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I’m Nothing Like My Father
He’s violent, and I’m determined to break the cycle

The abuse has been there for as long as I can remember. Fear traveling down my back and into my stomach. When I try to recall when I first witnessed it, my mind takes me back to the same scene. It is vivid and wild, like a lion trapped in a cage.

There were yellow walls, and two beds in an otherwise empty room. I was around 5 years old. My mother sat on one bed, and my sister and I cuddled on another. My mom had her nightgown on, her belly ready to pop.

Suddenly my dad burst in, his eyes red. I remember thinking that he had a lot of power. He stood over my mom and slapped her across the face. His voice grew scary.

She fell and met the floor hard, covering her belly. He grabbed her by her hair and pulled her across the floor. The veins in her forehead looked ready to burst and her eyes grew red, unable to control her tears.

I Imagined Being Motherless

He let her go and started kicking her; I covered my eyes. I tried to protect my younger sister by getting closer to her and letting her grab the back of my shirt so she could cover her eyes. I imagined my mother bleeding to death, losing the baby. I imagined being motherless and unloved.
My two siblings and I cried, “Make it stop! Make it stop!”

“Mommy! Mommy! Dad!” we yelled.

Finally, my grandparents, who lived on the floor below us, heard the fighting and came up.
“Hey!” my grandma yelled. “What is wrong with you? Don’t you see your kids are right in front of you?”

When she said this I thought: “Are you saying it’s OK for my dad to beat my mom as long as it’s not in front of us? Shouldn’t you be telling your son that what he’s doing is wrong?”

When my dad finally left the room, everything fell silent. Mom sat in bed and started crying harder. The air was heavy and uneasy. His voice was still alive in my ears. I could feel it in my guts.

I went over to my mom and put my arms around her. She smiled a sad smile that made my heart shrink. What happened haunted me for days. I could see everything when I closed my eyes. It was always there.

Getting Help

I’m 16 now, and the abuse continues. The fights happen about once a month, although recently my dad has been less physically abusive. Afterwards, I wonder how I can make my mother feel better. I have imaginary conversations with her where I say, “One day this will end and we will be happy again. Don’t worry.”

After every fight, my mom is the one sleeping on the couch, or with my sisters and me in our bedroom, or on the floor. The next day, I watch my every move around my dad and I avoid eye contact with him. I’m not afraid of him, I just don’t want to be near him.

After a couple of days, my mom and dad laugh and joke around again and take us out to eat or to the park. Although I am relieved that everything is OK, again, I wonder how she can talk to him after these beatings. I don’t get over them as easily as she seems to. Anger has slowly built up in my heart.

Two years ago, after a big fight, I went to my guidance counselor and told her I was having trouble at home and needed to talk to someone. I didn’t tell her about the physical abuse, but it still felt good to express some of my anger.

I still go to her and it helps to talk to her. She also organized a group for kids who needed a forum to express their anger. We met on Mondays during lunch. There, I learned coping skills like breathing exercises and taking walks. They work sometimes.

My father also beats my siblings and me. He believes the way to discipline us is to beat us until we kneel and ask for forgiveness. Sometimes, we yell, “I’m sorry, Dad! I’m sorry!” but he continues. Sometimes it’s for answering back—answers that I did not think would offend or challenge him. Sometimes it’s for looking at him the wrong way, or showing that I am angry, or throwing or slamming things.

My mom used to beat us too, but she stopped. I think she realized beating kids is not a good way to discipline them. She told me that when she was a child, her mother used to beat her until she was unconscious.

When my sisters get beaten, my heart goes wild.

“We have to do something about this,” I once told my mother.

She nodded in agreement. We had a conversation about leaving him. She said that we couldn’t afford it. My mother didn’t graduate high school; she works in a factory and doesn’t make enough money to support us on her own.

Scariest Halloween

Last Halloween, over dinner, my dad threatened to send my mom back to Santo Domingo, something he does periodically to try to provoke her. (We emigrated from there eight years ago.) Sure enough, they started arguing.

I went into my room, slammed the door, threw myself on my bed, and put on my headphones. The music drowned out my dad’s words but I felt his anger. I could picture the mischievous smile planted on his face—it made me want to vomit.

I tried to read but was too anxious to focus. I threw the book on the floor. I knew they were sitting close to each other at the table and that my dad could just reach over and hit her.

The floor started shaking. The walls seemed afraid, the photographs above my bed frame moved.
As I ran into the living room, my sisters shot a look at me, as if pleading for help. I found my mom and dad in the kitchen, standing in front of each other as if to fight. My mom’s hands were wet from doing the dishes and balled into fists.

Should She Fight Back?

Seeing my mom ready to fight frightened me because I was not sure if I wanted her to fight back. At the same time, I felt proud of her for standing up for herself. She had been doing this over the years, little by little. Rather than just taking it, she often tried to push my dad off of her or kick him.

image by YC-Art Dept

I hurried my sisters into my room. I rushed out, and I got in between my parents.

“Dad! Please stop! Just … stop.” I said, but it was as if I was invisible to him. They kept yelling at each other.

I turned towards my mom and said, “Mom please! Help me here.” She looked at me, stopped yelling and went into my room, leaving my father alone. He slammed cabinets.

Fate in My Fingertips

“Call the police,” my mother said when I followed her in and locked the door. I dialed 911 but didn’t press the call button. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to. Would they take my dad away? Could I live with the guilt of being responsible for sending my father to prison? Would we be able to make it without my dad’s income? Choosing not to call the police seemed better than the unknown.

“Jason! Open the damn door!” Dad yelled through the closed door. “Jason!”

I opened the door and he walked in and held the phone out to her.

“You want to call the police?” he yelled. “Here! Call the police! Are you brave enough? Here! Call them!”

He threw the phone at her and walked out. I was relieved that she didn’t call. I kicked the door shut, locking it right away.

I sat down next to my mom. As I had done after every fight since I was a little boy, I tried to soothe her; I patted her back and massaged her hands, smoothing them out to try and give her a sense of peace. Tears slowly rolled down her cheeks and I wiped them away with my thumb. I couldn’t believe this was happening again.

Oblivious to My Feelings

Later, I found the bottle of pills I kept in my drawer. I had been thinking of ways to die so that my dad would reflect on his behavior and realize how damaging it was for his children. I thought if I swallowed them all, I’d get sent to the hospital and then I’d tell my dad how he did this to me because of how he treats all of us.

I took one of them in front of my sisters and started crying.

“I can’t do this!” I said.

My 14-year-old sister hugged me and yelled, “Jason, we need you!”

My dad barged in. “What the hell is wrong with you now?” he yelled at me. My whole body was shaking.

“Answer me!” he yelled, and he stood as if he was going to strike me, but my mom came in and pushed him. She told him to leave me the hell alone. My dad stood there for a couple of seconds before walking out.

My mom held me against her chest and smoothed my hair saying, “I’m OK and everything’s going to be fine.” I love my mom’s hugs, especially when I am hurting.

Taking Care of Myself

That was six months ago. The arguments continue, but he hasn’t hit any of us since then. I’m not sure why. Maybe he’s afraid I will call the police.

I still don’t know if it would be best if my father left us. I don’t know if my mother wants him there or not. Sometimes we seem like the happiest family in town. But I also know that all of it is temporary.

I have a temper too, and I worry that I will grow up to be like my father. In fact, every time he’s verbally abusive, or physically attacks one of us and his eyes grow wild with rage, I promise myself I will not be like him. I don’t want the hunger for abusive authority he has.

I want to be respected by my children and those I love. I don’t want to be a threat to them. I talk to my counselor about this. She says the first step toward not becoming like him is acknowledging that I don’t want to be. Still, when I become a dad, I will seek therapy just to make sure.

When these fights happen, this is what I do: I imagine myself talking about it to my counselor, and then I actually do that as soon as I can. I imagine myself talking to my art teacher, and then I actually do that too. And lastly, I write poems and even letters I won’t send my dad any time soon. I use my anger as a weapon to write the most touching and real poetry I can write. And at the end of it all, I feel safer. I feel a sense of peace because I rely on the things I can do, and not on the things I cannot control.

Safe Horizon is an organization that helps people experiencing domestic violence find emergency and long-term housing and ways to support themselves. If like this writer, you want help for your mom, contact Safe Horizon at or 800-621-4673.

Get Help

If you are a witness to or victim of domestic violence, don’t keep it to yourself. Programs that offer teen counseling and other services include:

Day One (in NYC)

Steps To End Family Violence

If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

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