I have spent hours in therapy trying to justify his treatment of us. He and my mother married at 19 in 1957. It was before the ‘pill’ and my mother became pregnant with me only weeks after their wedding, if my calculations are correct. My brother came along 10 months later, another brother in another 18 months, and two more sisters over the next 2 years. In ’64 the pill put an end to more brothers and sisters. Needless to say, my parents were overwhelmed with children they were not prepared for.
My mother was raised as an only child by foster parents and my father by an abusive stepfather and a mother who allowed the abuse. Not a good combination of parenting models. My own mother allowed the abuse because she feared being stuck with 5 kids and no support.
I had friends with abusive fathers, but the men were drinkers. I could somehow justify that. My father did not drink. He took out his frustrations with work and family with his belt. I found that he made up excuses to beat us. Report card time was a time of fear. If we got any grade below an A it cost us two licks with the belt. If we dropped from say a B+ to a B- it was a lick for each. If it went down a whole grade it was 2 licks. With 6 nor 7 classes that might amount to up to 10 licks. My father was 6’2 and weighed about 220 lbs. He was muscular and those licks came with great force, raising welts that turned black and blue or sometimes drawing blood.
As I grew older, I became the main target of his rages. He only had an 8th grade education and could not spell. It irked him that I could correct his spelling and grammar. He tried to use ‘big’ words and tended to use the wrong ones. After being backhanded for absently correcting him a few times, I learned my lesson. I couldn’t help giggling sometimes, however.
If I didn’t dress out for PE, I got marked down. With the frequent purple stripes in my back and legs, I refused to undress in front of others. In third grade I went into the same stall with a little friend and she saw the bruises. She went to our teacher about it and my teacher called my grandmother. Granny called my mother about it, and I caught Hell. I was told that if I ever let anyone see the bruises again I would be sent off to the girl’s reformatory in Geneva, IL. I never got better than a C in PE, four licks.
This continued through my high school years. By that time, the threat of Geneva had worn off. My mother made the threat one day. I handed her the phone, told her to make the call while I packed, and went upstairs to my room. Even a reform school had to be better than home! I had developed a sophisticated sarcastic sense of humor. I read a lot. I began reading and comprehending adult fiction by the fourth grade. My parents could never understand why I would laugh at adult oriented jokes on television and movies.
You might wonder why teachers or other adults didn’t step in. In the ’60s and ’70s in rural areas, children were looked at as the property of their parents to do with as they pleased. People did not get involved in family matters like discipline. I went to school with black eyes and broken ribs. He liked to punch and kick, too. The more we cried or begged him to stop, the harder he was on us.
I was scared to death of the man. I would sometimes break into tears if I found myself alone in a room with him. It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I finally grew a set where he was concerned and told him to F off and never speak to me again. He died when I was 31. I did not go to his funeral and have never visited his grave. I never will.
I think I have forgiven him and my mother, but I cannot forget. I cried when I heard that he’d died, but not because I grieved his loss. I cried because I didn’t have a father I wanted to grieve. I cannot celebrate my father. He donated the sperm, but he donated little else but fear and dread to my life. My two sons are wonderful attentive and loving fathers to their children. I celebrate them.