My main goal in life is to be a good father. It ranks above making money, being successful, having a strong social circle, and even my personal health. Although all those things play into positive parenting, it was the parenting itself that always took center stage.
When people see how I interact with my children, they usually think I’m continuing a cycle. I must have grown up around great role models who helped shape my understanding of what taking care of children truly means. They assume I follow the lessons I learned and make an active effort to recreate my wonderful upbringing.
And they couldn’t be further from the truth.
I often describe my childhood as “rough”. It’s an easy way to broach the subject without lifting too many curtains. Much like any family struggles, small details are usually left out because outsiders can understand the bigger picture from very little information. My childhood wasn’t whimsical and carefree. It was lonely, painful, and often scary.
There are many stories I could share. Some are bad and others are awful. As is the case with many children who were victims of abuse, the memories become more painful when you have children of your own and see how far those moments stray from genuine parenting.
Often, “discipline” wasn’t a result of something I had done wrong. Many times, they happened for no reason at all. It was confusing. So as a kid, I’d tell myself, “Remember this. You don’t understand what is happening right now. One day, you’ll be grown and have kids of your own. When you do, you’ll get it. It will make sense.”
However, as I grew, I saw the incidents, punishments, and insanity as what they really were. They were abusive for the sake of being abusive.
I don’t remember being “bad” as a kid. In fact, at eight years old (the same age when I was “accidentally” dropped under a train by an adult) I received the Teacher’s Association of Lindenhurst Award for being the top third grader in my elementary school. There was a ceremony and everything.
It was also the year I had gotten a black eye from, as people were told, “walking into a doorknob”. No one questioned it. Teachers, neighbors, and family friends all just accepted it as fact, regardless of how ridiculous it sounded. I never felt more alone than I did then.
A less physical, but equally painful recurring event would happen when one adult thought I was getting “too big for my britches.” Usually, this came out of nowhere and, even as a kid, I would see that it was the result of this person’s bad day or miserable life rather than my own actions.
This adult would make me stand and repeat “I am an insignificant little speck” over and over again in the mirror. I can recall going numb and just repeating the words robotically. It killed me inside so I just disassociated as best I could. That’s something I had learned to do very early in life and can still do at times today. Those words lived in my head for decades and warped my view of who I was. It altered who I believed myself to be and what type of people I deserved to be around.
It hurt just as much as some of the hits that had come my way in life. I watched things, hands, and insults thrown at me and around me. I was the target of ire and aggression on many occasions. The things I saw and experienced as a kid were things that most people go through their entire lives without ever being exposed to.
Here’s the craziest part of the entire situation. As I sat down to write this, I asked myself if I should. I struggled for years with how much of this to share. I felt shame over it and worried about how it was perceived by those reading it. It was almost as if I had done something wrong simply by being there and enduring it as a child.
Yet, when I think about it objectively, I realize that I’m not the monster in this story. I didn’t do anything wrong, yet the secrets that I was forced to keep made me feel that I was a part of it all. The doorknobs I walked into and the knots in my stomach every day had me believing that I, as insignificant of a speck as I was, had been complicit in this abusive behavior.
The adults in these scenarios are never named when I write about them. They don’t deserve a place on these pages, in my life, or even in my mind. While they still creep into my nightmares and memories now and again, I have moved on in my life. I have found the path to personal redemption.
That path is one with my kids walking beside me. I raise my son and daughter not the way I was, but the way I wish I had been. The lessons I teach my kids are often lessons I am learning beside them in real-time. From the moments each was born, I made a promise to them and to myself to never recreate any of the pain I had felt. Whether mental, emotional, or physical, my kids would never know what abuse was from my hands or others. As their dad, I was here to protect and teach. That’s all I’ve tried to do.
I never felt protected as a child and, as I grew up and shared my story with others who had been present during that time, I learned how unprotected I truly was. Realizing how many were aware of the insanity, yet let it go on was hard to process. If the hottest corner of hell is reserved for those who see evil being done and do nothing, then I know some people who are headed for a warm afterlife. Now is the winter of their discontent.
My children are my second chance to have a great childhood. I live it through them and try to make every day as happy as I can while guiding them through the world. No matter how big our obstacles are, we overcome them together.
Is everything perfect? No. Far from it. But there’s a huge difference between handling hard times and hurting the ones you profess to love for no other reason than personal gratification.
I was abused. I can say that out loud without being afraid of how it makes me look. The only thing that should affect how others see me is how I raise my own children. In that regard, even my biggest critics have admitted that I have done a good job. I’m proud of my kids and I’m proud of myself.
Parenting is about love. If someone like me who came from a place with very little of it can still be a great dad, anyone can. My kids deserve the best. I do too.
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