Why My Father Became Violent After 53 Years Of Marriage

Photo: Tiero, Robert Kneschke | Canva
Authors father regret, after pushing her mother

As a mom of three teenagers, I was vigilant for any cryptic texts they might send me. Teens are known to change plans on a whim. If I wanted a vote, I made sure to be accessible to them when I was gone for a few hours.

This evening, my husband and I were enjoying cocktails at a dinner event about an hour away from our home. After socializing for a while, I stopped to check my phone. My heart skipped a beat as my eyes fixed on missed calls — a few from an official-looking caller, the last three zeros of the number punctuating their importance.

My jaw clamped when I spotted a call from my parent’s home number. I stopped speaking to my mother three years ago and only connected with my dad during his furtive calls while she was out.

There were three messages from my parent’s local municipality.

I stood frozen, listening to the recorded voice of a police officer.

His professional tone referred to an incident at my parent’s home earlier that day and requested that I call him back. The second message was from my dad, saying he was in the county jail. The third was a hang-up.

These calls weren’t making sense. I had to get to the bottom of this terrible mistake. In the seclusion of the ladies’ room, I tried my parent’s house. No answer.

After dialing the police department, I was greeted with a recorded voice announcing it was after business hours. I stabbed zero until I heard the sound of a living person. A man picked up.

I concentrated on his indecipherable words as women cycled in and out of the restroom, the flushing sounds thwarting my ability to comprehend why my dad was in jail. The officer explained that my father was being charged with assault, and my mom had been admitted to the hospital for her injuries.

My dad would be in jail overnight, and we could bail him out in the morning.

I was panicked, tears spilling down my face. A woman washing her hands asked if I was okay. Nodding my head, I couldn’t explain that it was impossible to be alright at that moment.

RELATED: Mutual Abuse Vs. Reactive Abuse — What It Means When Victims Hit Back

Everything I had believed was crumbling before my eyes. For years my mother had insisted that my father had been abusing her. She’d said it over and over again as if the repetition would make it true.

Was it true?

Every time she told me about the abuse, I questioned her. Tell me what happened. Where did he hurt you? Should we call the police? Should you move out?

She never gave any details. She’d change the subject, shrugging her shoulders with her signature phrase, “What can I say?” She never showed me any bruises or attempted to substantiate her accusations. There were only words and my father’s steadfast denial.

Living at home until I was 27, I could only attest to the tortuous life my dad and I endured with her refusal to get treatment for her mental illness. She insisted that we were the source of her problems and that it wasn’t her, but we, who needed help.

My mom bullied and denigrated my dad. Once, she’d lambasted him for hours until he broke down, crumpled and weeping on top of a pile of IRS tax forms. I’d never seen him lose it in front of her or me. He’d always been strong no matter what she said or did to him.

But now, at 77, my dad, who’d always been my Superman, had shrunken into a tiny shell, his frame stooped and grim.

My dad aimed to please whenever my mother asked him to do anything around the house. Even in his late 70s, he defied his age by spreading a mountain of mulch around the yard with his wheelbarrow or shoveling a foot of snow from their driveway.

My kids adored their Opa, who was known for his corny jokes. He and my mom babysat my preschoolers while I worked part-time. My parents attempted a loose alliance where my kids were involved. She’d cook for them while he played games for endless hours.

Everyone considered my dad a good guy willing to pitch in if you needed your house painted or repaired. There were few things he couldn’t do.

But the years of coexisting with my mother’s untreated mental illness had worn on him. His nightly whiskey was his only comfort after she’d gone to bed.

She always slept soundly after her daily emasculation missions. That didn’t stop her from bringing up the whiskey bottle from its spot in the basement cupboard and berating him for how the brown liquid had been disappearing and that he was a disgusting drunk who’d ruined her life.

She was the victim, and he would not be permitted to forget it.

My relationship with my mom had been tumultuous. I had wanted to keep her in my life at all costs, but it became impossible. I’d cut her off for good when she began a pernicious campaign to destroy me.

I’d recently filed for divorce, which infuriated her. If she could stay with a miserable scoundrel like my dad, I should do the same. No daughter of hers would behave in this shameful way.

She never relented in her attempts to turn my children against me. The most shocking twist was her new alliance with my ex-husband, whom she’d treated with contempt during our twenty-year marriage. She told everyone about my divorce, from complete strangers to former neighbors she ran into at the grocery store. She’d let everyone know what a piece of garbage her daughter was.

RELATED: 5 Ways To Heal From A Toxic Relationship With Your Mom

My husband and I left the dinner without eating, rushing home even though nothing could be done until morning. With my dad in a jail cell, I had no choice but to call my mom and find out what happened.

She answered the hospital phone, unfazed to hear from her estranged only child.

“Daddy pushed me, and I broke my leg,” she said.

She wasn’t gloating. It’s as if she’d predicted the sky was falling for the millionth time and took it in stride that no one would ever believe her. But this time, Chicken Little had been right. Maybe my dad was the villain she’d always said he was. Maybe I was, too.

“What can I say?” she said, her favorite phrase floating out of her mouth light as air.

Her surgery was in the morning, and I would see her after we bailed my father out.

The minute he saw us that morning, my dad confessed to what he’d done.

He wasn’t a savvy criminal, as his guilt and sorrow spilled like marbles across the police station floor.

My mother had been manic that day, unable to calm down. She followed him from room to room, screaming and jabbing her finger at him, refusing to relent. He begged her to stay away and leave him alone, increasing her frenzy.

Then came an action that had been fifty years in the making. It was the moment when my father could not take it anymore. There’d been many times when she’d threatened him, but this time, he reacted. He needed to protect himself, even if it meant hurting her.

Backed up to the fireplace, he shoved her away. He tried to help her up but couldn’t. He dialed 911. The police handcuffed him and put him in the cruiser.

RELATED: How To Recognize Signs Of Mutual Abuse In Your Relationship

Dad wanted us to take him directly to the hospital from the police station. He had to say he was sorry. There was no excuse for pushing her.

I broke the news that he couldn’t be near my mom.

He could gather some of his belongings from their home but would not be allowed back there until he went before a judge. He’d be living with us until then. Crestfallen, the weight of his actions bore down on him.

This was the beginning of the end for my dad.

He was so overwhelmed with resolving his legal case and trying to get back to caring for my mother that he ignored a persistent cough. He never told me about the X-ray that revealed a spot on his lung.

He cared for my mother until he died of lung cancer ten months later.

Our family life was hard, but we didn’t know how to fix it. I’ll always wonder how we could have saved each other from the dysfunction.

Maybe my parents could have lived and died better. Maybe our story could have had a better ending.

If you’re experiencing domestic abuse, you’re not alone.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline reports that approximately 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the U.S. More than 12 million women and men over the course of the year suffer from instances of domestic violence and abuse.

If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic abuse or violence, there are resources to get help.

There are ways to go about asking for help as safely as possible. For more information, resources, legal advice, and relevant links visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline. For anyone struggling with domestic abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). If you’re unable to speak safely, text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474.

RELATED: My Parents Had An Abusive Relationship — But I Found A Way To Build A Happy Life Anyway

Ilona Goanos is a writer and yoga instructor from the Jersey Shore. Retired from her career, she has embraced creativity in her third act, including ghostwriting, guest blogging, writing on Medium, and her own weekly Substack newsletter.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.