Jane's Story
But the way he laughed at you did the lasting damage. It hit you in the heart

One of his tactics was to get you all wound up about something and then snidely laugh and sneer at you. He had a mad cackle. That part of it was worse than anything – worse than the welts on your backside. They went down. But the way he laughed at you did the lasting damage –it hit you in the heart.

Growing up in that environment made me hyper-alert. I was always on the lookout for trouble. If you watch a dog that has been mistreated, it is always looking around, wondering where the next hit is going to come from. When you live as a child in that sort of unpredictable environment, in which you constantly think you might be in danger of a tongue lashing or a belting, you are always in that hyper vigilant state – eyes wide, looking around, guard up – because you think you might do something unintentionally to provoke an attack. If you live in that state constantly it is detrimental to your physical and mental health and general well-being.

My mother had had a very controlling father and a mother who should probably never have had children. My grandmother was not warm or maternal. She married quite late for those times, in her thirties. I think she owned her own business and worked fulltime until she was well into her seventies. She was a very smart, astute woman but a very cold mother. There was no closeness between her and my mother – or us.

When she visited she always came laden with lollies and presents, but I don’t remember ever being cuddled by her.

My mother had stopped going to school – it was said because she was a sickly child, although I suspect it was probably a stress-related condition. She had had a couple of years doing correspondence school, and then when she was 13, her mother put her on the train and sent her from the country to the city to live with her aunt and to go work. She was very close to her aunt, my grandfather’s sister. She has beautiful memories of that aunt, and sometimes says I remind her of her – possibly because I’ve always looked after her like that aunt did, because I became very protective of my mother from a young age.

I think my mother grew up scared of her parents, so that’s what she knew, and she repeated the pattern by marrying a man who frightened her – and her children.

My parents met in small town New Zealand. My father was a very handsome man and my mother was a beautiful young woman.

My mother was 20 when they married. She probably thought he was going to look after her. I don’t think they ever had a functional relationship, but I do remember displays of affection.

My father was a tradesman but never made a fist of anything, and always seemed to be in financial trouble. When I was about 14, he bought a house and a bit of land. The house was condemned. No one should have been living in it. It was a spooky old house up a long drive. We had apple boxes to put our clothes in and there was nothing on the walls.

My father dumped us in this house and shot off down the country, saying he was going to get work. After that we never knew when he’d turn up. He would come every few weeks and cause mayhem and shoot off again. It went on like that for two or three years.

Most of the time he wasn’t living at home, but my mother would have said she was still married to him.

My mother had to go out to work. There was no domestic DPB, and she had four kids to feed. She put her iron under her cardigan and went off and did other people’s ironing and cleaning. When I was in my mid-teens my mother got a job in a factory. She managed to eke out a living working long hours.

I was at home after school cooking the meals and looking after the other children. When I got to the end of the fifth form, I left school and got a clerical job because my mother needed help to feed the other three. I would really have preferred to stay at school.

After my father left, I became like a mother to my mother. In fact, I had been like that from early on in my life. It was as if we had a swap of roles.

She clearly had battered women’s syndrome. The physical knocks and bumps, the black eye and the broken bones heal, but the psychological damage lingers and it left my mother with absolutely no self-confidence. By the time the relationship was over she felt powerless and her self esteem was low.

People thought she was beautiful, wonderful, a lovely person. She was smart and popular and did her job well. But she was unable to believe that because the person she loved and trusted constantly told her otherwise. If you are told for years that you are stupid and no good and that every time you do something it’s wrong, that becomes incorporated into your being – in the face of all other evidence.

For all those years she was married, she had never done anything without checking it out with my father. She got to the stage where she couldn’t make a decision. It appeared as if she didn’t know how to make a decision. After my father left, if she wanted to do something or if she needed a plumber she couldn’t ring up and do it herself. I’d do it. Even when I finally left home when I was 18, she would ring me and check if it was okay to let my siblings go out or spend the night with their friends. Because my father had never allowed her to make a decision about anything she lost confidence and was, in fact, afraid to make a decision in case she got it wrong.