Editor’s Note: This month, that is February 2021, FII and The Minor Project are looking for article submissions on the topic of Narrating Violence and Trauma from Childhood to highlight the ways we in our childhoods, experience various forms of brutality from our adults, mentors, peers and even their institutions that may lead to a sustained memory of difficult experiences and mental health issues. The Minor Project is a digital platform for public dialogue to promote discourse on ending violence, abuse and exploitation of children by Leher, a child rights organisation, whose focus is on building communities that care and act for the safety and protection of children. If you’d like to share your article, email us at email@example.com.
My mother handled our responsibility wholly; emotional, physical, mental, and social. Naturally, we came to associate that our wellbeing was in her hands, a caring and nurturing presence, who so often overshadowed the need for the same need to be fulfilled by my father. But as a child, and as an adult, to this day, I still find myself stepping on eggshells around him all the time because of being conditioned to cower at manic episodes of rage.
The details of my childhood until I was 9 or 10 are hazy, in terms of my relationship with my father. He was a figure whose shadow stepped into the house after 6 PM, and plopped on the sofa, switching on the TV. I just remember that we all had to keep quiet after he was in the house, because nobody was supposed to disturb him in between his programs or cricket matches.
And if we, being kids, did cause a ruckus, I would see the full impetus of his rage dissolve in the air around me, his words spitting such venom that my mother hurriedly ushered us in the bedroom. I remember most dinners in the bedroom, with my mother caught in between the two spokes of a domestic life, trying to not get crushed under it.
My father’s temper became clearer and clearer as we grew up, so we knew by the time we were teenagers that it was better to stay away, stay as far away from him when he stepped into the house. But here’s the conflicting part, he would get angry if we did that. Accusations of not loving him, not respecting him, and ignoring him would fly about like disoriented bats.
So what was the solution?
We had to physically sit in the space that he was in, and behave (or stay silent) according to him. We had to communicate in gestures and eye contact, which stabbed him in the eye, and he thought we were ‘conspiring’ against him.
I grew up shouldering more and more responsibility for myself, and an unconscious need to look after my mother and younger brother. I became 30 at the age of 13, my tone softening and my eyes becoming used to the blur of extreme anger and sudden, suspicious bouts of affection from my father, to the point of nonchalance. I flinch at loud noises and my back is up even if someone raises their voice by half a decibel. But more importantly, I have hammered the need to not get angry into my head so much that it ends up making me more prone to anger, making me mirror my father, and in turn, scaring me.
His anger bordered on maniacal, with raised voices and yelling in the house almost constantly, because of which I had to step out of the house almost every day, for a good hour or two. The concept of home being a safe space completely reversed for me. Having to make do, I tried to find safe pockets. I sought refuge in people, I found a very loving set of friends and a boyfriend (with whom I am no longer together, but he was a warm and nurturing presence).
They had to bear the brunt of all that I was yet to unlearn; extreme insecurity, a need to please people constantly, sudden disappearances, unexplained coldness and an effort to detach myself from any emotional connection. In this tug of war, many people have stayed, and many have left.
Also read: Why Does My Father Remind Me Of The State?
As a 23-year adult now, I look back and try to unlearn all the coping mechanisms that I learnt to keep the effects of his anger out of my head. I realise that most of my life was an effort to not become like my father. And yet, I was starting to be compared to him, because of the anger and repression bursting at unfortunate instances, quite similar to his. Quite unironically, and not to assert my own identity.
An angry outburst from me would trigger immediate guilt and the gnashing of my teeth would elicit familiar looks. His anger might have become haphazard with age, but it left a permanent scar, which I am learning to scrub away with therapy and love.
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