Just a warning, this is stream of consciousness writing about events that happened over a quarter century ago, triggered by current events. Please have patience with the time jumps. I’m trying not to tell all the details that are huge, but not important to this part of the story, and to try to be as anonymous as possible.
You see the pictures, the young people, basically still children, with hate and contempt in their eyes. Hate is taught at home, that’s what we say. We post the pictures of toddlers hugging, one pink, one brown. The idea is clear; we can solve racism in just one generation if we stop teaching our children to hate.
If only it were that easy. In high school I fell for the stereotypical bad boy. He had a car, a leather jacket and a terrible grade average. When you are living in a rural area, a car is essential when it comes to dating, and who can resist a leather jacket? He was tall, blonde and never smiled. He wore button-down shirts in an era of pop-collared Polo shirts. He was older, but was in a couple of my classes anyway (I mentioned the terrible grades). I am an empath, so I gravitated to him.
Maybe I could help? Here, I can explain the math. I tell a joke, he cracks a smile. What charming crooked teeth! Oh, that’s why you don’t smile, just a little self conscious, not such a bad guy!
I eventually met his mom, the woman who would become my mother-in-law. I loved her instantly. She was so sweet, not a mean bone in her body. She had a rough life. Her father’s violence ended in the death of both of her parents, in a murder-suicide that scandalized the town, leaving her and her siblings behind to face the judgement of small town gossip. She fell for a boy and his promises of freedom, only to have him disappear when they found out she was pregnant. It was hard, but she did it. She was a single mother at time when that was a huge stigma, working hard and struggling with a young son.
I don’t remember much about the man who was technically my father-in-law. I may have met him once. That was another thing that drew me in: a broken relationship with a step-father. “This poor bird has a broken wing!” My empathic brain was in overdrive! I. Must. Fix. This!
Anyway, that’s a long story, and I’ve set the scene. How romantic! High school sweethearts get married! That’s what the world sees. Behind closed doors, hatred grows.
For my bad boy, who needed to graduate? Not him! He was so smart, his teachers just hated him. Trouble getting and keeping a job? Those stupid bosses didn’t know how good they had it. As time went on, the need for a scapegoat grew. His problem must be his teeth. His stupid mother was too damn cheap to get him braces. Our money problems were my fault, for not being ambitious enough. But I couldn’t socialize to network because then I was being a slut. Rather than looking at his behavior, he looked for someone to blame. And he found them everywhere! He couldn’t do what he wanted to do because he was a straight, white man of course! Stupid Equal Rights! And then he found a new hero who would always tell him the truth, Rush Limbaugh.
I don’t know exactly what went wrong. I don’t know when the wheels came off. I was suddenly in a marriage with a Nazi. Hate ruled my home. My mother-in-law did not teach this. People like Limbaugh, (and now Alex Jones and the like) didn’t start this. They fan the flames, turn a spark into a brushfire, but where did the spark come from? Mental illness in an era where it wasn’t talked about certainly ran in the family. Remember his grandparents? I eventually admitted to myself that murder-suicide would probably be the end of me as well. But even in an era where mental health is widely talked about, hate still happens. Hate is easy. Mental health is hard work. I’ve been working on it. He did not. His mother even warned him that he was pushing too hard, and our marriage broke under the strain.
I am one of the lucky ones who escaped the hate. Too many don’t survive. After all that rambling, all I can say is, I don’t know. I use words as I learn them. Malignant Narcissist? Incel? I was that frog in a pot of water, unaware I was boiling to death. It happened under my watch, was it my fault? Of course not. Neither was it my mother-in-law’s fault. Yes, there are many generations of racists being born and taught to hate. Some even gather in enough members to teach it in schools, perverting religion to suit their needs. But sometimes it seems to just…happen. Nature versus nurture? I wish I had the answers. Even having lived through it, I don’t know what I would do differently. I have to release myself from the “should haves,” but could have I done something? If not, does that mean we are all powerless? I hope not. For all our sakes, I hope not.
I am sitting here gobsmacked. Really, just out of my mind. I’m so very sorry that you experienced this and I’m grateful that you wrote this.
You easily described my second stepfather. Full of that hate. Sadly he passed it to his sons. my mother didn’t teach it, but she didn’t fight it either. I’m glad you got away from it.
I had myself firmly convinced that I never wanted children. It turns out that I just never wanted him to be a father. That was the smartest thing I did then. And it turned out that I did want a child, and had a beloved one with my current husband. I love them both so fiercely.
I am so grateful that I survived. There were many times when I was sure I wouldn’t. I’m really glad that I am here to tell the tale.
Oh my stars. I can easily see how this could happen, and it is terrifying. Time to go out and love my (hate filled) neighbor. Even if they don’t deserve it, sometimes I think they need to be shown.
I really like that idea. Kindness can go a long way.
I just hate that you had to go through this, but relieved that you’ve survived it. My husband’s father is a hate-filled man, and he misses the sick irony of being a bigoted Jewish man. He’s very much the father-in-law you describe.
Thank you for telling your story. I’m really glad the hate and abuse is in your past and I can only imagine how you must be triggered by current events.
I can be honest here, it’s a real fucking joy.
I’m relieved that your husband didn’t mirror the hate of his father. That’s why I was so against having a child with him, I didn’t want to risk it. Good for your husband for rising above his father.
I am so glad that you were able to get out of that relationship. It is scary and sad to see how ugly people can get when they start dehumanizing anyone who is different from them. You and his mom can not personally be responsible for his hateful beliefs- people choose their own thoughts and actions.
I think we need to work for change in society as well as teaching empathy and exposing the the under current of racism on an individual level.