As a teacher I encountered some horrific incidents of parental abuse. My duty was to contact the principal, nurse, counselor or anyone who might have the capacity to help. Often the abuse was physical but most times it was in the form of hurtful words. It does not take bruises and broken bones to damage a young person and seeing the effects of an angry offensive parent always rattled me.
I often think of a student whose father was a stealth abuser. For all intents and purposes everything about the young man’s home seemed wholesome and healthy but the fact that he almost always wore dark clothing, hung his head as though he was trying to disappear and hid his eyes with long hair made me suspicious that something was terribly wrong. I could tell that he was very bright because he did quite well in my mathematics class. It was one of the few times that I saw him engaged and enthusiastic about anything. Otherwise he was a kind of outlier, someone existing in the shadows. Most of his grades did not match what I knew to be his capabilities and he mostly appeared to be sad, perhaps even frightened.
I scheduled an appointment with his parents hoping to find out if there was some trouble at home that might be impeding his academic and emotional progress. I wanted to know if there was something specific making him so unhappy. I hoped to make his parents part of a team that might work with all of us at the school to bring out the best in him. We were determined to get to the heart of what might be holding him back. Since we felt that the boy needed to be part of the discussion we invited him to gather with us in an office. Soon we were conversing pleasantly in an effort to get to know one another.
At one point we were all laughing when the father looked at his watch and announced that he needed to move forward because he did not have time for “BS.” He glared at his son and pronounced, “I don’t understand him at all. He just sits in his room moping all the time. His mom let’s him get by with living behind a closed door. He is nothing like me. I like people and they like me. I don’t think he has a friend in the world.”
As the abusive accusations from the dad spewed like an overflowing toilet the the student slouched down in his seat and buried his head in his chest as though he was attempting to become invisible. The mother was wringing her hands and meekly defending her son while her husband talked over her attempting to drown her words and mocking her as the reason that they had a defective son. I tried to get control of the situation by asking everyone to calm down and noting that I had found the young boy to be exceedingly bright with a great deal of potential. I noted that we each have different personalities and that like the student I too liked to spend time in the quiet of my bedroom after a long day at school. I explained that the goal of the meeting was to allow the boy to express what he needed from all of us. I wanted him to understand that we all saw great good in him and we wanted to help him develop that while still allowing him to have the kind of personality that felt the most comfortable to him.
At this point the father told us that we were all wasting his time and that he believed that his son was hopeless. He looked at his watch again and asked if we could just wrap things up. Then without warning he looked at his son with a sneer and said, “Oh I forget to tell you. I got rid of your damn dog today.”
At that point the mother quietly sobbed and the student clenched his fists as though he was wanting to hit his father. Instead he simply got up and left the room while everyone except for the father sat dumbfounded and feeling defeated.
Abuse in the form presented by that father takes the air out a room. It destroys people and inflicts heartbreaking scars. It is foul and difficult to witness. What I saw that day has never left my mind. Luckily with the help of the young man’s mother and a dedicated group of educators we were able to provide the young man with a purpose and to restore his faith in himself. He demonstrated an incredible ability to work with people to plan and execute events. He ran for a class office and won. He ultimately found a way to escape the hell of his home and to travel around the country finding a role for himself as a happy adult.
In many ways the first presidential debate reminded me of that situation. Our nation’s president showed himself to be more than just a schoolyard bully. He was like that abusive father in revealing his dark heart. It was terrifying to watch. Suddenly I could believe that he had once told his struggling older brother who was an airline pilot that flying a plane was like being a bus driver in the sky. I could believe that he had called military men and women losers just as he had done with John McCain. I saw that his disgusting “jokes” about women and disabled people were what he really believes. He is a man who wants to hurt, to get even for perceived slights. Like that father he intended to make disparaging remarks about Biden’s son. He wounds hearts with wicked glee. Somehow as with all abusers it makes him feel more powerful and power is all that really matters.
I have watched presidents come and go in my seventy plus years. I have liked some of them and felt that others were not up to the job. Never have I felt that we had a president who was so willing to be so purposely vile. He is our abuser in chief and it should frighten us all. Never should such behavior be excused nor should it be rewarded with our adulation or our votes. He himself may have a wounded heart that dates back to his childhood. I may wish him well in finding solace, but I will never agree that a person with such a defective mind should be in charge of my beloved country.
During that first debate we all wanted to tell Trump to shut up if truth be told, but most of us would have been afraid to do so. As a mother, an educator and a human being I know in my heart that we all have to speak out when we see someone behaving in that manner. We have to hold abusers accountable for their wickedness. Our White House is dishonored by his presence. It is time to vote him out.