I learned about hate at an early age. My father was an abusive alcoholic. He would come at me and my mum in a drunken rage, my brother wasn’t at home much in those days so it was just the two of us. When I didn’t think my mother was physically able to handle him, I stepped in. I learned to fight at an early age too. I would beat him down until he was sprawled on the floor pretending to be unconscious.
I knew our neighbours could hear the goings-on at my house. They once invited my mother to a party, but made it very clear my father was not welcome. At other social engagements I despised how he would kiss up to other people and be nice to their children. On one occasion, he was sitting on a chair in the lounge room at a friend’s house playing with the children. When I tried to join in, he pushed me away. On another occasion, after I’d got into a scrap with another child, he slammed me into a wall.
He thought he was a ‘big man’. I thought about his demise.
From time-to-time I’d go to friends’ houses, but when they would ask to come to my house I would put them off. One day however, I opened the door and there they were. I can’t decide if their timing was good or bad — my father was drunk and was abusing my mother. The event and the names my father was calling my mother made its way around school, which only added to the problems I was already facing there.
I was quite young when I started high school — 10, to be exact. A lot of the girls were 12 years or older. I had no problems with the boys, seeing them as play mates, but the girls took exception. I was bullied for the first four or five years of school until I went elsewhere. I just wanted to be left alone, which was the total opposite of the social skills I was supposed to be learning.
My best subjects in high school were history, geography and English. My brother just happened to be good at maths and science, so my academic achievements paled in comparison. “Look at your brother,” teachers would say. “What happened to you? You don’t have his talent.” It was as though the subjects I was good at weren’t actually good at all.
My self-confidence was destroyed, and I have to admit I don’t think it is much better all these years later. Confidence is like blue China — it’s precious and it is rare, once cracked it can be mended but the crack is always there.
I worked hard to save as much as I could to go to England once I finished school. I thought I’d fit in better in another country. I can’t tell you how I came to make such a trip when I was feeling so low, but I did. I lived abroad for six months and it was during that time that my mother had an opportunity to leave my father for good. She didn’t. She reasoned that she was paying for the house they lived in and there was no way she was going to give it up to him. When I returned, not much had changed.
My mother bought a business and moved. My father followed. It still perplexes me why she needed that drunk in tow. He would sit at the back of her shop and drink methylated spirits. To escape my situation at home, I moved out and got married. It was a mistake. We might have been married, but I was the only one living that life.
I fell pregnant and when I was about seven months along, my husband came home late (again) and said, “I’m leaving”. When I asked him why he told me that he “didn’t want the responsibility”. Responsibility was a concept lost on this man — he never paid child support. In fact, even though he left me and never gave me or his child anything, 10 years later he had all the rights.
Soon after he left, and while I was still pregnant, I went to a lawyer where I was told that legally I couldn’t go for custody of the child because the baby did not exist until it was born. I was able to get a legal separation and an order for support, though he ignored it. The system didn’t care about him; it was my responsibility to find him, which included putting ads in the local papers and calling his relatives (though they were unlikely to tell me where he was). When the collection agency was created, I was advised that I was ineligible because I was divorced before it existed.
I had a solicitor, social worker, obstetrician’s letters, all of which were given to social security, but I couldn’t claim ‘sole parent’ status because the baby wasn’t born. To add to the insult, I couldn’t claim the dole because I couldn’t work. I got a ‘special benefit’. My mother moved in with me, which unfortunately also meant my father did too.
I did not have morning sickness, but I did have migraines and swollen feet during my pregnancy. I was told, sometime later, that the swelling could have been toxaemia, but nothing was done about it. I was 9.5 stone (approximately 60kg) when I had my first obstetrician’s appointment. When I gave birth to my daughter, I was 9 stone (57kg). My labour was induced and it was an intense nine hours. It makes me angry when I think about how my mother got much better obstetric care in England in the 1950s compared to what I received in Australia in the ’80s.
My ex turned up on the day my baby was born with a basket. He announced that he would be moving back in. I contacted my lawyer, who informed me that he could not be stopped from moving back in to a house that he still paid rent at, but he could be prevented from seeing my baby or me.
The day after my daughter’s birth I was told she had fluid on the brain and that she would not develop like other children. I was told she would need a shunt put from her brain to her stomach to drain the fluid. I felt I was being forced into an operation that wasn’t necessary, and thankfully my mother was there to help me stop it. Following the birth, I was diagnosed with severe post-natal depression.
I moved home with my mother and consulted with another paediatrician who thought my baby’s diagnosis was incorrect. Further testing revealed he was right and while she did have a bigger head than normal, she also had a bigger brain. I probably should have had a Caesarian section, which would have resolved the issues I faced after her birth.
My ex and I got back together for a short while. After about six months he was gone again. Our local priest popped by to ensure that my ex got all that was his, no regard for me or our young child. My mother came to help me pack up and I moved back home again. I finally divorced two years later, but he wanted visits and photographs of my daughter as she grew up. He was ordered to pay $20 a week in child support.
My daughter grew up with some disabilities, but as my ex never paid a cent towards her care I had to rely on my mother for support. Now that my daughter is 18, it’s unlikely we will ever get anything from him.