real life

"It was as though I respected her less." When my father left, my attitude towards my mum changed.

This post deals with family violence and may be triggering for some readers.

My father left when I was about 18 months old. This is not a remarkable tragedy. In fact, it is far too common here in Aotearoa. I got a birthday card from him when I turned five (although in later years I have come to suspect my mother may have written this), and a phone call when I turned 10.

A few months after that phone call he passed away. I remember the first time I gave him a hongi [a Maori greeting] and a kiss because his body was cold.

I gave myself the title of ‘man of the house’ not long after this. My attitude toward my mother changed. Now that I was ‘the man’, it’s almost as though I respected her less. I became a lot angrier. I thought I knew everything. While I felt like the man of the house, I was far from a man.

What I knew of what it meant to be a man, I learned from TV, movies, music and my friends. My views of masculinity became distorted into everything negative I had heard about my father and sworn I wouldn’t become.

I never saw any of this as trauma. I never thought about it as something that required healing.

It did and does.

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Without knowing what it meant to be a man, a partner, or a father, I entered into relationships with a sense of masculine entitlement. I treated women with a certain contempt. Perhaps an anguish of past trauma. I was looking for someone to nurture me, fulfil my sexual desires and take a subservient role to my manhood; my right as a man.

For this, I am truly remorseful. I have hurt people. I have mentally and verbally abused partners. I have threatened violence against them. People who trusted me; I have betrayed their trust.

Phil and his wife, Steph. Image: Supplied
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I am still far from perfect today. I am in my thirties, I am married, I am a father and a university lecturer of Māori and Indigenous Studies and sports coaching. And, I continue to have my faults.

My wife has entrusted me to be better. Our marriage is filled with love. It is also filled with arguments and disagreements as well as many laughs and tears. These are some of the things that make our love safe. I know that we are equals. I am not her superior, just as she is not my rehab.

Over the years I have made promises that I have broken; at times I have been so f*cking cruel in my words, knowing full well that what was coming out of my mouth was going to hurt her. Why is it that we feel safe enough to hurt those whom we love the most? Pain is not love.

 

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I know there are still times when I am not an ideal partner. I still have healing to do if I am to stop this pain from passing to the next generations. And, every day I work to be a better, more honest, open version of myself.

It is not her job to make me better. It is not her job to ‘stick around’ while I find myself. She does not owe me a damn thing. In fact, her job is only to be true to herself. In understanding this, my respect for her has increased immeasurably. So too, has my love and appreciation of this Queen standing alongside me, her King.

I have learned to listen, to yield when appropriate, and to walk away and catch my breath. I have learned to show love without expectation. I have learned that I am not always right and that I don’t need to know everything.

But, what I do know is that it is never too late to heal.

Mia Freedman sits down with domestic violence charity, RizeUp founder, Nicolle Edwards for a chat. Post continues after audio.

So, brother, if you can recognise that your actions may be hurting somebody you love, take a minute and reflect and start being honest with yourself. It’s hard to own these things. It’s even harder to air them out.

But, if your healing can begin today, brother, then I’m here with you.

Lastly, if you haven’t heard this for a while, perhaps even ever, you, my bro, are loved.

From one brother to another. PEACE.

Phil

If you or someone you care about is living with family violence please call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit www.safesteps.org.au for further information.

This post originally appeared on She is not your rehab's facebook page. She is not your rehab is a New Zealand-based movement whose mission is to impact the culture around abusive relationships, domestic violence and unhealthy ideals of masculinity. Find out more here.

*Please note: Phil has chosen to exclude his last name for privacy reasons.

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