictatorial limitations and control, my mum would let us run wild. Boyfriends and girlfriends would stay over and sleep in our beds with us, even as mid-teens; we could smoke, drink and do drugs (the latter within limits) under the rationalisation that she would rather know what we were doing so she could help us if something went wrong; there were no bedtimes, few curfews and no attempt to monitor what we were up to (if I truanted from school, she’d always provide an alibi).

You see, the co-dependent is addicted to the person they have attached to and mum was busy trying to meet his needs whether he was living with us or not, or indeed, whether he wanted her help or not. Anything else is a distraction, a hindrance, something that takes the attention and energy off the object of obsession.

The problem was that mum would switch between these two people almost instantly, depending on her proximity to my dad. Confusing? Just a bit. Even worse was when she would utilise my dad to get her own needs for security met, normally if we were being stroppy, not complying or challenging the fucked up situation we were in. This was particularly painful because it always bore the bitter sting of betrayal. After all, it was more than evident from early on that she was also his victim, which made it harder than ever to understand why at times she would not only side with him, but actively support his behaviour. For a child to not to be able to trust one parent is bad enough, but to face that with both parents? It’s pretty unbearable.

The thing I find so hard is that mum, on the one hand, is also a victim: I can perceive how and why she behaved this way. However, this does not remove the hurt, pain and confusion that her behaviour caused. In so many ways, she is a strong, intelligent and caring human being, yet her addiction to my father has caused her to neglect her children, ignore abuse and not set appropriate boundaries for us to develop within. Even now, although they have not lived together for many years, she runs when he clicks his fingers. I have tried to communicate with her about this and sometimes she becomes very angry about how he has treated us. Mostly, though, she either rationalises it , excuses him or dismisses it.

Recently, my sister had all the family together at her house for a meal. My dad was in the country (he lives abroad now) and we met up. My dad was running late and whilst we were getting things ready, I suddenly realised my mum wasn’t there. It didn’t take long to find her; she was standing out by the road, hands clasped together in anticipation, a mix of fear and excitement etched on her face. When he arrived, she pattered after him like his toy spaniel, twitching nervously yet determined to stay as close to him as possible. Needless to say, I don’t stick around long and avoid family gatherings on the whole.

To me, this is the legacy of abuse; it reduces people to these tragic parodies. I’ve tried to save my mum from this and it has been a hard lesson to learn that ultimately, the person to save you needs to be yourself. If you recognise yourself in any of this, particularly if you have children or you are with a partner that you suspect to be abusive (and that applies to both men and women) I urge you to find help. The pattern of addiction can be broken and ultimately you can learn to  find a healthier mode of existence.

Trust me, watching someone you love live a diminished life in psychological chains is not something I’d recommend…

Things that go bump in the night

The revelation that your parents have sex is never a comfortable one for a child. The realisation that your parents not only have a physical relationship, but that you are the genetic product of them doing the nasty is part of the ongoing rite of passage from adolescence into adulthood. Ultimately, it is a formative part of how we come to understand our parents as normal human beings, rather than the omnipotent beings they may seem to us as children. For most this is a discovery that comes eventually, but appropriately. However, in the abusive household, an environment that is inherently neither effectively nurturing nor stable, this rarely happens in a healthy fashion.

I don’t recall how old I was when I first heard my parents having sex. I believe I was just into my teens. My sisters had joked about it before, but it still came as a shock. I awoke in the night and recall the darkness and the sense of disorientation and alarm caused by the unusual sounds. The first thing I was aware of was the violent squeaking of the bed, becoming progressively faster and faster. My father was huffing and panting, building to a crescendo when he finally cried out ‘Oh Jesus Christ!’ at the top of his voice. Things then returned to silence. I remember the darkness: I lay in it, my heart racing, feeling smothered by it and alone.

In the morning, I told my mum that I had heard them. She laughed uneasily and said that they were married so this was hardly a surprise. I didn’t appreciate having my feelings dismissed by this and told her that I felt she could at least shut the door. We lived in a very small house, especially for a reasonably large family and my room was directly next to theirs. Her answer was unexpected.

“He won’t have it,” she said.

“Won’t have what?” I replied.

“If I tell him to shut the door,” she said, matter of factly, “he will simply say it is his house and not to tell him what to do.”

My response? Pretty typical for a teenager and along the lines that I found them both disgusting. Mum, as always, played it down and ignored it.

One of the aspects of dysfunctional families is a lack of appropriate boundaries. They are either tight and constricting or non- existent. In my own case, they tended to veer between the two. On the one hand, my father would act with disgust if there was kissing on television and he’d leave the room if animals were mating on a documentary. However, he also apparently felt the need to broadcast to the house that he was having sex, to the extent where he would insist on the door being wide open and making as much noise as he possibly could. Why, I don’t know. I can only assume it was typical, moronic pseudo-alpha male behaviour, another way of stating territory and domination for a man who was deeply repressed, insecure and inadequate.

A lack of boundaries was also evident with my mother. She would tell us about aspects of her sex life that mothers do not normally discuss with their children. This was sometimes because she’d have frank discussions with my eldest sister while I was within ear-shot, but other times she would quite happily respond to questions that I only later discovered other people’s parents simply would not answer or discuss with their children.

For example, by the time I was 15, I was aware that my father could be quite violent with her sexually; that on one occasion he had forced her to have anal intercourse; that she would often be fast asleep, only to suddenly find him on top of her. She would laugh about this and say that she’d carry on sleeping while he got on with his ‘business’. On the few occasions that she said no or did not comply with him, he would sulk and occasionally sleep in another room. My mum would say how he seemed like he was two people: by day, puritanical and repressed; by night, almost predatory.

I was too young to realise the implications at the time; I consider this a blessing. My mother was a vessel for a man who had no regard for anything or anyone other than his own needs. She was his wife and it was her duty, in his mind, for her to provide sexual gratification whenever he chose to take it. To my mum, it was another chore on the list; something to be endured, part of being a woman. Like many women in her situation, she would defend him if we complained or questioned him and rationalise away his behaviour. She would frequently remind us what a hard childhood he’d had whilst ignoring the impact he was having on us. It was, ultimately, less frightening to comply with him than face the possible consequences.

When I was 20, I was living back at my mums after a very difficult breakup with a girlfriend. My dad had been walking in an out since I was 13; he came and went on a regular basis up until I was 18, when he took a job that resulted in him moving to the other side of the country and made the ‘revolving door’ approach to marriage and parenting obsolete. On this occasion, he was in the area on business and asked my mum if he could stay at the house before travelling back to the north in the morning.

As normal, she said yes.

Unhappy with this situation and not wishing to watch them play ‘happy couples’ all evening, I went to see a gig and had several drinks. When I got home, I made my excuses and went to bed swiftly, planning to not get up until after he had left first thing the next day.

I recall the creak on the stair. The whispering. Footsteps. Then the bedroom door opening and closing. The sound of voices, murmuring. I felt that same enclosed darkness from many years before. Something inside me said ‘No!’

I got out of bed, got dressed, went downstairs and wrote a note, saying I was going to my friend’s house.They were adults and were free to make their own choices. However, I was an adult now and free to make mine too. I didn’t make a scene or cause a stir. I simply walked away and spent the night watching movies and smoking cigarettes, happy to not have to be audience to the farcical pantomime they were engaged in.

In the morning, my brother came round to my friend’s house. Mum wanted me home… NOW! He said that dad had gone and that mum seemed out of her mind. I decided to head back to see what had happened.

As soon as I stepped through the door, she was on me. My mum is just over 5ft, whereas I am over 6ft. I have rarely seen her cry and she had not struck me since I was a good ten years younger. However, not only was she now howling and screaming at me, but she was also hammering on my chest with her fists so hard that I had to raise my arms to defend myself. She was clearly out of control.

I had never seen her like this before. I did the only thing I could do- I put my arms round her and hugged her.

I remember her collapsing in my grip. She was whimpering, ‘He’s gone! He’s gone!’ Apparently, they had heard me leave. My dad had immediately taken this personally and he left in the morning under a cloud. Although the toxic dynamic between my parents was clearly at the root of the situation, they did what parents like them so frequently do- they blame their children. I had caused a ‘problem’, pointed to the fact that the Emperor was wearing no clothes (literally) and was the reason that my dad had beaten a hasty retreat. The fact that he had been walking in and out for 7 years, engaging in numerous affaires and effectively committing rape on occasions was, apparently, immaterial. Not for the first time, I was reminded that this wasn’t my house and that if I didn’t want to live by her rules, I could leave ( she has been using this line for a long time; long before I was legally allowed to live by myself).

The legacy of all this has been far ranging for me and it has deeply impacted on various areas of my life. Sometimes I am amazed that I have managed to happily marry and have children of my own! However, I would say that this is testament to the fact that survivors can go on to build the lives that they desire; the capacity to heal and recover is stronger than the hurt the perpetrators cause. Not that it has been easy; sexual identity has been a thorny issue for me at times, often through over-identification with my father or sublimating my own needs through a misguided desire to please others (sound familiar?) These are issues for later development and postings, but to return to my original purpose in writing this article, it becomes clear how a household can prove traumatic in ways that are not always understood or anticipated.

Certainly, under the current definition of sexual abuse of children, my father is guilty because he forced us to be privy to his sexual activity with my mum, albeit through an indirect route. As I said at the start, no teenager likes to admit that their parents have sex; it is worse to feel like you are being made a part of it.

The Sins of the Father: Physical Abuse

When I was 17, my father physically assaulted me. The stand off had been building for some time. It was breakfast time and my mum was doing the ironing. Dad was living at home and in one of his ‘moods’ and the atmosphere was frosty, even though it was summer. He had gone upstairs and bellowed down that I was to come and tidy my ‘pig sty’ of a room. It wasn’t untidy, he just liked finding arbitrary tasks for us to do. I answered that I would once I’d cleared the table for mum; I knew full well that this subtle form of insubordination rankled him and had been waging a guerrilla war of non-cooperation for some time.

I was stacking plates in the kitchen when I heard him come thundering down the stairs. Before I knew it, he burst in and grabbed me by the throat, pinning me against a cupboard. I recall clocking that a kitchen knife was just out of reach; I’d been having frequent violent dreams about him for several years by now, rehearsing various acts of Jacobean-style retribution, so it is probably for the best that it was beyond grabbing distance. All the same, I knew I had to fight back, but in that moment of frozen time, I couldn’t help but wonder how we’d come to this…

***

As a kid, I was always struck by how much my father reminded me of Christopher Lee playing Count Dracula. They were both tall, dark and menacing; vampires became a regular feature of my life, from the blackcurrant lollipops I used to stain every item of clothing I owned with through to the stick men with fangs that are amongst some of my earliest drawings. The imagery got into my psyche early (my parents would regularly watch Hammer Horror movies on a weekend) and it came to stick.

Dad wasn’t around much; he told us he was working. Maybe he was, I can’t prove anything either way. This meant that when he was at home, his oppressive presence had double the impact. He liked the house to be fastidiously tidy and had a deep aversion to all forms of noise. My mum had a record collection from her teen years that was never played and I only recall classical music being played. He would listen to the World Service avidly and enjoyed reading his newspaper whilst everyone else got on with the chores he had assigned. He rarely engaged with us on any level and the few times he engaged in play fights, someone invariably got walloped once he got bored of the game. His philosophy, on the whole, was that children should be seen and not heard…or else.

I don’t recall when I first became scared of him but I believe I was around the age of two. I have no recollection of these events, but I’ve been told about them by others who were present. The family had been on a day trip to a cathedral. I had run around making a noise and generally acting the way toddlers do. Dad had an obsession with not being shown up by us; this is common in narcissists as they view the behaviour of their children as being directly related to themselves. At one point, when I had been particularly boisterous and not responded to his warnings, he declared that I would be ‘thrashed’ when I got home. That was precisely what happened.

As I’ve said, I have no recollection of this, but I am told that there was a general feeling of shock at the brutality with which he dealt with me. My eldest sister, who was eight, said it wasn’t so much the physical force with which he dealt with me that stood out, but the sheer coldness and lack of empathy he had for his visibly terrified son. In his mind, he was teaching me a lesson that I needed to learn; to my father, children, like dogs, had to be broken to the leash.

***

The human mind is remarkable but annoying. When it is overwhelmed by traumatic circumstances, especially during formative stages of development, it buries the memories away as a blank spot. This is a form of self-protection, but it often takes therapy to release the buried emotions. My dad wasn’t routinely physically violent; he didn’t have to be because he conditioned us from an early age to be afraid of him and with good cause. It took me many years to understand this and it is a common occurrence for abuse survivors to not even realise that they have actually been abused. This tends to only add to the overall feeling of confusion and self-loathing in the victim, sadly.

On the occasions where physical force was used, he made it count. He would hit you round the head with a closed hand with sufficient force to ensure you remembered it. This could be for ordinary indiscretions or for purely arbitrary things( on one occasion he struck my sister over the knuckles with a fork for saying “dinner” instead of “lunch”). Like many men like him, he was in many ways physically inadequate and compensated for this by bullying those weaker than him. To many, he was something of an absurd character, with his exaggerated manner of speaking and anachronistic eccentricities. Yet in his home he presented himself as a God and the acquiesence of my mother to this reinforced his assumed status in the mind of his children.

***

I regret not phoning the police the day he assaulted me. As it was, I fought back (sans sharp objects) and he fled, leaving me to deal with my mother who would go to inhuman lengths to rationalise, excuse and justify his behaviour. In the depressingly common way in which dysfunctional households operate, it was all swiftly swept under the carpet and the charade of normality resumed. I tend to feel that if I had reported him, it might have made a difference but I’m not convinced that they would have done much about it. Amongst the varied levels of fury a survivor experiences, anger for those who were perceived as standing by and watching is amongst the most powerful.

On this basis and because there is still an entrenched tendency by many to dismiss even stark evidence, I would advise anyone to become familiar with what constitutes domestic violence. Many people tend to think it means kids in dirty clothes being afraid to change for PE in case someone sees the bruises. There is far more to it than that and society, as a whole, needs to become far more aware about this. Whilst the most heinous or high-profile cases hit the headlines, there are literally thousands falling through the gaps and it can be a long way down.

No one likes confronting the truths about abuse, much less the possibility that they may have been abused. However, it is vital for this to happen if the scandalous statistics pertaining to domestic abuse are to ever be adequately addressed. I intend to address this further in a future posting.

My Family and Other Natural Disasters: The Back Story

On the surface, my family was typical of many English middle class families. My dad was a solicitor and my mum a housewife until I was a teenager. We lived in rural Kent and I was the third of four children, with two elder sisters and a younger brother. Both my parents were church goers and we had friends, birthday parties and the usual squabbles kids have. To most people, we were unexceptional.

My dad had grown up in colonial Africa and his parents were both war veterans, both of whom were still alive and thoroughly damaged people. He was always distant, emotionally detached and authoritarian. He was also narcissitic, a compulsive liar and highly controlling. To the outside world, he portrayed himself as a charming, conscientious and thoroughly decent human being. Behind closed doors, he was far from being any of these things.

My mother had grown up in a very traditional and patriarchical family. Her father was strict, domineering but genuinely loving, however her upbringing had primed her to believe that women are subordinate to men and that wives are the obedient vessels of their husbands (the swinging 60s managed to pass them completely by!) She had met my father when they were teenagers and she found him exciting, dangerous and challenging ( by her own admission). They married in their early twenties and the abusive grooming began almost immediately. On their wedding night, my father announced that there was to be no sex in the marriage ( ironic, given that he went on to spawn four kids!)

I’d love to be able say that she had a sudden moment of clarity, packed her bags and ran for it. Sadly, no. Unfortunately, this was only the start of it.

Over the following months, they formed a thoroughly codependent bond as my mother’s sense of identity, ambition and self-reliance was eroded from her. Shortly after the birth of her second child, her own mother died of colitis. My father further isolated her from friends and loved ones, eventually coercing her to move away to a new town (he threatened to have an affair if she did not submit to his demands). Depressed, conflicted and lacking support, my mother became his docile servant in her futile quest to placate and please her husband, as well as protect herself and her young children from his increasingly erratic and aggressive behaviour.

This set the stage for the arrival of their third child, their first son and my own birth.

Oh boy! (literally!)

Welcome!

Hello and welcome to my blog, ‘Scratches & Dust.’

I am 37 years old, male, a father, husband and an English teacher. I am also a survivor of childhood domestic abuse. You may have preconceptions about what this means. You may even be a survivor of abuse yourself or  be experiencing abuse on some level in your current life.

I started this blog to raise awareness of domestic abuse, to network and to act as a resource for others. I intend to be frank about my own experiences, but for this reason I will not be releasing any personal details about myself beyond what has been stated above.

My work as a teacher has brought me into contact with students who have disclosed to me about abusive situations that are being perpetrated in their own lives. I have been trained in Child Protection issues and I have been personally involved in helping a handful of individuals take the first steps towards changing their lives for the better. Although I am interested in and read about psychology/ psychotherapy/ trauma recovery, I have no formal training in this area. I have been in the past and am currently in therapy myself, as well as taking medication to manage the legacy of my experiences.

I am particularly interested in the experiences of male abuse survivors and helping to raise awareness amongst men of these issues. Ultimately, I can only speak from my own subjective experience, but I firmly believe that every voice that is raised about this is another crack in the veil of silence that surrounds us.

Thank you, for whatever reason you are reading this. I hope that you find what you are looking for.