Ty Phillips grew up under the shadow of violence. But he’s made sure it doesn’t darken his own home.
I remember the moments all too well. Not in a self pity sort of way, but in a formative years and confusion sort of way. Cracks on the top of my head, clenched fists used in a sense of threat, slaps to the face, the words …”boy, you’re just about useless,” “you’re just like your frickin’ mother,” and the continuing removal of what I believed was love and affection, when I did something that didn’t meet his approval.
My father, was if anything, an abuser. He told my mother and me that “hurting people made him high.” He loved it. It didn’t matter who it was, a child, a woman, a man, as long as he could assume power in the situation.
When I was scared a child, fearful of the dark and shadows, the noises and imaginings of night monsters, he would not allow my mother to come to me. He would yell from the bottom of the stairs, “go to sleep and stop being a baby before I come up there and give you something to be afraid of.”
I never understood where his sense of violence came from. His mother doted on him. His father, to all accounts was a loving, even though stern, man. He was rigid in his morality, but never violent. My father was raised with firm and loving direction, so his violence is a mystery. It is a product that obsessed him and tormented me.
Like most children exposed to violence and abuse, I didn’t grow up being who I wanted to be. I grew up as an insecure shadow of him. I was directed by fear and doubts and found myself behaving like my father when I was insecure. I would belittle, attempt to control, and even use force when I was unhappy.
These generational models are rife throughout the world. Parents abusing children, and children growing up, knowing nothing else, abusing the next generation. Even when we swear we will never be like them, we all too often are. At some point, we catch our reflection in the eyes of those we hurt. We see their tears and within them, we see the tears we shed as a child.
That longing for a sense of love and approval creeps back in, and if we are lucky, we realize what we are doing. We see that we still long for that approval, love, and security. We still seek a way to cover our insecurity and in these moments, if we are lucky, we find shame. We find a way to move away from the violence, both emotional and physical.
Thich Nhat Hanh speaks of deep listening. Moments when we hear not just what is being said, but what is being felt. This applies to us. When we find the humility, we can stop and listen, deeply, to ourselves; to the child that pleaded for love and security that is now, in a sense of doubt, lashing out.
To heal this generational violence, we need to listen deeply. That listening begins within. We start by listening to what we truly want, to what we truly need. If we are listening with wisdom, we know that control isn’t the answer. We seek peace and peace comes when we are able to shed our insecurity. To listen deeply enough to our own hurt and in so doing, offer the freedom of respect for those around us.
Respect for others begins when we are willing to relinquish control, to open up to our insecurity and be willing to sit with the shifting sands of emotion and doubt. It takes more than a little courage to do this. It takes an open sense of hope, both in our selves and those around us.
Now, I notice that my father’s voice is no longer screaming at me. I no longer interact with those overwhelming feelings of shame and doubt. I hear my own voice. I hug my children with my own arms and try and offer them a sense of freedom and care that I didn’t have.
My home is filled with giggles and happy voices and as they grow, I have grown. As they blossom, I heal. The sense of control I struggled with before is no longer a need and being willing to let go and remain open to the experience of here and now has given me the same sense of wonder and freedom that I see in my children.
There is a warm heartedness in this, a smile that doesn’t fade from my mind because I no longer struggle with fighting myself or the memory of my father. There is forgiveness. Both of him and of the demons I carried with me for so long.
-You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.- Thich Nhat Hanh