Some Food For Thought About Child Abuse
I was once sent the following story in an email:
While a man was tuning his car, his 4 yr old son picked up a stone and scratched lines on the side of the car. In anger, the man took the child's hand and hit it many times; not realizing he was using a wrench.
At the hospital, the child lost all his fingers due to multiple fractures. When the child saw his father, with painful eyes he asked, 'Dad when will my fingers grow back?'
The man was so hurt and speechless. Devastated by his own actions, he went back to his car and kicked it many times.
A while later he was sitting in front of the car, and he finally looked at the scratches his son had made. What he saw were not random scratches, but WORDS. The child had written 'LOVE YOU DAD'.
The next day that man committed suicide. . .
I imagine that people's reactions to this story would be quite varied, particularly to the part at the end where the father commits suicide. Many would perhaps feel that the father "got what he deserved" or think "good, such a monster does not deserve to live". Some will perhaps conclude that his suicide meant at least SOME justice was served. Others may see a poor little boy who's father was a worthless abuser and ultimately, a coward who could not face the consequences of his actions. Others will perhaps empathize with the father and think that he really had no other option, as his guilt would have been to great to deal with. I think most will see it as a tragic tale to learn from: What happened to the little boy's fingers as a result of the fathers outburst being the tragedy, and the father's suicide illustrating how it would make you feel to be responsible for such a tragedy.
I hope I am not alone in what I see....
I do not see a single tragedy with multiple consequences. I see a double tragedy... I see a double tragedy for the little boy, a double tragedy for the boy's mum, a double tragedy for their whole family, on both sides of the tree. I see a double tragedy for the father too...
I also see a lost opportunity (damned eternal optimist that I am). Hear me out:
I don't know if the story is true or just a fable, but either way, it would not change what I see and think. What I think is that by taking his life, the father ensured that his little boy would have more to overcome than just the loss of his fingers. I cannot figure out which is the worst of the two losses he experienced in those two tragic days.
Losing his dad to suicide the day after losing his fingers BECAUSE of his Dad must have amplified the pain of both tragedies immensely. How could a little boy be able to understand the reasons for any of the overwhelming grief he faced, both in the immediate and the distant future?
His thoughts and emotions would no doubt change many times as his body grows and his hormones have their effect. I can only imagine what it will be like for the little boy to grow up: He faces a painfully cruel and soul destroying journey through a battle ground of inner turmoil and confusion at extremely conflicting emotions. I imagine that it must be the same for many children who experience abuse.
I don't know if the father's suicide was due to the painful burden of his guilt being more than he could bear or if it was his fear of the humiliation and condemnation, rather than guilt, that pushed them over the edge, and in all honesty I do not think that either explanation is poignant. If only this boy's father (and abusive parents EVERYWHERE) could have seen through his own pain and guilt/ fear of humiliation to realize that HIS love could have truly been the most powerful antidote to the poison of such a tragedy, and that his boy needed HIM more than ever before.
If his son could have had the unconditional love of a father who realized his own humanity, he would have had every chance to overcome the physical AND emotional trauma of the loss of his fingers due to the actions of a person he adored.
Imagine how different this little boy's life could have been if he instead had a father determined to stay by his side to share the difficult task of his physical rehabilitation and indeed to walk with him as he started on the long road towards emotional recovery, trusting that if he "fell", his dad would be there to catch him; if he felt lost, his dad would be there to show him the way; if he cried, his Dad would be there to hold him and wipe away his tears...
If only his Dad had chosen to show his son his own pain, and more; if only he had been willing to face his son's questions, pain, anger, and even inevitable moments of hate, WITHOUT turning away.
If only he had chosen to do all of that. It is the only justice that could have truly repaid his son for the pain he had caused him. It would have done so much towards helping the boys recovery. Further more, such a choice would have allowed him to set a healthy example: by acknowledging the pain he had caused, and accepting his son's feelings as the justified and normal emotional responses of trauma, and by responding with sincere and dignified remorse, he would have shown that his love was unconditional and not offered only to ease his guilt.
How different could this boy's journey have been, and indeed, how different his final destination, if his dad had instead chosen to do all that instead - to show him that he was only human, but that as such, he was capable of not only the greatest of human weaknesses, but also the greatest of human strengths?
Just food for thought...
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Copyright © 2010 Mel Stewart, "safe-at-last", of Perth, Western Australia. All rights reserved.
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