Domestic violence is a very painful topic for me because I spent most of my childhood in a very unstable and violent environment, as some of my close friends, other children I met at school and in the neighbourhood. When I was a child, there was not much support for people ‘stuck’ in such violent relationships.
The widespread impression is that women are the victims of domestic violence while males are the bastards who are inflicting all the pain on women. In my experience most cases of domestic violence are much more complex than that.
I’ve spent years pulling my mum and dad apart to prevent them from killing each other. And I do mean that literally. I knew how easily domestic violence can spin out of control and turn into a murder as one of my neighbours died a few metres from my apartment’s door after he was stabbed in a domestic argument. And I heard a few times my mum shouting in an argument that she is getting close to using a kitchen knife..
I’ve spent decades thinking of everything that went wrong in my parents’ relationship and brought my parents to that hell. I came across a lot of other stories of domestic violence during my life. Only a few of them were as simple as the one described by Dostoevsky.
My parents did love each other when they got married. Neither of them denies that fact. Not much of that love was left between them by the time I went to school. My parents had different ideas on what marriage is about. My mum was full of myths about handsome princes from fairytales and was not well prepared for real family life. My dad was much more realistic – he simply wanted to have a good family with a few children and peace at home.
After my brother’s birth, my mum decided that having children was not much fun. The next one went down the drain – she did not even bother to tell my dad, that the next one was there, until the abortion was over. No luck – she got pregnant again. She let me live only because she realised from her previous abortion, that aborting babies was not much fun either. I was given a very clear impression, however, that I was not the wanted one. I was a ‘daddy’s child’ as she used to call me with contempt in her voice.
There is not much love in my childhood memories. All I can remember is toxic oppressive environment at home with my mum constantly bossing everyone around. She was particularly toxic with my dad verbally abusing him and putting him down all the time. It looked like everything he was doing was wrong in her eyes: the way he walked, the way he talked, the way he breathed, the way he sneezed. It looked like she wanted to change everything in him. Everything was supposed to be her way or no way. Supported by her mother, who lived in the same apartment with us, she gave my dad no moment of peace for more than a decade. My dad had no one to support him – his family was thousands of kilometres away…
My dad was a man of a few words, but I always knew that he loved his children – especially me, and could not imagine his life without us. He did not want to break our family. He did not want to be kicked out of the family and out of his children’s lives. Unfortunately, at that time children were always left in mother’s care after divorce. Father’s rights were rarely acknowledged in court cases. Dad tried to be strong, dad tried to placate my mother, dad tried everything he could – nothing worked, so he started drinking in despair. And that’s when he started getting violent towards my mother.
I don’t remember my dad ever being violent towards anyone else and I was always struck by the fact, that no matter how drunk and angry he was, he never ever hurt me, even though I was the only ‘shield’ stuck between him and my mum. I was the only one dragging him away and putting him to sleep before things would spin out of control. And that was not easy with my 40 kg against his 80kg and my mum still hysterically shouting abuse at him provoking him further and further. I wished so much she would just shut up…
My mum… Actually, for decades I found it hard to call that woman ‘my mum’. She always seemed to be a total stranger to me. I could never understand her – her behaviour and way of thinking always seemed to me so bizarre, so illogical and so different to mine.
“Your dad loved me so much when we were young. He was so caring with me,” my mother once said to me.
“What were you always nagging and grumping about then? Why were you constantly putting him down? Why were you constantly unhappy with him?”
“Well, but that’s what all women did.”…
When I had kids of my own, she told me about her abortion.
“How do you think it made my dad feel?” I asked.
I got a blank stare and total silence in response. I don’t think she ever asked herself this question…
I came across a lot of stories of domestic violence during my life and most of them were as complex as my parents’ one. Unfortunately, most approaches to domestic violence deny that complexity. Most approaches deny the fact that males can be victims of domestic violence. Most approaches deny the fact that some women can be very aggressive, manipulative and abusive. Such women might not leave visible bruises on their victim’s bodies, but they can leave plenty of scars and painful sores in their victim’s souls.
Not surprisingly, when Erin Pizzey founded the first refuge for abused women and their children in Chiswick in 1971, she discovered that “the women who came to these shelters were equally as violent as the men they were escaping from. They were also violent towards their own children!”
I firmly believe that the issues related to domestic violence can’t be successfully resolved unless we:
- overcome all gender-based prejudices and take non-sexist approach to domestic violence
- recognise the complex nature of domestic violence and its triggers
- provide all parties involved with appropriate communication, conflict resolution and anger management skills
- provide real-life examples of how relationships can be built and sustained in a positive way
- recognise father’s special role in his children’s lives and ensure that men are treated fairly when it comes to divorce and child custody.