The last time was not the first time. My father was attempting to break both my mother’s arms off, and in trying to help my Mum he tried to throw me through our glass sliding doors.
The floor was wet, a result of the beverage that Mum was preparing being knocked off the kitchen counter as she was manhandled to the floor by a man who was lost to an alcohol induced rage. Black eyes, screaming, crying siblings. A small boy unable to save his mother properly. These are my memories, but we got away that night.
My father himself must have watched similar scenes as a child. His own father was an abusive alcoholic, as was his grandfather. A long line of male abuse runs in the family, stretching back generations of men whose behavior I cannot understand.
Flash forward a few years and I am at my most impressionable age, in my early teens, going through the usual motions of hormones, girls, school, feeling the self-imposed responsibility of being the “man of the house,” etc., etc. It is one of the rare weekends we spent with him. My father sits me down, my younger siblings now in bed.
What feels like a deep and meaningful conversation begins, and he relays to me a lot of what I must be feeling, tells me he went through the same feelings with his father. I feel like there is an understanding, an understanding of a feeling that has always been hard for me to articulate. Then he says to me that even though now I was appalled by what happened, one day I would do the same thing.
One day I would do the same thing.
Rationalize what you want, when you are an impressionable young teen, and someone relates an understanding of your feelings then predicts your future, it is hard to reconcile. It’s a weight you carry with you everywhere. It hangs over every interaction, every relationship. The “Black Dog,” the “Dark Cloud,” the “Weight.” Call it what you want, it just lurks in the background of your whole life.
During the same time, my best friend and I were in high school. We had been mates since we were 4 years old, and with varying levels of engagement, his father had always been an example of what a loving and supportive father should be. An example of a good man. Without being over the top, he just lives a good life and is a wonderful human.
Greg was there in all the non-hero ways someone can be there: dinner, help with school work, discussions about the world at the dinner table. He is universally respectful, hardworking and always loving to his family. For 10 years Greg had been this fantastic example to me before he changed my life.
Driving home from an after party, in the morning, while nursing my first mild hangover at 14 years old, Greg told me he was proud of me.
It was a throwaway comment, no fanfare. “You boys did really well last night, we’re proud of you, and we’re proud of you too, Josh”.
I nearly cried in the backseat of the car right there.
By living a good life, by being there consistently, by being a fantastic example of being a man, Greg was able to be the counterbalance to the negative impact of my own father. If someone this good, if a family this close is able to bring me in as their third son and be proud of me, then maybe I am different from the long line of men who have made mistakes before me.
Not one hero action, no attempt to save me, no overt move to “help.”
Greg and his whole family gets their credibility from living a good life, and for consistently being a source of support in times of need and in times when it’s not needed. In the years of just being Greg, there have been a couple of times when simply caring enough to be proud of me, or popping a hand on my shoulder and checking in on me, have made all the difference and allowed me to go on to bigger and better things than I could have without their support.
Never underestimate the importance of just being nice, being a good example, being consistent and checking in on those around you. Never underestimate the importance of taking the time to earn the trust and respect of those around you by practicing what you preach, because you never know who is watching. Sometimes we spend too much time looking to “save” people in very visible distress, and forget to look after those who may be silently having a tough time right next to us.
Just be nice, ask people R U OK? and be someone who sets a good example in their own lives, and the world will be a better place.2