Wounds that never heal
Letter to PTAVE from John F______
May 28, 2005

Dear Friends:

I am a 48 year old male survivor of the most serious suicide attempt any of my doctors has ever seen anyone survive. My attempt was directly related to spanking children. I'd like to ask you for help in changing the pro-spanking attitude in my town, but first offer this background information.

I was spanked regularly as a child by my mother, frequently chased around the house with a belt, and often slapped across the face. I remember her standing by my study desk with her hand cocked ready to slap my face if I gave her the wrong answer while she drilled me on multiplication tables. No need to give you worse details, I'm sure you'll believe me when I say I was beaten often. I resented this so much that I couldn't wait to leave home. I joined the military to escape my mother. Getting away from her was like being freed from slavery.

The memory of my mother's abuse has shaped many parts of my life. Though my classmates voted me "Most likely to succeed," I have suffered from very low self-esteem that has made my life quite a challenge. I have been so terrified that I might end up in a relationship with a woman who would become as mean as my mother, that I have only dated women very briefly. As soon as there seems to be a connection made, I bail out of the relationship. This has been very destructive to my personal life. At this age, I realize I would love to have had children, but I'm afraid it is too late. Friends tell me it isn't, but I'm terrified of finding a woman I think would make a good wife and mother, having a child or two, and then waking up to find that she has become a monster like my mother. I imagine myself then being linked to her forever because of the children. Believe it or not, I am considering adopting as a single parent first, so that if I ever marry and it turns ugly, the children will still be mine.

When I moved to a small town about five years ago, I met a woman who is exactly like my mother. She has three beautiful children. I saw from the way they acted around her that they were being beaten at home. I told her on the first day I met her that I do not talk to my mother because she beat me as a child. She said she hopes her son doesn't turn out like me, and I said, "He won't if you don't beat him."

I got very close to her children and tried to give them positive reinforcement regularly. I took them to school every once in awhile, took them shopping, took them to their athletic practices, etc... . Some people in town referred to me as their second father. All the while, I was having regular talks with both parents about the damage caused by hitting their kids. My advice was ignored. On two occassions, I had to stop the mother from beating her son with closed fists right in front of me. The last time I stopped her, I knew I would be pushed away from the family. And I was. It was like losing my own children. These wonderful kids were told never to have anything else to do with me, and it just broke my heart. Having seen the mother beat her son had given me more frequent nightmares of my own child abuse. I have had them my entire life. I usually wake up in a violent confrontation with my mother. I have tried everything I can think of, but the nightmares won't stop.

My sorrow became so great that last May [2004], on a Friday night, I put a .38 caliber gun to my head, said a prayer, then pulled the trigger. Sometime during a three day period, I regained conciousness, realized I was not dead, and put the gun to my head and shot myself again. On Monday, my assistant at work wondered where I was and eventually called a friend of mine. They both knew I was suffering severe depression over losing the kids, and they came looking for me. I heard one of them calling my name at my backdoor, and I instinctively crawled to the door and saw their faces through the glass. I collapsed. I was airlifted to a trauma center where doctors removed a large part of my skull that was riddled with bullet fragments. [See scan of injury]

I spent months in a variety of hospitals. The last one was a mental hospital where a team of psychiatrists spent hundreds of hours interviewing me. One of the first to see me diagnosed me with PTSD. Later, an artifical skull piece was made for me. I was given a battery of tests to determine how much brain damage I suffered, but the tests showed no damage. The psychiatrists couldn't believe this was possible, so they ordered another round of tests. I did 33% better on them. They have called my physical recovery miraculous, but were so afraid that I would try to kill myself again, that they didn't want to let me out of the hospital. I had to convince a judge to release me.

I returned to my small town to find that the family I tried to help had been telling people that I posed a danger to their children. They reportedly said that they were afraid I was going to kidnap them. This, I'm sure, was their attempt to discredit me and to take the focus off of them for beating their kids. My team of psychiatrists visited the town before I was released and they interviewed friends and neighbors. One of them told them that the mother had threatened to have me killed if I returned to town. This is how bitter and angry she was at me for calling attention to the way she treated her children. All of this came out while I was in the hospital. Upon hearing that I shot myself in despair over her abused children, the psychiatrists had a duty to report her to Child Protective Services.

About half of our population in this town is from Mexico. Some people here cling to the notion that hitting their children is a "cultural" tradition that is harmless. I have seen that it is not and I want to do something to change the attitudes here. I believe that if the children know that they should not be being beaten, it will be harder for the parents to continue to get away with it. Also, if hitting children is brought into the light, parents will become too ashamed to continue the practice.

I have written several published news articles before, so I have spent the past few weeks gathering information to write one for our local newspaper. Today, while researching your site, I thought I should ask if you already have one prepared that could be submitted to our paper. It might have greater impact coming from your organization than from me at this point. It would make it harder for the parents to dismiss the article. I am on good terms with the owner of the paper and thought about asking if they would be willing to devote some space every once in awhile to this subject so that we can make a difference in our community.

I also love the idea of using the picture you have on your site of the man holding the belt. This mother is proud of the fact that all she has to do is look at the belt hanging on the wall, and the kids snap to attention. I'm sure she's not alone here.

Can you help with an article?


John F______

John is working on the article now, and has future ones planned. They will be published on this Web site in addition to other venues that he will surely find. He's an excellent writer with an important story to tell. I am honored to have the opportunity to share his message with our readers. -- Jordan Riak, 6/12/05

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