What can I say?
When my children ask me to come home, what can I say?
‘I’m sorry, kids, but your mum abused me to the point I had to be removed for my own welfare to a place of safety. If I go back, I would end up dead. She would make sure of it.’
Of course, I can’t say that.
‘I would love to come back. I would love to spend my days with you. I would love to watch you grow up under the same roof as me. But I’m not prepared to put my head back in that noose. I would cease to be the person you love and become something else, a husk of what I am now. To be your dad, I have to look after myself so that I can look after you.’
I can’t say any of these things.
And that just adds to their confusion about why I left and why I won’t come back.
‘Sometimes,’ I tell them, ‘when mummies and daddies argue, the only way to stop the arguing is for one of them to leave. I didn’t want you to see us arguing all the time, and as mummy owned the house, it was daddy who had to go.’
It’s fair. Far fairer to my ex than she has been to me. But what else can I say?
‘Your mother subjected me to ten years of controlling and coercive behaviour, physical assault, extortion, gaslighting, emotional blackmail, financial abuse, threats, torture. She took away everything that I was, and everything I wanted to be. She used you both as weapons to cause me pain. And then she took you too.’
No. I can’t say that.
Yet my mind continues to wander back to that dangerous territory, that fertile breeding ground of what if? What if it was different? What if we went to couples counselling? What if, what if, what if?
I left to spare my children having to witness the abuse that was being inflicted upon me; to spare them being used as pawns in a malicious game of control; to break the cycle for the next generation and spare them growing up to be abusers or abused. I would have taken them with me if I could, but they were ripped away from me, so I had to leave alone.
I consoled myself these past eighteen months that at least they were being spared the toxic atmosphere that persisted in their home. At least, I fooled myself, if she didn’t have me around as a punchbag, the children wouldn’t have to witness her outbursts and her mania.
I’ve found out over the past couple of weeks that this was a futile hope.
Some of the things she did to me – the cruel, the awkward, the irrational – she is doing to them now.
My daughter was ill, so I decided not to take her to her extracurricular activity. She was terrified that her mum would shout at her.
‘But you’re ill,’ I said.
‘That doesn’t matter, she’ll shout at me.’
‘But you’re ill. It’s not right to go when you’re ill. And she has nothing to shout at you about – when you’re with me, I’m in charge and I make the decisions. If she’s going to shout at anyone, it will be me.’
Imagine a child having to be afraid of being shouted at because they’re ill? Yet when I lived in that house, I had the same fear. When I had a migraine and took myself to bed to lie down in a dark room, my wife would stomp up the stairs, open the door, shout at me, call me a loser, a disgrace, a selfish arsehole, turn on the light, and then slam the door, forcing me to get up to turn the light off. Anyone who has ever had a migraine can empathise with just how evil and vindictive that behaviour is.
My son was panicking because his jogging bottoms were loose and kept falling down.
‘The wasitband’s gotten stretched. Just wear a different pair.’
‘No, mum will get cross if I don’t wear these ones.’
‘Why would she?’
‘Because she did last week. She shouted at me because they kept falling down.’
‘Hang on. She shouted at you because your jogging bottoms were loose and kept falling down, but wouldn’t let you wear a pair that fits?’
What can I say? Is it fair to criticise their mother to them, to tell them she’s unreasonable and that what she’s doing is wrong?
‘Mummy keeps losing things,’ they tell me. ‘And then she gets angry and blames us when she can’t find them, but we haven’t moved them.’
Yes, I know exactly what that’s like. She did the same to me, almost every day. The increasing irrationality, the growing anger, the blame, the accusations, the shouting, the raised fists, the profusion of C- and F-words. But what can I say?
‘Your mother has a personality disorder. She doesn’t mean to be this way. She’s like the scorpion in the story with the frog: she stings because it’s in her nature. It has nothing to do with you. Just ignore it.’
No, I can’t say that, because I have stared down her rage as a grown man with a height and weight advantage, and she terrified me. How much worse it must be as a child to see the darkness in her eyes and have no one to protect you from it.
I tell the children’s social worker, only to have them ignore it. ‘Different parenting styles’ is how they like to classify my concerns. Nothing to see here.
I keep telling everyone what’s going on. I’ve been telling them for years. But nobody listens. And still my children ask me to come home.
Just what can I say?