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Glad, sad or bad fathers

By Stephen Hagan - posted Tuesday, 17 October 2006

I had an interesting conversation with a friend the other day on inter-generational trauma. I had a bit of an idea what it meant but asked him to explain his interpretation of the concept. My friend gave the following unpalatable, but vividly honest, narrative.

“When I was five-years-old I saw my father repeatedly bash my defenceless mum. A generation later my son observed me doing the same thing to his beautiful mother. Regrettably I was called to a police station 20 years on to assist my son with a bail application for assaulting his frail partner - a long-term high school sweetheart. And I was horrified to learn later that this savage beating took place in front of his son, my grandson, who was cowering under a bed.”

Yes - very succinct - I now knew exactly what inter-generational trauma meant.


Continuing with his story, my friend said he refused to assist his son with financial assistance (surety) at the police station on that cold wintry night as he felt the "bloody idiot" needed to be taught a lesson.

He provided a sobering account of the events that unfolded in the early hours of that morning: everyone else in the small rural township was fast asleep, except perhaps the residents in the immediate neighbourhood of his son’s rented housing commission home who heard the unmistakeable plea from his daughter-in-law for the beating to stop, but sadly there was no manly or neighbourly intervention forthcoming. And you guessed it, dozens of body blows later a couple of car loads of police arrive and the son stops the one-sided fight and surrenders without a struggle - strange that!

I was told that several days later the entire unsavoury incident was dismissed by family and friends as if it never took place. My friend used a throw away line of "it happens in every second household in the street on most pay nights: a consequence of a long day of heavy drinking and unsuccessful punting on the pub Tab and gambling on the pokies".

I gathered that on this night someone had to wear the blame for his son’s past and present failures and of course the wasting of irreplaceable money; potentially food, rent and car payments, on gambling.

I often wonder why perpetrators of domestic violence don’t take their frustrations out on someone in the pub and spare their loved ones at home the indignity of being violated: too high risk I guess - the other fellow might hit back and, worse still, hit a lot harder.

The only reminder of that night, black eyes and swollen lips, were conveniently hidden from public glare as the ashamed victim confined herself indoors and took no visitors. It’s a pity a child’s memory isn’t as forgetful as the convenience of condoning adults.


As I heard this depressing, but not unfamiliar story, I could tell my friend was concerned that the next generation in his patrilineal line not venture down that same path. Only time will tell if the offending son will mend his violent ways and become a more loving nurturing father and save what little respect his son might still have of him.

I asked my friend where he thought it had all gone astray in his family.

“Stephen - no one taught my generation how to be a good father.”

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About the Author

Stephen Hagan is Editor of the National Indigenous Times, award winning author, film maker and 2006 NAIDOC Person of the Year.

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