Home > rant > Why the NFL conversation about Ray Rice is so important to me

Why the NFL conversation about Ray Rice is so important to me

September 18, 2014

My first memory is of my father throwing a plate of eggs at my mother’s head, like a frisbee. My mother had to duck to get out of the way, and the plate exploded on the wall behind her. His eggs hadn’t been cooked well enough, and this was his way of expressing that to my mother, who had cooked them. Then he punched his hand through a glass window. Blood and glass fragments were everywhere. I was 4 years old. I remember running to my bed and crying, and the already familiar feeling of hiding in fear.

My mother was a battered woman who didn’t leave her abuser. And that meant a bunch of things for her and for me and my brother. I cannot explain her reasoning, because I was a small child when most of the abuse occurred. But I can tell you it’s common enough, and it’s not even that hard to understand.

One of the aspects of this decision – to stay with your abuser or not – that I haven’t been hearing a lot of recently, in this whole Ray Rice-inspired nationwide conversation about violence against women, is the economics of it. The worst of my father’s behavior happened when he was unemployed and desperately unhappy with how his life was turning out. Once he got on his feet again he didn’t take stuff out on his wife as much or as often. I imagine that is typical, but what it means is that it’s extra hard to imagine managing a second household, with small children, on one salary, when it’s already a huge struggle to manage one. The economic reality of leaving your husband has to be understood.

Even so, the abuse didn’t completely stop, and it’s not like my mother never considered leaving my father. I remember I went away for a month, to communist Budapest, when I was turning 13, the summer of 1985. When I came back my mother told me that my father had pushed her down the stairs. Then she asked me if she should leave him. I said yes, but then she didn’t do it.

I will probably never really forgive her for asking me that, for putting that kind of responsibility on a child like that, and then not following through. Especially now that I have kids of my own that age, it seems outrageous to put that kind of decision on their plate, or even seem to. It was my last day of childhood, the day I realized there were no responsible people in my family, and that I would have to step up and be the person who negotiated reasonable boundaries or, failing that, call the cops. From then on I was my mother and my brother’s protector.

If anyone ever asks me why I am not intimidated by anyone, I think of that moment. When you are a 13-year-old girl who has decided to stand up for your mother and brother against a large and very strong man, who often becomes an enraged and unreasonable bully, you forget about fear and intimidation, because it’s just something you cannot think about.

Many years later, after I left college, my father engaged me in a series of ritualized revisionist history lessons. Every Christmas, every Thanksgiving, maybe even on July 4th, he would bring up the bad old days and he’d mention how much I’d hated him when I was a teenager, and how he hadn’t deserved it, and how even when he’d been abusive to my mother, she had hit him first, and he hadn’t really wanted to do it but there it is. He often distorted facts, and he never explained why he was doing this.

It always sounded so bizarre to me – how could it matter that my mother had hit him first, not to mention that it was unbelievably hard to imagine? How could that be an excuse for what kind of fear and rage he had manifested on her body and on our family for so long? Answer: it isn’t an excuse.

It was very confusing, these inaccurate family history lessons in sermon form. It made me so angry I never could do anything except stay silent. I didn’t even correct him when he lied about the details, because he was evidently saying all of this more for him than for me.

It took me years to figure out why this conversation kept happening, but I think I finally know now. He was working through his guilt with me as his chosen audience. He was, in a sense, asking for my forgiveness. I never gave it, but what those conversations did accomplish for him was almost the same: he made it my problem for being so unkind as to not forgive him. After all, my mother had forgiven him, why couldn’t I? Looking back, I felt increasing pressure to forgive, but I never gave in. I didn’t even really know how.

Here’s why I’m thinking about this now. This Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson conversation, which I’ve been listening to on sports radio, has gotten me to thinking about this stuff. I am listening to these football guys, these pinnacles of macho masculinity, talking about men who abuse women and children, and describing it as unforgivable. Thank god for those men.

Because here’s the thing. It is unforgivable, but until now I hadn’t realized that I was allowed to think so. I’ve been feeling so guilty for so long at not being able to forgive my father, I never realized that I could just be okay with it. But now I do, and I don’t forgive him, and I never will.

After much deliberation, I’ve finally decided to publish this. To be clear, I’m not doing so to hurt my father or my mother. I’m writing it in hopes that by reading this, people will realize that this kind of thing happens everywhere, to all kinds of people, and that it’s always fucked up and wrong. We need to know that, the NFL needs to know that, and policy makers need to know that. We need to create stronger laws around this, that don’t buckle when the women refuse to press charges.

If this happened to you as a kid, it wasn’t your fault, and you don’t have to forgive if can’t or you don’t want to, and even if you don’t forgive them, you will probably still love them. Human beings are really good at conflicting emotions. Focus on not being like that yourself. My proudest accomplishment is that I have not perpetuated the cycle of violence on my own family. And good luck.

Categories: rant
  1. Amy
    September 18, 2014 at 8:33 am

    Thank you so much for writing this Cathy.

    Like

  2. Josh
    September 18, 2014 at 8:54 am

    Yes, an important message beautifully expressed. Thank you

    Like

  3. September 18, 2014 at 9:07 am

    Great post! Thank you…

    Like

  4. September 18, 2014 at 9:13 am

    Thanks Cathy for being so generous and sharing your story with us. It is an important story.

    Like

  5. Bobito
    September 18, 2014 at 9:36 am

    I know what it is to be violent and to experience violence. The key to not committing violence is to admit to oneself that it is wrong. Most men who hit, deep down don’t believe there is anything wrong with it and think the recipient had it coming. I doubt your father was secretly asking for forgiveness. I suspect he really believes he did nothing wrong, and is secretly trying to convince you of the same, to win back your affection.

    My father was a successful professional. We were a comfortable middle class family where the kids went to fancy Ivy League schools after stellar academic careers etc. My first clear memory of the violence is him bloodying my mother’s mouth with a punch, but violence or the threat of it was often there when I was a child. The image of glass everywhere is familiar. One time he punched his hand through the front door after he had left and forgotten the keys. That time I was old enough to think I could do something about it and got a bat. Violence begets more violence. I was in more fights at school than anyone I knew and only stopped when, far too old to be fighting, I found myself with police officers telling me the other guy was not going to press charges. As children we never told anyone, even family, what was happening, and when we were older and we did, no one took us seriously. Our family fit no one’s stereotype of a violent family.

    My father did learn to some extent. He’s a better man now and is no longer violent so far as I can tell, although his memory is revisionist, and he blames everything on my mother’s problems (she had hers too). But it was too late to mitigate the damage it did to my mother or the other children, and I have never been able to forgive him although I try. For me it’s a lifelong struggle to unlearn and leave behind the violent habits I acquired as a kid. I am not an abusive controlling husband because I work hard not to be; I have never hit a woman nor my children, and I never will (I wish I could say I had never hit a man, but I have, and at the time I didn’t always regret it).

    Like

  6. September 18, 2014 at 10:11 am

    Wow, that’s intensely personal. Thank you for sharing. It’s sort of weird, but I feel much closer to you as a random internet stranger now.

    Like

  7. September 18, 2014 at 10:24 am

    POWERFUL! …and just perhaps, empowering, to others.

    Like

  8. Vaag Mosca
    September 18, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    wow, Cathy . . you were 12-13 when I had you in class! I now think back to how strong you were and have been ever since, but now appreciate the pain you and your family have had to endure all this time. Thanks for sharing this most intimate piece!!

    Like

  9. Naama
    September 18, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    You are brave on so many levels, Cathy.

    Like

  10. September 18, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    Very well written, and very brave. Thank you for writing this essay!

    Like

  11. linuxster
    September 18, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Thank you for sharing. It takes guts to write that and to self-actualize then and now. Way to own it and no longer give power to it.

    Like

  12. September 18, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    Cathy, thank you for sharing — brave and generous and sensitive and strong. You’re incredible.

    Like

    • dannyc
      September 19, 2014 at 10:13 am

      You’ve got soul Cathy. I want to affirm what Danielle says here. You handle the undisciplined – and in my case immature – energy at Alternate Banking with a patience and generosity that only the very best leaders and teachers have. Thank you.

      Like

  13. Eric Hsu
    September 18, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    So powerful. Thank you.

    Like

  14. appliedmathguy
    September 18, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    Thanks for this and I am sorry you had to go through it (speaking with the authority that similar experiences has given me).

    Like

  15. September 18, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    Thank you. The most powerful tool for turning around those who more or less condone domestic abuse is for the children to speak.

    Like

  16. Elizabeth Hutchinson
    September 18, 2014 at 6:30 pm

    I’m proud of you, babe. I was the same age when my mother told me the reason she wasn’t leaving my alcoholic, closeted, and unloving father was because of me. Not as bad, but certainly rotten judgement and more than a kid should hear. I bet there are so many similar stories like this among your readers and even among Ray Rice’s defenders that . . . what? We could change the world if we spoke honestly.

    Like

  17. Johan
    September 18, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    And from a frightened little girl became a strong, intelligent young mother with a strong sense of right and wrong, and who will not let history repeat itself. Thanks for sharing that with us.

    Like

  18. September 18, 2014 at 9:44 pm

    Proud of your proudest accomplishment, in this way we change the world. Wish me luck. As Elizabeth Hutchinson said, we could change the world if we spoke honestly. Forgiveness is not something to be rushed or somehow required for such grave wrongs, but if it comes I found it can be a blessing. Congratulations again on breaking that chain and affliction!

    Like

  19. Virginia Simson
    September 18, 2014 at 11:19 pm

    Thank you.

    Like

  20. Savonarola
    September 19, 2014 at 7:37 am

    I’m sorry. And I’m glad that you are stronger than that fear. And thank you for sharing this – it is important, actually, to admit how prevalent it is. How many people live under the fist of a petty tyrant. How many families live with the constant fear that today is the day.

    I am never going to forgive my father, either. And the weirdest part is the revisionist history – I used to think it was just selective memory, like he’d blocked out all the really awful stuff. I thought it was just a mix of cognitive dissonance and the effects of too much heavy drinking on an aging brain. But maybe that is part of it. I hadn’t realized it before.

    And I’ve often wondered why she didn’t leave him. We begged her to, as kids. She said that she still loved him, but that had to be a lie. I feel like the economic part was the lynchpin: she had married up. Her family didn’t have any money, she had never held a job since she married him (and dropped out of college pregnant with me), and she just wasn’t ready to burn down all that she had. To just torch it over something as trivial (and let’s face it, common) as a little abuse. To leave her kids without everything we enjoyed. I am working through coming to terms with her failure to protect us. And I think that the answer is that she thought she was – she thought she was doing the best she could with terrible choices.

    And never underestimate the power of fear. If this is how he behaves when he loves you, what would happen if the gloves were off? What if you actively defied him? I always did get a little whiff of fear when she said she wouldn’t leave because she still loved him. It was her revisionist history, in the moment.

    Like

  21. Laminated Lychee
    September 19, 2014 at 7:44 am

    Cathy…thanks for sharing your story. I am sad you didn’t have the protected and loving childhood every child deserves and which you are providing for your boys.

    As to forgiveness…it is not an excuse for the aggressors behavior or acceptance of guilt.
    But in my (not-religious-whatsoever) belief it benefits the victim by freeing oneself from giving the perpetrator any power….where it happened, we’ve seen amazing transformations ie. in case of Mandela where forgiveness changed the history of South Africa and ended apartheid.

    Not having continued the abuse cycle is a triumph and I applaud you for this.
    Thanks for this touching and powerful post. Big hug xo

    Like

  22. Larry
    September 19, 2014 at 8:42 am

    Please remember to treat yourself as well as you treat your kids. It wasn’t your fault, either.

    Like

  23. September 19, 2014 at 10:33 am

    Very strong and compelling post.

    Like

  24. September 19, 2014 at 10:37 am

    Thank you.

    Like

  25. breathless
    September 19, 2014 at 10:59 am

    George Carlin said it : this is a sick f**king country. The richest country in the world with an unbelievable number of people in jails/insane asylums for profit and the highest rate of child poverty in the developed world, among other wonderful features. No health care but everybody is armed to the teeth.
    By the way, what happened to NFL Europe and why?

    Like

  26. introverted mathman
    September 19, 2014 at 11:47 am

    Thanks, Cathy, for having the courage and conviction to publish this. Luckily for me, my mother left my step-father in probably a less physically but still mentally abusive relationship. She left my step-father late one night when I was 11, and a few weeks later in the evening as we stayed in temporary housing, she asked me and my sister if she should go back. I said no, and luckily, she never returned.

    But I still have similar “first” memories stuck in my head. And I learned that stony silence was likely the best recourse when getting lectured by a father or when just walking around the house (my childhood “maximum likelihood attitude” for not starting something)–it’s hard to get angry at a statue.

    You are truly brave, and I hope you get the love, kindness, and comfort now and in the future that were in too short of supply as a child.

    Like

  27. Jordan
    September 19, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    Thanks, Mathbabe. I was also a thirteen year old girl who witnessed my father abusing my mother over the course of my childhood. I was lucky; my father left us that year. He became a phantom, refusing to pay child support, but at least some semblance of peace returned to the household.

    In my late teens and early twenties, he also tried to revise my childhood memories of him. I’m glad I never fell for it. In my forties, I forgave him to heal myself, but I have never (and will never) forget his actions or attitudes. It has helped to see him as a whole person: adult child of an alcoholic father, brilliant salesman, lying scumbag, amazing gardener, frustrated, potential lawyer. Ultimately, you have to forgive such people for your own wellbeing. Forgiving is not forgetting….

    Like

  28. Jessica
    September 19, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    Thank you

    Like

  29. Laocoon
    September 22, 2014 at 8:41 am

    Thank you, Cathy, for taking this step to unite us who are breaking the cycle. I, too, grew up in a household of abuse, more emotional than physical.

    Our family was a pillar of our small community. In public everyone loved them. In private the story was different. I lived in fear of both of my parents, compounding the deep pain of my having been adopted from an even worse situation.

    Because of teachers like you, I went to a top undergrad school and went on to an MBA from Columbia. My teachers showed me that with intellectual and financial independence, I could gather the resources to free myself.

    As we break the cycle, we can change our communities and then change the culture. Thanks to you, Cathy, for being the glue to pull your followers together on this issue. We are with you and with each other

    Like

  30. September 24, 2014 at 3:11 am

    Very personal and important story, and history. I remember my stepmother, Patty, and father, Bill, fighting, including him ripping out a handful of her hair, by the roots, and the bald spot she had, when I was 12 (6th grade – we moved every year) — Patty had hit him first, then.

    Bill was a successful schmoozing alcoholic who cheated on my mother, home with 4 small kids, then cheated on my stepmother (after winning custody of the kids in a very nasty custody battle). Bill and Patty split up and got back together a few times; then for 4 years apart with my stepsister going with Patty, my 3 sisters going with my mother, and I going with my grandparents, dad’s folks. By then I was friendly with both my mothers, and would discuss with them why they had fallen for such a jerk as my dad.
    Why?

    Great at sex, great at making them feel good and desired, great at telling them the things they wanted to believe, honestly and clearly needing them.
    Good looking Alpha male jerk, making the women feel better than they feel with anybody else, including the occasional put downs and uncertainty which lead to the higher highs.
    The higher highs can allow acceptance of the lower lows.

    I’m trying to truly forgive him, but mostly just don’t think about him. Jordan above has it correct: “brilliant salesman, lying scumbag, frustrated… Ultimately, you have to forgive such people for your own wellbeing.” << Yes, for my own well-being, do not forget, but forgive, and after forgiveness his abuse has less control over you. I have never struck my wife of 20 years.

    How to break the cycle? Society needs to evolve (and IS! Thank God):
    a) Violence in the home is intolerable.
    b) Violence by the (usually) stronger man is intolerable, but equally violence by the woman is also wrong.
    c) Violence against the children is wrong.
    d) Violence is different than spanking/ swats/ quick little parental physical punishments to enforce the borders the parents have chosen.
    e) Children should be raised by married parents.
    f) Cheating/ infidelity by either the husband or wife is wrong — and needs to be punished.

    For (a) and (c), US society is already pretty good among married couples with children.
    Society needs a bit more equality on ending its tolerance of violence by women (b).

    The difference between abusive violence and spanking (d) seems clear to many, but also unclear to many others. Those intolerant of any spanking don't seem to connect the lack of punishment with a decrease in responsible (in the borders) behavior of young people who grew up as children in less than ideal homes (now a majority of kids).

    ("Baby come back, I was wrong, and I just can't live without you" — now on Jango as type)

    Most agree that (e) is generally optimal for kids, tho there are cases where the parents are incompetent, but there is more cultural encouragement for promiscuity and sex outside of and before marriage, and thus more kids outside of marriage.

    Most agree that cheating is wrong (f), but there is virtually no agreement, and little discussion, about what the right punishment should be. I suspect a majority of wife beating couples includes one or both of them cheating. [Allowing a President Clinton to rape one woman (or more), have multiple partners that he lied about, and avoid any punishment is a very bad signal about this. Various Kennedy infidelities being always forgiven, nearly unmentioned, is a similar cultural problem.]

    Cultural support for promiscuity, which elevates Alpha male multiple sex mate behavior as "more successful", is directly contrary to reducing domestic violence. Cultural intolerance of such violence is reducing it.

    Like

  31. September 25, 2014 at 8:29 am

    Mostly directed to the recommendations to forgive:
    Like all great decisions in life, there is no right answer. Some victims of abuse find a benefit in forgiving, others do not. That said, putting pressure to forgive on the victim is unfair and unhelpful. Implicitly, it is about putting the responsibility on the victim, when the abuse was never about them.

    Like

  1. September 19, 2014 at 6:55 am
  2. September 21, 2014 at 3:15 pm
  3. September 22, 2014 at 4:51 pm
  4. September 24, 2014 at 3:40 am
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