Reflections about Being Honest and Fair

Carol A. Hand

Working on my mother’s story sometimes dredges up memories that I would prefer to forget. I don’t often speak of my father, but he’s an important part of her story. They were together for 51 years.

Wedding Photo

Photo: My Mother and Father’s Wedding – December 1943

I really know very little about him because I always tried to avoid him as much as possible – to steel my heart and shield my body from his emotional and physical abuse. I decided to see what I would find if I googled his name – an odd one – and much to my surprise I discovered personal details about him and his family here, including social security numbers! Looking through the documents my mother saved has stirred up a lot of memories and ambivalent, unresolved feelings. The following poem is an attempt to remember and make sense of past events. A warning – it’s not a light-hearted read.

Father

I rarely write about my father – It’s not a topic that’s appealing
It’s fraught with memories of abuse and the nauseated feeling
At every meal when he was present and every time when he was around
Never knowing what would trigger his yelling or being thrown to the ground.

Although I understood him – the deep insecurity caused by his class and size
His bullying and aggression didn’t earn respect in other people’s eyes.
One moment he was charming, the next holding an unraveled belt or later, a gun
For some imagined slight in a war that must be fought – a war that must be won.

It was twenty-one years ago when he died all alone
On a veterans’ psych ward that became his final home
It was my document that placed him there – a promise I made long ago
If you raise your hand and strike again, you’ll be on a psych ward quicker than you know.”

I didn’t do it out of anger – I forgave you so may years ago
But you forced me to stand up to bullies – to learn how to deal with pain
To speak truth to power and protect those who didn’t know
That they deserved more than to be hurt again and again.

I always wished there were a treatment to help you quell your inner agony,
It was your right to refuse, you had a right to make a choice – but others paid the fee,
Perhaps your fear was too great or your delusions of grandeur too overblown
I hope your suffering has ended, that you finally found peace, even though you died alone.

bird-feather-13486506267nW

Photo Credit: Public Domain Pictures

Writing accounts of other people’s lives is not an easy task for me. I feel the need to be honest and to look for everybody’s strengths at the same time. Yet I wonder what to do if, in balance, it would be dishonest to gloss over the deep legacy of harm others have done, just as it would be for me to stand by as a silent witness to abuse. The fear and abuse my mother lived through in her personal life was much like the historical trauma her ancestors experienced. Imagine feeling helpless as you stand by as a witness while your little children offer themselves up to take your beatings? How does one write about this in a way that will be read and, more importantly, be understood? How does one see the humanity and pain of those who are abusive and represent them with compassion, regardless of their past and present actions, but still hold them accountable for the harm they’ve done? How does one make clear connections to the violence embedded in the decisions politicians, corporate decision makers, and bankers make every day, the same kinds of decisions that killed millions of my indigenous ancestors and will kill millions today? Are they just really insecure people like my father who have more power to do far greater harm?

Today, I hesitated to publish this. I don’t have answers to these questions, but they are crucial and central to the work I have begun… As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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About Carol A. Hand

What matters are not the titles I’ve held or university degrees I earned or the size of a house or bank account. It’s really what I’ve learned from ordinary people like me whom I’ve met along the way. They taught me to live with gratitude and give thanks for each new day.
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47 Responses to Reflections about Being Honest and Fair

  1. cindy knoke says:

    You are a brave one my dear. I am impressed especially by the even handedness of your narrative. Your attempt to get underneath your father’s behavior and some of the factors that may have driven him.
    It is hard to believe now, but child abuse was not considered such in those days, as you well know. Remember ‘The Battered Child Syndrome’ was published in 1974, the year I graduated high shool. It was a parental right to beat the heck out of your kid back then. Repetitive broken bones in ER’s were ignored until this landmark book was purlished. Many parents didn’t pulverize their kids, but many did. Many of my friends were abused. In hindsight I can now identify the ones who were sexually abused in their families. Back then I had no idea about this. I grew up with an verbally and physically abusive mother who is still alive. She has never to this day acknowledged or apologized. Her sister is the same.
    I wonder how many clincial social workers of previous generations experienced abuse. I suspect a lot. It is part of our motivation in protecting the helpless.
    Any dialogue on this subject is immensely important, especially from clinicians, who are parents and grandparents themselves. The cycle of abuse can indeed be stopped cold in it’s tracks thank God.
    Bravo to you my friend. You have my respect and my friendship.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. smilecalm says:

    thanks for sharing your difficulty, Carol
    with honesty & strength.
    may you continue on the path
    of well-being & healing
    for yourself
    & the ancestors.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Carrie Cannady says:

    Carol – I honor your truth and the compassionate way you speak it. These are not easy stories to tell, and yet to free ourselves we must tell them. I honor your courage and hold your child as I hold my own. To love and comfort and encourage. Blessings of healing to you, dear Carol.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Joan Treppa says:

    Very thought provoking Carol. I ponder these same questions in my field of wrongful convictions. How do those in law enforcement knowingly convict innocent people and then wear that as a badge of honor and is there some secretive demented past they are battling that convinces them they are justified in their actions? I too look at both sides of the spectrum for answers because I want to believe that there is good in all of us and that evil must stem from past discriminations wrought upon those who commit them. It somehow helps in making some sort of sense out of just about anything.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing such important questions and insights, Joan. It is challenging to sort out the nature/nurture contributions to oppressive and hurtful behaviors. The challenges are something we all struggle with and it felt important to write about this on a personal level. I especially appreciate your discussion about law enforcement personnel who knowingly accuse innocent people of crimes and take pride in their convictions. The work you do to bring these injustices to light is so important.

      Like

  5. Aquileana says:

    Your poem reached me!!!… Absolutely beautiful and poignant…
    You are such a special person!!!!> Thanks for sharing… All my best wishes Aquileana ⭐

    Liked by 1 person

  6. larryjben says:

    One thought came to my mind after reading your poem “Father”. Each and every incident we have experienced in our lives created the person we are today. Reading your blogs tells me you are a wonderful person.
    Carry on my friend, carry on.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. desilef says:

    This is so sad. Of course when the abuse was going on, you didn’t know or want to know him. Writing about him now opens the possibility, and that in itself demonstrates you are being fair. I think of your mother and 51 years together. Married for 51 years — some might take that as a very happy marriage when it must have been a sentence of life without parole. Keep writing, keep moving forward.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As always, you have shared such important insights, Diane. Thank you. You’re so correct, I do have the time and peaceful detachment needed to make some sense of the past, and my mother’s married life was almost a life sentence. (Toward the end, it was her choosing to remain but I was forced to intervene when her life was threatened.)

      I also appreciate your encouragement to keep writing – it’s not an easy task some days as I’m sure you know well 🙂

      Like

      • desilef says:

        Carol, true, writing isn’t always an easy task. I am amazed that you craft such powerful blog posts every day. And while it is so thoughtful and generous of you to respond to every comment posted by your readers, I am stopped in my tracks to think how time-consuming this must be. Maybe others among your followers would be happy to take it for granted that you appreciate our comments. The books you are working on and intend to write are so important, I wish you could reserve more time for them and less time for so many courteous and thoughtful responses!

        Liked by 1 person

        • It is time consuming to respond, Diane, but I so appreciate the thoughtfulness people show and want to acknowledge how grateful I am for their important contributions. Right now, blog posts help me work through possible approaches for voice and structure…

          And I especially value your encouragement and wise cousel. Thank you 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  8. There’s a worn out phrase, though very apt, that goes something like, “When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.” It seems to me that you’ve made some sweet lemonade, Carol.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Carol, I can clearly see your mother’s beauty in you and her frailty. It is sad that too many women still do not know they have the strength and the right to stop violence against themselves and those they love. Your mother not only had the problems of being raised as a woman in this patriarchal society, but also the burdens of being belittled because she was Ojibwe, and probably religion played a hand in her meekness too. The only sense I have found in looking at evil and its end is through the lens of spirituality. People who do cruel things are being ruled by poisons of jealousy, greed, hatred, desire, or ignorance and from those poisons grow anger and violence. Western culture and capitalism do not cultivate the antidotes to those poisons – compassion, kindness, patience, mindfulness, equanimity, generosity, and gratitude. You were fortunate to cultivate those qualities in yourself despite the abuse and harshness you suffered in your life. And the value of your writings is sharing how you found and nurtured those qualities in yourself, in your teaching, and care of the clients you served. Others will learn from your experience and this brings us closer to ending these cycles of violence and emotional pain. You cannot explain why your father acted as he did now and it’s not necessary. I do believe in karma and reincarnation and in some lifetime he will purify his negative karma and some kind person will touch his consciousness with compassion and he too will become kind -just like the Tibetan Milerapa – who murdered many out of vengeance – but in one lifetime learned to practice compassion and attained enlightenment

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for such a thoughtful and eloquent discussion, Skywalker. Gender and ancestry do affect one’s socially constructed status and society’s willingness to allow it to continue. It’s hard for me to acknowledge “evil” even though I have encountered people whose cruelty could easily be characterized by the list of poisons you listed. Perhaps it’s because I still see so many buried strengths and so much potential – maybe real or only imagined…

      I also appreciate your kind words and friendship. Chi miigwetch

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Children’s rights – especially the right to be free of physical and sexual abuse – are the most neglected on the planet.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Thanks for sharing this, Carol. It is a difficult subject, and one that I also often think about – although the situation with my father, and our relationship, was a bit different, I am very aware of the impact that the behavior parents, particularly ones with psychiatric issues, have on their children. I don’t have the answers, either, but I feel that I need to keep writing, and pointing out where things are broken – in the hope, perhaps futile, that if enough people notice something will change.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carol, I appreciate your thoughtful comments about the challenges of growing up with parents whose behaviors are affected by “psychiatric issues.” Thank you for sharing your own experiences – it’s helps. I applaud your choice to write about these issues to raise awareness.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Jeff Nguyen says:

    I have long believed that writers write, first and foremost, for themselves and secondly, for their audience. As rewarding as it will be when you reach your destination of completing your book, the journey you are on in researching and learning more about your mother and the historical contexts she walked in, may be the real reward. For the rest of us, the reward will be reading the book and your mother’s story for ourselves. It is a tremendous privilege to be allowed to peek behind the curtains of one’s private life and takes a lot of courage to be the one to allow others to do so. Peace and solidarity to you, Carol.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jeff, these are astute insights about writing. Ultimately we write or sing or teach for ourselves – the stories, knowledge and songs inside need to be given voice. And we do benefit from what we learn in the process. Thank you for your ever-thoughtful comments.

      Like

  13. Lara/Trace says:

    Courage. Exactly. ❤ to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Tiny says:

    Those are huge but central questions. Somehow I feel that you will know how to tackle them fairly and honestly. Just keep writing and the way to express even the most difficult issues in a balanced way will come to you. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  15. goroyboy says:

    Bringing healing light to darkness. Forgiveness to the sins that rather than destroy you, made you strong! Thank you for sharing a very painful time of your jouney. These selfless actions set in to motion the distillation of a healing salve called Hope . May those who live in these abusive situation find refuge. Peace

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Shery Alexander Heinis says:

    Hi Carol – Thank you for sharing in such a frank and open manner the challenges and abuse that you and your mother confronted. It is very difficult, even shameful for most people to admit this type of abuse in their lives. I actually witnessed this in the lives of some of my relatives as a young girl, and perhaps when they are gone, I will be able to speak out about it. It is wonderful to see that you’ve gathered strength from these experiences. All the best.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I appreciate your thoughtful comments and insights about acknowledging abuse and healing from its legacy, Shery. It is a challenge topic to address in a personal way. Thank you for being so sensitive and kind.

      Like

  17. Robbie says:

    through your pain you heal others…..
    ….you have lived a purpose-filled life:-)
    I am glad you are so brave to share:-) I admire you greatly!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. You reminded me that I am so lucky to have a wonderful father. He’s 91 and lives with me. Thanks visit my blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your important comments, Carl. You are lucky to have such a wonderful father, but in a strange way, I feel I was lucky as well. Sometimes adversity does give us strengths we might not have discovered otherwise…

      Liked by 1 person

  19. mjh333 says:

    Such an honest piece and so open. To forgive is a admirable thing, if more people processed this simple quaily we would indeed be a better species. People like you inspire this and its honorable. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  20. mjh333 says:

    A very emotional and honest post! It takes an admerable quality to forgive if humans all possessed this we would indeed be a better species. You are an inspiration to us all thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. How do I write this out? I hear your challenge. You might think about just writing it all out, getting it all out, the anger and the compassion, and see what you have. The real work is in editing. After it’s all out and you can see what you have, maybe you’ll also see what your central idea is. What’s most important in your story. But don’t edit yourself at first. Just get it all down. You’ll be able to figure it out then. And take your time. It’s an important story.

    Hope this helps. It is painful to write the memories. But once they are out instead of festering, you’ll know it was worth it.

    Liked by 1 person

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