opinion

'I blink and suddenly I'm four again.' The aftermath of growing up with a violent father.

This post deals with domestic violence and might be triggering for some readers. If you or someone you know is impacted by domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732. In an emergency, call 000.

I wasn’t lucky enough to know Hannah Clarke or her children and I don’t know her family, but I’ve been crying on and off since I heard what happened and I need to do something.

So I buy some flowers and I write a letter and we decide to make our way to Camp Hill to place them at the growing memorial site.

It’s strange, because I didn’t know them and I feel a little like I’m intruding. But as I lay the flowers down, my eyes begin to well up and the memories start to flood in. They are what have brought me here.

Watch: Women and Violence – The hidden numbers. Post continues below.

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I blink and suddenly I’m four again. It’s just after bath time in the new house Mum’s worked two jobs to buy for the two of us.

It’s an old semi, nothing fancy, but it’s ours and to me it’s a castle. All of a sudden there’s a lot of noise and banging downstairs at the door and Mum tells me in her most serious tone to stay upstairs.

But I can hear so much banging and I’m scared. So after a few minutes, I sneak down the stairs and I see the telephone cord wrapped around the wall.

Someone’s at the door and they’re angry. It’s Dad. He’s upset that I called him a liar for leaving us to be with another woman.

He keeps kicking and banging and screaming and telling my mum to let them in or he’ll… I can’t quite make out the rest but I know it can’t be good.

My mum is on the phone hiding around the corner and she’s speaking in a low voice. I hear her say “I don’t know what to do, Mum,” and I realise she’s speaking to my grandmother.

“You call the police,” she says and Mum says “But he IS the police” (he was an officer at the time, back when domestic violence was viewed as a “private, family matter”).

She says to call them anyway and she tells my mum that she’s on her way. When the police come in, they ask my mum if calling them was “really necessary?” In doing so, they break her trust and mine and she never calls them again.

Afterward, they tell her that they’ll be holding him overnight and that he won’t be allowed to have any contact with us for 30 days. She tells me not to worry, that my daddy’s just confused and his friends are going to help him. But he calls the very next day.

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He calls so many times; he melts the tape in our answering machine. This memory will never leave me and I will be afraid of what he might do to my mum or me for the rest of my life.

I blink again and I’m 10. I have a friend over and the news comes on the television.

We hear my mum start screaming, “No! No! No!” A young woman’s face is on the screen.

She’s pretty, she has short blonde hair and it looks like she’s at her graduation. It’s my mum’s favourite bank teller – and because it’s a small town, we know our bank tellers really well.

She was working there to save up to pay for college. They say that she’s been stabbed 17 times by her abusive ex-boyfriend on her way into work and died in the arms of her coworkers.

Her father writes a beautiful piece in the paper in her memory. Our small community is forever changed. The bank closed and relocated.

I blink again and I’m 15. After nine years of relative normalcy (or so we thought), my father’s double life has finally caught up with him and he’s been spinning out of control for months.

My stepmum still wants to try to make things work and in an attempt to try to foster some healing, the two of us agree to go visit his parents with him for a weekend. We do this because he refuses to see a mental health professional and we don’t know what else to do.

They come to pick me up at my parents’ house and everything is pretty cordial.

My mum and stepdad have been really supportive of trying to help him find his way again. But I get into the car and the atmosphere shifts instantly. Everything is quiet.

No one is speaking and before I can ask him to bring me back home he gets onto the highway and is driving like he has nothing to lose. I reach around to the front and touch my stepmum’s arm. She reaches back and we clutch each other’s hands – we don’t let go of each other until we get to my grandparent’s house, four long hours away.

He never stops driving the whole way there. The car is a tinderbox and we can just feel he’s ready to blow at the slightest hint of dissent.

Somehow, he’s turned his deceit around on us, and we’re the problem for not being more understanding of his needs.

I know we need to tread carefully; he’s got control now and all I can think is I hope we make it out of this car alive. When we get there, I hug my stepmum so hard it hurts and I’m trying to hide my tears.

He is unfazed and ignores the both of us.

Shortly thereafter, my mum, stepdad and stepmum decide we need to cut off contact with him because he’s torn up a photo of me and left it with his latest suicide note – which had a lot of anger directed at me in it.

They keep trying to get him help but he keeps disappearing and refuses to see anyone. I’m told I can’t walk home from school alone anymore, the school is notified and my friends are told to keep an eye out for his van.

Listen: Mia Freedman sits down with Domestic Violence charity founder, Nicolle Edwards. Post continues below.

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I blink again and I’m 21. A friend and coworker are calling me from the middle of a department store and she’s really upset.

Her ex followed her out of work after her shift and confronted her on the sidewalk. He grabbed her arm and manhandled her but she managed to get away. She thought he might throw her into traffic.

She’s gone to the police and made a statement but she’s terrified to ask for a restraining order and he knows where she lives so she feels like she can’t go home.

I tell her to stay where she is, I’m coming. Two buses later and I find her with another friend hiding in one of the shoe aisles. She’s so upset. She has bruises on her arm where he grabbed her; I can see the outline of his fingers. I make a mental note of the size, colour and location and I record these in a word document with a timestamp when I get home because I know that could help her case.

It would also be evidence in case the worst happened. We discuss a game plan to keep her safe, where she can spend the night and stay for the next few days. I’m genuinely terrified for her life.

I blink again and I’m 28.

I haven’t spoken to my father in over a year, having finally cut him out for good, consequences be damned – I need to be free of him.

I’m visiting my parents (mum and stepdad) for the first time in two years. I haven’t told anyone that I’m there or posted anything on social media.

But he creates a second Facebook account under a fake name and sends me a message asking if I’m home. He lives two hours away from my parents and I have no idea how he could possibly know that I’m here.

I scramble and lock the door and will never feel completely safe in the house that I grew up in again. All subsequent visits will be filled with suspicion and rules about not answering the door without knowing exactly who it is and keeping the fact that I’m here strictly need to know.

I made it to adulthood but for a long time, I honestly thought that might not happen. I was one of the lucky ones. I wish Hannah and her children could have been lucky too.

They won’t get to grow up and Hannah will never get the fresh start at a new life that she so deserved. She won’t get to see her kids graduate from elementary school or high school or college. She’s not going to get her happily ever after. She won’t get to be in a healthy romantic relationship that shows her that control and manipulation are not love.

Instead, her last moments were the worst that anyone could ever imagine.

1800 RESPECT: 1800 737 732

Relationships Australia: 1300 364 277

Lifeline: 13 11 14

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

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