I really, really need commenters who have experience with domestic violence/abuse counseling to weigh in here, thanks. This Letter Writer needs help from someone who doesn’t have to Google “domestic violence resources” to answer the question.
Hi! I’m a 19 year old college student and I live with my parents. It’s not an ideal situation, but I figure my relationship with them is alright; I’m closer to my mom and I fight a lot with my dad, but they’re not horrible. I know they love me and I love them, yadda yadda. I’m one of the lucky ones, all things considered.
But today my dad hit me. Repeatedly. Not with a closed fist or anything, but he sort of held me by the neck while he smacked my face with his other hand. My mom and sister had to pull him off me. Background: me and my dad will get into huge, screaming fights, but he has never been physically violent. I do not enjoy these screaming matches, to say the least. Lately these arguments have actually been happening less frequently because I’m getting better at knowing when to walk away, but everything just happened so fast this time.
The argument that led up to this was trivial. He had been giving my younger sister shit for failing to do something and I defended her. (There’s nothing my dad likes more than angrily lecturing someone about what he thinks they’ve done wrong.) In this case my sister hadn’t really done anything wrong, though, it was just a small inconsequential thing. He didn’t have to be such a goddamn asshole. So I said something about how there was no use in harping on what my sister hadn’t done, next time she would take his advice. He got defensive and told me it wasn’t my business.
I responded that she was my sister and therefore sort of my business (in hindsight: not the best response). It escalated from there and he told me I should get the fuck out of his house. I said, “i would if i fucking could,” while walking away. That’s when he grabbed me and everything went down.
Honestly, in the moment it happened I was almost relieved. Well, you know, under the shock. Like, FINALLY. I just remember feeling like this is my chance to punch him in the face and them him holding me with one of his motherfucking hands while he hit me with the other one. I didn’t manage to punch him back, but I tried.
Anyway. I haven’t talked to him since (I left the house immediately after), but my mom tells me he’s sorry. Right after the fact he texted me several times asking me to pick up the phone so he could apologize, but I was too upset to even consider it.
I don’t know what to do. Moving out before I graduate isn’t really an option; I’ve looked into it before, but I just can’t afford it. My mom is talking about me renting a room just for a little while, just to get some space, and that might be possible. In any case I am still dependent on him for tuition and living expenses.
I feel both horribly guilty and so, so angry. I don’t want to be anywhere near him but I feel like this is something I should try to mend. He’s my dad. He’s done a lot for me, and I don’t want to be ungrateful. But he hit me. He hit me. I want to apologize and kick him in the crotch at the same time. Both of my sisters have acknowledged that my dad is hard to get along with, but neither of them have had this level of conflict with them. I feel like I’m the disruptive force in my family, tearing it apart. My mom doesn’t deserve this.
How should I approach this situation? Generally after an argument I avoid him and pretend nothing ever happened. (I know, I know.) He does the same, though sometimes he will faux-apologize if it was really bad (he’s sorry but it was my fault) and I apologize back (and agree that it was my fault). This time feels a little different, for obvious reasons. As angry and upset as I am about it, I kind of understand his reaction. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m very much my father’s kid and we are similar in a lot of ways (though I like to think of myself as someone who is aware of their faults and works to be a better person. Oh, and I’ve never hit someone because I couldn’t control my temper. That too). I’m hardly the blameless victim here. But I really don’t think I can deal with another vaguely accusatory fake apology. Maybe if I apologize first it will offset that.
What do you think?
Resentful and Conflicted
Dear Resentful and Conflicted:
Here’s what happened: Your dad just escalated from verbal, emotional abuse to physical abuse.
I’m going to repeat your words back to you:
“There’s nothing my dad likes more than angrily lecturing someone about what he thinks they’ve done wrong.”
“Lately these arguments have actually been happening less frequently because I’m getting better at knowing when to walk away, but everything just happened so fast this time.”
“In hindsight: It was not the best response.”
“Honestly, in the moment it happened I was almost relieved. Well, you know, under the shock. Like, FINALLY.”
“Generally after an argument I avoid him and pretend nothing ever happened. (I know, I know.) He does the same, though sometimes he will faux-apologize if it was really bad (he’s sorry but it was my fault) and I apologize back (and agree that it was my fault).”
“I’m hardly the blameless victim here.” “I feel like the disruptive force in my family.”
This is all pretty much from the Abusive Situation Textbook. Your entire family walks on eggshells around your dad, hoping that he won’t be in one of his “moods” or that no one will say anything to set him off. Whether he’s yelling at one of your sisters or at you, the effect is the same: You all die a little bit inside, because that’s what happens when someone constantly lectures and yells at the other people in the house. Abusers don’t necessarily wake up in the morning and say “I want to destroy my family’s sense of safety and worth.” They see themselves as beleaguered heroes. “Things would be fine if you would just do everything I tell you to do and completely anticipate my moods. You know how I get when you’re like that.” Abusers are also experts in manipulating people and provoking people into yelling at them, which creates the situation that makes them feel justified in using force and creates a false sense of “Well, nobody’s blameless here, it’s both of our faults.”
You can love someone who is abusive, who engages in abusive behaviors. You can really and truly love them. You can search their behavior and yours for proof of how you handled it badly and how it is really a little bit your fault, and “take responsibility” and “apologize” but it doesn’t change what is happening. The part where you don’t want to apologize but feel like you have to in order to keep a roof over your head and stay in school? That’s part of the cycle, right on schedule.
Here’s what is going to happen if you and your dad apologize to each other right this second and you move back in (I am magic and I can predict the future):
Things will be good for a little while. There will be some kind of emotional catharsis and you’ll hug and cry and he’ll promise not to do it again. He’ll be a changed man! This was a wakeup call, you see!
Until one of you, any of you, makes a tiny “mistake.” He doesn’t want to yell at you, you all just make him by being so (stupid/irresponsible/selfish/loud/mouthy/talking back).
Because…notice how important it is that he apologize to you? Not questions about “Where are you, are you safe, are you ok?” It’s “Please let me apologize to you (so I can feel better about what I did and we can make it all go away.” Your dad is guilty of assault and battery. He should be asking…do you have any injuries? He should be saying, “Do whatever you need to do to feel safe. I do want to apologize to you, but don’t worry about me right now.”
Listen, I’m glad you reached out to someone, and I’m glad you trust me and this community enough to tell us this story, but I am not a trained domestic violence counselor or social worker and I am feeling very inadequate right now. What I know about is stories. I can read the story of your family and identify the pattern. But I can’t tell you what you should do or help you take the steps to make yourself safe. You’re going to need to call one or more domestic violence numbers, counselors, and/or social workers and talk to the pros. Since these kinds of situations are depressingly common, fortunately there are a lot of pros and they will have dealt with all of this before and know exactly what to tell you.
I don’t know where in the world you are located, but here are some of the big hotlines. I’m pulling from this site, which is talking more about intimate partner violence, but most of the behaviors and definitions are spot on for you, so don’t let that put you off. Call one of the numbers, tell the person what happened, and ask them to direct you to local resources.
- In the U.S., call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE).
- UK: call Women’s Aid at 0808 2000 247.
- Canada: National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-363-9010.
- Australia: National Domestic Violence Hotline 1800 200 526.
- Or visit International Directory of Domestic Violence Agencies for a worldwide list of helplines, shelters, and crisis centers.
Resources specifically for men:
- In the US, The Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men & Women specializes in supporting male victims of abuse and offers a 24-hour helpline: 1-888-7HELPLINE (1-888-743-5754).
- UK: ManKind Initiative offers a national helpline at 01823 334244.
- Australia: One in Three Campaign offers help and resources for male victims.
I think you should also talk to your college or university counseling office ASAP. Even if the semester hasn’t officially started, make the phone call. You need a trained professional on Team You right now.
I think your mom is very, very smart to encourage you to rent a room “for a while.” She knows your dad better than you do, and if she’s saying this? BELIEVE HER. I love her right now the most for not pressuring you to come back and make things right with your dad. This is a fucking heroic effort on her part, because she is getting the full performance from him. Believe her.
In the short term stay with friends or other family members. Down the road renting a room can be something you ask your dad directly for, as in, “Dad, you really scared me that night, and while I know you feel bad about it, I don’t feel safe or like I can live in the house right now. Can you help me cover the cost of a room this semester? And over time, we can both go to counseling and try to heal what happened that day?”
But that’s like, step 27 or something. The first step is you, somewhere you immediately feel safe, with some local pros in your corner, and not worried about whether you have to apologize to someone who grabbed your face and held it while he slapped you.
This is unfair. And horrible. And scary. And so, so fucking lonely. There are a lot of changes coming your way, and not all of them will be good changes, especially at first. I’m hoping you can ride it out and meet Future You in that small quiet room.
So much love for you,