There have been a few awful cases of violence and bloody murder in our news lately. One a miscarriage of justice, another miscarriage of justice in the opposite direction and one unfathomably brutal case. Awful stuff. It got me thinking of the remarkably high instance of domestic violence in New Zealand. In fact we have one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the world. Not many people know that.
The only countries with a worse track record are the sort of places you would expect and Peru. I’m not sure what they are up to in Peru, plenty of unhappy relationships anyway.
Almost every town in New Zealand has a large billboard on the outskirts saying how Domestic Violence is not OK. How has it come to be that we need these banners in New Zealand? I don’t think we specifically breed boys given to hitting girls in New Zealand, rather we brew them.
In New Zealand we have a terribly macho culture. Our national sport involves our national heroes doing a menacing warrior dance before every match. Manliness is measured in physical toughness rather than emotional intelligence.
It’s hard to explain but you don’t need to spend too much time in New Zealand to see the overtly masculine underpinnings in almost everything. The advertising imagery, the rugby, farming, vehicles, driving style, television, beer and so on. Outside the nicer parts of central Auckland, a man having a glass of white wine in public will be thought of, and remarked upon, by ‘real blokes’ in the vicinity as being at best, effeminate, to put it politely.
A young boy outside the more progressive parts of Auckland and Wellington grows up with his potential manliness being measured by his ability to emulate the toughest men in world sport. Rugby or rugby league players, ultimate fighting champions, boxers. Even our most revered cricket player, Brendon McCullum, is so regarded for his aggressive, swashbuckling, combative batting style.
The worst example of poor role modeling came from one of the high profile Rugby League players who was punched unconscious from behind in a major cup final match, then punched again as he lay on the ground. It was an appalling act of savagery, which should have resulted in a prison sentence for the assailant. But our hero shrugged it off publicly as no big deal. This sends a dreadful message to the young people of New Zealand as to what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. So we have a population of young boys who grow up understanding even if subconsciously that aggressive behaviour is to be applauded and encouraged.
Let’s throw some modern confusion into the mix. We grew up understanding that you must never hit girls no matter what. Girls were precious, special, girly delicate creatures who were less strong than men and well, girls. One of the fundamental messages to young boys used to be that you must never hit a girl. I doubt that it still is, the numbers suggest it is not. Now we have mighty girls, playing rugby, joining the army, working alongside men, getting paid as much and wearing the pants as it were. We are told that girls are equal and we must not give them special treatment or make any allowances, as that’s sexist. This message is starting very young. I wonder quite how the message that despite all this equality you still can’t hit girls is getting diluted. It must be hard to a mind less formed or broad enough to see a bigger picture.
Hopefully the message that it’s not just girls, you shouldn’t hit anyone is being reinforced. It may be by the parents but it certainly is not being reinforced by society, or television, or sport, or anyone if our national statistics are to be believed.
I’m glad I’m not a parent. How does one reinforce what is important in the face of the onslaught of available conflicting information about everything. You want your child to study and do well at school, but if they aren’t sport minded, they’ll be a geek and probably get bullied. Go down the sports route and you limit their options if they aren’t exceptional at it. Simplistic and I’m sure plenty of kids do fine at the good schools with a broad and comprehensive syllabus with good teachers and coaches. Then the children go home.
Some people expect the schools to bring up their kids properly; they abdicate responsibility for learning and habit forming when the children start school. The schools job is education, not parenting. So many parents shouldn’t have children at all because they aren’t cut out for taking any sort of responsibility for the life they’ve created. Sadly you can’t make potential parents get some sort of license first. Few things in the world are worse than terrible parents because they ruin the lives of others.
Even my own parents were terrible parents. They shouldn’t have had children, as they took no responsibility for the children they had. My two brothers and myself. I only figured this out recently but it’s worth detailing some of the story to give an example of what unintentional terrible parenting by people who should never have had children can look like.
From when we were born, Dad was always working, hard; he was the hardest working man in the history of the world. He was busy making a better future for his family and trying to realize his dream of owning his own land. This meant that we hardly ever saw him. He was mad keen on sport and desperate for we three boys to do well at rugby in particular but I can only remember a very small handful of games he ever came to watch or take us to as children. I’m talking less than 10 games in total across three boys in our entire education from age 5-17. Because he was always working.
Mum didn’t come to the rugby either, I’m not sure what she was doing, she worked during the week, but not at the weekend. But somehow, someone else was always asked to take us to the rugby, or cricket. I guess she was gardening, or making preserves or something. Something more important that watching her boys playing rugby, or cricket on a Saturday morning.
It’s not just about sport though of course. My younger brother was in tears recently as he blamed our mother for her lack of influence in our education. My mother was a school teacher by training yet did nothing to ensure we did well at school. I was disengaged from High School due to horrendous bullying. So my parents removed me from the otherwise very good school I attended and sent me to another very average school, not due to the bullying, but because I wasn’t doing well enough at the school to warrant the expense.
I wasn’t one for homework. Never picked up a pen to do any homework the entire time I was at High School. My mother or father never asked, nor checked, nor expressed any interest at all. But were very quick to chastise when my report cards were poor. There was no questioning why, just criticism. It never occurred to me at the time that this was an example of dreadful parenting. It’s just how things were.
I think the best example of someone who has no business being in charge of children though, is this. Imagine this if you are a parent. One of my mother’s favourite ‘family stories’ is when we lost my younger brother.
I want to tell you about it. I was 6 years old, my older brother was 8. We lived in a very remote wild part of New Zealand, on a peninsula, 2 hours from the nearest small town. We went to play in the hay barn. We had to walk through a paddock full of recently calved cows and were advised not to walk between the cows and the calves, as the cow would attack us. We made our way about 1 kilometre at least to a hay barn to play, at ages 6 and 8.
We were good at walking though, before we moved to Mahia Peninsula, when I started school, my brother and I had to walk about 2 kilometres on a remote country road each day to catch the school bus. I had no idea at the time why our mother, who was at home, never drove us there, or picked us up after school.
After several hours we returned home in what is described in the story as a howling gale, it was, I remember it. Our mother asked us if our younger brother was with us. He would have been about 15 months old. Remember, we were 6 and 8 and had been gone for hours in appalling weather. We informed Mum that our brother wasn’t with us. Then the search began, in the ‘howling gale’.
We found him eventually, too far from the house for a 15 month old baby to be and we only found him by accident. He was upset over a lost shoe, but amazingly he was otherwise fine. What the hell was she doing? Why was my 15-month-old brother unsupervised for hours in the middle of a windstorm in the middle of nowhere? On what planet is it ok for a 15-month-old baby to be allowed to wander 1000 metres through the foul weather to play in a barn with a 6 and an 8 year old? Why was she not looking for him moments after he had left her sight rather than hours later?
She tells this story with much laughter over several glasses of wine, without displaying a hint of understanding it was her shocking negligence that could have easily cost her children’s lives.
My father died years ago, he was a terrible parent but I loved my father. He worked his fingers to the bone to make a better life for us. My mother is an alcoholic, has been for years and I expect she was when we were born. I can’t think of any other reason for the terrible neglect and disinterest or lack of positive influence in her children’s lives.
I can’t imagine why else she wouldn’t have wanted to see her children in action on sports fields or do well at school. I guess taking part in the activity at weekends would have impinged in her drinking time. Perhaps it was because when we were all out, she could drink unobserved.
But it was also a symptom of the era. Young women taken from their families to the middle of nowhere to be farmer’s wives. Raised to be mothers but ill equipped to deal with the lifestyle and without local support given the remoteness of where they lived.
We were lucky because we were all bright and through chance, circumstance, a bit of imagination and good fortune made various lives for ourselves but are each quite dysfunctional in our own way.
Many poorly parented children aren’t so lucky because they don’t get the break, or see the window of opportunity best suited to their skills. They are confused by how to behave and make terrible decisions, and lash out at the nearest weakest target. Mostly the girl in their life, because they didn’t know any better.
Know better; learn to know better, teach your boys to know better. It’s never ok to lash out, you should know this, not need a billboard to remind you.