I didn’t know it was abuse.
I thought when he left bruises on their bottoms it was just an accident. I’m sure he didn’t mean to hurt them.
Owies and bruises and bumps because they hurt themselves in his care didn’t mean that he wasn’t watching them. Kids are clumsy and hard to keep an eye on.
Favoring one child over the other. We all do that a little, don’t we?
Screaming at them to leave him alone. He’d just had a hard day.
Making them clean up HIS messes. He just wants them to learn the importance of chores.
There were two incidents that opened my eyes and were something I couldn’t make excuses for.
The day my 6-year-old son broke a bowl, doing’s his father’s chore of putting dishes away, I realized that things weren’t quite right. The terror on his face broke my heart.
“Please don’t tell dad I broke this,” he begged in a panic, “He’ll KILL me!” It was a bizarre overreaction to the event. I assured him I wouldn’t, but he just kept crying. No kid should ever be that afraid of their parent…over an accident even.
My 9-year-old son lied about cleaning his room. His father charged at him screaming, “Who the fuck do you think you are to lie to ME?!” My son backed up. “COME HERE!” he demanded. My son took a step forward, his head was down. His father hit him in the head. “I WILL NOT BE LIED TO!” I jumped up and ran to my son. His father hit him again before I could get between them.
It took two attempts and 3 years before I was finally able to leave for good.
My kids may or may not remember these things. If they do, I’m sure they don’t think their dad is abusive. I’m sure they’ll rationalize his behavior, like I did for so long. I’m sure they have the idea that if he’s not beating the shit out of them, then it’s not abuse. It’ll be years before they figure it out, if they ever do.
Shortly after the divorce, I held onto the idea that maybe he’d manage to be a father to the boys. I was wrong. He’d made promises to them about calling every day. Promises about coming to visit. Dreams of becoming a rich and successful lawyer. He told them he’d buy them laptops and gaming systems and he’d have a house in Hawaii. They believed him. They were excited at the prospect of finally having a dad who cared about them. A dad who wanted to do things with and for them.
The phone calls were sporadic. Eventually more often than not the phone calls between the boys and their dad ended with them crying or punching walls. He’d tell them they weren’t ‘entertaining enough’ on the phone. He was calling so they could talk to him. He also expected them to be available when he called. He wouldn’t call back. He wouldn’t wait. He rarely returned the kid’s phone calls. He wouldn’t take into account dinner time, bed time or the time difference between Maine and South Dakota. He was doing them a favor by calling. When they failed to realize this, he’d scream at them that he was NEVER calling them again! If they wanted to talk, they can call HIM! Less than half of his visits back to Maine involved him seeing the boys. He ‘didn’t have time’, or would say ‘I don’t feel like fighting with your mother about it.’
Their dad has recently moved closer by. Less than a mile from my house, actually. My younger son doesn’t like how he feels when he is with dad, so he rarely sees him. My older son is like I was for so long. He thinks he can control his dad and his outbursts. All he wants is a father who gives a shit. He’s stubborn. He’s not ready to give up. He spends more time at his dad’s now than he does with me.
The boys know their dad needs to be coddled. They know he needs to be the center of attention. They know he demands their loyalty and their respect. They know not to expect that, or anything else from him in return. They know that when they are with him that I am the enemy. They are not allowed to talk about their lives with me. They also know the consequences if they do not fall in line. They’ve learned to walk on eggshells around him. They don’t realize it yet, but it’s all abuse.
The guilt I have for bringing them into this mess is almost unbearable. I’m not allowed to say their father is a crazy, abusive, manipulative bully. All I can do is support them in whatever relationship they choose to have with him. I hope they figure it out. I hope that eventually they see him for what he is. I hope they realize that HE is the problem, not them. If not, I just hope that they don’t continue this cycle of abuse in their own relationships.