angry woman trees sky 750

Love’s Bitter Rebuke – Over Generations

PART 1

I will always remember my mother’s words.

“You’ll never forget your first love,” she said as I cried into her arms.

For some months, I had been keeping a terrible secret. My girlfriend, my first girlfriend, had been raped. They didn’t just rape her; they broke her nose. A knife was used. She was cut. There were two of them.

Picture Alley Sheedy in The Breakfast Club — well, that was Louise. Her soft Irish accent, long black hair and scruffy oversized jumpers made me love her with all my heart.

We were both seventeen years old and still at school.

Louise had met my mother just once, but things hadn’t gone well at all. My mother had ignored her and when she had left, she pronounced caustically that Louise looked like she had “come off a council estate*,” and that I was never to bring her to the house again.

I never understood my mother’s snobbery. So much of my mother’s behaviour left me terribly confused. In any case, her prejudice was unfounded — Louise was actually from a wealthy Irish family who lived in the expensive part of town. They were also puritanically Catholic. If anything, I had assumed that my mother would approve.

I had a part-time job at the time pushing trolleys around a local supermarket car park, and it provided me with just enough money to run a rusty old Datsun. At weekends I used to heap body filler into the gaping holes around the bodywork, and slap on some industrial paint in the hope that it would stop it rusting to death. In the evenings, I would drive it around to Louise’s place and we’d cruise around and find a quiet spot to park up.

There, we’d kiss, engage in foreplay and lie in each other’s arms while we talked.

It was during these moments that she told me about what happened to her only a few months before we had met, and she swore me to secrecy. The fact that I betrayed her to my own mother has haunted me most of my adult life (it is only relatively recently that I have come to a realistic reconciliation with the past).

“You’ll never forget your first love,” is what my mother said when I told her.

“What do you mean?” I replied, confused. “It’s not over.”

At that point, my mother stepped back from me, her face turning cold. Then after a moment or two she spat, “Get lost!” before turning her back and walking from the room. Those words were a typical retort my mother used, but nevertheless I was left standing there, shocked, confused, hurting desperately and so utterly lost.

Over the coming months my mother conducted what I now consider to be an “emotional war” in order to get her way. Drunk on gin, she would accuse me bitterly of “killing her,” and threatened suicide unless I would agree never to see Louise again.

“You’re destroying me,” she would complain. “Can’t you see what this is doing to me!”

I would not agree to give up Louise, but I had already confessed to her that I had told my mother, and Louise had become distant from me as a result. Later, she would refuse to see me altogether.

My father, having been brought up in loving home, was a reasonable and rational man. He was so utterly ill-equipped to understand what was happening.

“Your mother’s right,” he would say trying to rationalise her behaviour. “She must know something about that girl.”

I loved my dad, but his understanding of the situation was so utterly awry and I was so utterly confused, that neither of us could relate to each other during that time. I realise now that my mother put my father under tremendous strain, in effect pressuring him to pressure me.

My school study petered out and I spent the days on long walks around the suburbs. I had few friends, and any attempt to express myself to outsiders ended in failure and misunderstanding. So I remained distant, said nothing, and slowly became detached from everything and everyone.

I ate little and my weight fell dramatically.

I spent my long walks lost in my own thoughts, trying desperately to make sense of things. During one of these walks, I was distracted by an advertisement billboard.

“So strange,” I remember thinking, having been brought out of my reverie by the imagery of a chimpanzee drinking a can of soda when, out of nowhere, came a sickening blow.

I almost blacked out and half-blinded, thinking that I had been punched, looked around desperately to see where the attack had come from. But there was no one, and as I stared down at the blood pooling in my hands, I realised that I had simply walked full speed into the concrete lamppost while looking the other way. I dreaded going home, for I already knew what my parents would think.

“She’s had you beaten up!” I was told when I got home.

While I initially tried to explain, I sensed how unlikely my lamppost story sounded and was resigned to that fact that any protestation was pointless. My dad took the keys to the rusty old car from me and declared that I would no longer be allowed to “drive that girl around.”

The sad irony was of course that, by then, I no longer had any contact with Louise — not that either of them would have believed me if I had told them.

The last time I ever saw Louise was when, on a Saturday afternoon, she walked across the car park where I was pushing trolleys at the supermarket. She never looked at me, and as she disappeared from sight, I began to feel that I was bleeding internally. I never finished the shift, but simply walked away from the job.

I heard later that her parents had sent her to Ireland. “She needs a priest,” I was told by a caustic old woman who worked on the tills at the supermarket.

I never saw Louise again.

It wasn’t long after that things came to a head when my mother burst into my bedroom one evening swinging a heavy piece of wood in a drunken rage. It was a baluster, a piece of wood roughly the same shape and weight as a baseball bat, which my dad kept around in case of burglars.

“If you ever see that girl again, I’ll kill you!” she raged.

I swear to you now that if she had struck me, I had no intention of even lifting my arms to shield my face. At that moment, I cared for nothing and said simply, “Go ahead.”

She didn’t strike me, but instead started to smash up the room. I simply stood back and did nothing while she went berserk. It was my dad who, on hearing the commotion, came in and stopped her. I will always remember his words to me after she had left the room. I can quote them verbatim, and here they are…

“This is not your mother, this. Whatever it is that you are doing to her, it’s time to pack it in.”

He was wrong — that was exactly my mother. But at the time, I had no alternative perspective and with no way to understand such things, I had come to accept that, somehow, in some way, he was right.

I sat my exams, having done little revision, and as soon as they were over, I left home with a rucksack and some foolish notions about living “on the road”. I camped on a mountain side in the English Lake District for a few weeks, before finding a job and boarding in a remote pub called the Kirkstone Inn.

In the years that followed, I slid gradually into self-imposed isolation, characterised by drinking and self-harm. I ached so much to be with Louise, and I cursed myself for failing her. My mother had got her way in the end, and I lived for years with a confused sense of guilt and repressed anger that I had no way of reconciling.

PART 2

On my first day at school at the age of six, my mother had told me that there was no point in me going there because I was only going to be a road sweeper when I grew up. I can remember crying and insisting that I wouldn’t, while she explained to me, rather matter of factly, that I was stupid and that she was telling me for my own good. That is my first memory of her calling me “stupid”, but not my last. In the years that followed, she never missed an opportunity.

Despite the events of my last year in school, I actually passed my exams, but only just. Half an hour into one exam, I was lying in bed not caring when a teacher turned up at my house in his car to collect me. Nevertheless, having initially thrown away my place at university when I had left home with the intention of tramping the roads, I eventually went to University and got a degree in Physics — proving in my own mind that my mother was wrong about me.

In reality, however, I was a very troubled young man and throughout it all, what I so desperately looked for was a meaningful answer to the question, “What was so wrong with me?” Having no useful framework with which to understand either myself or the past, I was groping around in the dark with questions I could not even begin to formulate.

“So how does that make you feel?” I was asked, at various times through the years, whenever I tried counselling.

And I would stare at the floor, wringing my hands, as I replied, “Well, I don’t know really.”

It was always the same — meaningful answers were always held just out of reach by those who knew them.

It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that things began to change when one day I had a profound revelation while walking home from work. It so shook me so that I stopped at the next telephone box I saw and made an international call to my sister.

“Our mother was an emotional bully, wasn’t she?” I asked tentatively the moment she answered the call, not even waiting to say hello.

There was a short pause, and when she replied her words were the very first chink of light to penetrate darkness that was my confused inner world.

“Yes,” she replied. “She was.”

The first time I tried to speak to others about what I was discovering, I was told rather angrily, “That’s a terrible way to talk about your mother!”

Those words shamed me back into silence for a while, but it would not last. I had begun to challenge the invisible cultural taboo that had prevented any rational scrutiny of my mother’s behaviour. In fact, I was now on the way to realising a meaningful answer to my question, “What was it that was wrong with me?”

What was wrong was simply that I had been the subject of childhood emotional abuse in the form of my mother’s sustained criticism, ridicule, interrogation and bullying as far back as I can remember. There was, in fact, a far bigger picture to be uncovered here than just the one depicting the fallout over Louise.

The astoundingly simple answer was that there had never been anything “wrong with me”. I had never been “defective” — I had just been a normal child like any other. This, for me, was a life changing realisation.

Throughout childhood, my mother had taunted me, telling me that I was stupid and that everyone was “laughing at me.” As a result, the message I internalized at a very young age was one of shame and inadequacy. I don’t have a single memory of my mother ever cuddling me, playing with or reading to me. It was my dad who did all these things, and it is not lost me now how fortunate I am to have had that from him.

Now, here’s the thing…

The things my mother said and did were normalised in my family. My father had grown up in a loving environment in which motherhood was sacrosanct, and this was the framework with which he made sense of the world. In my mother, he only saw what he wanted to see, and rationalised what didn’t fit. Through him, she had a license to speak and do as she pleased.

She was beyond all reproach.

My mother would rarely talk about her own childhood. She opened up only once when, in my early teens, I found her sitting on the kitchen floor, drunk and crying. This was the only time she told me that her own mother used to openly express how she wished that she had been killed instead of her teenage brother, who had died in a motorcycle accident shortly before I was born.

My mother continued to drink and died a slow and lingering death, her brain corroded by the ammonia in her blood that her liver was no longer able to remove. Toward the end, she regressed into a child-like state, and my dad spent his last days spoon-feeding her and taking her to the toilet.

One of the saddest memories I have is of him sitting with his arm around my mother, who was no longer fully aware, and trying to comfort her.

“I don’t know how we will do it,” he said, “but somehow we’ll get through this.”

I knew as I watched him that there would be no way “through this”, but only continued decline.

Within a year of that moment, both my mother and father were gone.

My dad had worked hard in a manual job from the age of fourteen, and spent the little retirement he had as a full-time carer for my mother. My parents were deeply in love with each other, and toward the end he often remarked how he would not have had things any other way.

After my mother’s death, my father lived just long enough to put all his affairs in order and then, one day while out walking, he sat down and just died. After all the years of trauma and distress thrown up by my mother, I find it most distressing how he had managed to arrange things so that his own passing would be of no trouble to anyone. It is only now that I can begin to appreciate how, in those last few months of his life, he must have grieved so.

PART 3

I still find it difficult to tease out the good moments from bad, and properly reconcile the past. There were certainly good things about my mother, and some good times with her, and it would be wrong of me to paint an overly negative picture.

As a child, she had been cruelly bullied by her own mother, which, other than the astute observations of a relative, had been culturally invisible at the time. As an adult, she had been put on a pedestal and emotionally spoiled by my well-meaning father whose chivalrous notions about gender came from a bygone age. Never had my mother been expected to deal with the fallout from her own behaviour.

Recent UK legislation aims to make emotional abuse a criminal offence. While it’s undoubtedly a good thing that its seriousness is at last being recognised, its criminalization is utterly wrong-headed and will ultimately benefit no one except an army of lawyers and bureaucratic enforcers. The scope for institutionalised injustice here, I believe, far outweighs any benefit it could bring.

The solution lies, not in ever more punishment, condemnation and social exclusion, but in a sea change in our attitudes toward the generational nature of abuse. My mother didn’t know how to be a mother because she was never properly mothered herself. Had the right kind of therapeutic intervention been available decades ago — one that would not have implied criminalization and shame — the effect on my family could have been transformative. On the other hand, the involvement of the police and judiciary would have undoubtedly torn us apart and destroyed all our lives.

Abuse within the human family is not new — it has always been with us. Human beings are not inherently bad, rather the lives of our ancestors were characterised by subsistence level survival to which they were brutally adapted. Today, we still experience the echo of that in our relationships, on our streets, and in our prisons. If we could ever effectively dampen out this destructive echo from the past, we could transform human society within a few generations.

Whenever you encounter a damaged adult who is racked by deep insecurity, or who is emotionally destructive or physically or sexually violent, you are almost certainly looking at a battered or abused child who has simply grown up. Condemnation and contempt, without a willingness to investigate and to understand, ensures only continued ignorance and misunderstanding for new generations of children, and their children.

No, human beings are not intrinsically bad, but we are easily damaged in childhood, irrevocably so in extreme cases. Ultimately, however, it’s all about how we treat children, not about how many people we lock up.

Notes.
* In the UK, a “council estate” is a social housing development.
Louise’s name was changed in this for anonymity reasons. Wherever she is today, I hope she is happy.

About Andy Thomas (aka "Andy Man")

Andy is an outspoken advocate for men's human rights and a campaigner against family abuse. He writes about the harm and prejudice that men and boys routinely experience, but which society refuses to acknowledge.

Find me on  Facebook

Main Website
View All Posts
  • Dagda Mór

    That was a beautiful and moving story, thank you for sharing it.

    The blunt instrument of the law needs to get well back away from human relationships. Between the moving target of “emotional abuse”, the enthusiastic consent standard, the gargantuan sprawling trainwreck that is the concept of rape culture, the damned Duluth model, and of course the meatgrinder of western family court systems I can’t think of many instances where the law has actually helped in any way.

    With that said I don’t have much confidence in the kafkaesque machinations of social services in their current form to help matters much either.

    Perhaps what’s needed is a grassroots push to spread awareness that 1, people need to recognise that intergenerational abuse patterns are a real thing and see the effects on their own lives, and 2, that people need to stand on that recognition and take full control over their own lives, stop letting the past turn them into puppets.

    I don’t believe these bad habits are insurmountable, like any habits they can be changed with perseverance and patience. But personal responsibility needs to be a part of the solution as well, that’s the only way things will improve.

  • Steve

    Thank you for this powerful and insightful memoir. It focuses many issues that are at the core of the more generalized misandry in society.

  • Chris Wedge

    This kind of thing is almost always caused generationally, true.
    But there are just enough borderlines (aka sociopaths, at the extreme end at least) out there to potentially throw people off. You can’t raise a true sociopath well, and any system will need to be aware of the fact that not only will they lie, and use the generational root of such things in normal people for sympathy points, they’ll lie well enough to fool even the strongest judges of character.

    Just a thing that needs to be taken into account.

  • Bewildered

    A very touching story well told.
    I suspect genetics too has a big role to play here. Wish there were some truly scientific investigation done into the causes of domestic abuses of all kinds/domestic violence.

  • Robert Franklin

    Andy – A fine piece of work. Thanks for letting us know. One of the best I’ve ever read.

  • http://www.avoiceformen.com/ Dean Esmay

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Andy.

  • Mateusz82

    I appreciate you sharing your story, Andy. It was a powerful and moving read.

  • Aimee McGee

    “I wish you were my Mum”, she said as she leaned into the cuddle I was giving her. I brushed the curl that was sticking to her tear stained cheek out of the way. As her eyes closed, I matched my breathing to hers, knowing this would overcome her exhausted struggle with sleep and she fell deep into slumber looking closer childhood than her 12 years of age. This was the end of a day long riot of bad behaviour for me, her father’s girlfriend who they were spending their first holiday with. She and her little sister had pushed out with all their usual hostile strategies, and had found them met by a wall of non-violent restraint and firm boundaries. Much of what happened we had anticipated and discussed, so my partner and I could take a united response to this testing. The little sister had given up the fight first, and had rested, her head on my knee, sucking her fingers and twiddling her hair until taken to bed by her Dad. It had been then when the elder girl attacked. Had I responded the wrong way, I suspect she would have attacked physically. She poured out a vitriolic rant, mimicked straight from her mother, with ridiculous lies about how my relationship with her father had started. I listened to her, and then spoke softly, so she had to lower her voice to hear.
    “All this must be so hard for you, on top of all these new situations to deal with, traveling between two houses, and dealing with grown up things like the family court, you are expected to accept me in your Dad’s life.”
    She paused, you could see her trying to find the sting in the tail.
    “I want you to know, you have a choice about your relationship with me. I’m your Dad’s partner, but it is up to you to decide on what terms we relate. You have a mother. I’m not expecting to be your step-mother. If we spend time together, I hope we can find a way of getting on well enough to be peaceable together.”
    Tears replaced the spitting anger. I stay still and let her come to me. I lead her to where her Dad is tucking her sister into bed. Like a little child she let’s me dress her her nightdress. As I tucked her into bed, those were her words.
    That was 4 years ago. She had a period of alienation from her father. She’s just coming back to spending time with us after being kicked out of her mother’s house. Her little sister, now 13, resists me.
    The family court has ignored their mother’s abusive behaviour and repeated breaches of the court order. Those young women are soaking in a culture that tolerates and is complicit with female violence.
    I hope it’s not too late for me to help break the cycle of violence for those two precious daughters of my heart.

    • The Real Peterman

      I hope so too!

  • The Real Peterman

    This was an amazing piece, Andy. I congratulate you on making it through such tough times.

  • Andy Thomas

    I wasn’t going to reply, but then I thought, actually, I got a worthwhile point to make.

    I happen to know that it happened. I’ve no wish to explain how I know, but I know.

    Your comment raises the issue of the damage that false allegations and the so called “rape culture” meme does. The tragedy is that once the feminist generated hysteria has run its course, genuine victims of sexual attacks will have a harder time being believed.

    • alex

      I think there is about a 50% chance the woman is a lying or nuts. I know it sounds heartless but feminists have use hysteria about rape to take away men’s human rights, I really don’t care about female rape victims any more. I used to be a big time mangina and was all concerned and felt guilty about rape. Now I just shrug my shoulders about it.

  • Kimski

    Thanks for sharing, Andy.

  • John Narayan

    Hopefully this will spur on more men to speak about this. It might take us another 20 years but the pussy pass, benevolent sexism, female privilege meme, that breeds these super bitch’s must be wiped from the culture. How? Glad you ask. Getting young men into the MHRA and educating them on noticing the red flags early. Our job is not to fix crazy, it is to warn young men.

  • j24601

    Andy
    I share many of the elements of your experience, with a few important differences. I was the focus of my mother’s ire for the crime of being born and adored by my father as his first son, at the expense of his interest in, according to my mother, their first child, a girl born the previous year. My formative years were dominated by her narrative, as my father was exited from the scene by her very early in our childhood. My mum had also estranged herself, and therefore us, her children — she had two more, from a large nuclear Irish catholic family. She, my mother was the heroine in her story and we, her children, were the captive audience to her telling of it. With the help of the state she fed, housed and clothed us, but no affection. There are no happy memories of her, or indeed of anything else. Quite simply she was a tyrant. Those few visitors to our house would comment on how well behaved her children were, when the reality was that we were morbidly subdued, living in constant fear of her persistent tyrany. I could go on!
    I admire your obvious compassion to for those whose life experiences render them incapable of fulfilling on their adult responsibilities. I share that, as well as your apprehension in the involvement of the agents of the state in prosecuting any but the most culpable of adults who neglect their children; It would have served us no good had my mother been prosecuted for our neglect and my abuse at her hands, rather that those who were involved in our lives; social workers, teachers, doctors and others would have been alert to the damaging consequences for us of the environment in which we were reared.
    Thank you.

    • Andy Thomas

      Thank you for sharing back.

  • PaulMurrayCbr

    All the parents out there: be warned. A child or teenager is perfectly capable of making the decision “You will never have grandchildren off me” and carrying it through.

    • http://caprizchka.wordpress.com Caprizchka

      Absolutely. Not having children is a perfectly valid response to a stacked outcome. It is one that deserves a little less prejudice. Whereas having children for the sake of it is not wholly defensible under all circumstances. So many social ills result from unplanned and unprepared for children that to over-romanticize the outcome–which is how so many single mothers operate–ultimately costs society more than the supposed benefit of producing more and more socially marginalized individuals. In many ways, it is the last con game in town.

  • PaulMurrayCbr

    For sure. But that’s not what this story is about. If it weren’t Louise, it would have been something else.

  • https://twitter.com/TicklishQuill Isaac T. Quill

    Andy – your candour is disarming. As I was reading two things hammered my brain. First there was the district impression that you had been made to live under the shadow of “The Dark Triad” – Narcissism, Machiavellianism and Sociopathy. Many forget that these character traits can be manifested by women.

    Your report also strikes at the heart of published work by NAPAC: National Association for People Abused in Childhood, and their free book ‘Recovering from Childhood Abuse’ – all the features and events you describe are present in the analysis found there.

    You are also oddly timely in publishing as there has just been a closing of a 50 year longitudinal study into the effects of Bullying – BBC – “Bullied children are still affected at 50, study finds” – Adult Health Outcomes of Childhood Bullying Victimization: Evidence From a Five-Decade Longitudinal British Birth Cohort, Ryu Takizawa, M.D., Ph.D.; Barbara Maughan, Ph.D.; Louise Arseneault, Ph.D. Am J Psychiatry 2014;:. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2014.13101401

    Method Data were from the British National Child Development Study, a 50-year prospective cohort of births in 1 week in 1958. The authors conducted ordinal logistic and linear regressions on data from 7,771 participants whose parents reported bullying exposure at ages 7 and 11 years, and who participated in follow-up assessments between ages 23 and 50 years. Outcomes included suicidality and diagnoses of depression, anxiety disorders, and alcohol dependence at age 45; psychological distress and general health at ages 23 and 50; and cognitive functioning, socioeconomic status, social relationships, and well-being at age 50.

    Results Participants who were bullied in childhood had increased levels of psychological distress at ages 23 and 50. Victims of frequent bullying had higher rates of depression (odds ratio=1.95, 95% CI=1.27–2.99), anxiety disorders (odds ratio=1.65, 95% CI=1.25–2.18), and suicidality (odds ratio=2.21, 95% CI=1.47–3.31) than their nonvictimized peers. The effects were similar to those of being placed in public or substitute care and an index of multiple childhood adversities, and the effects remained significant after controlling for known correlates of bullying victimization. Childhood bullying victimization was associated with a lack of social relationships, economic hardship, and poor perceived quality of life at age 50.

    Conclusions Children who are bullied—and especially those who are frequently bullied—continue to be at risk for a wide range of poor social, health, and economic outcomes nearly four decades after exposure. Interventions need to reduce bullying exposure in childhood and minimize long-term effects on victims’ well-being; such interventions should cast light on causal processes.

  • jrms

    Andy, for what it’s worth coming from a randomer on the internet, I am so sorry for what you had to endure as a child, and I wanted to post (for the first time on this website) to add my voice of support and appreciation for having such courage to share your story.

    But in the spirit of honest communication, I feel I must say something about your father that I think you are not going to like.

    It seems to me that you don’t give your father nearly enough responsibility for what happened to you. He pretty comprehensively failed in his duty as your father to protect you from harm. You make
    very plain that your mother’s abuse did not suddenly flare up: you lived constantly in its shadow for many years. At the point where her abuse of his son was at its most obvious, your father’s response was to blame you.

    Your father had a duty to protect you. Not only did he completely fail to do this over the course of your entire childhood, but he lied to himself—and worse, to you—in order to avoid having to deal with the self-knowledge that he chose, for a couple of decades, to maintain a relationship with a highly abusive woman above protecting his own children from her abuse. As a result, your quest for self-knowledge about your childhood took years longer than it should have, and rather than helping your development, your father actively hindered it in order to avoid having his vicious choice made plain to
    himself and to you.

    It does not make it better to say that your father came from a loving home; it makes it worse. If he came from a loving home and had a loving mother himself, this would have made your mother’s abusive behaviour all the plainer to him. (But I doubt he really came from a loving home. Loving homes do not need to dish out “motherhood is sacrosanct” propaganda in order to survive. One only has to make motherhood in general sacred when the particular mother in question falls so far from sainthood that she is totally ineligible as an example of virtue in herself. And remember that our parents often form the model for the sexual relationships we seek out ourselves, and he chose your mother.)

    By no means do I mean to downplay the severity of what your mother did to you. I’m afraid I mean to add to it, by saying that your father didn’t care enough about you to protect his own child from his wife’s abuse. You had a highly abusive mother. And you also had a father who enabled her abuse and refused to protect his own children in the place where they should have felt the most secure: their own home.

  • Javiroll

    There are many points in this story that I could identify with. It takes nerve to open up and talk about yourself in such a personal way.

  • fathers4fairness

    Your story is similar to Trena Thompson.

    https://www.facebook.com/FamilyLawOppression

  • http://www.avoiceformen.com/ Paul Elam

    Wow. First, very good to see you here, :) Thank you for stepping up to write this kind of personal and very moving story. It is our stories, after all, that put us here and move us to action.