Our children and their children have a right to violence-free lives. Can we not help them there by stepping up as fathers?
I unexpectedly became a father of four sons at a young age. Four new lives came into my young life, forcing me to make decisions that affect vulnerable lives besides my own. Frankly, I was far from keen on bearing such responsibility. Having to mold the souls and worldviews of four “Man-Children” was a lot for a young man still finding his own identity as a man.
One of the many important topics I had to decide was how do I teach them to deal with violence. Violence was such a massive part of my past. As a child I experienced domestic violence in the home. I was a frequent victim of gang violence growing up in the gang capital of the world. I saw family members bleed, neighbors bleed, brothers bleed, and women bleed. I was threatened with knives three times and seriously threatened with a gun from a mafia hitman with a deadly track record—who meant what he said.
It is not all rosy, palm trees, and celebrities in “La La Land.” Wealth determines your level of safety in Los Angeles, and my struggling single mom has little of that, so we did not grow up in the gentlest of neighborhoods.
Guns were around a lot in my community. Guns were in my home. I watched the police threaten to murder my older brother unjustly while they pointed guns at him. I had to learn to carry a weapon at times for “self-defense.” My mother was too poor to pay for something as frivolous as martial arts lessons. I did not step onto that path until I was in my early 20’s and most of the violence I had experienced as a youth was done. No matter, Jujitsu is not particularly effective against bullets or knives anyway.
When I later became a violence prevention educator and advocate, I would often share with the audiences I addressed my worldview about violence I developed growing up. I would say, “In VIOLENCE, I lived, and moved, and had my being. I was ‘baptized’ into violence.” It is estimated that 80 % of the children that grow up in Watts suffer from P.T.S.D. I did not grow up there, but I could relate with the youngsters when I worked there as a conflict resolution educator. Even at my age, I am still seek to heal from the P.T.S.D. from violence I endured decades before as a vulnerable youth.
What Are We Modeling for Our Children?
We consciously and unconsciously share our “issues” with our little children. We tell the stories. We act a certain way in certain circumstances. We joke about things and drop a small comment here and there. We display a psycho-social theater of our past life issues in our body language every day before our impressionable kids. THIS is how racism, sexism, homophobia, and all the other “isms” get passed along to the next generation, as well as the positive values.
I sent a double message to my sons about violence. They watched me interact with the world as a P.T.S.D. male. They saw how I spaced myself around other males. How my focus would change based on the volume of voices in a room, whether someone had their hands in their pockets, or when and where we would cross the street to avoid someone or something.
Though they did not experience the violence I did, they imbibed my worldview that violence is the most important issue in the world. That our attitude and actions towards the unpredictability of violence determines our very survival. That is a lot of weirdness for four little boys to absorb on a daily basis for years. Just like the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors will carry some of that trauma vicariously, so we pass along our phobias, traumas, and issues to the next generation.
I also proactively trained them to become as equipped as they can for the unpredictable nightmare of violence. When I trained in martial arts, I dragged them all with me. All of my sons, like myself, have trained for years in street effective martial arts. They walk alertly and confidently in this world. They learned not only the “fighting skills,” but more importantly, the deeper values of respect for life that martial arts teaches. They learned to show all creatures respect, as well as how to be ready when their own lives and safety are disrespected.
I taught them a lot about how women are victims of violence, systemic misogyny, and harassment. Being raised by a strong woman who herself survived violence in various forms, I had no ignorant illusions of women being “the weaker sex.” My mother tore the eye out of a Marine who tried to rape her. Her son eventually taught women’s self-defense for a sexual assault and domestic violence prevention agency. I was what I call, an “organic feminist.” I passed that legacy onto my sons—through both didactic education and modeling.
I grew up in a neighborhood where I was the only white kid. I saw firsthand the experiences my friends and neighbors endured through the violence of systemic racism and institutionalized violence. Having my mother, father, grandfather, uncle, and older brother all serve in the military during war time, I saw firsthand the ravages of the institutional violence of war. Our entire family was devastated by the subsequent P.T.S.D. and substance abuse which was born as its fruit. I taught my sons to love peace. To strive to become warriors of peace.
I purposefully trained my sons to be able to quickly kill another man—if necessary. I simultaneously taught them to value human life and peace above all things. I am not only proud that they are awesome warriors who can defend themselves and their families. I am even more proud that they have never used those skills. I am even prouder that they have used their influence as strong males to speak out against violence against women and even prevent specific acts of violence. They, like me, are warriors of peace.
I sometimes condemn myself as a father for teaching a double message about violence to my sons. I sometimes feel shame for passing along unhealthy attitudes that stem from P.T.S.D. to them, when they had every right to experience a more “carefree” childhood. I still fight to get out of the mindset that this world is nothing but a fight. I passed that mentality to them, and I regret that sometimes.
We need to ponder and contemplate as fathers; what am I teaching my sons and daughters through my attitudes and behaviors? We also must seek to equip them with tools to overcome those barriers and challenges we have endured. We must step it up as fathers so that our next generation has a chance to break free of unhealthy cycles of behavior. We especially need to do so within the realm of violence. Our children and their children have a right to violence-free lives. Can we not help them there by stepping up as fathers?