As many of you know, I’m a firm believer in the power and importance of humor in our lives. I think of what I do as a columnist as more than just trying to get a laugh or two; it’s contributing what I can to others in the best way I know how. Let’s face it: If my contribution was something like medicine instead of humor, a lot of people would die. But from time to time I get the privilege of sharing a more serious side of myself. Today, I’m joining other men in my community who have been asked to write about Domestic Violence Awareness as part of a special publication by our local shelter for victims of abuse. I join our police chief, chamber of commerce director and others in supporting victims — in my case, particularly those who are too young to understand that love should never go hand-in-hand with any form of violence…
There’s a line from the Chris Farley comedy “Tommy Boy” that has woven its way into our cultural vernacular. It comes after his friend Richard whacks him with a bat. Before Tommy passes out, he goes a little cross-eyed and says matter-of-factly, “That’s gonna leave a mark,” then crumples to the ground. Even before there’s any bruising or swelling, Tommy already knows what’s to come. The same can be said for victims of domestic violence and physically abusive relationships; they begin to recognize certain patterns in behavior and attitude that are precursors to violence. Sometimes that knowledge can help them defuse a situation; many times it can’t. And when the violence begins, there’s no stopping what’s to come.
But what about when the abuse doesn’t leave a mark or a bruise? When the violence doesn’t come from a clenched fist but, instead, from between clenched teeth in words that berate, belittle and defeat the victim from the inside. While they may not leave any visible bruising, the marks left on the victim’s psyche wound just as deeply. And when children are involved — whether directly or indirectly — they often carry those marks into their own lives as they come to define themselves, their choice in friends and how they handle their future relationships.
As parents, we have a dual responsibility to our children. The first is to encourage and support them to become their own person by being a sounding board for their ideas, a confidant for their wishes and a consistent enforcer of the rules that help guide them. Secondly — and by that, I only mean the second side of the same coin — we must be the example of what it means to value, respect and appreciate those who we say we love.
Notice I said “those who we say we love.” Plenty of abusers profess their love as well as deep regret after extreme physical and verbal abuse to those who they say they love. For victims of abuse, this unpredictability becomes another means of control by their abuser, who can then dispense feelings of guilt should their victim hesitate to forgive. In most cases, forgiveness becomes nothing more than a welcome, albeit temporary, reprieve in an endless cycle of abuse.
For children, seeing this sends a dangerous mixed message: Love goes hand-in-hand with violence, indifference and the need to dominate or control those who you say you love.
That’s why our second responsibility as parents — being an example of what it means to value, respect and appreciate those who we say we love — is anything but secondary. It means not just saying the right words, but also showing that we care by demonstrating our support and commitment to those we say we love through our actions — none of which should ever include verbal or physical violence.
Doing that is the only way to truly leave the kind of mark that will end the cycle of abuse.
When October is over, and the spotlight is no longer on raising awareness of domestic violence, please continue to show your support for its victims and the need for awareness — of its consequences as well as where to get help.