“You deserved every last slap, each punch, kick, and split lip.” That’s what you said.
“You talk back too much, get mouthy like a black woman, snaking your neck, this and that, so you deserved those black eyes.” You looked at me expressionless and with a punctuated voice, that’s exactly what you said.
“If only you learned to listen, if you would have just followed directions, I wouldn’t have had to bust your lip. See what happens you go and ignore what I tell you? Just shut up and do what I say…” Yes, that’s certainly what you said.
I walked on eggshells, tread my bare feet through the fire. Ducked and dodged those mighty fists. Hiding around corners, in the back of the closet, behind the doors. Trying my best to lock you out and pit my weight against your angry massive frame before I could no longer hold you back and you flung the door open against my will. Holding me down on the bed, knees bearing down on my lungs like I was pinned under a ton of cement, and your vice grips firmly around my throat. Trying to break my arm as you sat on my back and ripped my head back by my hair.
What would you say if they came to you weeping and visibly in pain, “Daddy, he did this to me?” Would you look upon the bruised arm and busted lip and actually place the blame on them? Could you look at them and cold-heartedly tell them the same that you told me? “You didn’t listen to him. You talked back. You did something wrong. It’s your fault. You had it coming.” Would you tell them, “You asked for it, walking around always talking back! Someone had to teach you to show some respect!” Would you send them away, back into the belly of the beast to endure more, perhaps telling them that they are the man’s property with which he can do as he so chooses?
Could you look at them and without remorse call them stupid, fat, ugly, hideous, a whore, a b****? I am sure you would say no, but in so many ways you already did. How many times did they see you put your hands on their mother? Just how many beatings did they witness growing up?
Your angry hissing voice booming through the halls.
Their mother trying to hide from you.
Doors being broken down.
Sounds of a struggle.
Their mother’s tears.
This is the example you have set for them as a father. That this is how it is okay to be treated by a man. That the value of their lives lies in wait at the end of some man’s fingertips. This is what you taught them with the time you actually spent in the house. That violence was justifiable, as long as you’re a man. That the woman shouldn’t ever defend herself, she should just take her beating. This is what you taught them. Sit there, shut up, and take it.
But what else have you taught them? That drugs mean more than they do? That dirty street women have more value than their mother? That there is no peace, no stability, no kindness, no safety and absolutely no security? That none of their talents make them worthy enough to you? That you scoffed at hearing they were getting baptized and refused to come?
You taught them that they were unwanted. You showed them that they were never enough. Your actions proved only one thing to them… just one thing… that they were a convenience for you. Set them on the back burner, somewhere conveniently out of the way, yet still within reach, so when all your other plans failed, they should be there waiting to eagerly welcome you back in.
So don’t be surprised that they let the idea of you go… that they no longer consider you their father. That they call you by first name, and perhaps that is even more than you deserve to have. You decry the actions of their mother in how they have been raised, but she did the best she could given the chaos and the violence and the evictions and your addiction and your abusiveness and your malicious, deviant nature. You fed them to the wolves and that immeasurably strong, perseverant, courageous woman rescued them from your dagger-like jaws and carried on, leaving you behind. Don’t get down on her because she did what she had to do to raise those girls. No one removed you from their lives but you.
And in doing so, she taught you that she was not willing to let her daughters learn that you are the proper role model of a father, husband, or man. That they do not have to sit there and take it. That a different choice can be made even if this means that their lives may be difficult in so many ways for a long time to come. Even in the midst of all the chaos, she taught her daughters that they are wanted, loved, and more than enough. That they deserve to be respected and that they are worthy of the love that you refused to give. That even though one person who should cherish them with all he has is foolish enough not to, they have a whole congregation there for them. They can laugh and smile and feel safe at home, because you are not around to burden them with pain. They can grow up and become the beautiful women that they already are without you there to take that light away.