Warning: This article discusses domestic abuse
My first memory of violence was when I was three, most of it directed towards my Mum. As the oldest sibling, I would often cop it too, usually when I was standing in the middle trying to protect my Mum and my siblings from my father. I’d often get hit, whether it was from a broken glass being shattered on the wall, or a fist.
I grew up in an a close-knit Pacific Islander community. It was a violent upbringing and I wasn’t raised to talk about emotions and relationships. In my culture, boys certainly didn’t cry and even things like making direct eye contact with an elder could be seen as a threat. The male was the head of the family, the dominant one. He could lead however he desired.
That family dynamic was exacerbated when we came to Australia. My father’s generation came here seeking a better lifestyle. But people lived where they could afford and worked in factories. It became a lifestyle of poverty and being a minority, this didn’t help my father’s anger.
I wasn’t hitting my wife, but I didn’t realise that I was causing just as much trauma for her and the people around me. I thought my behaviour was entirely acceptable and normal.
For me, growing up sometimes felt like a battle between two competing cultural values – minority culture up against a dominant culture. People in Australia were taught different values – to question things, to be more open minded. I quite naturally began to question my father’s cultural values and I often copped a hiding for it.
The abuse of my mother also continued. There were no domestic violence services back then and the police didn’t worry – it was just another family screaming match to them.
I got married and I made a conscious decision to never hit my wife. But my anger was always just beneath the surface and I didn’t know how to communicate my feelings.
I would verbally abuse my wife, be intimidating, controlling, loud and obnoxious. I was like a little kid, yelling and chucking tantrums. I wasn’t hitting my wife, but I didn’t realise that I was causing just as much trauma for her and the people around me. I thought my behaviour was entirely acceptable and normal.
The revelation came when I began to see the fear in my wife’s eyes. She told me, “If you don’t fix this, it’s not going to end well”. That was the beginnings of new beginnings. I started to reflect and I realised I was doing the exact same things as my father, which was very confronting. It was after the birth of my son was born that things really changed. I promised to do everything I never got as a Dad, to support him, to love him, to go to preschool and school with him. All the things I wanted and yearned for.
I sought help from a close mentor who was also a counsellor. I did lots of work – I’d speak to him and then come home and talk about it with my wife. I worked hard on dealing with my anger and acknowledging my behaviour. It was about confronting my past to understand how to move forward from my emotional stuff ups in my married life.
I had to talk to my mother and explore what had gone on there. I wanted had to have a chat with my father too but that never happened. He was an elderly man and I didn’t want to bring it up with him at that point. Sometimes I still feel frustrated that I didn’t speak to him about it, but he’s gone now.
Instead I speak to my children. My son and daughter are now both young adults, and the relationships we have are very open and honest. I try to lead by example now, and my relationship with my wife has absolutely flourished through open communication.
It’s not even about anger management; it’s about life management – learning how to be a man, exploring that and being happy with it.
I became a counsellor to help men stop abusing their families. I used to coordinate a male perpetrators program and now I do private counselling. I’ve been able to help men to change their behaviour by ‘keeping it real’ – from one man to another man. I don’t pussyfoot around and I use simple language. People respond to that honesty and genuineness. It’s about understanding – trying to work out your emotions and feelings , and learning that it’s OK to talk about these things and that it’s not OK to hit your partner.
I do believe in change. Men aren’t born bad, but the context in which we are raised has a massive bearing. I believe we need to be getting into our high schools and working with young men. That’s where the intervention needs to happen. Single parenting is more common and male role models aren’t around as much anymore. We can’t just rely on sport – not everyone’s a sport fanatic. It’s not even about anger management; it’s about life management – learning how to be a man, exploring that and being happy with it.
If you need help, please contact the following organisations. They are available 24/7.
Call 000 if the situation is life-threatening.