I can’t remember when I first heard my father referred to as the “Bull of the Bottoms” but I can certainly imagine how that nickname might have come about. He stood five feet 10 or so inches tall, with a solidly built frame carrying probably around a 220 pounds.
Bald-headed and broad shouldered with a thick neck, he presented a profile of unalloyed strength. My father could effortlessly sweep us children up in one fluid motion to a perch on his shoulder. When his hand gripped a wrench, the most reluctant bolt would crack free.
Following his return from service as a liaison pilot on the front lines of the jungle war against the Japanese in Burma, he and a friend built, from the ground up, a service station and garage in an industrial area of Kansas City known as the West Bottoms at the confluence of the Kaw and Missouri Rivers. A tough, dirty area of warehouses and factories, it was only blocks from the large slaughterhouses, which provided the local trademark steaks for the restaurant trade and a strong stench for those of us working nearby when the wind blew from the west, as it often did.
In the 1950s my father’s work days were long. He left before we got up for school in the morning and came home smelling of oil and gas after our suppers. His work week lasted six days and he often added a trip down on Sundays, with a car full of kids to run around the gas pumps and service bays while he tended to some maintenance or bookkeeping task.
Over those years, I have no memory at all of him raising his voice to my mother and certainly not his hand. I actually have no memory of being spanked by him, but in those days with the wide acceptance of corporal punishment as a parental method of control I am sure it happened.
Sadly, children in some other families in our neighbourhood, however, did not have role models like him. Abusive behaviour was not uncommon. One of my sisters years later told me of a neighbour’s attempt to molest her as a child. She stood her ground and told him that if he ever tried that again that she would tell our father, with quick and sure consequences for the abuser. He never looked at her again but likely others suffered from his wrath and lecherousness.
Family violence remains a sad feature of contemporary life just as it was two generations ago. Women bear the brunt of the harm from this societal plague. It must end. Events like the annual 12 Days to End Violence against Women or the White Ribbon campaign currently seeking to raise the awareness of our Yukon community to this national concern offer hope.
The Institute for Peace and Justice (www.ipj-ppj.org), housed at my undergraduate alma mater of St. Louis University when I first got to know of its work in the 1970s, has organized a Families against Violence Action Network as well as a Parenting for Peace and Justice program. Both of these efforts attempt to root nonviolence deeply in the home while placing the family in a larger engaged global community context.
A centrepiece of their campaign is a “family pledge of nonviolence.” In part, the pledge reads: “Making peace must start within ourselves and in our family … To respect myself, affirm others and to avoid uncaring criticism, hateful words, physical attacks and self-destructive behaviour … To challenge violence in all its forms whenever I encounter it, whether at home, at school, at work, or in the community, and to stand with others who are treated unfairly.”
Ending generational patterns of abuse and violence or challenging the deeply rooted acceptance of violence in its many forms as entertainment or as a solution to global problems will not be an easy or a short-term effort. However, we must seek the strength needed to become a nonviolent, peaceable people.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.