Carol A. Hand
Working on my mother’s story sometimes dredges up memories that I would prefer to forget. I don’t often speak of my father, but he’s an important part of her story. They were together for 51 years.
Photo: My Mother and Father’s Wedding – December 1943
I really know very little about him because I always tried to avoid him as much as possible – to steel my heart and shield my body from his emotional and physical abuse. I decided to see what I would find if I googled his name – an odd one – and much to my surprise I discovered personal details about him and his family here, including social security numbers! Looking through the documents my mother saved has stirred up a lot of memories and ambivalent, unresolved feelings. The following poem is an attempt to remember and make sense of past events. A warning – it’s not a light-hearted read.
I rarely write about my father – It’s not a topic that’s appealing
It’s fraught with memories of abuse and the nauseated feeling
At every meal when he was present and every time when he was around
Never knowing what would trigger his yelling or being thrown to the ground.
Although I understood him – the deep insecurity caused by his class and size
His bullying and aggression didn’t earn respect in other people’s eyes.
One moment he was charming, the next holding an unraveled belt or later, a gun
For some imagined slight in a war that must be fought – a war that must be won.
It was twenty-one years ago when he died all alone
On a veterans’ psych ward that became his final home
It was my document that placed him there – a promise I made long ago
“If you raise your hand and strike again, you’ll be on a psych ward quicker than you know.”
I didn’t do it out of anger – I forgave you so may years ago
But you forced me to stand up to bullies – to learn how to deal with pain
To speak truth to power and protect those who didn’t know
That they deserved more than to be hurt again and again.
I always wished there were a treatment to help you quell your inner agony,
It was your right to refuse, you had a right to make a choice – but others paid the fee,
Perhaps your fear was too great or your delusions of grandeur too overblown
I hope your suffering has ended, that you finally found peace, even though you died alone.
Photo Credit: Public Domain Pictures
Writing accounts of other people’s lives is not an easy task for me. I feel the need to be honest and to look for everybody’s strengths at the same time. Yet I wonder what to do if, in balance, it would be dishonest to gloss over the deep legacy of harm others have done, just as it would be for me to stand by as a silent witness to abuse. The fear and abuse my mother lived through in her personal life was much like the historical trauma her ancestors experienced. Imagine feeling helpless as you stand by as a witness while your little children offer themselves up to take your beatings? How does one write about this in a way that will be read and, more importantly, be understood? How does one see the humanity and pain of those who are abusive and represent them with compassion, regardless of their past and present actions, but still hold them accountable for the harm they’ve done? How does one make clear connections to the violence embedded in the decisions politicians, corporate decision makers, and bankers make every day, the same kinds of decisions that killed millions of my indigenous ancestors and will kill millions today? Are they just really insecure people like my father who have more power to do far greater harm?
Today, I hesitated to publish this. I don’t have answers to these questions, but they are crucial and central to the work I have begun… As always, I welcome your thoughts.
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