Aspie Daddy

Welcome to Aspie Daddy, the website of Gillan Drew, author of An Adult With An Autism Diagnosis: A Guide for the Newly Diagnosed. Here I blog about life, writing, autism and parenting, and whatever else takes my fancy.

I was diagnosed with autism at 28 and live in the New Forest with my autistic wife and two neurotypical children.

If you have any suggestions for posts or want to ask me my opinion on literally anything, leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to respond.

Thanks for dropping by.

Gillan

What was your best day?

For all those who have been following my blog in recent weeks, I don’t have the strength or the will to write about what happened today. Physically, emotionally, psychologically, I’m spent. I’m broken.

Instead, here’s a quote from the movie City Slickers that sums it up far better than I could right now.

Mitch: Alright Ed, your best day, what was it, twins in a trapeze, what?

Ed: No, I don’t wanna play.

Mitch: C’mon, we did it.

Ed: I don’t feel like it.

Mitch: Uh, okay.

[pause]

Ed: I’m 14 and my mother and father are fighting again… y’know, because she caught him again. Caught him… This time the girl drove by the house to pick him up. And I finally realized, he wasn’t just cheating on my mother, he was cheating on us. So I told him, I said, “You’re bad to us. We don’t love you. I’ll take care of my mother and my sister. We don’t need you any more.” And he made like he was gonna hit me, but I didn’t budge. And he turned around and he left. He never bothered us again. Well, I took care of my mother and my sister from that day on. That’s my best day.

Phil: What was your worst day?

Ed: Same day.

The confusion, guilt and self-doubt of being abused

In my last three posts, When you’re in love with Dr Jekyll…, Coronavirus and domestic abuse, and It must be so much easier as a girl, I’ve finally started being honest about the kind of relationship I’m in. It’s very, very hard to get your head round the fact that you’re being abused. It’s even more difficult to accept that the person you love is an abuser. And even after making those statements, you’re not free of the guilt, confusion and self-doubt.

You see, I don’t want to call my wife an abuser, because I love her. I don’t want to call her an abuser because it reduces the wonderfully complex range of attitudes, beliefs, opinions and behaviours of the mother of my children into a single, negative label. And yet, if I am being abused, then I have to say who is carrying out that abuse, as ugly and disloyal as that is.

I asked my support worker today if I’m overreacting; if I’m blowing it all out of proportion; if I’m somehow causing her behaviour and therefore it’s my responsibility to fix it. By tolerating it for so long, haven’t I taught her it’s okay to treat me this way? So how can I throw her to the wolves? I’m her husband – isn’t it my duty to stand by her through thick and thin?

I guess I was desperate for confirmation that I’m being abused and she’s an abuser. I mean, it’s not like she’s beating me up. It would probably be easier if she was, because at least then I could point at the bruises or the split lip and say: there! Abuse. Cut and dried.

Instead, I’m full of doubts. Where’s the line where being awkward and aggressive crosses into abuse? Who draws that line? Who is responsible for it?

I’ve spent six weeks desperately trying to get my wife to stick to the lockdown, only to be told by both Social Services and my doctor that I should just let it go and she can visit whoever she wants. Does that mean I’ve been the one in the wrong for the past six weeks? Does that mean her reactions have been acceptable rebellions against my oppressive values? Because it seems to me that the professionals don’t care about following the rules half as much as I do.

My support worker reminded me that this isn’t just about the lockdown – I’ve been going through this for years, and no matter how many times she’s promised to change, she hasn’t. Now I’ve finally taken the decision to leave for the sake of the children and my own sanity, I need to stick to it because it’s the right decision.

But I’m even more confused and guilt-ridden by my wife’s recent behaviour. Since she learned that I was talking to Adult Social Services on Friday, she’s been weirdly pleasant and compliant. At least when she’s being mean to me all the time, I feel a righteous sense of being wronged; when she starts being nice to me, it messes with my mind, because I start thinking, ‘Well, she’s not that bad, is she? You’ve got a nice life here, really, and if you’d just ignore all the shit she puts you through, nothing has to change. Wouldn’t that be easier than walking out and becoming a single dad? Wouldn’t it be better just to tolerate it because you love her?’

Or is this all just part of the game?

The most confusing thing is her reaction to what’s going on. When I said I was going to see the doctor, she was really pleased for me because she thinks I need my head sorting out. When I came back and told her the doctor had said that, for her mental health, she can go visit [redacted] whenever she wants, I thought she’d be happy – instead, she said she’s not going to visit [redacted] because it’s against the rules.

I almost choked on my own spit! For six weeks she’s been visiting [redacted] in open defiance of the lockdown rules, and when I tell her she’s now allowed to visit, she won’t because it’s against the rules! What the hell? I told her I don’t understand her. I don’t understand her at all.

Maybe that’s what she wants?

So today, after six weeks of cycling to the dairy most days, and the day after I told her I no longer object to her cycling to the dairy, she’s told the children they’re not allowed to cycle to the dairy because it’s against the rules! How perverse is that?

And the oddest thing happened this afternoon. When I contacted [redacted] six weeks ago to say that my wife was mistreating me and the kids, she told me I deserved it; that I was a manipulative monster who caused my wife to attack me; that I wasn’t a good father or husband; that I was disloyal; and that she’d never talk to me again and never forgive me. She’s told my wife to openly defy me over the lockdown; she’s told my wife and kids to lie to me about seeing her or they’ll all get into trouble because I’m a bad man; and she’s told my wife to gather evidence against me to support their attempt to paint me as the abuser instead of the victim.

So why did my wife read out a text she received from [redacted] this afternoon saying, ‘I’m looking forward to seeing Gillan when this is all over. I’ve really missed talking to him. I’m very fond of him.’

‘What are you trying to do to my head?’ I asked my wife.

‘What?’ she said. ‘I thought it was nice.’

‘She sent you this just now?’

‘Yes. See, we’re not all against you like you think.’

What? What!?

So I’ve been sitting here feeling guilty, feeling confused. Is it all in my head? Am I the one with the problem?

It would be so easy to just roll over and let things go back to normal. Remain a husband in a nuclear family. Avoid the upset and the turmoil of taking my kids away from their home. Not end up a divorced single dad.

And then I looked back through the past six weeks of blogs, starting with It’s not meant to be this hard and coming up to date, and all the crap she’s put me through, and I remember that the niceness is just the thin layer of ice over the black depths below. And I realise that actually, while she is being nice, she’s not being that nice.

Like yesterday morning. I slept on the sofa the night before, so in the morning my wife sobbed to her support worker about it. She wanted to know what she’d done because she didn’t understand. I was heartbroken for her – I can’t bear to see people in distress, particularly those I love – and I don’t want to hurt her, so I offered to talk about it with her if she’d come into the other room with me, so it wasn’t in front of the children. But she refused – I could tell her in front of the children or not at all. I asked her again and again to go into the other room with me so we could talk about it, and again and again she refused.

So how serious were the tears, and how desperate was her need to understand, if she refused to discuss it? And by extension, how real is any of her current behaviour?

I just have to remember the bad times every time I’m blindsided by the good.

This is the confusion, guilt and self-doubt you face when you’re the victim of abuse.

It must be so much easier as a girl

I know, I know, I’m liable to get lynched even for suggesting that women might have an advantage over men in certain areas (the gall!), but before you sharpen your pitchforks, hear me out.

When you’re a guy on the receiving end of domestic abuse, it’s easy to feel a bit like Michael J Fox’s character in Casualties of War. He’s an American soldier in Vietnam who witnesses the other four members of his patrol rape and murder a Vietnamese girl. When they get back to base, he’s desperate. He tells his friends, he tells his officers, he does all the things he’s meant to do and none of them give a shit. The four rapists try to murder him, so he hits one of them with a shovel and in despair cries, ‘You don’t need to try to kill me, man. I told them. I told everybody. I told them, and they DON’T CARE!’

That’s what it’s like as a male victim.

Of course, it’s not entirely true, because there are people who care deeply about me and what I’m suffering. But I can’t help feeling that I’d be taken a little more seriously if I was a woman.

I mean, as I wrote yesterday, when I told Children’s Services about all the abuse I’ve been suffering at the hands of my wife, they offered me parenting lessons to help me learn how to better cooperate with her. I can’t imagine they’d have said the same to a wife reporting her abusive husband.

When, in consequence, my care manager forwarded my blog post to them this morning and said, ‘Read this and bloody do something,’ it threw them into a bit of a quandary. They called together all their staff to see what they could do, and admitted that if the roles were reversed – if I was a woman and the abuser was a man – they’d have me and the children out already. Because there are no shelters for men, they’re not sure what to do, but leave it with them and they’ll think about it some more. And this is 2020!

The one thing they did manage to clear up was that, since I found out last night that my wife has been taking the kids to a local dairy, where they’ve been mixing with the Polish workers and their children in addition to my in-laws, they can’t go back to school or nursery until after 14 days of quarantine – just what I wanted to hear!

So my care manager made an appointment for me with a GP to discuss my mental health, which my wife was happy about because she thinks it’s about time I get my head sorted and simply accept what she’s doing to me without complaining so much. He was a nice young chap with a West Country accent who kept calling me ‘mate’, and the episode would have been funny if it wasn’t so tragic.

I told him, at length, what was going on. I told him about my wife breaking the lockdown every day to visit [redacted], about the lies, about getting my children to lie, about poisoning them against me, about telling them I’m being mean to [redacted], about how my kids have turned against me, about the betrayal of our marriage, about the gaslighting, about disrupting bedtimes, about the shouting and the swearing and the screaming, about denying me access to their schooling, about my wife secretly filming me and keeping a diary of my supposed misdeeds, about being locked out of the house, about threats of violence, about having to walk on eggshells to avoid Dr Jekyll transforming into Mrs Hyde, about the likelihood of my becoming homeless, about my fear of having another breakdown, about the threat of the kids going into care, about the unbearable weight pressing down on me, about feeling abandoned by Social Services, about how I’d reached the point where I didn’t know how I could go on anymore and I had nothing left and I was going to end up in the nut house.

Well. The doctor seemed very concerned about my wife’s mental wellbeing, and how hard it must be for her to be separated from the support structure of [redacted]. How she must be struggling at this difficult time! He said that while my commitment to the lockdown is commendable, it’s time to let it go. He said I should allow her to visit [redacted] if she needs to and maybe even have supper with them and sleepovers, and you know what? Why not let [redacted] come round to my house, because she clearly needs that. It’s not ideal, mate, and it goes against the government guidelines, but if I look the other way and just let her do whatever she wants, he’s sure she’ll treat me better. The lockdown could go on for a while, so I really ought to do whatever I can to keep her calm and stable and make life bearable.

I just looked at him. I didn’t know what to say. On telling him I’m being abused and I want out, his first instinct was to empathise with my abuser. Must be great to have people who have never even met you make excuses for your behaviour, eh?

He told me to focus on the positives – my care manager had said some very nice things about me, and I was clearly doing a wonderful job, so I should keep doing what I’m doing. In fact, he had no idea where I found the strength to keep going, so what a great guy I must be – which was kind of missing the reason I was sitting in his office.

‘But I’m at breaking point,’ I growled. ‘I don’t even know how I’m going to get to the end of today. I’ve been carrying too much for too long and I’m all used up. I’ve built a wall around my emotions so I can keep functioning, but it’s starting to crumble and the trickle is going to become a tsunami that’s going to wash everything away.’

He asked if I was suicidal or thinking of killing the kids, so I reassured him I wasn’t.

As time was getting on, he said, ‘Well, mate, what would you like me to do for you? I mean, what do you want to get out of this appointment?’

I hate that question. You’re the doctor, you’re the specialist, I’ve come to you for help so you tell me.

‘I could give you some pills that might make it easier, but you’re already on two lots of pills and I think it’s helped to talk it through. I think you’re doing the right thing, mate. Your support workers can be the eyes on the ground and can feed back what’s happening, so stay strong for your children, mate, because they’re the most important thing in all this, and keep doing what you’re doing.’

And then he sent me home to the abuser, with the salutary lesson that I should use the strength I no longer have to appease my abuser so she abuses me less.

I guess I was expecting something more. Like, isn’t the message we give people that if they’re being abused, whether physically, emotionally or psychologically, they need to tell someone? It takes a lot to admit that the partner you love is also subjecting you to controlling, threatening, bullying and coercive behaviour, especially when you’re a man who outweighs his wife by several stones. You have to overcome guilt, shame, denial; you feel disloyal; you blame yourself; you make excuses; you’re afraid of the repercussions of speaking out; you doubt yourself; you pretend it isn’t that bad; you never stop hoping that things will get better; and just when they’ve got you at breaking point, and you’re ready to walk out, they start being nice and mess with your head. And worst of all, you still fucking love them.

To go through all of that, to finally have the courage to speak out, and have people shrug their shoulders and say, ‘Best not to piss her off then,’ and ‘We could do something for you…if you were a woman’…surely men deserve better than that, don’t we?

Don’t let the words that have been spinning around my head serve as a testament for male victims of domestic abuse: ‘I told them. I told everybody. I told them, and they DON’T CARE!’

Coronavirus and domestic abuse

This afternoon, when my wife brought my kids back from visiting [redacted] in spite of the lockdown, my two-year-old asked me to leave the lounge and go into my office – she didn’t want me in the room while she watched Paw Patrol. I’m pretty sure she learned this behaviour from her sister, my four-year-old, who in addition to wanting me out of the room most of the time, has also made it clear she wants me to sleep downstairs from now on.

Why do my kids want me out of the way? Because they’re being poisoned against me.

And there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.

This blog post is a confessional. I didn’t want to reveal the full extent of what’s been going on out of respect for the parties involved. Now, I don’t care anymore. Domestic abuse is wrong, whatever form it takes. I might be a man, with a beard and a few extra stones around my middle, but that doesn’t make me any less a victim.

In order to keep it on point, because it’s long, I’m only going to focus on the lockdown. Stuff that happened before – siphoning money from the bills account into her own, for example, or all the times she’s taken a swing at me – is water under the bridge at this point.

As I’ve mentioned before, as soon as the lockdown started, I became Public Enemy Number One to my wife and [redacted]. When the Prime Minister told us to stay at home and not visit anyone who didn’t live in the same household, I took that as it was meant. My wife, on the other hand, took it to mean ‘keep visiting [redacted] despite living in three separate households’.

As someone who believes in doing what’s right, I was adamant we’d respect the lockdown. I was therefore horrified when [redacted] turned up on my doorstep a couple of days later. When I didn’t let her in, much shouting and crying ensued, in which I was made out to be the bad guy. To my children, I was being mean and upsetting mummy and [redacted]; to my wife and [redacted], I was being unreasonable and irrational.

The following day, my wife took the children out for ‘exercise’. When I asked to go with them, she became defensive and aggressive, so I dropped the matter because I didn’t want to argue in front of the kids. However, it was obvious she was really going to visit [redacted].

A couple of days after this, [redacted] demanded my wife and I stop having support sessions – the very support that is allowed under government guidelines and without which our family would fall apart. [Redacted] said it would be my fault if they caught coronavirus from my children – not their fault for breaking the lockdown rules!

I let it go until a few days later, when my eldest said she was seeing [redacted], but she wasn’t meant to tell me or they’ll all get in trouble. I had it out with my wife after that. I told her I knew she was visiting [redacted], and I wanted her to stop, but that as she was an adult, I couldn’t physically stop her. I asked her to stop lying, stop getting the kids to lie to me, and at the very least to stay two metres apart, which she agreed to do.

I then emailed [redacted] and told them the same – that I’d like them to support me and not come between me and my wife, but that if they were going to meet up, they were all adults and there was no need to sneak around and ask my kids to lie to me. It was, I thought, a reasonable request to make.

Their response was to call me a hypocrite who didn’t need support, and accused me of deliberately misinterpreting the guidelines.

I replied in a manner that was far more polite than I felt. I provided a link to the government guidelines that spelled out in black and white that I was following the rules. Regarding not needing support, I pointed out that I have autism and depression, while my wife has autism and a personality disorder, and I have spent four years protecting my family from Social Services, who have said that if I wasn’t around, they’d have grave concerns about my wife’s fitness as a mother. I said that this has taken a toll on my mental health, given my wife’s multiple behavioural explosions in front of support workers, including shouting, swearing, throwing things, storming off, slamming doors, making threats, raising her fists to hit me, and totally losing all connection with reality. I said that without support, my marriage wouldn’t survive.

Well. I don’t know why I expected understanding, because none was forthcoming. They tore me a new one. How dare I threaten them with Social Services, they said. How dare I label my wife (it was actually the psychiatrists who labelled her). And they said that if my wife shouted at me, swore at me, threw things at me, threatened me and raised her fists to strike me, they could understand why. That’s right, it’s my fault if she attacks me!

They said they’ll never forgive me for putting them through this ‘ordeal’, that I should be grateful to them, and that I’m a terrible father and husband who might be able to hide his true temperament from others, but they can see right through me. And they don’t want to speak to me ever again, so I didn’t even get the chance to defend myself.

I’m not entirely sure what ‘ordeal’ I’ve put them through. I asked my wife not to visit [redacted]; she ignored me. That’s it. Hardly an ordeal.

From that point on, my wife took the kids to see [redacted] every day, even though she knew I didn’t approve. When my kids told me they’d been hugging [redacted], my wife denied it and called them liars, before admitting that okay, yes they had, and she wasn’t going to stop him, so mind your own business. And when she told me she hadn’t seen [redacted], it turned out she had.

Our care manager came out to talk to her, and point out how awful it was to ask the children to lie to me. ‘What happens when the man down the street wants to play a game with them, but they can’t tell mummy or daddy or they’ll all get into trouble?’ she said. ‘You’ve trained your children that that’s normal.’ I reiterated that she’s an adult and can make her own decisions and doesn’t need to lie to me, so she agreed to be honest with me from then on.

Two days later, I caught her lying again and coercing the children into lying.

Given what my wife said in the meeting with our care manager, and from hints in [redacted]’s emails, I know they’re trying to set me up as some kind of monster. I caught her filming me in secret, trying to get evidence against me for God-knows-what, and [redacted] has told her to keep a secret diary in which to record all my misdeeds, whatever on earth these might be. I honestly don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing wrong.

I took legal advice from a specialist in family law, who told me that I’m in quite the predicament. You see, the house I live in is co-owned between my wife and [redacted]. If my wife owned it, if our relationship fell apart I would have the right to remain in the house until our divorce; because it’s co-owned, they can kick me out any time they want.

Worse, because of coronavirus, all the hotels, B&Bs and shelters are closed. With my wife being so unstable, if our relationship breaks down during the lockdown and the home situation becomes untenable, Social Services will have nowhere for me and the kids to go so would put the children into foster care until the end of the lockdown. If, on the other hand, it all became too much for me and I walked out and left the kids, I would be deemed to have abandoned them in an unsafe situation and would lose any right to them. Meanwhile, because of my wife’s instability, without me around Social Services would take the kids and put them into foster care permanently.

So, to recap – if I stay and the relationship becomes unworkable, my kids go into foster care; if I leave, the kids go into foster care. Therefore, the only way to keep my kids out of foster care is to stay and make the relationship work until the end of the lockdown, which is what I resolved to do.

A couple of days later, a police car pulled into the close and flashed its lights for a minute, the message being a clear STAY-AT-HOME. My wife waited ten minutes before heading to [redacted]’s again, but she was nervous about being stopped and asked what she should say if the police pulled her over, so she knows it’s wrong. I told her that if she’s decided to break the rules, she has to come up with her own excuses.

She didn’t get stopped, and as usual the kids came home with chocolate smeared all over their faces and didn’t want to eat the meal I cooked for them. I’ve told my wife before that I don’t approve of the way [redacted] buys their affection with chocolate (if he tells them off and they cry, he immediately gives them chocolate in case they stop liking him). I don’t think they should be eating Creme Eggs every day anyway, in addition to other chocolate, biscuits and sweets, and he knows this. So, what do you make of the fact that every day my wife doesn’t visit, an ice-cream tub full of chocolate appears on my garden wall?

It’s awful. I’ll finally manage to prevail upon my wife not to visit him for a day, I’ll take the girls on their scooters around the block, and every time I get back, a box of chocolate has been delivered in my absence. As soon as the girls see it, they scream in excitement, and if I tell them they can’t eat the chocolate, I’m the bad guy again. I’m trying not to be paranoid, but it comes across as a massive fuck you – it seems to say, ‘even when your wife doesn’t come to visit me, I can still get to your kids’.

I told my wife she was breaking my heart and betraying our marriage, and she decided to gaslight me in response. She told me I had it it all wrong, that she loved and respected me and was 100% committed to our marriage, and that’s why she hasn’t been visiting [redacted]. She said she goes to [redacted]’s house every day to exercise, and if he just happens to be there at his house when she visits, along with [redacted] who lives fifteen miles away, it’s coincidence. And if he chooses to cook them all a meal, or kiss them and cuddle them, there’s nothing she can do about that, is there? And the reason she lies to me and tells the kids to lie, is because she doesn’t want to upset me. But if I’d just look the other way it wouldn’t bother me so much. So really, I’m the one with the problem. And I’m not actually a very good husband and father anyway, and she only lies to me because I don’t trust her, and I should be grateful to her and [redacted] for taking the kids off my hands for a couple of hours a day. And anyway, she isn’t doing anything wrong and everyone knows I’m the crazy one and if anyone’s ruining our marriage, it’s me.

But that didn’t stop her from lying to me again last week. She said she’d only [redacted] through the car window leaving as my wife arrived, but my eldest said, ‘Mum, shush, remember what [redacted] said? We’re not supposed to tell him,’ to which my wife said to my four-year-old, ‘Shut up and stop lying, we didn’t see her, she’s lying! Liar!’

Later, my daughter told me they’d had a whale of a time with [redacted], who’d been chasing them with a hose, but [redacted] had told them not to tell daddy or they’d get in trouble because daddy’s very naughty. And she said, ‘But it’s okay, we didn’t have a cuddle with her.’

‘I did,’ said my two-year-old.

‘Well, okay, we both did,’ said my four-year-old, ‘but I’m not meant to tell you.’

No wonder they don’t like me. They’ve been told I’m being mean to [redacted] and they’re too young to understand any different.

Even worse is that the bedtime routine has been completely thrown out of whack, making my wife the hero and me the enemy. I put the kids to bed every night, and I’ve done that all their lives because after 7pm, my wife switches off as a parent. The handful of times she’s tried to put them to bed have been utter disasters that she’s abandoned halfway through because it’s hard and her job is to be the ‘fun’ parent.

Anyway, the past month my wife has been going up to bed at 8pm. What’s actually been happening is that, after I’ve put the kids to bed at 7pm, my wife’s been getting them up again and playing with them and telling them to keep quiet or daddy will come up and ruin their fun. Twice in the past two weeks, I’ve come up to bed to find my eldest camped on our bedroom floor because ‘mummy said I can sleep in here.’ Once she was in our bed itself, my wife fast asleep, so I sent her back to her own bed. This has turned me into the bad guy, and my daughter keeps asking me to sleep downstairs because she knows that if it’s just mummy upstairs, she can do whatever she wants. Consequently, discipline and respect have fallen apart.

Two weeks ago I put the kids to bed, waited fifteen minutes to make sure they were settled, then took the dog out for a walk. When I got back, my wife was in their room putting up a play tent and telling them they could sleep in it! I asked her what the hell she was doing, it was far too small, and said the kids had to sleep in their beds. It took me another 90 minutes to settle them again.

The next night she decided that from now on, she’s going to take over bedtimes. I told her this wasn’t a good idea because the girls see her as a playmate and not an authority figure, and now is not the time to disrupt their routine, but my wife had already told the kids she was doing it, and that was that. Again, I didn’t want to argue in front of the kids so I let it be.

After an hour of her screaming and shouting and the kids screaming and shouting, I went up to intervene and she closed the bedroom door in my face and wouldn’t let me in. I left it another half an hour before I’d decided that enough was enough. By this time, my eldest was crying uncontrollably while my youngest was screaming, hyperventilating and so agitated she was biting everything within reach. Walking into that room with my kids in such a state of distress, I was horrified.

I took them downstairs, and it was thirty minutes of holding my two-year-old tight to me before her breathing calmed down and she stopped sobbing. From there, it was another hour to get them to sleep.

I told my wife that from now on, she leaves bedtime alone. We can’t have this disruption. Once I’ve put the kids to bed, they stay in bed. They’re tired out and overstimulated. They’re being damaged and I need her support, because they’re the most important thing.

When the next day I told my support worker what had happened, she was equally horrified, and said she would have to report it, and in all likelihood it would be passed up the chain to Social Services. I figured the decision had been taken out of my hands. Whatever happened was no longer my responsibility – I had lost my kids.

This was a Friday, and I spent the whole weekend on tenterhooks, waiting for Children’s Services to come with a  van and take away my kids. I felt awful because since I’d clamped down on bedtime, things had improved. Worse, my wife was being nice to me, and I was racked with guilt over what this would do to her.

Nothing happened. Monday, nothing. Tuesday, nothing. Wednesday, I saw my support worker and she told me that her manager wouldn’t be passing it to Social Services because they’re my children and they’ll support me in keeping them, whatever it takes. It felt good to have that support.

Alas, it was the calm before the storm.

During my support session, my wife was home-schooling my eldest. Badly. Even though we were in a different room with the door closed, it was impossible not to hear the shouting and the crying. It was clear my wife wasn’t coping. So my support worker asked me why I wasn’t teaching my daughter.

I explained that from the start, my wife has elbowed me out of different aspects of the girls’ lives – birthdays, Christmas, days out, and in particular, schooling. When we were getting my daughter ready for school, I wanted to be involved but my wife kept pushing me out, going out to buy uniforms, pencil cases and suchlike with [redacted] instead of with me. She even wanted to take her to her first day at school by herself, without me.

I insisted I go too, but my wife conveniently ‘forgot’ to bring something vital and sent me home to get it. I asked her to wait and not go in without me, but of course, by the time I got back, she’d gone in, so I missed walking my daughter into her first day of school.

Anyway, my wife has always been incredibly territorial over our daughter’s homework, and I don’t get a look-in, and she’s the same with the home-schooling. So my support worker reminded me that she’s my daughter too, and if I want to be involved in her education, that’s my right as her father.

She had a point. My wife and I had been getting on for days, and that afternoon when she got back from visiting [redacted], we spent a very pleasant hour in the garden as a family. It was all fun and games so I thought it was a fair moment to broach the subject. I said I wanted to be more involved with the teaching, so could I have the login details for the school portal with all the lesson plans and resources she uses?

Everything changed. No, she said, no way. How dare I? Why did I have to ruin everything? No, I couldn’t have access to my daughter’s schooling – she would never give me access. She stormed inside and disappeared for thirty minutes, and when she reappeared, she looked at me like I was the dogshit she’d stepped in.

‘What have I done wrong?’ I asked, and she exploded with this whole rant about how I’d stolen bedtimes and bathtimes from her and there was no way she’d let me steal this. I said I didn’t think what I was asking was unreasonable; I wasn’t trying to steal anything, I just wanted to take a turn with the home-schooling. She replied with how I was selfish and nasty, and she stormed inside again.

But when the kids tried to follow, she told them to leave her alone, slammed the door in their faces and then locked us out in the garden! My kids burst into tears, I had to calm them down and it was five minutes of knocking before she let us in, while telling us she wouldn’t talk to any of us ever again, which again upset the kids.

I kept my head down and tried to keep the kids buoyant, but I was absolutely gutted, because things had been fine for a few days and suddenly it had all gone wrong.

Eventually, she started talking to the kids again. And then, with the kids sitting on her and glaring across at me, she said, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m putting the girls to bed tonight and there’s nothing you can do about it.’

I repeated what I’d said about routine and disruption, and I didn’t think it was a good idea, but she shot that down in a heartbeat, so again not wanting to argue in front of the kids, I went outside and wrote a long email to my care manager about the situation, before I had to hurry upstairs because my kids were screaming and crying again and bedtime was yet another disaster.

Later that night, I asked her why she was trying to push me out of my children’s lives – why she won’t let me have anything to do with education, why she’s just spent £200 on a children’s entertainer for my eldest’s fifth birthday without telling me, why she keeps arranging holidays and trips out with [redacted] and the kids but not me. She again told me she’d never let me steal this from her, and threatened to hit me if I said one more word on the matter.

Later that night, she texted me the login details, and the following day she told me not to change password and lock her out, like I’ve ‘done with everything else’. I knew immediately what she was talking about. The previous week, her account had been locked because she’d accidentally bought 17 lids for her inflatable hot tub (essential, I know), so she’d asked for my bank card so she could go shopping. When I pointed out we had plenty of food in the house and a menu plan covering the entire next week, she flipped out, so I thought it prudent to change the password on my Sainsbury’s (supermarket) account. Clearly I was right to do so, because she must have tried to get into it.

Anyway, I reassured her I wasn’t going to change the password and lock her out, nor did I want to take over or steal the home-schooling from her – I just wanted to be involved. And I asked her why she’d ever think it was okay to lock us out. ‘I was just joking,’ she said, like every abuser in history.

My care manager responded to my email and said she was very concerned about my wife’s increasingly unstable behaviour, particularly as it was damaging the kids and their relationship with me, and said that now was the time to bring in Social Services and get this resolved, and how did I feel about that?

I did a lot of soul-searching that day, but eventually I conceded that yes, the time had come. My children would be damaged by going into foster care, but they’re being damaged anyway. Things couldn’t go on as they were as it wasn’t healthy for any of us. It’s what’s in the best interests of the kids, after all.

This was a massive thing for me to do, because I knew it would spell the end of my marriage, but there needed to be resolution of some sort, whatever that was.

The next day, Adult Social Services rang and said I could have an extra couple hours of support each week. Not hugely helpful, but a start. But Children’s Services didn’t ring, so I waited for them to turn up and take my kids for a second weekend in a row.

Nothing.

Over the weekend, my wife has decided that [redacted] will now read the girls their bedtime story on a video call, despite me doing it for four years and it being one of the few fun things I have left to do with them. The girls told me they don’t want me putting them to bed anymore and want me to sleep downstairs from now on. As a father, that’s not pleasant to hear.

I spent the weekend doing everything an abused spouse does, like prevaricating, like making excuses for my partner’s behaviour, like wondering if I was the one in the wrong.

Finally yesterday (Monday) they rang. They told me they’d heard my wife had locked us out of the house and to tell them what was going on. So I did. I told them everything of the above. The lying, the undermining, visiting [redacted], poisoning my children against me, disrupting bedtime, shouting and swearing in front of them, all of it. Like I said – time for a resolution.

Well. Don’t believe what people say about Children’s Services wanting to take your kids away. They couldn’t care less. They said that if my wife decides to visit [redacted], so be it, it’s already done so there’s no point intervening. They said they can offer us some Early Years Support to teach us how to ‘cooperate better’ with each other, but not until after lockdown.

They asked to speak to my wife and said it wasn’t good to ask the children to lie to me, so she said ‘Okay, I’ll stop,’ and the person on the phone said that that was now all sorted, and if there was nothing else, thanks for calling.

I quickly asked her about the possibility of my eldest going back to school, just to get her away from the toxic atmosphere in the house, and she said she could perhaps ring the school and see if they’d take her for a couple of days, but she wouldn’t be able to do this until later in the week.

And that was that. To say I felt like somebody had ripped out my insides is an understatement. Children’s Services weren’t helpful, they were positively harmful. Why? Because they’ve essentially just told my wife that everything she’s done is perfectly acceptable and the only consequence of her actions is to maybe attend a voluntary parenting course. So of course, last night when they should’ve been in bed, she painted their toenails and let them camp on the floor, because there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.

So, in summary, apparently you can:

  • Shout and swear in front of your kids;
  • Slam the door in your children’s faces;
  • Lock your husband and kids outside;
  • Take your children to visit family members during a pandemic despite it being against the government guidelines;
  • Undermine your husband with his children;
  • Tell the children to lie to him;
  • Call them liars when they tell him the truth;
  • Tell them daddy is the one being naughty;
  • Tell them that if they get caught, daddy will punish them;
  • Disrupt the bedtime routine in a way that makes the children frantic and distressed;
  • Refuse to give your partner access to your children’s lives;
  • Force your partner out of the fun stuff;
  • Not support your husband when the kids no longer want him in the same room as them or even sleeping on the same floor;
  • Use your children as weapons in some sort of twisted power game against your partner;

And Social Services will do nothing about it.

My care manager was utterly shocked by their response. She feels I’ve been badly let down by the system. While you’re in the house, she said, those children are not deemed to be ‘at risk’, so Children’s Services will sit on their hands until you leave, and then they’ll be in like a shot. Instead of preventing a crisis, they’ll wait until it becomes a crisis before intervening.

No wonder Baby P fell through the cracks.

My children have been poisoned against me, and will go on being poisoned against me.

And apparently there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.

 

When you’re in love with Dr Jekyll…

…then Mrs Hyde comes as part of the package.

I knew that when I married her. I knew that if I wanted to be with Dr Jekyll, I was inviting Mrs Hyde into my life. But I didn’t care, because Mrs Hyde was a small thing to put up with in order to spend time with Dr Jekyll.

You see, Dr Jekyll is lovely. Dr Jekyll is kind, and attentive, and a joy to be around. I love Dr Jekyll.

Mrs Hyde, on the other hand, is awful. She’s irrational, unreasonable and aggressive. The stubbornness and lying, the disruption and heartbreak – that is all Mrs Hyde. And I loathe her.

I understood why people warned me off. From the outside, they only saw Mrs Hyde, and allowed Mrs Hyde’s behaviour to taint their impression of Dr Jekyll. I knew different. Two identities competed for control of one body, and I could not sacrifice the positive aspects of one for the negative aspects of the other. I fell in love with Dr Jekyll in spite of Mrs Hyde.

Most importantly, I knew that Mrs Hyde wasn’t Dr Jekyll’s fault. She was as much a victim of Mrs Hyde as I was. I couldn’t abandon my sweet and innocent lover to the ravages of her alter ego. I had to protect her from it. And if I punished Dr Jekyll for something that Mrs Hyde had done, that goes against every precept of justice I believe in. We take responsibility for our own actions, not those of others.

But Mrs Hyde – Mrs Hyde takes no responsibility for anything. Like a wrecking ball through our lives, she leaves a trail of destruction in her wake, and then she’s gone. She never has to face up to the consequences of her actions. Dr Jekyll and I are both left to pick up the pieces.

This would be easier to bear if there was any pattern to Mrs Hyde’s visits, but she comes and goes without warning. Sometimes I spend days with Dr Jekyll; sometimes days with Mrs Hyde. Sometimes, in the midst of a sunny afternoon, Mrs Hyde will descend upon us as if from the sky, and stay just long enough to ruin any pleasure we were having, before disappearing again just as quickly.

Sometimes in hindsight I can identify the triggers – the innocuous word, the momentary look, or even the lack of words or looks, that transformed sweet Dr Jekyll into evil Mrs Hyde – but mostly, it’s impossible to locate. And afterwards, when Dr Jekyll returns to me, she often has no idea what it was either.

We’re held prisoners to Mrs Hyde. The question of my marriage has always been: how much can I take? How much can I endure? There’s never been any discussion of how much should I take. How much should I endure?

But there are children in our lives now. Mrs Hyde’s behaviour doesn’t just impact me and Dr Jekyll anymore, it impacts our children. After twelve years shielding Dr Jekyll from the effects of Mrs Hyde’s behaviour, and four years shielding the children, I’m all burned out. How much can I take? The real question is: how much do I want to take? And I don’t want to take anymore.

Somebody asked me the other day if I spend more time with Dr Jekyll or with Mrs Hyde – if that’s a way to settle my chaotic headspace. That’s not the point, I replied – it’s not about how much time, but the extent of the damage that Mrs Hyde causes. If you spend six days with Dr Jekyll, and on the seventh Mrs Hyde burns down your house, the negative consequences of one day with Mrs Hyde far outweigh the six positive days with Dr Jekyll.

And it no longer matters whether it’s the fault of Mrs Hyde or Dr Jekyll – the effects are still the same. If I don’t want to put up with Mrs Hyde anymore, that means I have to give up Dr Jekyll too.

It would be so much easier if I could hate them both. I wish I didn’t love Dr Jekyll as much as I hate Mrs Hyde. To save my children and myself from Mrs Hyde, I’d have to abandon Dr Jekyll to her fate. And how can I abandon someone I love?

Or is this mental gymnastics the reason the abused so often stay with their abusers? And was it always easier to pretend the lover and the abuser were two different people instead of one and the same?

A coronavirus thought experiment

Let us today try a thought experiment.

Imagine a husband and wife. They live in a house owned by the husband’s father and have two adorable little daughters.

But the husband also has an ex-girlfriend he can’t live without. Instead of turning to his wife for emotional support, he can’t resist texting his ex-girlfriend at least two dozen times a day, and telling her all his wife’s secrets even though he knows his ex-girlfriend likes to interfere in his relationship. He even texts his ex-girlfriend from the marital bed, despite his wife asking him not to.

To make it more current, let’s suppose that there’s a virus infecting the country, and people have been asked to stay at home in order to protect the NHS and save lives. Fantastical, I know, but bear with me here.

Now let’s suppose the wife is a long-term blood donor and former nurse who believes in following these rules to the letter, and asks her family to support her in this commitment to do what the Prime Minister, the Queen, the Cabinet, the scientists, the police, the newspapers, the doctors and the nurses have all asked us to do. Let’s pretend that the husband agrees.

But let’s also pretend that every day when the husband takes his kids out for ‘exercise’, they actually go to his ex-girlfriend’s house, where she cooks them a meal and smothers all three of them in hugs and kisses. Then they say to the children, ‘Don’t tell mummy what’s going on or we’ll all get in trouble. You don’t want to get us all in trouble, do you?’

And then, when they get home, they don’t want the meal that the wife has cooked because they’re already full.

Let’s pretend that, kids being kids, they can’t keep secrets, so the wife finds out about the visits to the ex-girlfriend, and knows she’s being lied to. Let’s suppose she confronts her husband, who says he’ll keep visiting whoever he damn well pleases, and there’s nothing she can do to stop him, and by the way, did you know this is my father’s house and since we’re in the middle of a lockdown there’s nowhere you can go?

What can she do then? Let’s suppose that the wife decides to appeal directly to the ex-girlfriend, from one woman to another. She asks her to please not come between a wife and her husband, or a parent and her children. She acknowledges she can’t stop her husband from visiting his ex-girlfriend, but she’d hope they’d at least be careful and follow the social distancing rules. They’re all adults so there’s no need to sneak around, and it’s really not appropriate expecting children to lie for them.

Imagine the ex-girlfriend replies by telling the wife to go screw herself, and that if she wasn’t such a terrible wife and terrible mother, her husband wouldn’t feel the need to visit his ex so often. Imagine the husband witnesses his wife’s humiliation and approves of it with a knowing smirk.

Now imagine the wife tells her husband she knows she can’t stop him from seeing his ex-girlfriend, but can he please take some precautions and just be honest about what he’s getting up to. He says he will.

But imagine he doesn’t. Imagine he keeps visiting his ex-girlfriend with the kids every day, and tells his wife he hasn’t seen her, despite the lipstick on his cheek and on his children’s faces. Imagine he tells his wife that nothing is going on, despite the children saying, ‘We saw her again, but they said not to tell you.’ Imagine the wife begs her husband to just be honest with her, and the husband continues to lie in the face of overwhelming evidence.

Imagine that eventually the wife breaks down and tells her husband that she feels betrayed. She feels heartbroken he’s chosen his ex-girlfriend’s short-term happiness over his wife and his marriage. She wishes he would stop visiting his ex-girlfriend and stop lying and getting the kids to lie and start respecting his wife and show some consideration for her feelings. And she warns that this will very likely end in divorce if it carries on.

If you’re expecting a tearful apology, you’re new to this game.

Imagine instead that the husband tells his wife she’s got it all wrong. He loves her and respects her, and is 100% committed to his marriage. True, he goes over to his ex-girlfriend’s house every day, but that’s not to see his ex-girlfriend, you see, it’s to exercise, and if she just happens to be there at her house when he visits, it’s happenstance. And of course, if she chooses to cook him and the children a meal, or kiss them and cuddle them, well, there’s nothing he can do about that, is there? It’s not his fault. Can’t his wife see that he’s doing absolutely nothing wrong? He’s the victim in all of this. And the reason he didn’t tell her, and asked the kids to lie, was because he didn’t want to upset her. But don’t worry, sweetheart, just be a dear and ignore it in future. I mean, if you look the other way it won’t bother you so much. Surely you can see that you’re the one with the problem? And you know what? You’re not a very good wife and mother anyway. You never trust me or give me any thanks for what I do. In fact, you should be grateful to me. You should be thanking me for taking the kids to my ex-girlfriend’s. Everyone knows that you’re the one being unreasonable here. It’s all in your head. And how dare you accuse me of seeing my ex-girlfriend? I haven’t seen her in weeks. If anyone’s ruining our marriage, it’s you with your paranoia. Now be quiet and do as you’re told and I don’t want to hear another peep out of you!

In the above example, it would be very hard to defend or justify the husband’s behaviour. You’d be forgiven if you think he comes across as a selfish, deceitful, manipulative douchebag who doesn’t even have the balls to take responsibility for his own decisions. From a psychological standpoint, I’d say he’s gaslighting his wife, a form of abuse that undermines a person’s reality.

Now, for the last part of our thought experiment, I’d like you to imagine that the roles are reversed. Imagine it’s the husband staying at home and the wife who’s sneaking off with the kids, not to see her ex, but to see family members. Imagine they’re the ones who told him to mind his own business, they’re the ones who own his house, and they’re the ones who’d rather his marriage fail than suffer the indignity of staying away from children for a few weeks. Imagine she’s chosen their desires over her husband’s scruples, that she lies about seeing them, lies about the kisses and cuddles, asks the children to lie to their daddy, and when confronted, denies she’s doing anything wrong and suggests that he’s the one with the problem.

Does that make the abuse any less real?

Such a sensitive child

I am what is called a sensitive soul – I feel things deeply. As a child I was called a ‘cry baby’ because of my frequent lapses into fits of tears. Anything could set me off weeping, and anything did.

I couldn’t watch nature shows because I couldn’t bear to see animals get hurt – even to this day, the sound of David Attenborough’s voice turns my stomach, presaging death and dismemberment.

When I was eight, while my brother was prodding my dad about his inheritance, I was sobbing in my bedroom about the fact my dad would one day die. When I was ten, my dad and brother decided to have an insult contest, and of course I was in floods of tears within a minute. It was like my nerves were always exposed, susceptible to be hit at any moment.

As I grew up, I had to toughen my shell, encase my heart in ice simply to survive. But even as an adult, I have a few weak spots.

I can’t bear to see anything suffer; obituaries break my heart; and if I see a child’s grave I go to pieces.

And movies – movies get through.

I’m not just talking about widely-acknowledged tearjerkers like My Girl, Marley and Me, The Notebook, or Legends of the Fall. Nor do I mean those that are kind of understandable, like Toy Story 3, Forrest Gump, Inside Out or Lone Survivor.

I cried at Return of the Jedi. I cried at Independence Day. I cried at It.

I’ve had a four-decade conversation with my mother about whether being sensitive is a blessing or a curse. On the one hand, experiencing emotions beyond what people normally feel is a great pathway to sympathy, empathy and compassion; on the other, it’s a painful, debilitating, irrational punishment that makes you suffer things that never happened to you.

Is it good? I think the answer depends on whether it’s you yourself, or somebody else.

For me, it’s part of who I am and I wouldn’t be me without it. As a parent, I hate seeing it in my eldest.

Since this lockdown started, we’ve been watching movies, and we are yet to watch one that doesn’t make my four-year-old sob her little heart out. Barely five minutes goes by without me glancing at her to find her wide eyes glistening and big fat tears rolling down her cheeks.

And I’m not showing her anything particularly sad. Babe was ninety minutes of misery. Paddington. Matilda. Nanny McPhee. Happy Feet. Even Frozen.

So I decided to go old school. The Wizard of Oz was a bucket-fest; Annie might as well have been Saw; Dumbo was torture porn and even the original Doctor Doolittle had her gushing.

So today I tried Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and even fast forwarding through the scary-ass boat ride, it was an ordeal. There were tears when Charley didn’t get a golden ticket; tears when he did; tears when Wonka shouted at him; tears when he gave him the factory. Happy tears, sad tears, excited tears, frightened tears. And in between? A chocolate river more tears.

Golly gosh, I wish she wasn’t so like me. Not because there’s anything wrong with being me, but because I know what’s ahead of her. Life is full of pain and suffering – beauty too, and majesty, and joy – but the lot of this life is often to be drawn-out on a rack of despair, and it’s better not to feel the thorns and blades as they cut you, than feel them all too keenly.