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Story: Divorce: a Daughter's Perspective

A Mother's Act of Bravery

I still shudder when I hear a door slam or heavy foot steps from the floor above. Although it has been 15 years since my mother divorced him, my memories of growing up with an abusive father linger.
There are particular episodes that have been burned in my memory. And then there are the countless, outbreaks of violence that I have chosen to forget. There was the night he came home to find my baby brother had scribbled on the orange, plastic table cloth, and he held my brother's head by the neck and forced him to lick off the embedded ball point pen markings. Night after night he came home drunk; me, my sister and two brothers would scamper, making sure not to get caught in his way. There was no warning when he would find us guilty of something that he disapproved of, there was always another excuse to show us how angry he could become.

But he was good to us compared to the way he treated my mother. My mother was at work all day, only to come home to cook for him. Their nightly dinner arguments ended with food thrown all over the table, floor, or at her. He would carry his plate to the sink only for the opportunity to shatter it as he threw it in.

We lived in anxiety, fear, and in anticipation of the moments he would go out. That is, until the last eruption of violence, when I was 12 years old. The fight began in the kitchen after dinner and quickly accelerated. My mother tried leaving him alone for the anger to quell, but he thundered after her into the living room. We followed. Although we were too small to stop him perhaps we felt he would do less harm if we were there. We yelled at him to stop and tried to get in between them. He had her in a hold from behind, she was bent backward and his arm was around her neck. She yelled at us to go to the neighbor's house to call the police. I could not leave her, I was terrified. Later she recounts that the look in my eyes is what moved her to stop this life of terror.

We were sad to see my father leave, but grateful to my mother for getting us out of this violent way of life, by having him legally removed from the house. Not for a moment have any of us regretted my mother's decision. We understand that it was neither ours nor our mother's fault that he was so abusive.

Right after the separation we endured a rocky adjustment period. My father had visitation rights, so every other Sunday he would take us out shopping or to a movie. That routine lasted two years and soon we lost interest in seeing him. He never asked for custody and paid child support sporadically. As expected, the Indian community was not supportive of my mother and she looked for emotional support from friends outside the community. Before the separation, my mother had been financially stable, and she took over the family business, which my father had been managing before. But it meant she had less time to spend with us. Although we took advantage of having little supervision after school, we did alright in our studies as we were comforted by the new found peace at home.

We are thankful to our mother for thinking of us first, and not about the community, money, or hardship. I admire her for having such strength, for trusting in herself that against all odds, she could take care of four children on her own, and especially for believing in us - that we could still be well-adjusted, good Indian children even without a father living in the house.

Social life after divorce
She probably never would have thought it would happen to her again -- feeling butterflies in her stomach when thinking of a guy. My mother started to date only when my youngest brother went away to college. Of course, there were issues. He didn't like the idea of "his mommy dating." Perhaps it is a typical son reaction (after years of experiencing the 'raja syndrome'). My mom asked me to bring up the issue with my brother, which I did. My angle was: "If mom is happier and has a life of her own then she will stay out of yours." He seemed to agree passively, also probably realizing that he had little say in the matter. He also didn't want to seem selfish knowing that my mom wanted companionship. He must have noticed, as I did, that when she was dating someone, she was so much more pleasant and easy-going. Her energy soared and her sense of humor was at peak. Everyone, including my brother, appreciated the results.

Now at 27, I have a handful of South Asian friends whose parents are divorced and we share a bond of understanding. In this society we are lucky that we don't have to endure much stigma. There are many divorced Desis in the US. All of my girlfriends who have single moms are supportive of their social lives. We scout out eligible men who are worthy of meeting our mothers. Over the years, my mother has joined various social groups. She now has new South Asian and American friends, men and women who do not judge her. She has started a brand new life, one that I suspect she never imagined during her darkest hours.

In the end we found that our family was peacefully happy. We learned to tell one another that we love each other. My brothers learned to adapt and find other male role models in teachers, coaches and uncles. Because they were young, they learned what is not an acceptable way of treating a woman. Both me and my sister believe we can have healthy relationships and that we will not fall into an abusive one ourselves. Perhaps because we saw our mother take active steps to end an unhappy situation and start anew.

- Sawnet

NRI DivorceŽ 2006-2010