October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The article below I wrote a year ago and was published in an internal company newsletter in the Pacific Northwest. In the last year I had considered posting this at least twice a month, some months, weekly.
Last football season I saw this commercial, and I knew I had to do my part.
And I know this is my personal blog, but I’ll still share the same note that preceded this post in last year’s publication: There are graphic descriptions of child abuse in this post.
“I wished my mom would just beat me more.”
Those words lived in my head throughout high school and would resurface through college. I don’t think it as much since I’ve learned to appreciate myself for what I have become as a man. I do recognize that my upbringing played a major role in my growth, and I have been reaffirmed several times over that I have risen above the rocky waters of a childhood involving domestic abuse.
There are numerous factors I could attribute to a tumultuous upbringing: being a first-generation American to Filipino parents, classic case of middle child syndrome, growing up in the 80s and 90s, gangster rap, I could continue on for pages. I don’t blame any single one or two circumstances, or really anyone. I don’t blame. I’ve chosen to acknowledge the truth and learn from it.
My first definition of the nuclear family consisted of a father who left for work around breakfast and came home around dinner, a stay at home mom who cleaned and cooked three square meals a day, an older brother, a younger sister, and a five-bedroom house where most of the furniture was for show, regardless of the fact that there were rarely people over to show them to.
Being raised Filipino-American (and many of my non-Filipino, Asian classmates can attest to this) there was a great deal of pressure to excel in school. Actually, “a great deal” is a understatement, not to mention an incomplete picture. No matter the level of success, it was never good enough for the whip-cracking mother. She had told me on many occasions that we, as Filipinos, had to “work four times as hard” as white people to be successful. The only professions worth pursuing were as a doctor, lawyer, or anything involving math or science.
My brother is one of the most book-smart intelligent people I have ever met. If it relates to numbers, formulas, equations, graphs, or anything of the sort, he knew it. He learned them at early ages and his retention was phenomenal. For whatever reason, reasons I have still not been able to understand why, all the success he had, the medals from the academic competitions, the accelerated math courses, the scholarship offers, these were still not enough to please our parents.
For any grade lower than an A, or a competition that ended in anything less than being the champion, there was punishment to be had, and this came in the form of whatever was within arm’s reach of our mother. Feel free to insert your cliche here, “grab your father’s belt,” a wooden spoon, a wire hanger, it didn’t matter. If it was close by and wasn’t soft, it would meet the body until she felt satisfied. In a cruel attempt to make this a learning experience, my mother would make me watch these beatings so I could witness what would happen to me if I did not succeed to her standards, and sometimes, she would just go on a rampage and beat us both for anything she could think of that irritated her.
In sunny California, you can wear long sleeves and pants for only so long before someone asks questions. As you could imagine, it was only a matter of time before CPS was called by one of his teachers. And after a surprise visit one evening that resulted in everyone in shock and my mother screaming and crying saying she didn’t want her children taken away, things changed. But not completely for the better. My father quit his job and began working from home, but since he worked on his own schedule we saw him even less since he spent more time in his office with his jazz or rock blaring through his headphones. By this time my brother was one foot out the door for college and I was getting ready to start high school, and so Round 2 for raising a teenager began.
She didn’t swing at me with her favorite piece of firewood like she did with my brother. She didn’t hit me in places that needed long sleeves or pants to be covered up. And she definitely didn’t come at me in the frequency that she did with the oldest. I still got my spankings here and there, though. Ears served as handles to be dragged through the house, and hard-bound books would fly in from the hall to wake me up in the morning. Now that my dad was home, he noticed more of how she was with us and began to speak up, but not by much. And as the physical disciplining dwindled, she found new ways to punish me. There were Sundays I would wake up and everyone else had left for church without me. Some evenings I would come down for dinner and there would only be four plates and chairs out around the dinner table. On the rare occasion guests or visitors were over, she would order me to stay in my room and informed me that someone would bring me up a plate so I didn’t have to come downstairs. If I did make it out in public with them, to the mall or grocery store, she would make me walk several steps behind, explaining it was so that “no one would know she was associated with me.”
One of the worst punishments was sentenced after a report card that had less than straight A’s. She barked at me wondering how I could live with myself knowing I was a failure and took me into the bathroom and told me to strip down naked and stand on a stool so I could look at myself-this failure that I was turning into.
And I wasn’t anywhere near being a troubled teenager. I didn’t do any drugs, didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, didn’t get anyone pregnant, or even have sex for that matter. I participated in numerous extracurricular activities: orchestra, student council, theater productions, and clubs (all programs not relating to math or science, so of course they were simply a waste of my time). I adhered to her curfew of twenty minutes after school got out (because that’s how long it took to walk home from school), and I was typically in my room, at school, at church, or in transit between any of the three.
So yeah, there were many times as a teenager that I wished my mom would just beat me instead of doing what she did to me.
I wholly understand the concept of discipline, but there is a very definite distinction between a spanking or grounding, and physical abuse. Even as a child I recognized the difference, and now as an adult in my early thirties, stepping into a family role and the land of parenthood, I am blessed with clarity, growth and maturation within myself despite the abuse-filled childhood that could have easily turned into quicksand that evolved into a cycle of me abusing my own children and turning into my mother.
In a time where stories of domestic abuse saturate news broadcasts and social media feeds, YouTube videos of school bullying go viral, and where technology provides more methods of communication but leads to less interpersonal interaction, I have become more aware of how what had happened to me and around me as a child. I made the choice to learn from it. I was given examples of how not to raise children and how I don’t want to be as a parent. I may not have had to wear long sleeves and pants in 100-degree weather to hide my bruises, but my silence about this subject serves the same purpose. But no longer. I am telling my own story of physical abuse for anyone to read. This is not for pity, this is to illuminate a darkness and raise a voice for something that happens to people everywhere. Not just women, children, pets, or the elderly. Abuse does not discriminate.
I have not entertained the thought of wishing I was physically beaten more in a quite a while, and I hope that others that have endured domestic abuse do not continue to mentally beat themselves up over what has happened to them. What I do wish is for courage to fill those souls that are bruised and bloodied. What I do wish for are voices to be raised to by heads held high knowing they can grow from muddy waters and flourish with love and positivity.
Keeping it in your head won’t help anyone. Get it out and grow from it. Write a blog, write a song, or go for a run. Talk to a teacher, friend, or a professional. Whatever it is, it needs to be shared, not just to help yourself, but to help someone else who may be going through the exact same thing at the very moment you’re scared to speak about it out loud.