POWERFUL ARTICLE - WELL WORTH READING.
My father asks me what four times four is, and all I can think is “eight,” though I know that’s wrong; whether it’s better — safer — to be wrong or to say, “I don’t know,” depends upon his mood. The way my mother smiles at me as she clears my plate is of no help, there’s no telltale tightness in her eyes. He drums the flashcard against the tabletop and sighs. My fingers worry the edges of the iron-on patches — a rabbit and a duck — that Mom has fixed to my corduroy jumper. I gamble on “eight,” but a yawn slips out instead. I haven’t even closed my mouth before he smacks it open again. He backhands me hard enough to blot out the world.
The family at the kitchen table is an indelible image, classic Americana. It sells pancakes and life insurance, and every four years, it peddles politicians. Each election cycle, the steely female narrators of campaign ads ask us to consider which candidate is best for American families, families that might’ve looked like mine until my father’s hand left me deaf and reeling for days.
I grew up in the kind of two-parent, father-makes-the-bacon, mother-fries-it-up home that Mitt Romney waxed ecstatic about when fielding a debate question on gun violence: “We need moms and dads helping raise kids … to tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone — that’s a great idea because if there’s a two-parent family, the prospect of living in poverty goes down dramatically.”
Every election cycle becomes a dire exegesis of “family values,” a neurotic fixation on the nuclear family: “Father Knows Best,” Mommie Dearest” and “Baby Makes Three” (or Four, or even Five) have become the icons of a bygone era — a postwar wonderland that boomed with prosperity in the shadow of the mushroom cloud.
Family, for me, is not a bedrock. It’s the hole I’ve crawled out. When I see Facebook friends in wedding gowns, or cradling their newborns, I don’t feel wistful; there’s no twinge of envy — only the breathless pain of a knife driven deep and twisted hard.
My family was never part of the 47 percent Mitt Romney derided for being “dependent on government.” We never wanted for healthcare, for food or for housing — but we were victims. All the hashtags and memes about bayonets and binders full of women serve a purpose, but they can never encapsulate the madness of insisting that rape — if it results in motherhood — is a blessing. The crushing conformity of family first — and at any cost — will make victims of us all: the woman forced to relive the worst night of her life every time she feels the baby kick; the man who has always wanted to be a father, but never will because of whom he loves; and the little girl at the kitchen table who must choose “eight” or “I don’t know.”