Sins of the Father
On her pillow she found his note written on a scrunched up piece of foolscap paper. He had written her letters before, justifying his actions from the previous night and pleading for forgiveness, but this time it was different.
“I sometimes think of ways to hurt you,” he wrote
Those seven words stood out and in that very instant she knew that she had to get away from him while she could.
They met when she was 19 years old at university. An awkward, shy girl, he was the good-looking, charismatic womanizer and she was smitten. A couple of years later they moved in together and things changed. She would sometimes wake from a deep sleep to find him performing sex acts on her and he would become incensed when she would object. He didn’t like her socializing without him and would sulk for days if she did. He wanted her all to himself, to be available only to him.
“I felt guilty that he was so insecure. I thought it was my fault, that I had done something wrong, so I would do everything I could to prove my love," she said.
Not long after moving in together she fell pregnant. It was not planned and stood in the way of her pursuing her desire to study medicine. She wanted to terminate, but he insisted they should go through with it. And so she did, binding her to him for the rest of her life.
He did not want her working. She was to be a stay-at-home mum to their newborn son and devote herself to her family. He would call the house through the day to check up on her and would not allow her to join the normal mothers groups or participate in any activity outside of the house.
The first thing he would do upon arriving home from work was press redial on the phone to see who the last caller was. She would be ordered to give a full explanation for the phone call. The only money she had was what was given to her and every cent had to be accounted for. He eventually started working night shift to keep an eye on her through the day.
Over the following years she had two more children, another boy and girl and he moved them to a rural property far away from her family and friends. His sexual appetite was insatiable and he would become angry when his demands were not met. The fights would end with him inconsolable asking her why she didn’t love him. And so, she would yield to his demands.
“I was so lonely and relied on him for everything,” she explained. “I worked hard at creating the best home life that I could, but it was never good enough.”
Within the community he was well known and respected. The Registered Nurse for the local hospital, his public persona was a devoted father, husband and an upstanding member of the community. But at home he was erratic, distant and malicious. He would become resentful when she would give attention to the children resulting in explosive arguments. She told him that she could no longer live this way and gave him one year to change.
“I knew that I was leaving him at this stage, but I had nothing and knew he wouldn’t make it easy for me. I had to be prepared to take on this fight, so I started studying law online.”
He hated her her studying and believed she was neglecting him, so she did it while he was at work. As difficult as it was, it proved to be her greatest weapon.
It was around this time that her second born started to complain of anal pain. After her insistence, he finally agreed that his son should see a doctor but that he would be the one to take him. There was no diagnosis and the pain instantly went away after.
“I noticed that my son was uncomfortable around his father. His grades were slipping at school and he was becoming withdrawn and depressed.”
They struggled though with their lives while secretly she made plans to leave. She would put money aside where she could and confided in her closest friend her plans. She could finally see a glimmer of light from the dark place that had become her prison.
“I thought that leaving him would bring me freedom from his controlling ways, but what I didn’t anticipate was the strain it would put on the children. They had to see him every weekend. He took his anger towards me out on them and I was not there to protect them.”
Her son was diagnosed with oral herpes on his genitals. He dismissed it as being a common ailment amongst boys that shared a towel, however she instinctively knew there was more to it.
She called the sexual health phone line and asked the question, ‘how could my son have oral herpes on his genitals?’ They confirmed that it could only be transferred through skin-on-skin contact with someone who also had the disease.
His father had oral herpes on his mouth.
“It was in this moment that my worst fears were realised – my son was being molested by his father. What made this matter even worse was that my son would not speak about it. He was protecting the perpetrator.”
In her book, Trauma and Recovery: from domestic abuse to political terror, Judith Herman explains that:
“Child abuse causes children to form a core image of themselves as bad. This is essential for their emotional survival. At the expense of their very selves, children rationalise that they caused the abuse in order to preserve an image of mother and father – those people on whom they must depend for care and protection - as “good.”
Not only did her son feel powerless over his abuse, but he also felt a sense of duty to his father, to protect him from the consequences he may face if the crime was revealed.
“The kids were interviewed by the Family Court report writer and because they were not forthcoming about what was happening with their Dad, no action was taken. The weekends that they were in his care were some of the darkest times of my life. I had no way to protect them.”
There was no doubt that sexual abuse had occurred, but there was no way to definitively prove who their abuser was. It was noted that the children were clearly afraid of their father but it was suggested that it was within “cultural norms” for children to have a level of fear towards their parent. And so, their weekend visits continued unsupervised.
“Family Law is so broken,” she told me after the court finally appointed her sole custody of all three kids. To prove that there was abuse was a risk so she ran the argument because of the irreversible damage between them as parents, one person had to have the sole power.
Now she is left to pick up the pieces of a shattered family. She runs a gauntlet of emotions daily ranging from, grief, guilt and utter disbelief that the man she loved would wreak so much pain on his own family.
“If I had my time again, I would never have left him until the kids were older,” she explained. “At least then I could have been around to protect them.”