Sophia's Story

Being involved in telling my story reminds me that children soak up all experiences, the good and the bad, and this impacts on their physical, mental and emotional development. My experience of continuous fear and anxiety throughout my childhood has had a huge impact on my self esteem and relationships in my adult life.

Sophia

Thursday, Friday and Saturday were dangerous days
Sophia's Story - that anxiety ridden waiting game of my childhood

That anxiety-ridden waiting game of my childhood

Illustrations by: Olivia Coetzee

Fear is the dominant thing I remember from my childhood. I spent a lot of time waiting, anticipating, and being fearful. I’d be waiting for my father to come home, never knowing whether he would be drunk or not.

In public my father was jovial and happy, but at home he could just switch to being a violent person. Anything could set him off – something on the news or even in a comedy. Phone calls after 8pm always got him going – “how dare people ring up at this time?” I was always trying to avoid confrontation with him, so if any of my friends phoned, I’d just pretend it was a wrong number and hang up.

As a teenager I’d get so wound up by the anticipation of his arrival in the evenings that I’d go to my room before he came home. I’d be scared and angry at the same time – angry that he was going to intrude on our peacefulness and ruin it. I wouldn’t let him know I was furious with him. I’d just stay in my room and put my head under a pillow and try not to hear what was going on.

My brother recently asked me if Dad had ever sexually abused me because he remembered me as a teenager screaming and going off to my room when Dad came home. I don’t think I did scream exactly, but I’d have been swearing because by then I thought “how dare he do this to us?” I wasn’t sexually abused. My father didn’t hit us very often. I do remember being slapped on the ear on more than one occasion.

Every now and again there would be a really violent incident after my brother and I had gone to bed. I remember one that took place at our beach house when I was about seven. Dad hit Mum and smashed her nose. All I remember is that there was a lot of blood.

On another occasion around the same time I heard shouting and came out to the lounge, where my father was holding a broken glass up to my mother’s face. Mum ran away that time. She went up to the local doctors and she must have stayed there the night. She ended up with relatives. They must have come and picked up my brother and me because we stayed there for a couple of days too. We went with Mum to a solicitor, so she must have been thinking about getting a divorce. But I think the solicitor probably said, “Go back to him. He’s a good provider, and you’ll have nothing if you leave.”

If Mum had left Dad she would have had to bring us two kids up and go out to work. This was before the days of the DPB. It was “you made your bed, you lie in it” with that generation, and you were a failure if you had a failed marriage. It was more socially acceptable then for men to hit their wives.

In a strange way it was part of being a good husband to discipline your wife and it was part of being a good wife not to complain about your lot.

Other people didn’t want to know about domestic violence anyway. I don’t know if the neighbours ever heard my father shouting but even if they had they wouldn’t have talked about it with Mum – and certainly not with Dad. You didn’t get involved in other people’s business.

Mum went back to Dad after that visit to the lawyer. Dad was very contrite and apologetic, but he said he didn’t remember what he had done. He always claimed he had no memory of what had happened after he’d been drinking. He would be very well behaved for a while after these incidents.