06 July 2006

My Father Never Held a gun to my Head

I named this post two months ago and haven't done anything with it. I don't even remember my original motivation for it.

But in light of a recent blog about stalking, coupled with some horrible human rights infractions, I feel like now might be a good time to bring this up.

Three years ago, I went to LA. I stayed with Monique, who at the time was working with a Catholic order that helps women and their children escape domestic violence. It's an incredibly progressive organization that will help women get the legal advice they need, help them prevent pregnancy (some of these women had 5 or more children), and give them job skills training so they can support themselves. They also help them recognize the cycle of violence so they can avoid/escape in the future.

At the shelter (where I went to help every day), I met lots of amazing children. Some were obviously more traumatised than others, but they all seemed aware that they were now living in a secure place and were learning to enjoy being children. Monique taught in the shelter school, which was kindergarten to grade 6, plus a pre-school. She worked with the kindergarten class, teaching them their letters and numbers, plus some ESL instruction (a lot of the mothers were Mexican immigrants and spoke Spanish at home). She actually picked up quite a bit of Spanish herself.

Among Monique's kids, there was a relatively new girl who was quite withdrawn. She was the target of some taunting at times, because she didn't like to speak up. She was obviously extremely sensitive and would sometimes cry if things went awry. I rarely heard stories about the kids and the situations their mothers were in, but I did hear about one incident with this girl.

I don't know how long the abusive situation went on for this girl's mother, but at some point she must have decided enough was enough. She either threatened or tried to leave with her two daughters.

I don't know how things escalated, but somehow the older of the two girls (the one in Monique's class) ended up being held by her irate, desperate father. He held a gun to her head and threatened to kill her if the mother tried to leave. The mother gave in.

I don't know how she finally got out of the situation, but she must have done her planning very carefully, because she did finally end up at this shelter getting help for both herself and her two little girls (all are required to go to therapy while at the shelter).

This story struck me powerfully. I can't conceive of the level of desperation and need for control that would drive someone to threaten their daughter's life with a gun. I can't imagine how someone gets past the feeling that their life is dispensible if that power is threatened or questioned. I'm sure the therapists would have worked hard to help this little girl understand that she was a pawn in her father's game, that her life did have value, and that she was in no way responsible for what happened that day; still, the memory must be quite jarring.

And so, I do try to keep in mind how lucky I am. That, even in countries where humans rights and civil liberties are more accepted and respected than in others, atrocities happen; life is sometimes devalued for personal gain. I read and hear about horrible things happening in this country, and south of the border, on a regular basis, but it's not happening to me.

My father never held a gun to my head, no matter how angry or frustrated or scared he could have been about any situation. My mother never had to threaten to leave for the safety and security of herself and her children.

As I write this, I realize that it's not just about how lucky I am, it's about why I do what I do. It's why I actively support human rights. It's why I don't want to let governments become that father with the gun, threatening the rights of one in order to scare another into submission.

So I guess I'm not just lucky; I'm also motivated.

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