I will never be safe
I will never be sane
I will always be weird inside
I will always be lame
Now I’m a grown man
With a child of my own
And I swear I’m not going to let her know
All the pain I have known.
– Everclear, “Father of Mine”
Last night I saw “Raw Boys,” an intense play by playwright Dael Orlandersmith. It’s about the effect abuse has on two brothers – one a writer, the other an actor.
I know so many men who were badly beaten as children. They’re wounded, hostile, mistrusting. The sad thing is, men are still made to feel abuse is relatively normal and only weaklings are affected by it, so they rarely claim that pain. Instead, they stuff it down until it erupts later – on others, or on themselves, via chronic anger, substance abuse or depression.
There’s a graphic scene in the play where the father beats and kicks his oldest son. It’s all the more powerful because the actors never actually touch; they’re at opposite ends of the stage.
It brought back far too many memories. It made me physically sick.
What do you do with all that anger and pain? Where does it go? Look how many men justify how they were treated by repeating it with their own children. “My father did it to me, and I turned out okay.”
No. No, you didn’t, I always tell them.
I learned long ago that boys and men have their own secret world of violence. A challenge, a fight can erupt at any time. My sons tell me stories as adults they would never share when they were younger, because they knew I wouldn’t understand.
Kill, or be killed. That’s the world men live in.
Once I was jolted awake by a vivid, visceral dream. I was a pregnant woman, lying on the floor, trying to protect my belly while a man stood over me, kicking me hard. Heart thumping, I bolted to a sitting position. “What’s wrong?” my now-awake boyfriend asked.
I blurted it out: “Did your father ever beat your mother?”
“Why do you ask?” he said, a little too quietly.
“Did your father beat your mother when she was pregnant with you?”
He told me he wasn’t sure. He said his father did beat his mother when he was drunk, but she’d never said anything about it happening when she was pregnant.
He told me later I was right. (He was, to put it mildly, a little freaked.) “How did you know?” he prodded me.
“Sometimes I just know things,” I told him.
He was such an angry man. He tried to drown it in liquor. It didn’t work.
Abuse affects us all: our children, our lives, our country. Men who don’t know how to deal with conflict, men who find it wherever they go. Men who shut down and don’t letany feelings in, at all.
I’ve had men cry in my arms over the pain of an abusive father. I’ve yet to have a man complain his father was too kind, or loved him too much.
Men have told me I’m not realistic. It’s a hard world, and boys need to be tough, they say. Well, agreed. There are times when we all need to be tough.
But no one ever needs to be broken.