I didn’t know how violent my childhood was until I started sharing stories with people. All of them were horrified. Some of them tried to take me in. I thought it was the natural way of things. No, they would tell me that nothing about this is normal.
When I was six, my father demanded that my mother hold me down and still while he proceeded to waylay me into oblivion with the belt. She spent the next ten years apologizing for it. Traumatized and people-pleasing, I used to accept and wonder why she felt a need to say it repeatedly. It wasn’t until I had my own children that I understood.
I don’t entirely blame my parents. They were products of the 1950s and 1960s. Even in liberal California, there was plenty of racism to go around. My father grew up in a violent house himself, raised by an alcoholic mother-grandmother duo. He passed on what he knew. My mother, the kind and ignored middle child of her parents, wanted to make everyone happy. She would, ironically, devote her later years to caring for her parents while their two other children fought over inheritance. She was the first black woman admitted to a high school I would later attend. The drama teacher hated us both.
Hate is easy to pass on.
For a while, things were good between my parents and me. During my first marriage, my father wrote me a three-page letter in which he apologized for everything. I had never cried that hard in my life. It marked a new beginning: finally, a healthy relationship between me and my parents. I wound up going through an ugly divorce following the stillbirth of our daughter. My children’s mother lost custody of our youngest son, and I wasn’t in a position to take him, so my parents did. I figured this was God at work; every mistake my parents made with me, they could rectify with my son. Plus, it gave me time to get my life in order so I could take him off their hands.
Yeah, that’s not how it went.
Amazingly, my parents went on to do the exact same things to my son. It’s stunning how well they managed to recreate all of the same events. At one point in my childhood, my mother hid all of the knives because she was afraid. I would later tell her that I would never have used knives; they were too messy. I would’ve done it with my hands. They did the same thing to my son, who manifested the same rage, and for the life of them, they just couldn’t figure out why. My son developed the same hatred for my father that I did.
I nearly killed the man.
The woman who would become my second (and, God willing, last) wife literally stood between me and the door. My plan was to go to California, put that man out of all our misery, surrender, and let the justice system do whatever it wanted with me. Instead, she talked me down. With her help, I gained full custody of my son, who considers her his mother. I remember trying to maintain a relationship with my mother while keeping my father out of the equation, which never worked. Whenever I asked my son if he wanted to talk to his grandmother, he’d always ask the same thing: “Is grandad there?” This led to a conversation in which I told my son that I wasn’t going to ask him to speak to his grandparents anymore. I didn’t blame him for wanting to discontinue the relationship. He and I had the same reasoning, the same anger. This started me down a path that eventually resulted in a near-attempt to take my own life.
It’s very easy to take your hands off the wheel and just let go.
Instead, I wound up going through a year of therapy in which I came to terms with my parental trauma. Two years ago, I sat down and wrote both my parents and told them that I loved them but no longer wanted any sort of relationship with them. I asked them to please let me go. I dropped those letters in the mail and never heard from them again. My mental health is in a much better and more sound place. I have a good relationship with my son now. I have a solid marriage. I have a career I love. I exercise several times a week, and as a testament to God’s existence, I am learning to love cardio.
All it cost me was everything I knew.
Divorcing my parents is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was like tearing off an arm. It wasn’t something done out of anger or on the spur of the moment. Having lived all over America and reached my mid-forties, I have a very sparse idea of the sheer hatred my parents grew up with. I understand a bit how my father became the man he is. I also realized, having put myself through so many changes, that your upbringing isn’t an excuse for who you are. You can decide what kind of person you want to be. My parents were given every opportunity and refused. I couldn’t have that in my life anymore and remain healthy. This is the only life we get. If you believe in reincarnation, this will be the only life you remember. It’s relatively short, and the older you get, the quicker time flies. Fill your life with things you love, people you love, and stuff that makes you happy, and shun the rest because, at the end of the day, your health is what’s most important. This is why I divorced my parents. Thanks for reading.