‘I know about domestic violence,’ said the man, ‘I shall tell you my story and you can tell who you like. I want people to know my story,’ he said.
During a homeward journey from Malta back to the UK this week I was asked about what I did in Malta whilst working. The response I get varies widely when I tell the enquirer that I am a Senior Lecturer in domestic abuse. Often the disclosure is simply a quick conversation killer, often I get the response, ‘It happens to men too,’ often I get a hushed account of their own experience of survival, or the story of their family member, friend or colleague who was abused by their partner. This was an account from a man in his 60s who had lived with an abusive father in Malta.
‘I was 9 when my mother died,’ he said as he recounted the beatings and abuse his mother was subjected to by her husband, his father. He told me about the fear, the teeth chattering terror of hearing the beatings from an adjoining room and the total domination and power his father had over himself, his younger brother and his mother. The boys used to hide in a cupboard, clinging together and praying that the beating would stop and that their mother would be alive.
‘I wanted to get revenge, but I was too small. I vowed that when I was bigger I would protect my mother. I tell you, living in this time was hell. It was hell, our hell.’
Tragically, his mother died of a multitude of health issues, no one wanted to know a that time, he said. Domestic violence wasn’t spoken about in public, the doctors and hospital staff did not ask how she had injured herself so repeatedly. It was not spoken about at home until just before his mother’s death when her own brother was told about his sister’s experiences. Too late to save her life, but the uncle fought to take the two young brothers into his care rather than leave him with their abusive father. ‘I cannot tell you how different it was, hell in one house, heaven in the other.’ He told me about how his uncle showed him that abuse was not the way a man should be, that he could be kind, loving and fun to be with. Heaven with his uncle, hell with his own father. Although the father tried to have the boys placed in an institution, the uncle fought and won the right to bring up the boys. The perpetrator of abuse drifted off with no consequence to his actions.
‘You can tell people that my brother and I are not violent to our families, we choose no,’ he said to me, his eyes watered with emotion. He talked about never causing his wife or children to have that teeth chattering feeling, when pee runs down your legs, because you are so terrified of your own father. He asked me to tell my students and those who were interested that it is a choice to be abusive. ‘I chose NO!’ said the man.