By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved
I’ll never forget how sick I felt the first time I heard my oldest son, J, verbalize his memories of his early childhood. I had wondered what he remembered and hoped he didn’t remember the specifics. But when he was a teenager he finally told someone what he remembered. He was speaking to someone else, I can’t remember who now, and I was listening. I had never spoken to him about the details because I didn’t want to color his memories, just in case he didn’t remember.
This is what he said:
I remember being kicked into the closet.
I remember being slammed against the walls.
I remember running down the hall to get away from him and pushing the crib behind the door so he couldn’t get into the bedroom to get me because I was so afraid.
My dad taught me how to fly [spoken with heavy sarcasm]. He threw me across the room when he was angry.
While most of these could have happened at almost any age, the one about the crib occurred before he was 4 years old.
It was also revealing, and just as heart-breaking, what he didn’t bother to mention. He never mentioned the slaps (open-handed, full-strength strikes to any body part) and punches, or being hit with whatever object was closest to his father’s hand at the time. These went on all his life, though after he was reported to DFCS “Gary” stopped hitting first. Instead he would provoke J until J flinched first. Then Gary could justify bringing out the fists in the name of “defending his manhood.” (So for the last 4 years we were together I couldn’t ever say Gary initiated physical violence – thus he and everyone else, including the judge in our divorce, thought he was a changed man.) J also never mentioned all the times his dad called him “demon child” or some version of that in his frequent rages. These things were so “normal” they didn’t even rate mention.
As I’m writing this my insides are trying to climb out of my skin. Why, why, why would no one ever believe me? Why was the answer always “submit more,” “have faith,” “remain faithful,” etc.? None of those answers even touched the question, “What about the children?” Both of the first two times I left him it was about his abuse of the children. When I asked for help I was betrayed, denied and disbelieved. When I left Gary he convinced everyone I was lying or it was my fault. And because those voices were so loud and so unanimous I kept believing them.
I was afraid of the authorities because the fundamentalist system in which I was raised painted the government, and especially family and children’s services, as evil people who couldn’t wait to take away the children of Christians, abuse them and turn them against their faith. When Gary was finally reported to the authorities I trusted them. The church had failed me; the authorities were supposed to protect us and they were supposed to be able to recognize abuse.
But Gary convinced the DFCS case worker I was teaching J to disrespect him and he was only responding to J’s taunts and rebellious mouth. Everytime I talked to her she threatened to take the kids away from both of us because Gary was violent and I was teaching the children to disrespect him. She scared me to death.
Later our Christian counselor (the one who didn’t believe me and didn’t approve of our separation) also said my actions were teaching our children disrespect.
The accusation of disrespect came because every time Gary became angry I got between him and the kids. I tried to reason with him. In the moment I had two choices. Walk away and let him mistreat the kids or get in the middle and try to reason with him and get him to stop. By necessity, these arguments (because that was always what they became) happened in front of the kids. There was no opportunity to take them out of the room – Gary wouldn’t cooperate with that. But they did serve the purpose of turning his anger onto me and off the kids. That action on my part was “disrespect.” And yes, I was angry in those times. But I never raged and I never got physical. I never screamed and I never used profanity – which was his modus operandi. (To be absolutely honest, I did scream at him twice while I was on chemo – and immediately apologized and took myself out of the room. It was because my meds were out of balance and getting them balanced fixed the problem.)
Two voices both said I was teaching the boys disrespect of their father — I believed them both. I apologized to the boys. And I tried to be even more reasonable. I learned to never engage in anger; to remain calm and reasonable. I still got in the middle because I couldn’t just walk away and let him treat the kids that way. And every time J mouthed off to his dad I also talked to him about his disrespect and his responsibility to do what was right no matter the provocation. These conversations took place in private. Gary frequently accused me to “buddying up” with J in these conversations and taking sides with J against him, which was not true at all, but no one believed me.
Of course, the fact that I didn’t get angry back at him only made him angrier. Previously, when I did get angry, he excused his rage saying it resulted from my anger. When I didn’t get angry anymore he said I was treating him like a child (disrespect again) and it excused his rage. Somehow if I said anything, his rage was my fault. He could get angry about anything and was both entitled and excused; I was not allowed to ever be angry about anything – not his lies, not when he put us in danger with his choices, not when he abused our children.
At that point, J had never initiated physical violence toward his father and didn’t for another couple years after that. Not until he was physically larger than his father. Let me ask the question no one else seemed to be able to see — why was it OK for Gary to punch his son in the abdomen hard enough to leave marks I could still see a couple hours later, no matter what came out of his mouth? On the other hand, why was Gary excused for everything that came out of his mouth because we “provoked” him – by being too loud, or interrupting his TV show (a common offense that resulted in physically violent rage), by doing whatever he found annoying at the time? Why, why, why????