Editorial note: this is Part 2 of an essay series that started with When fathers love their children more than Crazy. “Crazy” meaning the crazy woman in a man’s life.–Ed
Not everyone believes us fathers when we say that our greatest concern during our relationship with Crazy was the welfare of the children, but that’s okay because we are all too used by now to outsiders not believing a word we say and, besides, there is probably very little objectively identifiable evidence that we were.
We did everything wrong, didn’t we?
Yes, we probably did, but we didn’t mean to.
My wife, Kathleen, was brought up by Crazy as her mother and had to watch her dad being beaten up by her emotionally day-in, day-out, sometimes feeling forced to take on her mother on her father’s behalf at an age – like five – when everyone should have been taking care of her, not vice-versa. As far as she is concerned, her father was collusive with her mother by hanging around being attacked when he should simply have walked off, as she begged him to.
“Go, Dad, please go.”
It wasn’t that she didn’t love him; she loved him very much. It was that, by standing there taking all the punches, he was putting her in danger. She was terrified and distressed by the constant arguing, and Crazy tried to involve her in her reign of abuse against her father whenever she saw an opportunity. Once Kathleen was so outraged by her mother’s machinations that she set fire to her.
What should her father have done, according to Kathleen?
He should have taken hold of Kathleen’s hand, whatever time of day or night the dispute was taking place, and told Crazy, “I will not have arguments with you in front of our daughter, ever,” and then taken Kathleen to a public place, like a bar, where preferably the revelers would inevitably have asked him what his five year old daughter was doing with him in a bar at eleven o’clock at night. Shouldn’t she have been in bed?
… and then her father could have told them, and Kathleen would have confirmed his side of the story.
She bets that her mother would never have attempted to argue with her father in front of her again. Crazies hate having their antisocial behavior made public. And if her mother had tried to beat him up again verbally in front of her, he should have taken Kathleen to the bar again … as many times as it took to make her mother shut up.
The trick would not have been in her father walking out and going to a bar – he did that plenty of times anyway – it would have been in taking Kathleen with him. Who believes a guy in a bar bleating about the abusive behavior of his wife? No one. Who believes a tiny child in a bar late at night confirming that her dad is telling the truth? Everyone. And a few people there, or who subsequently heard about her having been there, might well have been moved to do something about it.
I wish I had thought of that … or I think I wish it. I doubt, in Britain, picking up a small child and taking it to the local pub would work – not enough community, unless we happened to be living in a small village where word would get around in seconds, but we didn’t live in a small village. I could have taken the children to my family, but I am not sure that would have had the desired effect, either; your own family would be considered too partisan, and Crazy’s family was five thousand miles away. To a friend’s house? That might have worked, especially if I had taken the boys to the house of one of Crazy’s friends. That could really have hit the mark, and as Paul Elam argues, it is the absolute duty of the sane partner to protect the children because we are effectively their only hope.
Would that have been it? Would Crazy have stopped abusing me?
No, of course not, Crazies have to abuse in the same way as sharks have to swim forward, but it would probably have stopped Crazy abusing me in front of our two boys in the house. In the car, with Crazy driving, that would have been a different matter. My Crazy ex-wife loved to trap me as a passenger in the car she was driving, with the two boys in the back seat. She once started eleven different arguments with me under those circumstances during a fifty-four minute car journey, and several times I got out of the car I was driving and walked home because Crazy, as a passenger, wouldn’t stop shouting at me in front of the children.
I have learned over time that one of the big tricks of Crazy, as it was of my ex-wife “Rafaella, is to define “us” as her and the children vs. me as “your father.” That maneuver worked even in my absence. So, “What are you doing to us?” means “What are you doing to me?”; “You are not listening to our needs” means “You are not listening to my needs”; “You have no interest in us as a family – I am a single parent” means “You have no interest in my needs – and if you want to point out what you are doing for the children, I am the only parent who matters here.”
Early on, Rafaella was very aggressive toward the children too, but that soon stopped when she realized that the children were more use to her as allies than they as targets, in other words that they were more useful in her camp than mine. Thereafter she focused on grooming the boys’ affections all the way by giving them everything they could possibly want, even things they never knew they wanted until they were offered them by her. A particularly successful trick of Crazy’s was to buy the boys daily presents – quite big ones – in the knowledge that I would soon object to the cost of this exercise, which was anything up to $50 a day, and $1,000+ on special occasions if I didn’t take the bait at $50. So she became the parent who really listened to her children and got them what they craved, whereas I was the one who said, “No. We can’t afford to buy that.” My nickname for the longest time was, “Papa who always says no.” The converse trick was that she would demand that I take away something the children wanted, like staying up late, and when I complied just to keep the peace between us, she would turn around and say that of course the children could stay up late tonight, we could all watch a movie together or something.
As anyone knows who has been in this type of abusive relationship, the games, tricks, out-maneuvering and gaslighting are like a fog all around you. You haven’t a clue what is coming next, only that something is coming next because there has been peace for a few hours. “It’s too quiet around here …” is a thought that informs domestic violence movies too.
One of Rafaella’s masterpieces was to summon “the jury of the children,” my description of the technique, not hers. She would secretly agree a course of action with the boys behind my back, then she would summon me to hear what “we” have decided. Anywhere sufficed, but she had a particular penchant for persuading the boys to get into the bathtub with her and then summoning me to the bathroom for a “family chat.” Why are Crazies especially crazy and aggressive when they are naked? I have heard several abused men mention that. In Rafaella’s case she claims that she is a Merangel and that her primary element is water, but they can’t all be Merangels.
The other classic ruse is using the children as messengers – “Tell your father …” Strangely, Rafaella didn’t use this technique very often. I think it would have been an insult to her sense of creativity. What she did instead was to sit down with them and tell them “Your father…” stories, sometimes for hours on end, or once we had finally divorced and I had moved five thousand miles away, she would get the kids to Skype me, then hijack the conversation I was having with them in order to make her demands – yep, in front of them.
I don’t know if there is a single effective answer to managing Crazy. I certainly tried persistently for twenty years to find one, and I never did. Crazies are like the scorpion in the story where a scorpion asks a toad to give him a piggy-back across a river.
“But you’ll sting me and kill me,” protests the toad.
“That would be stupid,” counters the scorpion. “I would drown too.”
So the toad complies and starts carrying the scorpion on its back across the river. Halfway across, the scorpion stings him.
With his dying breath the toad asks, “Why did you do that?”
The scorpion shrugs. “It’s in my nature.”
Yep, most of Crazy’s statements don’t make rational sense, nor sometimes even strategic sense, but there is no question that viciousness is definitely in their nature, even to the unnatural extent of messing with their children’s psyches and consequently ruining their lives. In the end, the children are just tools after all. No wonder one of Rafaella’s favorite words was “instrumental.”