By Richard Bleil
My father had a horrendous temper. He was never physically abusive, but he certainly was happy to let you know when something was not up to his satisfaction. He was also a perfectionist, and a do-it-yourselfer.
So we had new carpeting installed in the family room in the new house. Being the ’70’s, of course it was a plush shag. Unfortunately, the door to the garage scraped against the carpeting every time it was opened and closed. So, naturally, one Saturday, dad takes the door off of the hinges, and lays it out on a couple of supports. Carefully carefully carefully he measures a very very small amount to take off of the bottom of the door. He drew the line as perfectly as he could with his pencil using squares and tape measures, and then he made one of the few mistakes I ever saw him make. He pulled out his electric jigsaw.
On the front of the door, the line was perfect. He cut it straight and it was beautiful, but, being that it was an outside door, the thin jigsaw blade was following the wood grain and waving. And dad flew into a rant.
My dad speaks two languages; English (or at least the Americanized version of it), and swearese. And his native language switched, right then and there.
“RACK’N FRAK’N BOSH’KIN…” Well, you get it. Proper swearing. The real thing. The melt the paint off of the walls kind. The marines wish they could have been there to take notes kind.
He flipped the door over like he was flipping a child onto his knees for a good old-fashioned bare hand spanking. He measured out a new line. “FRACK’N SHNAP’N CRACK’N….” He drew out his line in pencil “FARK’N BARK’N SNARK’N…” He pulled out his hand saw and sawed that “HORK’N BORK’N SHNNOOK’N…” door by hand. And he hung it.
And it was at least two inches off of the carpet. Nooooooooooot exactly ideal for an outside garage door. My sister and mother were in the kitchen, and I was in my room, and we all knew to keep a distance when my mother called up to me and asked me to take a glass of iced tea out to him.
Well, being the dutiful son I knew I’d get a hollerin’ at for if I wasn’t, she sent her middle-school aged son to the garage with a glass of iced tea. The door was hung, dad was in the garage grumbling as he inspected his failure, and I was in the family room.
“Mom said I should bring you this iced tea.”
“I was just wondering, do you want me to open the door, or just slip it underneath?”
It could have gone one of two ways. Dad could have laughed, or…well, I’m here writing the story, so it turned out okay.
Recently, I discovered that, originally, mom asked my sister to bring the iced tea to him, but she refused. Listening from the kitchen, they couldn’t believe what they heard, and held their breath. It was a great relief and they had a great belly laugh about it when it worked itself out.
When I think about this, two things become glaringly obvious. First, it’s pretty clear that if it came down to a choice between my sister and myself, well, she made that choice. I lost.
But there’s something deeper that is worth examining.
See, my own mother was afraid to show this kindness of iced tea to my father. In a family of four, mom feared bringing him a refreshing beverage, as was my sister. I had learned to stand up to my father when I was quite young, which is nothing of which to be proud. It meant that, out of necessity, I learned to defend myself against the man that was supposed to defend me as his son.
I said at the opening that dad was never physically abusive, and yet all of us, his entire family, were terrified of him. Today I understand, at least better than ever before if not completely, that abuse is not necessarily physical. In fact, I used to with I were physically abused. Somehow, people don’t believe that you were abused unless you have the broken bones or cigarette burns to prove it. The scars of emotional abuse may not be visible, but they cut deep.
Dad would go through periods where he would not talk to any of us, punishing the entire family for some imagined slight for which he blamed all of us. I cannot imagine something going so wrong that he could blame the entire family, even if it was an actual issue. He would raise his voice, and use his words, especially his “swearese” as I joked about above, as weapons; daggers to cut us to the quick.
My mother thought I was an ideal son. I was silent, I kept to myself and played alone in the room. She would bring me out and parade me in front of her friends as an example of, well, I guess proof of what a great mother she was. This is probably why today I truly dislike Christmas; what better opportunity to force your son onto the fashion runway other than a major holiday? Today, I get it. I understand that I was suffering from serious depression, and was afraid of my father’s wrath if I made him angry,, and making noise was the most efficient way to succeed in making him angry. My mother and sister knew as well. For a household with children, the noise level was unnaturally, almost supernaturally, low. Today, when I hear a child making noise, I absolutely love it. When I’m in a restaurant, I revel in the noise children make that annoys so many others because I get it. I understand. I now know that children are supposed to make noise. Oh, sure, they should be taught to be respectful, but only to a limit. When they are making noise and fussing, they’re bored, and need to burn off the calories they had just consumed. I get it. It’s okay.
An abusive parent, whether physical or emotional, harms the entire household. Everybody is the victim, not just the spouse, or the children, and it leads to long term complications and problems. I am probably still single today because I’ve never seen a healthy relationship, and, frankly, why would I want to be back into that kind of environment? To be honest, at my age, it’s also just too late anyway, but my scars have plagued me, usually without my realization, for my entire life. Children can adapt and grow out of these habits, but it is probably more likely that they will learn the behaviors and propagate them.
It’s time for the madness to stop.