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Stephen's personal story

In its own way my arrival at this site talks to a need, for an outlet, for a means of expressing what has been a long journey. However I'm not entirely sure, other than the sense of release, what can be the benefit of such recounting but clearly I'm in company.

This recounting is of my parents and their life and by proxy the impact on their children, of whom I am the eldest of four.

Dad was and is a tall man, average figure but kept himself trim and slim all his life, which is now into its ninth decade. Mum is a small woman, barely cracking five feet at her best and with the ageing process is shrinking under that mark. I mention this only to give a sense of the physical context.

Dad was a tradesman, worked with his hands on aircraft and did well within the context of an artisan of old. Never educated at a tertiary level due to a complexity of his own family situation but a steady good worker. Mum had the intellect in the family. Topped an 'A' level exam in the UK at I think a national context, but irrespective she had her share of brains. They were married and had a family at a time when the social construct had that the man earned the money and the woman stayed home and had children.

Mum did not handle this well. It was clear to me that Mum resented this social construct, the assignment of gender roles. In that she was and is clearly not alone and many in society, including myself, note and applaud the movement made over time in this social more and at a personal level I would and did encourage her to find an outlet for her abilities. To no avail.

However it is in the manner of her reaction to this construct that I articulate here. Mum railed against the social construct in a manner that entirely focused on Dad. He was and remains the focus of Mum's frustration, resentment and ultimately a sense of failure that she was not able to achieve what she felt that she could. In no individual way did Dad perpetuate nor act out this social construct, Mum was free and did occasionally find herself low level employment in the workforce. In itself a mainstream story of unfulfilled ability but in the context of family abuse it played out as an archetypal example of violence against men; my dad.

Over the complete span of their marriage, greater than sixty years, Mum used Dad as her punching bag. Given the constraints of their respective physiologies the physical side of the abuse was unable to manifest in actual bodily harm, notwithstanding some attempts to do so. What was constant, relentless and gradually worsening was the emotional, verbal and intellectual abuse visited upon Dad's acquiescing form. His response was almost universally tolerant, notwithstanding a very occasional attempt at resistance, and perhaps it was no more or less a manifestation of his intrinsically gentle nature. I recall clearly a father/teenage son lesson time where the message was 'never use your physical strength against women'. A good and valuable lesson in life, but I noted later when I brought my own intelligence to bear that there was never any recognition nor articulation of the verbal and emotional abuse that was occurring. A wiser person in Mum would have seen her own behaviour for what it was and sought solutions elsewhere or at a minimum understood the unfairness of her actions and used her husband as a partner in finding a way forward.

Mum and Dad are now in their eighties. Their life's journey has run and their legacy is a close and growing family of three generations. I note even now Dad's respect and gentleness as Mum suffers through some age related health issues, a respect untinged by decades of abuse and still manifestly not reciprocated. I sigh and yet stand in awe as I see my Dad offer the whole of himself in supporting his life's partner, putting to one side his lifetime without bitterness nor rancour: I couldn't do it and I'm not sure if that makes me a better or wiser person than my Dad.

This recounting is not an attempt in any sense to ameliorate the horror and pain of physical abuse by any party on their partner. It is in my own way an attempt to represent a balance to the debate on how to frame the social and legislative protections for the abuse that hides behind the doors of family.

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