My older sister's first living memory is of my father trying to kill my mother. She was, maybe, a little older than a year-and-a-half. My father, wild-eyed and raucous, aggressively pushed my sister to the side, or so I am told, and she fell off the bed in my parent's room where the violent act took place. Amid her screams, my father stumbled around drunk and probably high on something and wrapped his large, calloused hands around my mother's throat, trying to see the life leave her eyes.
Their neighbour in the building -- an older woman -- heard the noise and drunkenly (for serious or perhaps for show) wandered up to their apartment. She helped lure my father away so my mother could escape with my sister, barefoot, wearing ragged clothes. He followed her with a gun. She fled. First to the police, who didn't do anything for her, and then to a local women's shelter. It wasn't the first time something like this had happened and it wouldn't be the last.
A few days ago The Washington Post published an atrociously skewed and deeply troubling piece on one of the reasons why women are victims of violence, which turned out to be a validation for the nuclear family just in time for Father's Day.
"The bottom line is this: Married women are notably safer than their unmarried peers, and girls raised in a home with their married father are markedly less likely to be abused or assaulted than children living without their own father," the piece argues.
The advice is brusque and insulting: portentously telling women that, by the way, if you didn't have so many lovers or didn't choose to not get married or perhaps if you stayed in that marriage you probably hate, you wouldn't get as hurt as you do. It's crap, but we all know this.
The emphasis in this piece is on data, which I write italicized because it feels like an allegation, too, in the same condescending vein as in their piece that notes "some men" behave in certain violent ways and "some men" don't, as if we're all so childish to be that smug through font type. Their data (from American sources) suggests that children are likelier to be abused if they do not live with their "natural fathers" and the risk is higher if their mother's boyfriends or stepfathers live in the home or if they casually pass through. It goes on to further discuss why it is important for women ("girls") to live in a house with their biological fathers for the sake of bonding or whatever; that the threat is lessened with married biological fathers around.
"What's going on here? Why are women safer when married and children safer when living with their married biological parents?" the piece asks of us. Yes, what is going on here? Why am I reading something this basic in its assumption of violence against women? Why is data more important than real human experiences, documented, told and re-told in an effort to end this kind of extreme behaviour?
But most important: why is this piece out to target fatherless daughters and unmarried women with or without lovers, as the obvious causes of violence against women? It's a sort of slap in the face, an "I told you so," substantiating lobbied causes for the family. I half expect to have some man spit in my face after reading this. What about the women, like me, like my mother and sister, who have grown up in that traditional family unit with their biological fathers, their parents married, and have still seen and been part of a violent life?
By talking about fatherless daughters, broken homes and women this way, the real issues of violence women face at the hands of men and male privilege are being circumvented and awful behaviour is still being perpetuated and accepted.
"But obscured in the public conversation about the violence against women is the fact that some other men are more likely to protect women, directly and indirectly, from the threat of male violence: married biological fathers." While the authors of this piece argue that men will bond, nurture and protect their offspring once in a settled, married situation, I know that my father never was going to and never will protect me or my sister.
It's a very backward purview on their part. It continues to purport an arrogant idea that doesn't and shouldn't exist anymore: family men are safe. How did we end up back here, cloaked under all that denial? They gloss over domestic violence by admitting that it happens but that admission comes as a kind of warning and becomes an uncomfortable truth dealt with only in passing, which is gross and unnerving.
I haven't spoken to my father in almost seven years. My parents finally ended their marriage when I was 12. They separated once before when I was ten. I heard the sounds of smashing beer bottles in our basement; screams from my father, his wild eyes once more darting back and forth; and my sister packing in an almost zen-like state because she knew what could happen to us.
The day my mother kicked him out for good she took me to my sister's friend's house where I watched Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and ate ice cream while she was home, watching the police escort my father away. My father has a very troubled background, which I will not deny. Years of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of his family have led him to make monstrous choices, which, the biggest of all, is not to deal with the complexities of his life and stop the continuance of such cruel behaviour. He was an alcoholic, drug-addled man who spent all of our money on cocaine, beer and hunting accoutrements.
The impact he has left on my family is undeniable. I have come to refer to myself as a fatherless daughter; first out of humorous, deflecting self-deprecation but now as something true not to be laughed off. My father never loved us the way other fathers loved their daughters and wives. He was drunk during the very last conversation we had. I was 18. I had just come home from my summer job at Starbucks smelling like coffee grinds and he called to yell at me. He rambled on about something and said I was an ungrateful bitch of a daughter. I don't know why he didn't love me and I don't think I ever will nor do I care anymore. I harbor no resentment toward the women who have secure, trusting relationships with their fathers. I tell them to treasure it. The larger relationship I have with men is, of course, not the same as other women's. Mine isn't an isolated case; it's a far more common one than anyone would really like to admit and in some or most cases it's far worse.
The problem with a piece like this is that as heartbreaking as it is to read academics rationalize an outdated idea -- that fathers don't cause harm -- it is still something I see and feel outside of an article. I don't talk to men (or really anyone) about my father anymore because I will get a similar response like this Washington Post piece; that somehow I deserve to be treated in a different way because I'm not part of some nuclear, normal family. That I am somehow not safe and there is a sort of curse over my being; that I am not quite right because I don't talk to my father.
A sweet boy told me once that it was prejudicial on the part of any man to have judged me as something I'm not because my father happened to be excluded from my life; that these violent things happened, as terrible as they were, but it was the privilege he believed he had as a male human that led to it. His choices are not my choices and that I may be a daughter without a father, but that is not who I am.
The article pompously ends with: "So, women: if you're the product of a good marriage, and feel safer as a consequence, lift a glass to dear old dad this Sunday."
I'm going to raise a glass to my mother instead.
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