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A Son's Story

My mother is 88 years old and still alive, although her memory is gone. My memory remains, though.

I took part in Saturday’s international men’s march — “Walk A Mile In Her Shoes” — in Blackfoot for a reason. My mother may not be able to remember many things right now, but I do. Domestic violence reaches far and wide, down to the children of the victims. And it can’t be forgotten.

The effects take a very long time to die.

As fate would have it, the best men to enter my mom’s life have ended up leaving way too soon, starting with my father, killed in a mining accident four months before I was born. They were like two peas in a pod, they were good for each other. My father took my mother for who she was.

The last man in my mom’s life brought her happiness that she hadn’t experienced since her days with my dad. My mom wanted me to approve of that last man in her life, and I did so wholeheartedly. He died of cancer way too soon.

The guys in between ... not so great.

Her second husband was the biggest ... “challenge.” I think she hooked up with him out of sheer loneliness, maybe some desperation, and perhaps from dealing with emotional pain after my older brother died at age 10 of complications from cerebral palsy the year before. She probably wanted a father figure for her two remaining children as well as a companion.

These two were very different from each other. Mom was a country girl, rode horses, she was raised on a dairy farm, loved country music.

Her second husband was more of a city guy, made dioramas in his spare time, liked to comb through the city dump on weekends looking for things he could use, but otherwise dressed like a ... well, a snazzy, well-groomed, well-coiffed dude. And he hated country music.

He liked his women on the fancy side, and he tried hard to make my mom that way. When she struggled with that, it didn’t go well. On their honeymoon, he took her to San Francisco to show her to a former spouse of his. Maybe he wanted my mom to see what kind of woman he wanted her to become.

There was abuse on their honeymoon. It was a lousy way to start a marriage, but then it would have been best if it had never happened in the first place.

There was abuse after they were married. There were heated arguments over a variety of things, large and small — from his salad not being served in a special black plastic salad bowl to suspicions over him flirting a bit too much with a waitress at a coffee shop, and I know the latter happened because he’d take me there on Saturdays after doing some dump diving for his “entertainment.”

I got religion late one night when I heard mom and the guy arguing loudly outside my bedroom, hearing him urging her to “put that gun down.” I can only assume she had a service pistol in her hand, a gun my dad used in his Army days, and was holding it to her own head.

I prayed that night. I prayed very hard. And my prayer was answered.

Arguments were a very frequent thing. Nights spent in motel rooms just to get away from the guy were much too frequent. There was a night spent sleeping in mom’s car in the woods outside of town, just to get away.

The abuse was mental. The abuse was emotional. The abuse was physical. It was scarring.

It all came to a head one day when my sister and I were outside and heard through a bedroom window our mom crying out, “You’re choking me.” We ran inside, somehow we all ended up in my sister’s room, and my sister shouted at the stepfather to stop. He responded by knocking my sister down on her bed.

I was 11 years old at the time. I was a big kid then. I could look my stepfather level in the eyes. At that point, I decided to step in. I stood in front of him, inches away, and glared at him. I didn’t say a word, but he knew what I was doing. I was daring the guy to do the same to me. He knew I was serious.

He left the room. He left the house. By the time he came back the next day, mom had changed all the locks on the house and he didn’t have a key. All the doors were locked. He yelled at her to let him in. She didn’t budge. She just stood there in the living room, looking at him through the front window.

That was the end of that. They ended up getting a divorce.

I swore to myself then that I was not going to treat a spouse of mine the way this guy treated my mother. I’m not perfect, but I’ve never laid a finger on my spouse and I never will.

I carried a lot of anger inside of me from those few years spent with my stepfather. He was a sorry example of a man, a sad example of how a man should treat ... not just a woman, but anyone. It took a long time to get past that anger. The only good thing he ever showed me was how not to treat a lady.

I walked in the men’s march Saturday morning for my mom, thinking back on what I did when I was all of 11 years old and the “man of the family.” I stood up to a coward. I stood up to a bully. I stood up to an abuser. Without saying a word, I let him know it was the end of abuse in that home.

I would hope we can all have the courage to stand up to abuse in all its ugly forms.

This story was written by John Miller and orignally published here.

YWCA Oklahoma City provides services to help parents and their children leave abuse in the past. Please consider making a donation to help more families start a new life filled with safety and hope.