In my quietest moments, my monster, my child, and my adult all feel that this might work.
There’s a monster inside of me. I discovered him when I was eight. That was when I was moved from the relative safety of my birthplace in San Francisco to the middle of a ghetto where I was singled out for the color of my skin.
While I lived there I was forced to fight hard every day, many days it was more than once. During this protracted crisis, I never, not once, had a parent or other adult defend me. Never. I have had survival-level fear imprinted into my very DNA. I know exactly what it means to feel utterly helpless and terrified.
It was after a few of the beatings came my way that I learned that I had this monster inside of me. One day in an alley behind a supermarket, in plain view of my house, while I was fighting for my life against bigger kids with sticks who had cornered me, he came out. Teeth gnashing, and eyes wild, he came out. He came out and he saved me. I can still remember the change that came over me. The way the sounds I made changed. The way I only saw red. The way I grinned like a wild thing and had to, really had to, hurt someone.
My monster saved my life on more than one occasion, but he frightened me too. He frightened me because I came to realize that once he came out, I could not control him. I was scared by the damage he did.
Left to my own devices on those streets, my monster saved me many times over. While other kids would punch and slap, my monster would bite, rend, claw, tear and shriek. He drew blood quickly and often. More than once I left other boys lying in a heap, weeping and writhing with the unexpected pain that my monster visited upon them. Upon coming to, I would look at what I had done and it would turn my stomach and make my skin crawl.
The obvious question one should ask is, where was my father? Why didn’t he help me? And if not him, then why didn’t someone help me? Surely there must’ve been somebody around during those times who could’ve stepped up for me? Someone who could have kept me, the small, innocent little boy, safe?
Not in my life there wasn’t. My father was gone. I didn’t meet him until I was in my teens. My mother was inattentive and disconnected in those days. It was just me and my monster, my savage protector. The beast that I came to think of as my birthright. Somehow I fit this berserker, this bloodthirsty demon, inside my slight frame. I hid him underneath my skin.
I am no longer a little boy. I am no longer powerless or afraid. In fact, as a result of the fear that I spent my childhood knowing, I gravitated towards martial arts, and I became very good at them. I also took up weight lifting, and in the two years between twenty eight and the age of thirty I gained fifty pounds of muscle. But the most important reason why I am not powerless anymore is because I made a decision to never again be a victim.
I did what a child cannot. I made a choice about how I was going to think and react. I stood up for myself. I never had a fair shot at innocence — mine was taken from me. As a result, I cannot bear the abuse of the innocence of children.
Now that I have made these changes, I find that my monster wants to come back out, more than any other time, when I see grown men, fathers, hurting their children. This triggers something primal and savage in me. To my monster, the abuse of the innocence of childhood is the greatest crime there is.
There are many ways a father can hurt a child. Physical abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, being absent, the list goes on. My monster cannot tolerate any of them. The breaking of what is magical within a child is an unforgivable trespass to my monster. I know this because he emerged when it was broken in me. I know this because he knows it.
Often when we talk about people hurting children the hurt we discuss is physical. This is an obvious problem and should not be tolerated, but it is not the most destructive. Manipulating and withholding love and affection can have far more devastating results. As can attempts by one parent to turn a child against the other parent through character assassination, coercion, and other such devices.
One of my dearest friends has an ex-husband who does many of these things to their daughter. I wish the child was mine, I wish I could defend her outright from the perverse manipulations and emotional extortion that she suffers at the hands of a man who is not fit to raise such a child. I watch day by day as this little girl is forced to trade the rainbows and fairies and Princess kingdoms of her childhood for the insecurities and confusion that she is having downloaded into her little heart. I watch. My monster screams.
I watch my friend agonize over how to help her daughter navigate the impossible maze whose center holds the fleeting promise of her Daddy’s love. Knowing all the while that his love is tainted and unable to nourish the child, but knowing also that there is no way to explain that to a ten year old girl who wants nothing more than to feel like Daddy’s little Princess.
I hold my friend sometimes as she cries in defeat, other times I watch as she drapes herself in her own impotent rage, her very soul lurching and reeling at the damage being done to her daughter, damage that she cannot protect her from. Damage that she and I know all too well.
In these moments I wonder what would happen if my monster got loose?
But of course the adult inside me knows that this is no real solution. When you fight fire with fire all you get is a bigger fire that rages out of control. A fire that can easily hurt the very ones it sought to protect. So I summon all of the parts inside of me, the monster and his intensity, the little boy and his desire to have gotten to experience his innocence, and the adult and his ability to think rationally.
I gather them all to the table and the leader in me inspires all of them to come together in the service of a higher ideal. Higher than revenge, higher than an eye for an eye. I borrow from all of their individual strengths; the monsters fury channeled into drive and purpose, the little boy’s lost innocence channeled into mission, and the adult’s intellect, channeled into a plan.
And where I might want to lash out, instead I teach. I offer another example of how things can be. I provide a context to the abusive behavior by modeling its opposite, showing another way. I do this and I exercise faith that in time, with support, this child will reach out to that new way. After putting her hand into the coals enough times, and coming out burned, that she will seek a gentler option. I did this, and I have faith that she can too.
In my quietest moments, when I am the most at peace, my monster, my child, and my adult all feel that this might work. If only she comes to want another way badly enough, this just might work.