Life with my abusive father
My father thought that it was necessary for children to fear their parents in order to behave. He thought that kids were born bad. He was physically abused as a child by his own father, and then fought in Vietnam, so my father told himself that as long as he didn’t beat us with his fists, that he was doing a good job as a father, and that every other cruelty was a necessary child-rearing tool. My mother never interfered with his cruelty. He belittled and humiliated her every chance he got. He needed to feel smarter and bigger than everyone else. My mother was silent. She did nothing but work all day and night. You could eat off of our floors. She cooked 4 course meals from scratch and the kids were pressured to eat at all times. She never spent any time with her kids except to oversee our own house work.
My father was always angry and always ready to explode at any time. His life was hard, and he thought it was crucial for me and my 4 siblings to understand this from the age of 2 years old on. Just his voice, or the sound of his car pulling up to the house, was enough to make my stomach flip, my body to flush with heat and sweat, my face to tingle, my mind to fill with panic and dread. Every single day. I would go completely still, feeling that if I became wallpaper, he wouldn’t see me. The worst thing imaginable was being noticed, because no good ever came of it.
He created these elaborate, perverse punishments to humiliate us. It was important for everyone to stand and watch the punishments so that the victim would be as humiliated as possible and the rest of us would be more afraid of him. He was unpredictable in order to intentionally destroy our sense of security. A few of his many punishments: making my 3 year old younger sister sit outside naked in the front yard in front of passing cars getting as mosquito bitten as possible to punish her for preferring to be naked while inside the house; screaming at the top of his lungs while threatening our physically and mentally disabled cousin that he would nail his back to the kitchen chair if he did not sit up straight and forcing us to witness all of it when we were in elementary school (he did this many times over the course of several years until we begged our aunt not to let him come over anymore when my father was home); beating our dog in front of us; threatening to kill us, accusing us of trying to make his wife (our mother) want to leave him; calling us “assholes” and “useless”; ripping up our completed homework if he felt our handwriting was too messy (because he himself only had a 5th grade education and couldn’t grasp the math problems on our middle school homework); forcing us to stand silently and watch him work at his desk for no reason; long, threatening tirades where we would have to stand up straight for an hour as he accused us of leaving a broom on the floor of the garage; choking me when I was 13 because he thought my hand-me-down skirt was too short; glaring, hovering, and threatening bodily harm in such a menacing way when we were 2 – 14 years of age that we would throw up and pee our pants; prohibiting us from having school friends; slut shaming us the minute we hit puberty even though none of us has so much as held hands with a boy; listening to our phone conversations when we were 14-19 years old; lying about everything and gas lighting; physically reaching over and kneading our faces with his hands when he decided we looked “too serious” or “angry”.
People outside of our immediate family noticed sometimes. At the age of 9, one of my aunts took us aside when he wasn’t there and asked us “Are you afraid of your father?” We all just tried to brush it off and said we didn’t really care what he did, but at that age I was 100% certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that my father was more than capable of murdering any one of his kids if we went far enough (if we ever got pregnant, yelled back, ran away from home, told our teachers how cruel he was, or outright disobeyed him). Nothing ever came of any pseudo-interventions. It was the 80s and any would-be good samaritans were afraid to question male authority figures, apparently.
We were completely terrified of him. 25 years later, we avoid him at all costs.
He didn’t raise “winners” or “achievers” or strong people as he would have wanted. He raised adults with an array of serious mental, emotional, and health problems: eating disorders, chronic panic and anxiety disorders requiring medication, problems with relationships, substance abuse, people-pleasing problems, over-perfectionism, self-harming behaviors, underachievement, and general struggle and poor health. His offspring turned out to be generally good parents to our own kids, thank God. We now understand what not to do, for the most part.
Parents, do not use shame and fear as child rearing tools. No good will ever come of it. You will raise the opposite kid you were aiming to raise. Trust me. Treat your kids with pure kindness and forgiveness, and I promise they will learn by example.
— Nicolette, Child Abuse Survivor
Children living through abuse, violence and other traumatic events unnecessarily suffer the ill effects for the rest of their lives. These life-altering events are called Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
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