The earliest memory I have of my childhood is my father dragging my mother by the hair into their bedroom while beating her with his shoe. We were getting ready for Friday prayer, and my father had run out of his moisturizing cream, which apparently it was my mother’s responsibility to make sure there was a supply of. This had sparked what was probably one of their many many physical confrontations, but only the first I can remember.
My entire early life, up until the past 5 or so years, is marked by memory after memory of incidents like this, because those incidents are all I can remember. It wasn’t always shoes either. Sometimes it was belts or hands. Other times it was thrown objects like plates or silverware. The topic was never anything meaningful. It was usually about money, or some duty my mother had apparently forgotten to perform. It was always followed with a week or two of them not speaking with each other, and using me to talk to each other. “Tell your father….,” or, “Tell your mother….,” like I didn’t have a clue what was happening, and really, I didn’t. Those two weeks would always be followed by the miracle of pretending like it never happened and going about life as usual. There was never any talk of forgiveness or working through problems. There was never any consideration of divorce because Pakistani culture doesn’t allow it. There was never any consideration of seeking help or calling the authorities because there was never any evidence. My mother accepted this as a part of living in a family, because that’s what Pakistani culture dictates.
My home was an abusive one. I was never the victim of physical violence, but my mother was used as punishment for my mistakes. I always lived in fear of violence because I never knew when the next argument would erupt, and if the beating would be directed at me the next time. It would be sudden and could happen at any time. I wished, time and time again, that my mother would be spared the torture, and it would fall on me instead. For me, though, it was always just cursing, threats, and drunken verbal abuse, until I was older and capable of fighting back. Sex for my mother was only voluntary in so far as it was required in order to have children. Otherwise, it was always my father’s choice. They hated each other, and they still hate each other.
My mother never wanted help. As I got older, I realized there were options. I spoke with attorneys, officers, and many other services. She refused to take any help. That’s not what you do in Pakistan, not what a woman does to her husband and family. She told me that she put up with all of it because of me, so she could raise me and make sure I turned out alright. “Just get a degree and start making money so you can leave,” she would tell me. That only served to make me think it was my fault. I resorted to physical violence myself when I realized I was stronger than him. My mother begged me to ask him for forgiveness; it was the most painful and embarrassing day of my life when I had to ask my father’s forgiveness for stopping him from abusing my mother. I couldn’t just walk out of the door; I needed his money, his health insurance, the home his money provided me, and all of those things. So I took my mom’s advice. I kept watching the horrors that would unfold in my home time after time, holding on to the idea that one day I may escape. And I did.
My father is no longer abusive, mostly because he is too old and frail to exert physical force. My mother no longer tells me to ask his forgiveness when we fight, and she knows I will never allow him to speak to me the way he used to. I am now in control, but I often still feel helpless. My mother still lives with him, and she refuses to take any help or escape I offer her. Pakistani women are supposed to live out their days with their husbands. She acts like none of it ever happened.
This confession is not intended to elicit pity, sympathy, or anger. I turned out just fine, in fact my life is pretty fantastic now, so I don’t need any of those things. What I would like is for people to understand what really happens in homes like this. These acts are silent and hidden. They occur behind closed doors and leave little trace. They are justified by generations of quiet complacency and acceptance. My children will never witness their father being violent with his mother, but it could very well be the opposite if I hadn’t turned out the way I did.
The Pakistani culture does not afford respect to women or children, which is actually quite contrary to the teachings of Islam, the religion Pakistani people use to justify the way they live their lives. You don’t have to be Pakistani to find yourself in a family like mine, but I think it definitely helps. My parents are cousins, and the marriage was a forced arranged one. My mother had five children, and I was the only one that survived; Pakistan has a very high rate of infant mortality. I lived, and for a lot of my life, I wished I hadn’t because maybe my mother would not have had an excuse to remain married.
Nobody should be complacent in this. Women need to speak out and seek help. Children should not be raised in an environment like this. Men need to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. My country’s culture perpetuates households like this one, and it destroys the hearts and minds of its people, its women and children. It needs to stop. I hope that others can read this and find strength and hope, and if they come from the same land as me, find courage to help end the cycle. It has taken me too many years to get to a place where I can write about and share these parts of my life. It’s cathartic for me, and hopefully, it’s much more to somebody else.