I have watched and lived with -- for 40 plus years -- the trail of destruction that has followed in the wake of one man's lifetime of abusive behavior. The emotional, physical, and psychological abuse he visited upon his five children, and subsequently his five children's spouses, and their children, and their significant relationships, is nothing short of repugnant to me.
I was raised by a mother, who, at every opportunity, exhorted me to accept people, regardless of their circumstance or behavior. I tried with everything I had to follow this dictate, as its foundation lay in the teachings of most world religions. It was easier for me to understand and accept that all people are worthy of love than it was for me to accept vengeance, retribution, and scorn as somehow necessary.
I still feel that way, and yet, I've come to see the flaw in her reasoning, a flaw that likely grew out of fear and the need for acceptance. There is time when a line must be drawn for the sake of the unprotected victims who are left exposed by an all encompassing tolerance and acceptance of the ill-behaved among us. What is considered acceptable behavior has limits, even among the most pious of us. We can understand, but that does not mean we need to approve, or that we should, stand by and watch without taking action to intercede.
If we are to believe that we are born with the power of choice, then it is impossible to believe that someone's circumstances or upbringing gives them no choice as adults. If I can choose my behavior at any given moment, so too can the abusers, the rapists, the murderers, those individuals who choose to promote themselves at the expense of others, who choose to lash out rather than control themselves, who choose to hurt and harm rather than to help or walk away.
If I assume guilt for my transgressions (small by comparison to that of the abuser), then I have to carry the same expectation for any other adult alive who has adult capabilities. It is true that we are driven by our compulsions, our personality disorders, our neuroses, our inherited belief systems... but to be fully human is to have choice. To be fully human is to be rational as well as emotional. To be fully human is to have a spiritual nature that creates and does not destroy. An adult must take responsibility for his or her words and actions.
It is time to put a stop to abuse in the more subtle realms of the family unit. We decry police abuse at the most basic level; we scream about abuse in foreign countries; we denounce abuse of animals and livestock, and even abuse against the earth, but we still do little to stand up against the parent who strikes his child, or humiliates him, or debases him, or uses him to boost his own ego. We do not stand against the adult who may provide for a child's practical needs but does not offer her comfort, love, compassion, or understanding.
Abuse does not only come with the strike of a hand or the sting of the fist; it comes with the bite of a tongue, the terrifying pain of isolation and silence, and the utter alienation of affection. Which pain is worse... the scar left on the flesh, or the one on the soul? They bleed and fester all the same.
One man's unwillingness to choose love over hate, kindness over vengeance, compassion over scorn leaves a wound so deep that it continues to reverberate down the genetic lines. The children of the abuser feel the hate and total disregard of the parent responsible for their safety and flourishing lives, and they live a life of quiet desperation and crushing anger, locked inside a cage of silent agony. Robbed for decades of the joy of living, of success, of their own self-compassion and understanding, of intimacy, of close and nurturing friendships, of loving and caring relationships with their own children, they suffer a pain that runs so deep and so wide that it often does not see the light of day. Their spouses live in confused isolation, unable to understand or control the vitriol that comes their way or navigate the treacherous waters of love withheld, or the masked and unmasked rage that lurks always beneath the surface. They feel alone even as they are together, and their children suffer alongside them in a cocoon of the silent and painful disconnect they sense within their parents. Anger is never comfortable or understood. Silence is deadly.
One man's choice to care more about himself than those he fathered can debilitate more than his own children. He must be held accountable. Abuse sequestered within the walls of the civilized home must be stopped. The fallout lasts long after the abuser is gone.