House of Pain

abusivedad

I never talk about my dad.

I tend to forget I even have one.

Every now and then I will see my mom and I will ask her if he is still alive.

She usually says that he is “in bad shape” and that his liver is failing.

I don’t know how she knows this.

She doesn’t know him either.

The last time I saw him was ten years ago.

I was walking into a liquor store.

He was walking out.

I said “Hey Melvin.” and he looked at me and tried to place me.

“Do I know you?” he said.

I felt like I should feel something so I became the actor I always had to be and feigned anger.

“Don’t even know your own fucking son.” I said and walked out.

I wondered if he had a bunch of families that he had abandoned.

I wondered if he had a lot of sons like me.

Little boys who used to clean their rooms and wait for their daddies to come home.

Little boys like me with their glove and their ball sitting on the steps waiting…mastering disappointment so early in life.

I used to say that it didn’t affect me, but I always got teary eyed when I would hear Cat’s in the Cradle and the first time I heard the song House of Pain by Faster Pussycat I had to leave where I was at because it crushed me so hard.

Little past supper time

Still out on the front porch sittin on my behind

Waitin for you…

 

Now as an adult, I see that it has actually shaped every human interaction I have ever had.

And it will continue to.

It is part of who I am.

I have one memory of us throwing a ball in the backyard when I was five.

I suspect I may have invented it.

And I have one memory of us sitting down to eat dinner together in front of the television.

I remember someone had shot Ronald Reagan and he and my mother were happy about it, calling him a “piece of shit” and I remember watching the footage of this old man being shot over and over again and feeling very sad about it.

As an adult I realize that they did not dislike Reagan for the reasons I have come to.

They did not understand his policies against the poor and minorities.

They did not know that the “War on Drugs” would become a new form of slavery for the impoverished of our country.

They just hated him because he was president and we were poor and that’s what they thought poor people were supposed to do.

I remember once I was lighting some matches, trying to burn some paper I had shoved into a gutter spout on the back of the neighbors house.

I wasn’t trying to burn their house down.

I was four years old and wanted to see if fire would shoot out the top of the pipe.

I felt a pain in my neck and blacked out for a second.

When I opened my eyes my father was towering over me.

By the way he held his hand I could tell he had just karate chopped me in the neck.

“Don’t light fires, boy.” he said in his southern drawl and lumbered away.

 

I have a sort of Stockholm Syndrome with that moment.

As an adult I know I would never knock a four year old unconscious, but I never lit another fire after that, and as sad as it is, I loved him for teaching me that.

I respected him on an animal level.

The big strong beast who could take my life at any time with one chop of his great hand.

My father. The giant.

But that was not the only time he hit me…

 

He wore a leather belt and on the belt where all these little metal rings, built into it.

When I had done something “bad” he would take it off and chase me into his bedroom.

He would tell me to take off my clothes.

I would beg him not to hurt me, but he delighted in it.

I would be in the corner curled up crying “Please daddy, please.” and instead of hitting me he would walk back and forth and talk about what a horrible child I was and pop the belt in his hands to make his point after each sentence.

He would do this until he was so angry that he could no longer contain himself and then he would just start hitting me wildly.

Occasionally one of the belt’s rings would open up a cut in my skin.

When he was done I would run to my room and crawl under my bed and cry for what seemed like hours.

I remember thinking that I wanted my mom to come and pull me out and hold me.

She never did.

I also remember thinking that they were mean like that because they had hard souls.

This is seriously what my little brain would say.

I would say that they had hard souls and that I would never let my soul turn hard like theirs did.

I told myself that their souls became hard from pushing down their feelings until they turned to anger and I had a very visual understanding of this concept in my head.

I imagined them pushing all feelings down and them getting all compressed in their stomachs and turning black and then the blackness oozing out of them and making them turn mean.

I remember thinking that it was harder to just feel my feelings and cry, but it was the only way I could keep from becoming like them.

I remember thinking that the tears were the feelings draining out of me.

Looking back it amazes me that I had such an advanced thought at such a tender age.

And in a very abstract way it was actually spot on.

 

I remember being five and sleeping with a knife in my bed.

A big butcher knife I had stolen from the kitchen drawer.

What did I plan to do with that knife?

I have no idea.

I just remember holding onto it like it was a Teddy bear and feeling safer.

The thought of this makes me very sad now that I have kids of my own.

 

One day, when I was eight, he went too far.

My mother came home and found me unconscious, covered in blood and told him to leave or else she would call the police.

My crime had been that I was confused about how to make instant tea.

I had poured the water into the jar of tea instead of using a glass.

It really seems stupid now, but no one had ever showed me.

He left and never came back.

My mother blamed me.

She told me that before I came along things were fine between them.

She told me that she wanted a girl and when she saw me that she tried to get the hospital to keep me, but they refused.

And then two years later, after not seeing my father at all during that time, she told me that I was going to his apartment for Christmas.

He was living with “a black lady who got him to stop drinking”.

 

My mother dropped me off at the apartment Christmas morning and I met Millie.

She was really nice.

My dad sat in front of the television drinking and Millie kept telling him that each beer was his “last one”.

With each beer he yelled at the TV more and more.

With each sip his anger built and so did my fear.

Finally Millie tired of it and went to bed in the middle of the afternoon.

 

My dad wanted to play chess with me.

I had never played, but he showed me how the pieces moved.

Every time he took one of my pieces he yelled at me “You will NEVER be as good as your daddy!!”

I recall sitting there, a ten year old boy, staring at this stupid drunk man and thinking “I am already better than you.”

So when the game was over I asked to play again.

How hard could it be to be a drunk idiot at chess now that I understood how the game worked?

And that’s exactly what I was doing when he lunged across the table and threw me to the ground and began punching me.

I squirmed away and ran down the apartment stairs but he caught up with me in the alley and dragged me down into the snow.

After a few hits I lost consciousness and when I came to my father was lying face down in the snow with handcuffs on both his ankles and wrists.

For some reason, the police then wrapped his entire body up with what looked like medical tape.

He looked like a mummy, except his head was sticking out.

“I’m sorry.” he kept saying “You daddy loves you son.”

He just repeated those lines over and over again until they loaded him in the van and drove him away.

All the neighbors were outside.

They must have watched the whole thing.

 

Some people in uniforms bandaged me up and some lady talked to me about hitting and gave me a bear.

Millie took me inside and she smoked a joint while we waited for my mom.

She was sad, but she cared about me.

She was just wearing a nightgown and it was hanging open.

I could see her bare breasts inside the opening.

I wondered if she was stoned enough to let me touch them.

I wondered how far I could go with her.

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How to Buy a Bra in Three Heartbreaking Steps

chloebrokenarmlaugh

 

The most common question I get asked is how I became a single father.

I usually don’t answer, simply because it is such a long answer.

I promise to cover it in a future blog.

On the rare occasion that I do answer it, I get the inevitable follow up question;

“Aren’t you angry with her?” meaning my kid’s biological mother.

Honestly I never had time to be angry about it.

I have been pretty busy the last 12 years, and also I am way too selfish of a person to harbor anger.

I just don’t like the way it feels.

But there is one question that I always ask myself.

And that is, “What the hell am I going to do when Chloe (insert major female right of passage here).”

It used to be “What the hell am I going to do when Chloe needs a bra?”

That turned into “What the hell am I going to do when Chloe has her period?!”

Now I am wrestling mind-bending  questions like “What the bloody hell am I going to do when Chloe starts dating???!!!”

Or “How will I stop from murdering a grown man when I catch him checking out my daughter?!!!”

It is not that I am your typical clueless man.

I am a musician and a writer.

I was raised by women.

When I was little I had long hair so people always said what a pretty little girl I was.

I have always been fascinated with the fairer sex, so I spent a good deal of my life studying them.

I have a very small measure of understanding of what it means to be a woman.

But there is still that crippling handicap.

 

I am a man.

So when a female friend told me Chloe needed a bra (and Chloe was only 10!!!!!) I was annoyed and in complete denial.

When a second female friend told me the same thing, I realized I must be missing something.

I looked at my little girl.

She was just a little girl.

She didn’t have curves.

She didn’t have breasts.

She was my little bacon bit ( her pet nickname from when she was a toddler).

Why were these women seeing breasts when she clearly was just a little girl.

So I asked Chloe…

“Yeah. I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that…” she said.

An hour later we were bra shopping.

 

I felt bad for Chloe.

I felt like I had failed her.

I had tried to find a woman who would take this role, but I had picked the wrong women.

Or maybe I was just the wrong man and had sabotaged the right women.

I don’t know.

But standing under the harsh fluorescent glare of the department store lights I was exposed.

Exposed for the man I am.

Exposed for the fraud I will inevitably be, when trying to navigate seas I have no business in.

A stranger in a strange land of under-wire protection and push-up support.

An impostor.

Feeling inadequate simply because I AM inadequate and wishing beyond wishing that I had just dated women who loved Chloe and had put my own selfish needs aside.

Double D, C. B. A…drowning in a sea of bras, I thought of the jokes men would make about women’s breasts and I wanted to punch every man in the entire world right in their collective throats. I thought about men looking at my daughter’s chest and objectifying her and every callous, jagged locker-room comment I had ever overheard came swarming back to me 10,000-fold and then when I was right on the verge of panic I heard her tiny voice…

“I like this one” she said.

And she is holding it in front of her.

“I can’t cry. Not here. Cry later. This is about her. Not about you.” my inner monologue rolls on.

Practical dad speaks through me “Will it fit?”

“I think so.” she says.

And with that she slides it over her head and turns around.

I help her to fasten it and think of more callous male jokes about bra clasps.

But I am no longer angry…or panicked…

I am so choked up that my throat hurts.

She straightens it out a bit and I say “How does it feel?”

“Kinda weird.” she says and turns around.

I see now what the women were talking about.

My daughter has boobs.

No. “Boobs” sounds silly.

My daughter has…hmmmm…”breasts” sounds clinical and “tits”…no freaking way does my daughter have TITS!!!

My daughter has…beauty

My daughter IS…blossoming…

My daughter IS…beautiful..

My daughter IS…perfect.

It doesn’t matter what we call them.

They are HERS and SHE can call them whatever she wants.

They are hers and they are her and I have new-found respect for breasts and women in general.

All the books on feminism and college courses on gender did nothing to prepare me for this.

“Chloe.” I say “I’m sorry you don’t have a mom to do this with you. I’m sorry if this isn’t how you imagined it.”

“You ARE my mom.” she says.

And then something flew into my eye.

Hilarious Child Abuse

childabuse
I saw this in my Facebook feed this morning.

I have a pretty debased sense of humor, but I worry about the proliferation of such “jokes”.

Aren’t these sentiments giving tacit permission to child abusers?

By laughing at it aren’t they really just saying it’s okay?
Once I was at the park with my kids and a bigger kid was pushing and shoving some of the smaller kids.

The tension built as the parents wondered whose kid this was and should we step in.

Finally the kid’s mom saw what he was doing.

She walked directly to him and smacked him harshly across the back of the head.
Several of the parents, whose kids had been bullied, burst into applause.

Surprised by the clapping she swelled up proudly and said “I’m old school.”

Being the big-mouthed jerk that I am (I was recently fired from my job for telling my pregnant boss that smoking was bad for the fetus) I said loudly so everyone would hear “Yeah well that school is closed. Now we TALK to our kids. Why do you think he is hitting people?”

Everyone just thought I was an asshole, but I was hoping maybe the child might have felt better and learned something from it.

My parents abused me and I thought it was okay to do that until I overheard other people admonishing my parents for it.

It would have never occurred to me that I didn’t deserve it had an adult not told this to me.

People are going to argue that hitting is effective, and yeah, well it is.

It is effective in stopping the behavior that you want stopped.

But it is also effective in destroying a child’s self-esteem, destroying trust between parent and child and it IS MOST EFFECTIVE AT TEACHING A CHILD THAT IT IS OKAY TO BULLY PEOPLE THAT ARE WEAKER THAN THEY ARE.

I am not going to drop statistics here.

Let’s face it, statistics can be manipulated to say whatever we want them to say.

But we all know that most bullies are bullied at home, right?

Bullying is almost always linked to child abuse.

 

The worst thing I see is the parent who smacks their toddler.

Did you know that the child’s brain has not formed enough to understand WHY you just hit them until they are around four years of age?

They cannot fully grasp behavior/consequence yet.

That part of their brain hasn’t fully formed.

If you hit a toddler they will stop doing the behavior that you wanted to stop, but not because they understood the punishment.

They will stop simply because they are traumatized and crying.

And when they are done with that they may very well return to the behavior and the cycle will start again.

Being a parent isn’t about being perfect.

We all slip up sometimes.

When Dravin was 5, he used to have this habit of throwing his head back really hard on the bed when he would lose at a video game.

He would be sitting on the edge of the bed playing and when his character would die he would just throw his torso backwards and his head would hit really hard on the bed and bounce back up.

I told him repeatedly not to do this.

I explained why.

I explained that he could injure himself or someone else.

I explained that something could be sitting on the bed behind him and it could seriously hurt him.

After that when I saw him do it, I would immediately shut the game off and ground him for the remainder of the day.

Then one day, I set Chloe, just an infant at the time, on the bed for a minute to change her diaper.

A second later Dravin’s head came back and scraped the side of Chloe’s cheek.

She was unharmed, but startled.

She began to cry.

I grabbed Dravin by both his arms and picked him up.

I screamed at him “ARE YOU CRAZY?! HOW MANY TIMES HAVE I TOLD YOU NOT TO DO THAT!? YOU COULD HAVE KILLED HER!!”

He ran out of the room traumatized and I picked up Chloe to sooth her.

I was in tears right there with her.

I was thinking about how scared she was, more from my yelling than from the contact with her cheek.

I was thinking about my little boy and what he must be feeling right then.

On one hand I was glad that he was scared.

Maybe it would stop the behavior, but on the other hand I knew I had went too far.

Once Chloe was soothed I went into his bedroom and I saw my fingerprints still pressed into his arms.

I was mortified.

I told him that I was sorry that I had picked him up and screamed at him.

I told him that I shouldn’t have done it.

I doubted myself.

I wondered if I was capable of stopping the cycle of abuse I had sworn I would not carry over from my own parents.

I felt like the worst human being in the world.

And the confusing thing is…

The behavior stopped.

Never again did Dravin slam his head back like that.

As parents we sometimes get a desired result from an undesirable behavior.

Of course the behavior stopped.

I traumatized my son.

But I wish I had just continued to ground him until he mastered the self-control required.

Or found another creative way to curb the behavior.

Because results are secondary compared to the relationship we have with our children.

If our children feel loved and safe and respect us, we will not have to go to extremes to get the result.

It will happen.

Some of these changes take months, even years, but they happen.

This is why being a parent is the hardest job in the world…and also the most rewarding if we let it be.

 

As one of my readers reminded me, we are giants to our children.

We do not need to strike them to get our point across.

The most effective method I learned was to lean down, put my hand firmly on my child’s shoulder, look them in the eye and speak slowly and seriously.

Your superior strength is felt, but a feeling of safety and security is transferred.

Your child knows that you are completely serious and there is no confusion about who the boss is.

 

It takes an incredible amount of love and patience to be a parent and most of us aren’t ready for it when it happens.

But if we make mistakes and forgive ourselves then we are that much closer to forgiving our child’s mistakes.

And when we do that, we are closer to healing ourselves.

 

By the way your comments are always welcome.

I am still learning 🙂

Walking Away

Image

I remember watching him walk down the walk to kindergarten.

As cliche as it is it seems like yesterday.

I kept my face together in case he turned around and when the door closed behind him I drove up and around the corner, pulled the car over and cried like I hadn’t cried in years.

What was this feeling?

Why was it so strong?

What do I do with myself now that my little buddy was off in the big bad world and I was alone?

Truthfully I wasn’t alone.

Chloe was six months old and she was strapped in the car seat crying too.

She probably just wanted a bottle but I pretended that she missed her brother like I did.

How did this happen?

How did I end up sitting on the side of the road in a old beat up Dodge Neon crying in symphony with my baby?

How did I end up being a single parent?

And how did I end up loving someone so much that being away from them for just a few hours made me feel like my soul had been torn out?

You are probably wondering that too.

Well let me tell you.

To accomplish the greatest achievement of my life, being a father, required me to make a series of terrible decisions.

We will cover that at a later time.

Back to the walking away…

So this morning I drop Dravin off at school and he walks up the path to the high-school and I feel overwhelmed with emotion.

All I see is my little Toy Story buddy walking up to kindergarten.

I keep my face strong yet again.

Not that I think he will turn back, but what if his classmates or their parents see me sitting in the car crying.

When you are a single dad in a conservative state you learn quickly not to draw attention to yourself.

So I drive up and around the corner and head home.

I do not burst into tears.

I talk to god.

I don’t know what I believe about god, but I talk to god a lot.

Pretty much all the time.
I tell god that I know that I have done my job and I know I should be happy that he has made it this far.
I tell god how grateful I am that he is still alive, because he doesn’t have to be you know.
People die everyday and somehow through some miracle, my little boy…my not so little boy…who ate a pot brownie at a party recently and told me about it…who still comes out of his room and hugs me once a day…who likes girls now…who has gotten so angry with me I am pretty sure he wanted to punch me…my little boy who has watched me make every mistake a first time parent could ever make and still loves me…somehow he is still alive.

So I tell god how grateful I am that he has made it this far and I thank god for that, because even though I am not sure that there even is a god, I AM sure that Dravin being alive is some sort of blessing that I cannot take full credit for.

I am still talking to god when I pull in the driveway and as I yell at the dogs to stop barking.

I put god on hold to look at Facebook and when I do I see my friend’s 19 year old son, who has been battling cancer with courage that is unimaginable to me, has passed away this morning.

And then I cry…

Like the first day of kindergarten all over again.