Outside of my wife, I loved my mother as much as I loved any human on this earth.
Sunglasses At The Breakfast Table
One morning when I was in fifth or sixth grade (maybe a little older), my mother came to breakfast late.
She was wearing sunglasses.
Looking at her from the side, I could see that her left eye was swollen.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Nothing, I feel down last night.”
The answer satisfied me. My mother would never lie to me, right?
I saw her a couple of days later without the sunglasses. Her eye was nearly swollen shut, and what part of the white of her eye I could see was yellow, and the skin around her entire left eye was black with subtle traces of purple showing through.
I instinctively knew she had been hit by my father. I didn’t challenge her on it, because the eye looked so brutally beaten.
For those next few days, my mother had ceased talking to my father.
I knew she had reached a point where she might leave him. He knew it too.
But as her eye cleared up, guarded conversation commenced between the two of them. Then when the eye cleared up completely it seemed that all had turned normal again.
I was glad for normalcy, but puzzled. Why is she staying with him?
She was no run of the mill woman. She was spirited, and financially Independent when she married my father, who was actually my stepfather.
My mother left her first husband because he was a drunkard who could not be counted on.
My mother was born in Idaho, educated at the LDS Business College in Salt Lake City, Utah, and traveled to southern California and secured a major position as an executive secretary.
She saved her money and invested in real estate. It was during the Great Depression when real estate prices were low. She had accumulated enough savings to buy a huge piece of property with a private residence, an apartment complex, and a condo on it. Years later she sold that property, put half of the proceeds in the stock market, and with the rest bought a home and additional income property.
She was a first generation Dane bore in America. She was tall, blond, and physically attractive with a comely figure.
My step father was tall, dark, and handsome with jet black hair combed straight back. He had been a varsity basketball and baseball player in high school. He took a swing at trying out for the St. Louis Cardinals baseball farm system but was eventually cut.
He went off and fought in WW2 and when the war was over he found himself in the same city as my mother, Long Beach, California. They met in a bar, had several drinks, and she invited him to come over to our home.
The home was a beautiful Spanish white stucco structure with a red brick roof. The home was accented with arches and benches.
She invited him to move in, and shortly after, they were married in Tucson Arizona. She was eleven years older than he was.
As they settled into family life, they threw parties for their friends. Liquor flowed. That’s when marital bliss was challenged. I saw my father trip my mother in the kitchen. Both were drunk. A doctor was called out to care for my mother’s strained neck and bruised shoulder. I wasn’t yet in kindergarten.
One night my mother got into my bed, my father came in and jerked her out and marched her on her toes back into their bedroom. Again both had been drinking.
In both these cases, I hadn’t yet reached kindergarten.
Today, I ask, why didn’t why mother leave him? Why didn’t she kick him out?
Was she dependent on him for financial security? No.
Could she attract other men? Yes.
Was she afraid to divorce him? No, she had already divorced one.
In my mother’s case it’s baffling, except for one issue. Both parents were heavy drinkers, at times. Those were the times when violence might occur, although most of the time it didn’t, but when it did and I witnessed the act or its consequences, it had an enduringly negative impact on me.
Both were sloppy when they drank. Drinking put me on edge as a child. It became harder and harder for me to control my frustration. When a “church key” would puncture the top of a beer can, I knew we were going to have a weekend full of slurred speech, unsteady walking, and meaningless conversation.
Worse: When my mother would come home from shopping and was only carrying a small brown paper bag, I knew it was whiskey, and my muscles would tighten. Hard liquor was not a good sign.
Worse yet: When my father would walk in the door holding a bottle by the neck wrapped in a paper sack, I knew it was vodka. That was a time for me to leave. Not only were my parents going to drink heavily, but friends would be coming over with mixers.
Most of the time people would argue loudly and then pass out for a while. But in rare occasions it would lead to violence and sexual indiscretions. My mother was treated violently, and both, sad to say, could end up with different partners.
Who knows for sure why couples like this stay together. I’m not going to answer that, but I will respond strategically in order to suggest putting a system in place to ensure women have greater safety in married life.
Before I do, let me say that the private violent treatment of women is akin to the problem of slavery and racism of African Americans. It’s different but similar. The system at every level of society has a built in bias contrary to the nature of a woman. Just as African Americans were seen as “inferior” so too are women seen the same way. Over time a system evolves to favor the “superior” over the “inferior”.
The system is changing, this article serving as a reflection among millions of other examples of that change.
Over time my rage built as I would think of the physical abuse she received. By no means was she perfect, and by no means was my father evil, but that is not the point. The point is that the system has evolved over centuries to favor, reinforce, and support the nature of men. And most men are guilty of some kind of violence at some time in their lives, and many times that violence erupts during their married lives.
But since the 1970’s significant progress has been made. We may have criticized the book “Feminine Mystique”, Betty Frieden’s feminist manifesto written in 1963. But the results have proven positive. Not only have women advanced dramatically in education and the work place, but federal laws relating to domestic violence against women have been passed. Hotlines, emergency shelters, ministerial education, police intervention and automatic arrests have all improved significantly. And no doubt with the horrendous acts of recent violence against women by NFL football players, new regulations safeguarding women are bound to be enacted in all organizations where violence is part of the professional activity.
A consensus has been reached about what causes domestic violence against women. It is the drive to control or have power over one’s partner. I generally agree with this, but my personal experience and direct witness proves to me that violence against women is also likely to occur when heavy drinking happens. It’s just the opposite of control and power, it’s the loss of control over one’s better angels.
Nevertheless, the following represents additional recommendations that will help to build a structure to make women permanently equal, realizing that the distribution of societal power is the best way to guarantee equality, and ensure protection of women.
1. Continue to ensure that 50% of college graduates are female. Research continues to indicate that college graduates, both male and female, make far more money over a lifetime. (Females should make greater use of community colleges, and local state colleges, so their student’s loans are manageable. College is a racket because of the huge debts that are racked up at “prestigious” universities.)
2. Ensure that 50% of recipients of professional and graduate degrees are female. This is particularly important in the areas of law enforcement, the legal profession, medicine, engineering and the sciences. Females will have to enter professions that over time have the greatest influence on the type of social structure that evolves to reward, and bestow power and authority within the community.
3. Continue to index income parity between males and females, and punish industries and companies that fail to ensure pay and salary equality. Punishment would include extra taxes that would return to underpaid females.
4. Offer automatic insurance policies to women when leaving their husband over domestic violence. The policy would ensure financial stability while women are enrolled in college acquiring professional skills. This policy would run for two years. This will ensure that on a crisis basis females have money in their pockets. If the couple decides to get back together, the husband has to guarantee that the insurance company is paid back in full.
5. Institute legislation which ensures at each legislative level, 50% of all elected and policy positions are filled by women. This will begin to guarantee that the inherent differences between men and women, subtle as they may be, are accounted for. Until this is done, equality will continue to be a myth.
1. What about men who are beaten by women?
Hitting another person in a domestic violence case is a felony, except if a woman is trying to defend herself.
2. What if the laws don’t work?
We’ll continue to pass laws until it does work.
3. What about privacy issues? Shouldn’t it be the responsibility of couples to work through their differences like your mother and father did?
There can be privacy as long as there is equality. Equality is violated when physical violence is exhibited against a woman.
4. Shouldn’t the woman be held accountability for causing the husband to act out?
No. Violence is the line that must not be crossed. In a relationship of equality, opinions are expressed freely without fear of physical reprisal. If a man feels as though he is losing control over his emotions, he should immediately leave the premises. If he feels he is incapable of handling the give and take of verbal exchanges, he should ask for a legal separation.
5. What if a woman commits an act of violence against a man?
As mentioned above, that’s a crime. She will be held accountable.
6. Isn’t the answer for people to turn to god and religion?
Recently, Protestant seminaries and Catholic leadership councils are speaking out against domestic violence. New ministers are trained in making sure resources are made available. Most importantly the clergy understands that it is more important to ensure violence stops rather than working to keep families together.
7. Don’t these measures cut down the roll of the father as head of the household?
That is the hope. Patriarchy doesn’t work in a democracy, only democracy works in a democracy. Men and women come at their partnership from a platform of equality. No one person is more right simply by virtue of being a male.
8. Isn’t the responsibility of the man in the home to protect his family?
Of course, that’s what this essay has been addressing. Males cannot, should not, and eventually will not physically harm their female partners. Of that there can be no compromise.
As time passed in my family, I could tell that my father’s deep love for my mother intensified. She recognized this and appreciated it. My father never fully recovered at the pre-mature death of my mother. When she died he wept openly, and never stopped doing so.
I noticed how gentle he became with her.
My mother was extraordinary in her ability to overlook those rough moments in their marriage. As a result her last years were her happiest years.
I’m not at all sure my mother or father would be happy with me, if they could read this article. That’s always the tension I live under – balancing the need to write the truth, no matter how painful it is, and guarding the right of those I love to safeguard their privacy. The only solution to this is to write novels and create fictional characters that represent me and my family and friends.
Until that happens I will press forward writing weekly essays that hopefully bring some insight to life.