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What It's Like to Be Abused By the Man Your Mom Wants You to Call 'Dad'

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced domestic violence, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by selecting “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233.

I was 4 years old, living on the left side of a lime green duplex in a small town in Ohio. On a late afternoon on a fall weekend in early October, I was running around the duplex playing with my favorite stuffed animal, Wicket, from “Stars Wars.” From my room upstairs, I heard the sound of the doorbell and Mom opening the front door. The deep voice of a man greeting her. I raced downstairs to investigate.

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This is new, it’s not every day somebody shows up at our door, I thought.

When I arrived at the bottom of the stairs, I didn’t see anyone. Expanding my investigation, I turned the corner to head towards the dining room and into the kitchen. Before I made it that far, I froze in my tracks, my heart starting to pound a million miles a second. Standing before me was a towering figure. This giant stood well over six feet tall and was much larger than your average man. He had a thick brown beard and sported a pair of bifocal glasses. From his head, I looked down to see a green T-shirt and a beat up, brown jacket. In his left hand was a clear plastic bag containing a carton of chocolate marshmallow ice cream. His right hand was in his jacket pocket.

After answering the door, Mom went into the kitchen. I greeted this stranger as any kid would greet such a large, intimidating man — with a punch in the leg. I giggled, but for only a moment. The next thing I recall is seeing a clenched fist the size of a softball exit this man’s pocket and head towards my stomach. It was as if a truck had struck me at over 70 miles per hour. I keeled over in pain. I gasped for breath, begging for my lungs to start working again. Tears came down my cheeks like a waterfall. I couldn’t scream because I couldn’t breathe. It didn’t matter anyway, nobody was coming to help me. Nobody in the room cared.

I was in the dining room next to the table with the daisy flowered tablecloth that looked more like a curtain, which I was using as a tissue. This man who was looking down at me at what he had just done and did not apologize. This man didn’t try and comfort me. This man just stood there. I assume he thought that’s what I deserved for punching him in the leg for no reason.

Afterwards, I thought maybe I did deserve getting punched in the stomach. And that is how our relationship would go. I was only 4 years old and that was my first meeting with my stepfather, Ben. Or, as my sister and I later referred to him, “Triple B” — Big Bad Ben.

Of all the men Mom could have married, she couldn’t have picked a worse person to bring home than Triple B.

I was always in fear of Triple B, of making him upset. It was like walking on eggshells. At dinner, if we put our elbows on the table while we were eating, we would get stabbed in the arm with his fork.

Then there was the stick. This stick was a piece of smooth wood about 18 inches long and 1.5 inches thick which had been cut off at the rough ends. It had been spray painted red at some point. You could see the outline of clothespins on the stick because it had been used as a background for one of our school projects. The stick would be placed conspicuously so all the children knew where it was and if we crossed paths with Triple B, or made him upset (which didn’t take much), the stick would come out.

There was a time I was watching TV with my brother and sister after dinner. I was getting tired and had fallen asleep on the chair with my head on the armrest. I was drooling a bit and it was getting it on the chair. I was woken up by a force grabbing my shirt and ripping me off the chair. I looked up and saw snarling Triple B in a rage yelling, “You’re a fuck up! How many times have I told you not to do that?”

He tossed me around like a rag doll until he was pleased that I was far enough away from the chair. I ended up being tossed against the wall in the hallway under the famed picture of a lighthouse. I was shaking in fear of what was about to happen to me.

“Don’t fucking move,” he told me.

I knew where this was heading. He went and got the stick and came towards me. I was screaming Mom’s name to help me and I could hear her yelling, “Stop! Stop! Please stop!” But nobody could stop him in that house. We all wished we could. That night I went to bed with sores and bruises on my legs from a few stick lashings.

Mom seeing the children she loved so much in pain hurt her dearly — I know this. She would witness the beatings sometimes with terror and tears in her eyes. But what could she do? She didn’t want another failed marriage on her hands. She rationalized that it wasn’t that bad, that Triple B would change or things would get better. They didn’t.

Mom thought having a father figure in the house was not only necessary for raising a family, but better for her kids. It wasn’t. Mom accepted a physically and emotionally abusive stepfather instead of her kids not having a father at all. All Mom wanted was a father for her children. Instead, she got a miserable monster who just wanted to be by himself or around other like-minded miserable people.

Mom tried to force a relationship on us with Triple B. She made us call him “dad” and referred to him as our father. This just made me not want to call him either of those things. It was odd calling him dad because first, I already had a dad, albeit not a great one. But I knew my biological father existed and would see him once or twice a year and get cards on Christmas and on my birthday. I had the feeling that Triple B didn’t care if I called him dad or not — he never asked me to. Additionally, Triple B never did any of the fatherly things — never took me to sports, never played catch with me, never talked to me about girls, never taught me how to shave, never asked me how I was doing, never apologized to me for anything. No bonding, nothing. He called me names a lot though — “loser” was his favorite. The relationship was characterized by fear. I was afraid of him and to him, I was just an annoyance.

Triple B’s anger and rage didn’t stop with the kids. Triple B and my mom fought a lot. Neither of them knew how to be in a relationship, they just thought they had to be.

On our way home from one of our trips, Mom and Triple B were screaming and yelling at each other and I was crying because I wanted everyone to be together and happy. Triple B was threatening divorce and I was so afraid that Triple B was going to leave mom. As we were getting out of the station wagon, Mom picked me up as I begged her to tell me that everything was going to be OK. Triple B was getting out of the driver’s side door still screaming at Mom. She asked him to tell me, a frightened, crying 7-year-old-boy, that everything was going to be OK. He refused. He just walked into the house and told us to fuck off.

After that, I never looked forward to seeing him — ever. Inside, I was praying he would just change, go away or die. Every time he would come home, I was afraid. All the kids would hide in their rooms when Triple B got home waiting for Mom to call us to dinner. The fear of being hit by Triple B was worse than the actual beating.

As I got older, the physical abuse turned into emotional abuse with name calling and degrading me and my friends. He was convinced I wouldn’t amount to anything and made sure he told me on a daily basis.

It took me a long time to realize all men weren’t like Triple B. Every time I met a man in my adolescence, I was somewhat fearful of them because I thought they were miserable, too. It made me feel a lot better to know that half the world wasn’t filled with Triple B’s.

I don’t blame my mom for bringing Triple B into our lives. She was doing it with the best intentions, but the situation got away from her to the point of no return. Mom showed me and my siblings love on a daily basis but she just wasn’t equipped to deal with whatever Triple B was. As for Triple B, he just didn’t know any better, like many of us. He didn’t know how to be a father or how to love a kid. He is the way he was because of how he was raised — by an abusive father who disciplined with corporal punishment. I guess history repeats itself, and as is often the case, abuse has its way of trickling down from generation to generation sometimes. But I couldn’t help but wonder what it was like to have a real father. Mom kept telling me my biological father was terrible because he wasn’t around. I always thought in my head that not being around is much better than the emotional and physical abuse I received from Triple B.

I never looked at myself as a victim of abuse — until one day I did. It was hard because mom is still married to Triple B and I still see him. We pretend that none of this ever happened and it didn’t have an enormous impact on my life. I was in fear of sharing my story because I didn’t want to hurt my mom and I didn’t want my family’s dirty laundry out there. It’s a startling revelation to wake up in your late 30s and come to the terms with the fact that you were, in fact, a victim of child abuse — physically and emotionally by the stepfather your mother chose. It’s liberating because I can stop pretending. In sharing my story, I can let go of all the fear which has been hurting and haunting me for the past several decades. For me to let go is to forgive and to share some of my story in hopes that it will will help others.

Unsplash photo via

Follow this journey on Kyle’s blog.

Originally published: July 5, 2019
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