March is Woman’s History Month. As we honor and pay tribute to women who have made a significant difference, Operation For HOPE Foundation would like to pay tribute to a special mom, a woman who was empowered with the fight to survive. The story is told through her son, a domestic violence survivor, a voice to end violence.
A Survivor’s Story
I was 11 years old when my Dad’s reign of terror finally ended.
The day the abuse ended, I remember seeing him with his hands around my mother’s neck, bending her backwards over the kitchen sink. I remember her screaming as we four kids watched, stupefied and numb…once again.
My parents met at a nurses’ dance. He was 28, a graduate from the University of Tennessee, working on an MBA. She was 26 and completing her training as an x-ray technician in Knoxville.
Believing the Abuse Will Change
My mother did not know that my father, at age 3, had watched his father shoot his mother to death. In later years, Mom said there had been signs of inner turmoil while they dated, but she felt they were minor and would eventually go away. Our dad was tall, handsome, a lot of fun and my mother loved him very much. She did not know then that domestic violence is about power and control and is a learned behavior.
The divorce was granted on grounds of cruel and inhumane treatment. My mother got all of what little they had and started over, determined to raise her four young children as well as she knew how.
Surviving & Moving Forward
Remarkably enough, our story evolved from that cruelly impaired beginning to something much better. Credit goes entirely to our mother and her discipline, iron will and fantastic sense of humor and adventure, from which we would take our cues for the rest of our lives.
After the divorce, my mother continued her job as an x-ray tech at the Catholic hospital and ruled her house with an iron fist. We did not know at the time she was setting the example for us that would encourage us to seek and achieve lives that were well beyond what we were born into, in every sense. Looking back I can attribute her success in raising her children to a handful of choices she made.
• Mom established routine in our home including chores, even for the youngest. She insisted on cooking nightly dinners and we all sat down around the kitchen table together, talking and laughing until it was time to wash the dishes. It never even occurred to us not to do our chores and, to this day, I truly enjoy washing the dishes.
• Mom worked. Mom was up at 5:00 a.m. to get four young kids fed, lunches packed and out the door to the school bus prior to leaving for her job, which started at 7:30 each day. She worked a ton of overtime, including double shifts and holidays. All of her children grew up with a tremendous work ethic.
• Mom improved herself. She was an avid exerciser, and when her children were teens and pre-teens, she enrolled in the local community college. She studied at night and graduated proudly with a few gray hairs and an enormously bright smile.
• Mom was thrifty. Her x-ray tech’s salary barely qualified as blue collar, but with her overtime she paid the $147 monthly mortgage on our home, made her car payments, clothed and fed four children through high school and managed to take us to Florida for a week every summer. She never received any assistance from anyone except my father, who would occasionally send a check for $25. In her 40s, Mom began socking away $10 a month into a mutual fund and increased her monthly contribution steadily. She retired with her house paid off and enough money to live comfortably.
• Mom sought help. Mom knew that damage had been done to her children. She enrolled all of us in a family-counseling program provided by the county. She read everything she could on psychology and recovering from patterns of abuse. She had good friends that would listen to her and prop her up when needed. She never, ever talked bad about our father. Indeed, she felt empathy for him because she knew that he never had a chance.
• Mom did not let herself get distracted. Until her youngest child was 18 years old, our mother did not date. She focused on work, children, self-improvement, exercise and community volunteering. It was all about us, not her. We felt it.
Her Life Today
Today, our mother is 83 and still lives very independently.
My father is still alive and made amends in recent years. He can almost talk freely about his childhood, which was abusive and calamitous without end. He now understands, somewhat, that he wreaked havoc in the lives of many people who loved him. He has done what he can to show his children his regret, and treats us well.
Yes, our family was affected by the violence we experienced.
However, each of us is considered a success by most people’s standards. We all live comfortable, healthy, engaged lives with good work, good travel, good friends and good fun. Our children are bright and responsible. We’re all close to our mother and have forgiven our father.
We aren’t special or remarkable. We all just did what we were taught and things worked out.
If you live in fear because someone is abusing or has threatened to harm you or someone you love, these behaviors are not your fault and not OK. To reduce risks and to understand what’s happening, act now to seek safety and assistance. Find resources at operationforhope.org.
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