Honoring the History of Women

March is Women’s History Month. While we have so many extraordinary women to honor for their accomplishments and contributions to our society, as well as their bold and pioneering efforts to change gender perceptions, I want to share a different kind of story about women and our history.

Looking back historically over a century or more, women have experienced moral and gender oppression. Every move and choice and decision came with great debate and heated warnings of penitence and verdict. It was thought that women were not capable of making good choices even over the simplest of things, whether she was a pauper or a princess. Married women fared better than spinsters but still her power was not her own. And any woman who found herself pregnant, single, and abandoned had even less rights, greater penitence, and a whole lot more to lose.

Women from our past did not have a choice because making a choice came with grave consequences. Women were considered property and came with a dowry. Parents sold their daughters and chose their husbands. If they refused to abide by their parent’s arrangements or their husband’s rules, they were punished or even worse, thrown out in the streets. Once abandoned, her future was bleak and many chose handmaid or harlot.

“Where are the men who make these girls what they are?” Charlotte demanded. “Go find them in our business marts, drawing rooms, and churches…Men are getting rich on the toil and tears of famishing women and children.” Charlotte Ouisconsin Van Cleve

The Bethany Home for Unwed Mothers Fighting for the-Fallen

Clergies and Politicians played their game of chess very well and women were the pawn. They stacked the deck, dealt the cards, set the standards, and made laws that enforced an unequal society that promoted males over females. By controlling women, it allowed a patriarchy ruled society to continue to rein over a matriarchy one. We are talking about the difference between two letters, M versus P.

“It is incredible to me that any woman should consider the fight for full equality won. It has just begun.” Alice Paul

The 19th Amendment was a great victory, empowering women to participate in politics. And by all accounts, the ink dried, the stone set, and the event has been memorialized. But Alice was correct. So many other rights were still just waiting to be challenged, heard, accepted, and granted; like the right to work, equal pay for equal work, obtain a bank account, access to credit, file for divorce, reside independently, have access to birth control, or the right to single parent your own child.

The stranger than fiction story of Christine Collins, where her son goes missing in 1928 and the Los Angeles police try to convince her they have found her son. In fact, they gave her a boy, a Changeling; that was not her missing son. When she insisted that the boy was not her son, Christine, a single mother, gets arrested and sent to a psychiatric ward.

“They had the final word. They could easily say ‘You’re emotional. You’re a woman. You’re a mother. You’re not thinking clearly,’ and a lot of people at that time would say, ‘That’s right.'” Angelina Jolie.

I have often asked myself why women had to fight so hard to gain equal access and rights… to be treated with respect and dignity. Why did we need permission to have dominion and make decisions? Equal rights should include everyone, no matter our gender, race, salary, marital status, or zip code.

By the mid-1900’s, it wasn’t enough that girls had to live up to their parents and religious morals. Females had advertising images that set standards which wives, mothers, and daughters often felt pressured to maintain.

For women of color, America imposed even greater restrictions.

Society began to classify females as good girls or bad girls; Mary or Medusa. Good girls make good choices…the right choices. Good girls don’t act this way or that way. Good girls don’t curse, get drunk, or get tattoos. They don’t have sex. And most importantly, good girls don’t get pregnant unless they are married.

Bad Girls

On the other hand, sons were praised for their sexual prowess and could bed as many women as he pleased. For every sexual encounter a female had, it was a strike against her. For each notch on the belt a male added, it was a conquest. Females were held to different standards and the consequences were far greater. Is it any wonder it took so long for society to understand rape. #MeToo

This made for a very ripe Adoption industry. There was a huge stigma against unmarried women who “got” pregnant and society blamed them. Mothers often felt they could not parent their child without a husband, unless it was after a divorce or death. So unless she married the father of her child, or had an arranged marriage with another man who was willing to make her an honest woman (a good girl), rarely did mothers come home from the hospital with her baby in her arms.

Pregnant, Catholic, and Unmarried

There was deep shame associated with unmarried women getting pregnant. Homes were solely dedicated to them and named in their honor, almost like a curse bestowed on them. They were considered fallen women just for having sex and conceiving. Families had great fear of anyone finding out that their daughter had sinned greatly. Sons seemed to be absolved.

Babies were birthed from their mother’s womb and taken from her body. Her societal shame transferred onto her innocent child, born and stamped illegitimate.

A Girl Like Her

The nurses, nuns, and social workers were callous towards these women. They implied unmarried mothers were bad girls and married women hoping to adopt were good girls and believed separating an unwed mother from her child would absolve their shame and sin.

Catholic Church Apologises for Role in Forced Adoptions Over 30 Year Period

A worse fate was foretold for those wanting to keep their babies. Mothers were presented with a gloomy future for her and her child but promised a better life for her child in the hands of adoptive parents, a promise no one could guarantee. Her only choice was relinquishment. This is not a true choice. A choice indicates there is more than one viable option. More importantly, their babies had no choice. Babies were going to be born and their fate was at the hands of strangers; social workers, politicians, and clergy. And mother’s had no say. They were forced to follow a superficial society.

In 1970, adoptions reached their peak, with approximately 175,000 taking place each year, and 80 percent arranged by agencies.”

History of Adoption

While abortions were already legal in some states, Roe vs Wade argued to the Supreme Court in 1971, re-argued in 1972, and decided in 1973 in a landmark decision granted all women in every state the right to choose how she wanted to handle her pregnancy. It also provided a more medically safe and sterile process. That same year, there were 615,831 abortions performed.

Abortion in the United States

“When the United States first became independent, most states applied English common law to abortion. This meant it was not permitted after quickening, or the start of fetal movements, usually felt 15–20 weeks after conception.”

The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act was made into law in 1974.

Just four years later, 1978, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was passed after large amounts of Native American children were separated from their families and tribes to be placed in foster care or sent to boarding schools in attempts to destroy their Native culture.

U.S. History of Forced Separation of Native American Children

I find this all very interesting.

First, that the United States had no federal law to protect children until 1974! And then, from 1971 to 1978, in just seven years, we had the highest adoption rate in U.S. history, we legalized abortions, and more and more unwed mothers were choosing to single parent.

Number of Children Living With a Single Mother or Single Father

It almost seemed like America needed to discover new ways to procure infants and children.

Empowering women to have dominion over their own bodies is a concept that we have yet to achieve. The ink may be dry but this law continues to be nationally debated with heated opinions. And it is not about female rights but rather the rights of the embryo or fetus. And so once again, the rights of the female become secondary.

An embryo is an unhatched offspring until about the 8th week of pregnancy and measures at approximately 0.6 inches. An embryo is termed a fetus at about 11 weeks of the pregnancy and measures at about 1.6 inches.

Per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the majority of abortions in 2016 took place early in gestations: 91% of abortions were performed at < 13 weeks’ gestation.

Data Stats – Abortion

Up until the 10th week, if a female has a miscarriage, she may or may not know she miscarried. Not until 10-12 weeks is a D&C recommended.

D and C Procedure After Miscarriage

So in essence, up until two – three months of pregnancy, a women can miscarry at any time and the remains inside her body could discard into the toilet or onto her sanitary napkin which ends up in the trash and she is not required by law to bury or cremate her unhatched offspring or fetus.

However, if she chooses to end her pregnancy at a medical facility in Indiana at any time in her pregnancy, Indiana law requires her to bury or cremate the remains. Many other states are trying to pass this same law.

Here’s Why Fetal Burial Legislation is Surging in the States

Open adoptions started in the latter part of the 1970’s. It was supposed to fix and improve adoption. It was believed open adoptions promoted truth and transparency and was better for children/adoptees rather than secrets and obscurity. Closed versus Open became a debate.

About a decade later, adoption agencies began promoting “open” in their campaign slogans, switching shame tactics with empowerment. Times were changing. Instead of dragging daughters off to an unwed mother’s home, more pregnant females began seeking help for themselves. Open adoption was a way to give them more confidence about their choice, implying mothers had power in choosing. But it was a forged and temporary power. It was a bait and switch.

Scared? Confused? Unplanned pregnancy? 

Actual Ad:

Adoption Ad

But “open” in adoption can be misleading. Each open adoption is defined differently. There is no one size fits all nor is there a standard arrangement. More importantly, most states do not have legal open adoption agreements. It is a verbal promise between two families.

Open Adoption Agreements Legally Enforceable

Adoption agencies like to publicly promote that they advocate for pregnant mothers. However, this applies to women who proceed with the adoption plan and relinquish their parental rights. Very few really want to help a mother become a parent to her child. Want to know how I know this? I visited a 100-year-old non-profit adoption agency that has dedication walls in their lobby with adoptive and birth family testimonials. I have read countless adoption website blogs and testimonials. I have yet to find one who features a mother giving a testimonial to an adoption agency, thanking the agency for supporting her choice to parent. What I have found are agencies who boast about their adoption success rate.

Think about it. It is not surprising. Adoption agencies do not want to advertise how many times a mother or father changes their mind. That may deter customers from using their services, right?  Let’s be honest, we know where their allegiance lay. It is called an adoption agency for a reason. Adoption is their business, not taking care of pregnant women. And so, too often, women who are poor, lacking resources, scared, alone, or who have fallen on hard times respond to an advertisement that says, “We are YOUR advocates.”

Once a mother’s baby has been born, it can become a very coercive environment. Adoption counselors will go to great lengths to ensure the new mother proceeds with her original plan. They will show up at the hospital unannounced or uninvited. What appears as advocacy pre-birth soon turns into obstruction post-birth. At this point, there’s no fork in the road for these mothers. It is a dead end street and you either give up your child or you fight like hell to get past the protesters and barricades who want to keep you cornered until you surrender. Checkmate!

Fighting for Rights After a Forced, Unethical Adoption with CUB founder, Lee Campbell

We should ask ourselves, why would anyone feel they need to convince a female to proceed with an adoption plan? Why would they praise her as brave for choosing adoption, then as thoughtless for choosing to parent? Why would strangers wanting to adopt someone else’s baby hold more value than a child’s own mother? Why should it matter that she considered adoption pre-birth, and then changed her mind post-birth?

This reminds me greatly of everything the #MeToo movement strives to change in how women are treated. Is this any different than a female who is alone with a man, who continues to ask her for sex, who continues to press up on her, or continues to force himself on her even though she has changed her mind and has said no several times? No means no! Apparently the adoption community and society in general has not caught on yet.

A woman who claims rape has to be accountable for her behavior, her outfit, and her previous sexual encounters so society can label her as victim or vixen. Likewise, adoption has an unequal judicial system too and it is any mother who changes her mind about relinquishment.

Once relinquishment papers have been executed, you have signed over your child to the agency and your baby becomes their property. Even if you have second thoughts and come back two hours later thinking I should not have done that, it’s too late. The law will allow a marriage to be annulled but, in most cases, will not allow a relinquishment to be undone. Both are emotionally based choices, one based on passion, the other based on fear. The trauma and the cost are far greater for the latter.

After you give legal and physical custody over to the agency, your baby is their property and your infant has been reduced to a commodity. That may sound cruel but it is true. I have legal documents to prove it.

If a parent signs over their parental rights to an adoption agency (a business) making them no longer their child’s parent, who then is the parent of that child? A business or non-profit cannot be a parent of a child. A business has associates and assets, not children. Likewise, if the state gains custody of a child, then that child is a ward of the state but the state is not the parent of that child. Once an adoption agency has legal possession of your child, they are going to do everything within their power to retain that asset because that baby is their income that keeps them in business and pays their bills and salaries. Each newborn infant brings them up to $50k. Upon receipt of payment, only then will they hand over your baby to their client.

“I have a duty to speak the truth as I see it and share not just my triumphs, not just the things that felt good, but the pain. The intense, often unmitigated pain. It is important to share how I know survival is survival and not just a walk through the rain,” Audre Lorde 

Abortion and adoption debates are presented as contrasting choices. They have been battling it out for several decades. People assume if a female chose abortion, she hated babies and if she chose relinquishment, she hated motherhood. Others believe the opposite of abortion is adoption and the opposite of adoption would have been abortion. They paint abortion clinics as hell and adoption agencies as heaven. Neither is true.

I am thankful that I was able to get safe and legal abortions and I am still pro-choice. But I respect those who aren’t. I feel it is good to have a Yin and Yang, a right and left, a top and bottom, and an up and down in society. Day and night are opposites. Is the sun more beautiful than the moon? Are stars more beautiful than clouds? I am sure people could debate it but it would not make one true or one false. I think of it like a pendulum or a see-saw, a give and take, a sharing of the power, a democracy.

But I am concerned about the inconsistencies of this political debate and the selective morality. If there are grieving women who regret abortion, I promise you, there are equally grieving women who regret adoption. For some, trauma comes to both. For others, they feel no regret.

Women who experience an unplanned pregnancy sit and watch while everyone else has an opinion about how she decides or decided to handle her pregnancy. Does anyone ask her what she truly wants or needs? No, because a mother is a female and a female cannot make choices for herself and her family.

Too often, the same people who praised a female for changing her mind about her pregnancy and not choosing abortion will then disparage her for changing her mind about parenting and not choosing adoption. Even when she has pleaded with tears in her eyes that she cannot leave the hospital without her infant or that she does not want to relinquish her rights to her child, they still do everything within their power to coerce or convince her otherwise. Does that sound like a woman who has rights? Does that sound like a female who is respected to make a choice for her and her family? Or does it sound like others are still oppressing and controlling the choices of women? Ironically, this mind game is often dished out by other women.

The issue is not just about unethical practices by adoption agencies. The issue is about gender oppression. From the moment we are born, before we are anything, we are first a boy or a girl. Females get pregnant. They are the ones walking through the doors asking for help.

“The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says: “It’s a girl.” Shirley Chisholm

Rarely were fathers notified or involved in the process of the mid-1900 Baby-Scoop era adoptions. They were called Unwed Mother Homes, not Unwed Father Homes. DNA was a great advancement in family genealogy. No longer could a male claim, “I don’t know if it is my child.” Even still, agencies have been known to go to great lengths to avoid getting fathers involved and have even moved pregnant mothers to states that do not require a father be served a notice of relinquishment. Adoptive parents are sometimes aware of this tactic. Why is that? Because they know that they will not be able to manipulate a male as easily as they can manipulate a female.

More importantly, we should ask ourselves why women feel they need to choose abortion OR adoption over parenting. Why is our society more apt to support wealthy married couples than underprivileged single mothers? Why do states and government offer greater incentives for adopting a newborn rather than to the child’s own single parent once his/her baby is born? Politicians want to remove a women’s right to have an abortion but they do not want to offer her an incentive to carry on with her pregnancy, or fight on her behalf for custodial support from an unwilling father. Instead, they suggest adoption. Adoption is not a replacement for abortion.

Texas Adoptees have been battling antiquated laws for several decades to gain access to their original birth certificate. So far, only nine states have unrestricted access. It would seem as U.S. born citizens themselves; adoptees would inherit the same rights as any other infant born here, right? I mean, if an embryo or fetus has more rights than their mother, why wouldn’t an adoptee?

American Adoption Congress

Now, politicians are telling adoptees that they are protecting the women who relinquished. Politicians say they need to protect our identity and our right to privacy. They fear mothers may re-experience shame, the same shame that THEY inflicted on us by their harsh criticism and inaccurate assessment of who we were as human beings.

Over and over, throughout history, society has oppressed females. They fought us on every Women’s Rights issue. They took our children and shamed us for doing so. They reluctantly gave us a choice but besieged us when we needed an abortion. They have threatened to reverse Roe vs Wade, removing a Women’s Reproductive Right to choose. And now, they tell our children who we gave birth to that they cannot give them their original birth certificate because they are protecting a Women’s Right to privacy. Oh, now we have rights? How convenient!

We are in unprecedented times with the threat and pandemic of COVID-19. This has impacted us all in unique ways. And during uncertain times, no doubt, unplanned pregnancies will continue to occur. We must not allow others to hold our tongue, write our story, or control our choices. We must not allow Women’s Rights or Women’s History to come secondary to someone or something else. We must take time to honor our tenacious women, their history, their stories, and their contributions to society itself and to the betterment of future generations of women. As well, let us honor the women whose story is rarely told but who are intricately woven into the historical fabric of this nation’s history. Let us honor her today.

“Jane Roe is every woman who’s ever been denied anything in her whole life, because we’ve all been denied something at some point, so we’re all Jane Roe’s.”  Norma McCorvey aka Jane Roe of Roe vs Wade

Updated May 23, 2020

Yesterday

Yesterday, I drove from Dallas to Houston to attend the funeral of my dear friend’s mother. I had only met Ms. Shirley a couple times but I knew her through her daughter, my friend of seventeen years. I knew her through her legacy of her children, and grandchildren; their compassion and yet strong character, their will to succeed as humans and as citizens in a society that can be flawed and heartless at times.

The ministers announced that we were there to celebrate Ms. Shirley and her life. And it truly felt like a celebration.

All those who came to speak, knew Ms. Shirley personally. They referenced, “It takes a village” and said Ms. Shirley had a devotion to her “village” which included not only her kids, but her extended family; nieces and nephews, grandchildren, and even those in her community. Two people from the neighborhood stood up to speak on behalf of the neighbors. One woman, a childhood friend of Ms. Shirley’s daughter, who grew up in the neighborhood, shared that Ms. Shirley often times led that village. Ms. Shirley looked out for her neighbors and was there for the kids in her community. She always had food to share, an ear to listen, and a home that kids could visit and feel safe. She was the neighborhood friend, mother, or grandmother that helped keep her community strong. The woman then expressed her gratitude to Ms. Shirley and asked all those villagers from the neighborhood to stand, which they did so proudly.

The minister referenced “the dash”.  He asked if we all knew what the dash meant and then went on to explain. On our tombstone, we have a date of birth. Then we have a date of death. The dash between those two dates represent all the time we spend in between life and death.

Ms. Shirley, who married, had six children, was widowed, and became a single working mother, was still able to find food, time, and money for not only her family, but also for her village. Her nephew declared that her faith carried her through difficult times.  Then he joked how Ms. Shirley sometimes would say that the younger generation didn’t know how to stretch a dollar. As a single mother myself. I could appreciate that. Although, I only had two mouths to feed, mine and my son’s, I still understood what it meant to be on your own and how to make a dollar stretch.

As I sat there in the pew, I heard one minister say how Ms. Shirley would not come back for anything in the world because she was at home, in peace with her father in heaven. While I do mostly agree, in my ear, I heard her say that she would give one more day to be with her kids. I couldn’t help but wonder if Ms. Shirley whispered this in my ear so I could share her words with her children. And what loving mother wouldn’t give to have one more day with her kids. Being a mother myself, given the chance, I would. And no doubt in my mind, that Ms. Shirley would also.

As mothers, we try to impart our wisdom, our teachings, and our lessons to our kids so that we can prepare them for their future. Our legacy is not only in their genes, but in our words spoken to them and in their childhood experiences and memories. Every moment we spend nurturing our children carries on to future generations.

The same is true for those in our community. Our kids are paying attention. I remember on two different occasions my sons acknowledging me for something I did for another person, a random act of kindness. Afterwards, they said, “That was really nice of you”. Funny, because I don’t remember what I did, but I remember their response. It touched me greatly. I thought to myself, these are lessons I want my sons to remember. No doubt, that Ms. Shirley’s children were impacted by her generosity and outreach in her community. I know that my friend, her daughter, is one of the most generous and giving persons I know and I feel truly blessed to call her friend.

In a world where we hear too often about mass shootings, hatred, bigotry, and divisive opinions, it is so refreshing to hear about one woman who loved her family and her community and how that community grew, bonded and became stronger because of her.

 

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Frederick Douglass

 

The Dash Poem, by Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
From the beginning…to the end

He noted that first came the date of birth
And spoke the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years

For that dash represents all the time
That they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
Know what that little line is worth

For it matters not, how much we own,
The cars…the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.

So, think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
That can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect
And more often wear a smile,
Remembering this special dash
Might only last a little while

So, when your eulogy is being read
With your life’s actions to rehash…
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent YOUR dash?

Sex, Drugs and Rock n’ Roll

This is my #metoo story. #nomoreshame #timesup

One Woman's Choice

Jaren is a junior in high school now and is starting to become more independent, which makes me somewhat nervous.  This is such a crucial time in his life and soon he will be entering adulthood.  He will be face to face with choices that I will not always be able to assist him with and I trust that I have given him the tools to make those decisions.

I remember once, after bringing Jaren to my job for “Kids Day at Work”, one of my co-workers said to me, “You know what I like about Jaren?  He is a kid.  He acts like a kid.  And I mean that as a compliment.”  My co-worker, who did not have children, went on to explain to me that she felt parents tried to make grown-ups out of kids instead of allowing them to be kids and act like kids.  She was…

View original post 1,496 more words

Her name was Kathy

When we think of domestic violence, we often think of a romantic relationship between two people which has become toxic in some form.  The level of abuse can vary from verbal or emotional to physical.  The impact leaves one person feeling powerless and the other feeling powerful.

Statistics show that 1 in 4 women in the United States have been the victim of physical violence.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline

That’s alarming.

But, we often do not think of the extension of domestic violence and its abuse on those around; the children and the extended families.

I posted on Facebook recently:

If you have been impacted by domestic violence, please message me.

Melissa shared, “I grew up in with sexual abuse and violence in my home. The sexual abuse caused rage in my sister who was three years older. My mother also ragged at us but she did not hit us, she screamed, and threw things like all the dishes in the house, or every piece of clothes out of our closets and then would not speak to us for days. My mom and sister would have physical altercations started by my sister and my sister got physically and verbally abusive with me regularly. When I hear domestic violence I think father beating up mother but I came to realize I grew up in a violent home that was not safe and it shaped much of my beliefs about life. Therapy and Unity have helped immensely.”

A new friend I met this summer said, “My first husband was abusive. I was married for five long years. It’s still hard to admit that to people but feels safer here on personal message.”

An old friend of mine, who was in an extremely toxic abusive marriage and is now divorced admitted that her current boyfriend has become abusive.

So for me, I can easily see how these alarming statistics are very substantial.

I remember my own mother getting threatened and hit by her boyfriend George, whom my mother dated for three years, was a live-in boyfriend and an acting father figure to her three young kids, me being the youngest.  That relationship ended when I was five.  Her next live-in boyfriend, who eventually became our step father bullied and threatened my mother and even shoved her up against the wall on a few occasions while her children watched.  As a small child, to witness the rage and anger that was shown on the faces of these men (that sometimes was directed towards us children) while our mother’s face tried to elude her fears and tears unsuccessfully left us with a feeling of helplessness.  We were powerless to make any changes.  We had been placed in a situation beyond our control or our choosing.  We had to learn at an early age how to mentally and emotionally survive on a daily basis to manage and cope in our sometimes unstable surroundings.

I don’t know when my mother started dating abusive men, but I know it didn’t start with George.  While I was too young to remember, her relationship with my own father was also a toxic one.  My father was good at loving his children; he was not good at caring and providing for them; or being a daily constant, reliable father in his children’s lives.  But despite his toxic behaviors towards his lovers, girlfriends or wives, I never feared my father.  Even after I learned of his crime, where his jury spared him the death penalty but sentenced him to hard labor at Florida State Prison for the rest of his natural life.

I found out about my father’s imprisonment and crime when I was a young teen.  But I did not know the particulars, who, what, why or how it happened until years later.  I grew up hearing about my abusive father from my mother, saying he left her so bruised and battered one time that when her mother came over to visit, she had to put on a long sleeve turtle neck shirt to hide her injuries.

My parents parted ways when I was a toddler so I have no memories of that time.  But my oldest brother (from my mother’s first marriage) says he remembers.  He remembers seeing my father abusing our mother.  Once when we were talking about George and our step-father and their tumultuous and sometimes toxic relationship, he reminded me that my father “wasn’t all that great either.”  I find it ironic because it is sometimes said as if I had control for my father’s behavior.  Just because I am his daughter (I am my mother’s daughter, too), should I feel guilty for what he did to our mother?  Even so, does that mean because my father was abusive that I don’t have the right to speak about the other abusive men that I encountered during my childhood?  It’s invaliding the real issue.

Somehow, as I began to date over the years, I seemed to avoid these abusive men.  Did I have an inner knowing subconsciously of what to look for without conscionously trying to decipher those characteristics?  Heeding any early warning signs?  Lord knows, my life has not always been in a good place which could have easily led me into these types of relationships.  Or was it just plain luck?

I did have one relationship that was on the verge though.  His name was Kevin.  Kevin was a tall and handsome young man.  He was a couple years older than me.  His family was well known in our small town and their kids were very active in school and athletics.  I was working at a local bar as a bartender.  I was nineteen years old.  While Kevin and I knew each other in high school, we never hung out.  Kevin was a regular at the bar.  He was popular and very charismatic.  Shortly after we began dating each other, I heard rumors that he was sometimes abusive towards his previous girlfriend.  I assumed they were telling me this to scare me so I would break up with Kevin and then his old girlfriend could get him back.  Our relationship seemed strong and we truly did have deep love for each other.  Within a few months though, I noticed Kevin would become jealous of friends and accused me a few times of wanting to sleep with his friends.  He would become antagonistic, trying to create turmoil and doubt.  I would assure him that I didn’t.  And I truly didn’t.  I had no interest in any of his friends.  I thought Kevin was way better looking, had a better personality, was very talented in sports, was smart, was from a good family, and was a tender lover.  He had everything I needed and wanted in a man.

Then one day, we got in an argument at his parents house.  We were alone in the house and in his bedroom.  All of a sudden, he threw me on his bed, straddled on top of me, pulled his arm back with his hand in a fist and was ready to cold cock me in the face when I said, “Go ahead.  Hit me if it makes you feel like a man.”  Don’t ask me what possessed me to say that.  That could have very easily been an invitation or an instigation for him to follow through with his intention.  But he didn’t.  He stopped.  It wasn’t too long after that our relationship ended.  And in many ways I am thankful.

A couple years later, Kevin began dating a good friend of mine.  Although I had moved away, I heard about their sometimes toxic relationship.  This was not surprising news to me.  I came to realize the warnings I had heard about his previous girlfriend were probably true.  Part of the issue with Kevin was his drinking.  He could not control it.  Once he had one drink, he usually drank until he was drunk.  I recall my grandfather, who was a recovering alcoholic, asked me to ask Kevin if he wanted to go to AA with him sometime.  I asked Kevin but he never took up the offer.  And to be honest, I don’t think I took it that seriously either.  But my grandfather knew the signs.  He could tell that Kevin was an alcoholic before anyone else could.  I remember my grandfather telling me that an alcoholic is not someone who drinks every day.  Some alcoholics can go weeks without having a drink.  But when they do drink, they cannot control their drinking and will usually drink until they are drunk.

So one night, Kevin and his girlfriend had been out drinking.  On the way home, they got in an argument.  My friend was driving and Kevin was in the passenger seat.   Suddenly, Kevin grabbed the steering wheel and jerked it.  The car crashed.  They both were seriously injured but my friend, a single mother, was left as a paraplegic, and her life was changed forever in an instant.  It was devastating news for the whole town.

I could not help but think, “Wow.  That could have been me.”

My dear-longtime friend Lee was in an abusive relationship during our senior year in high school.  Lee remembers, “That was a dark time in my life.”  Most times, the incidents of her abuse didn’t happen when others were around.  That’s the thing about domestic violence.  And why it goes unnoticed and unreported all too often.  Or the victim is ashamed to come forward believing that he or she has caused the abusive behavior or that it is warranted somehow.

Lee’s boyfriend, Pat, had jealous tendencies among other issues.  One night, Lee, Pat, and I were walking down the city street of our small town.  Something happened and Pat pulled Lee aside into a dark alley way.  I think it was something that Lee and I were talking about that made him suspicious.  I stayed on the street sidewalk and gave them their privacy for a few moments.  But then I saw Pat starting to get upset and domineering.  He began pointing at Lee with his finger close to her face and then shoving her.  I began to get worried about what may be coming next.  So I shouted at them and told Pat to leave her alone and let’s go.  And he did.

Sometimes we only have a split second to decide or choose something.  We quickly follow our gut instincts or heart.  So many things can happen in an instant.  Pat could have taken his anger out on me.  That’s the scary part about dealing with toxic people; you just don’t know what they are capable of doing.

Which brings me to Kathy, my father’s girlfriend back in 1967.

At fifty-three years of age , after reading my father’s book about all his lovers, girlfriends and wives, and the string of children he left behind, I have finally come to know Kathy.  All these years, I knew nothing about the woman my father murdered.  Later, I would find out that Kathy was an eighteen year old high school teenager who fell in love with my then thirty eight year old father.  She was a waitress at the local Howard Johnson.  She got pregnant by my father.  She considered having an abortion.  She wanted and needed out of their toxic relationship. But sadly… her life was taken away with five shots fired to her head because, if my father could not have her, no one would.  That’s toxic, the domestic violence abuse.

Kathy’s story has deeply touched me.  Her short-lived life and tragic death has been hard for me to overcome this past week.  She was a young impressionable teen in love with an older man who she thought would love her and protect her.  When I think of Kathy, I sometimes get emotional and cry.  And while I was reading her story through my father’s eyes, I still have come to know a piece of her.  And oddly, knowing more about her and the circumstance that lead to her death has helped me to heal.  I was four years old when Kathy’s life ended.  I had no idea at the time.  That moment not only changed Kathy’s life, her families, and my father’s, it also impacted and changed everything for his children too.

The truth is, anyone can be impacted by domestic violence, a man, a woman or a child.  And it impacts more than just two people in a relationship.  It’s a ripple effect that can have lasting consequences.

I think for many reasons, that is why I chose to remain single and not go from relationship to relationship and drag my son, Jaren (who’s now eighteen years old, the same age as Kathy was) along with all those “possibly the one” relationships that had a 50/50 chance of succeeding or failing.  The risk of him being abused verbally, emotionally, sexually or physically greatly increased anytime I dated or brought another man into our home.  That wasn’t a chance I was willing to gamble on.  I had a responsibility to protect me and my son.

Children at higher risk in nontraditional homes

This post is in honor of Kathy, and dedicated to her family, my siblings and to all the victims of domestic violence.

If you think you are in an abusive, toxic relationship please call this hotline for help.

1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

The National Domestic Violence Hotline

Having a Voice

Having a voice (whether spoken, written or signed) is an important aspect in a society.  We as individuals and as members of a specific group or gender have always had a need to express our voice.

I was watching the TCM channel over the weekend.  One movie was going off and another was getting ready to come on.  The movie ending was a movie about the old west, a Cowboys and Indians kind of movie.  The movie coming on, ‘Murder Ahoy’, a black and white film, released in 1964 was based off of novels and characters written by Agatha Christie.

The movie began with Miss Marple, an elderly female fictional character who appears in numerous novels and short stories by Agatha Christie.  Miss Marple, dressed in a white collar shirt, jacket, and tie, is sitting at a table among all men discussing matters when one of the men suddenly drops over dead.  This sparks her amateur detective instincts to investigate.  As she is following a trail, she slowly walks backwardly down a fire escape.  Two men, who meet her at the bottom, startling her a bit, question her about her motives.  She becomes stern with them and tells them they do not know what has just happened.  They reassure her that they are well aware of what has just happened and then attempt to scoff her off.  She asks them what they are implying.  (We as viewers know what they are implying.)  They deny they are implying anything.  Then they tell her that maybe she is “not herself.”  Miss Marple quickly and sharply responds, “I have always been myself.”

This is a classic example of a woman being presented as equally important as her male counterparts.

Agatha Christie, being a female herself, creates strong women with dialogue that expresses our own ideas and self-worth.  Agatha Christie does not shy away from showing how women may be perceived and the stereotypes or the subtle oppression that exists, but she is able to use her platform to demonstrate how women are resilient, intelligent, have an important voice and are an equal contributor in any society.

Shonda Rhimes is a modern day example of this.

However, the old western movie that was going off, who had imitation Natives, got me to thinking about all the times we have allowed someone else to speak or portray an image for another race or group.

There are so many that I am afraid I will inadvertently leave off some so I will focus on these key groups.

Slave, Black African American, and old western movies, depicting Cowboys and Indians (Native American Indians), were more often written and directed by white men.  It was their vision, their voice, their interpretation, and their dialogue that was written for the world to see, whether it was accurate or not.

I don’t doubt that “some” had good intentions of trying to capture that reality of a time in history but if we are writing from one side of history, we are not truly portraying a true sense of reality.  If one has never been a slave, then one cannot truly understand or comprehend the intensity of what it means to live as a slave or being a direct descendant of a slave.  Can you imagine a white director or writer telling a black man or woman, this is how slaves acted?  Especially during early American film history, when the Black American voice was silenced and oppressed.

Alex Haley, who won a Pulitzer Prize special award in 1977, put names and faces to the American Slaves when he told his true story in Roots which also won a Golden Globe Award for Best TV series – drama that same year.

Same goes for the Wild West movies but with one added element, we didn’t even allow Native Americans Indians to act or portray their own roles in our films.  And if we did, it was minute, with possibly one or two key members among hundreds of imitations.  We either used other ethnic groups with similar characteristics or worse, we used white men and painted them brown.

Our American stories, were written to honor or glorify the white Europeans and early Americans about their fight for this country.  But at what cost?  These stories, whether for politics, for the news, for historical preservation or for entertainment, were written from one side, the white mans.

Sure, we’ve always had sympathy characters to tug at our hearts and make us question our motives and morals but when we turned the last page of the book, or watched the credits roll the screen, Americans went back living life as they always have.

Recently, one of my Facebook friends shared a YouTube documentary video of the history of the African-American Cowboys.  In this video, real American black cowboys shared the history and the stories of their parents and previous generations, stating the origins of the American Cowboy is a culmination of the West African heritage and the Spaniards.  They even shared about the history of the term ‘cowboy’ and how it came from the early American slave days.  As commonly known, black males were referred to as boys, no matter if they were young boys or elderly men, during slavery and even up to the Civil Rights era.  So the term, cow-boy, actually started back during slavery and had a whole different connotation than what it later came to represent in movies and folk-lore, which was a strong, rugged white man, like John Wayne, the Lone Ranger and many other western film icons.  Could that have been early appropriation?

Have you ever watched a movie or a news story, read a book or an article that was written or directed by another race, ethnicity or gender who depicted your race or gender from their perception and felt that it was not a true depiction of you or your family, your history, or your people?  How about when the white race is the minority in the movie?  Or a movie, where instead of hiring people who represent your race or culture, the film crew hired another race, costumed them up with paint and fake hair to depict your race?  And White Chicks does not count.  Has your race ever been eliminated completely from historical facts or were the facts grossly distorted to benefit another race or culture?  Not many of us White Americans have, especially in comparison to other groups?

Can you imagine going to a movie and having to watch people with your skin color or your culture being portrayed as subhuman, primitive heathens, being represented in a subservient manner, always obedient to the white man and when that does not happen, the consequences that resulted.  That’s a systematic oppression.

There are a few other examples of this, too.   Adoption is one.

For years, the books, the blogs and personal interviews relating to adoption were mostly by adoptive parents.  They shared their one-sided view on adoption that society seemed to view as the most worthy, respected voice.

The story or stories that were handed down to the adoptee’s about their original, biological family and why they were available for adoption was communicated by adoption professionals to the adoptive parents who then passed the story to the child, if it was even shared or communicated at all.  We’ve since learned over the years, that many of those stories were not true but a false misrepresentation of the facts to appease a need for a separation and relinquishment to occur.  These false stories were needed in order to create a scorned, bad woman, someone who was lacking moral value, who was poor and negligent and was incapable of loving her own flesh and blood or turned away in cold malice.  Adoption movies also played into the roles and stereotypes.  Ironically, these stories conveniently left the males unmarred, who coexisted in the process of breeding.

Adoptees and biological/relinquishing parents are “flipping the script” and are now speaking up and speaking out in great numbers to set the record straight.

White Americans but mostly White American males have been steering the course of our society for hundreds of years and have been exhibiting their white power and privilege over many centuries.  White Americans started out as a minority in this nation and yet have managed to populate this entire country, almost wiping out the Native American Indian culture.  White Americans have dominated politics, literature, media, and entertainment for years, have exhibited many atrocities on this land, none as great as the atrocities than to that of the Black, African American men and women, and yet somehow still seem to find ways to blame others for the demise of American culture and the American dream.

There is this need in our society to create a good people versus a bad people, a hero and a villain, a sinner and a saint, a better than or worse than, a systemic hierarchy, whether it is true or not.  As in all things, there are always exceptions, there are always some truths.  But when those truths are watered down, diluted or distorted to benefit another person’s ego or personal agenda, this is when we begin to create an oppressed, disturbed and dysfunctional society.  We begin to honor the lies and deny the truths.

Here’s the thing, no matter how many lies are told, how much oppression is exhibited, how many times the legal records, history books, or the legal system tries to distort the facts, sooner or later, the truth will reveal itself.  A lie can never change who we are, from the time we enter this world from the time we bid this world adieu.

The truth is White Americans (both males and females) have also protested and fought for the rights and equal treatment of all humans.  This has been documented and we know this to be true.  There is never an all or nothing in our society.  That’s that great thing about living in a free society and country.  But, as many who have fought for the protection of our equal liberty in our free society, there have been just as many fighting against it.

As humans, having a voice and sharing our voice is as old as life itself.  From early biblical stories to folk lore to early American history, speaking up for things that matter to us, especially when we feel we have been forgotten or neglected or oppressed is a natural human instinct.  We all have the same basic needs and our voice helps us attain that need.

The Magdalene Sisters

Heartbreaking. And where did the men that impregnated these women go? Where? To impregnate another woman? Get married and have children, living free, without judgement, without sin?

My son and I often have a conversation about life and circumstances. And I often say, “Wouldn’t it be funny if everything we know is backward? The bad are actually the good and the ones society thinks as good are actually bad.”

It kind of makes one rethink adoption, knowing the history that started this industry.