as Maria and I were looking over the cases she blurted out, ‘I need to tell you something.’ I looked up and said what is it? My heart was nearly jumping out of my blouse as I wondered if she would tell me why she always defended these families.
“You know how I always tell you to not blame the women,” she began. I could not say a word. “I am in a similar situation with many of those women whose men have failed them. Please do not blame us just yet.”
Maria said she was a stay-at-home mum for eight years when her husband stupidly quit his job to avoid being fired about six years ago. He became an angry, drunken and bitter fellow who refused to find any other type of employment. He became the ‘stay-at-home-dad” which meant that Maria had to do something fast. Their bills were mounting with no respite from anywhere. They were about to lose their home. Maria entered the workforce with a vengeance, working at two or three jobs the first two years. She finally narrowed it to the present job at social services but had to put in long overtime hours. She was barely home for dinner or homework with the kids leaving that task for her husband. At first he did it but later on began grudging. The kid’s homework suffered and soon the teachers began to call. Maria could not believe that she was now the “dad” and had such a hard time accepting it. Maria’s husband, Dave, would write a long list of what he needed for himself weekly and would demand the money very aggressively. He hated himself and hated Maria more for “what Maria put him through.” Maria paid all the bills, took care of all the school fees (including a private tutor for the kids), paid for vacations etc. In short, Maria was the breadwinner yet Dave did not appreciate her. Dave began to drink more and got angrier and more aggressive. There was never any peace at home. He threatened Maria with bodily harm and boasted that no one would ever find him because ‘he would finish himself and the kids too.” Maria began to fear for her life and those of her kids. She began to appease him sexually and otherwise just to calm him down. Maria did not have the courage to walk away from this abusive marriage where she inherited being the head of household. Maria stated that she would do anything to go back to being a stay-at-home mother. She did not want this type of power in her life and could not deal with it. Maria knew that some of the women whose kids were abused by their lovers and husbands were no different from hers. The only saving grace she had was that she had a job and still looked sexy at 46. Maria knew that once she had no money to give Dave and stopped sharing her body, he would make do his threats. Maria perfectly understood what these women were going through and why their children were abused. Maria knew that those women were powerless. She herself was also powerless.
At work in the social services office, Maria put up a brave face for her clients. It was only in that office that she felt some power – the power to save these kids and mothers from being prosecuted. By this time Maria was sobbing uncontrollably and looked at me as if to generate some compassion from me. I just stared at her with questions and thoughts of my own overcrowding my brain. Why does she stay on in such abusive situation? Why can’t she report her husband to the authorities for threatening her and her children? Why can’t she get an order of protection (OP)? I was surprised, baffled and angry all at once. Women like Maria are the type that Monica keeps talking about, but these women are victims too or are they not?
What gave him the right to treat Maria and her children in this way? Why could he not go out there and hustle like a man? Why would he give up his role as head of household (HOH) so callously? It is one thing to be down on your luck but to make it a life choice was sickening. Dave and men like him who sit on their loins while their wives and girlfriends hustle to take care of them and the children ought to be prosecuted. They should be tried for dereliction of duty. After all they were bestowed the role of HOH by the Creator himself. How can they give it up and then turn around to blame the women? Maria knew as well as I did that the children would always suffer in situations like this.
I had nothing to say to Maria as her eyes pleaded for me to understand her predicament. I simply nodded and gathered my stuff as I walked out the door, with the case of little Abdul forgotten as I focused on his mother. The case notes supported the fact that Abdul’s mother was not aware that Abdul had not gone to school in three weeks. Abdul’s father was a lazy bum who preferred to sleep when Abdul’s mum woke and dressed for work.
What a life families live on this side of the hemisphere, and what tough jobs we do, I thought as I walked to my car not bothering to control the tears that ran down my cheeks. I resolved to do something to help families, to help children and to help mothers. But what about fathers? How can I help them? Do I hand them over to Monica to prosecute them? What do I do? I sat in the car and wailed for a long time.
•To be continued next week…
■ Dr. NJ