Go gentle on your daughters

TW: Abuse. Grief.

Before you read this, read my mum’s story.

I loved my dad, he loved me and he was well-liked and well-loved by most. I know this.

This story is not a revocation of that love. But, it is essential that the love others have for the memory of my dad is founded in the absolute truth. That truth is that he hurt my mum and he hurt me.

Kevin Wilkins’ anger was fragile. In one breath he was a loving, gentle and proud father, and in the next he was full of all the rage of the world. For the 14 years I knew him, I believed that I was the trigger of this anger. If I did not…if I had not…if I had been more.

Many credit him with bringing me to music. This is an interesting conjecture, but I believe that music is so powerful that I would have found it anyway. He is absolutely a major influencing factor in my stage-fright. Our quirky little family band was an incredible experience for a 12 year old, but he would push and push and push me to breaking point. Before one gig, I told my mum he was ‘the biggest tw*t I’ve ever worked with’. That statement stands. He instilled an all-consuming fear in me of making mistakes. I would shake at the thought of a missed note or a cracked voice. The sharp ‘just leave it then, we’ll not do it if you can’t manage it’, that came when I, a child, said I was finding something difficult, hurt my heart every time. To this day, I dread admitting difficulty or making mistakes. The thought of being corrected, even by those who do so in a gentle way that my dad never mastered, makes me shake and cry like a waterfall. (I have only just stopped crying with fear when I break something.) He would ration his attention and bully me about past mistakes, in the way that a begrudged colleague forced to work with someone they hated. He broke my approach to learning before I had even had time to develop one.

He was as talented a gaslighter as he was a musician. As an ex heroin addict, he liked people to think that his only remaining vice was alcohol. That was a lie. When my parents had separate cars, he would smoke out of the window driving me home from primary school. I would tell my mum when she got home, amongst the odyssey of a day filled with art and phonics. When I did this, he sent me to my room for lying. It’s important to note that it wasn’t the smoking that any of us took issue with, it was the lying. Once he came home and told a tale of being at the garage to get the tires filled on the, now shared, car when a man offered him seat covers that miraculously didn’t fit his car but did fit ours. It was only upon selling that Chevrolet Lacetti that we found the cigarette burn in the centre of the drivers seat. Another time, our neighbour returned from a holiday and gifted my dad some Egyptian cigarettes. I would open the box to smell them (still love the smell) and gradually more would disappear. One morning I came downstairs to eat breakfast, before heading off to a day of year 5 learning, to find the kitchen window wide open, cigarettes out in the sink and the door unlocked. ‘We must’ve been broken into’, dad said ‘Ella must’ve unlocked it before bed and we’ve been robbed’. Aside from the fact that nothing had been stolen, our 10-stone husky malamute was calm and, more importantly, still inside. Said dog had a reputation for bolting the minute the front door was opened and bounce barking at any visitor. I wouldn’t have deduced this as a child though, and the thought that my lovely big dog may have run away and got hit by a car or been stolen because of me, regardless of whether I remembered unlocking the door (which I didn’t), made me feel horrendous. All of this, just to continue smoking.

The magnitude of my father’s abuse and the effect it has upon me cannot be understated. As well as the above, he convinced me I was a hypochondriac, I had bulimia and endometriosis. He would punish me for crying by turning the lights off in my room and closing the door, I was terrified of the dark and eventually learned to put a torch under my pillow so that I could creep down from my bunk bed and turn on my lamp. If he heard me out of bed, he would storm up the stairs, shout and turn them back off. I believe it contributed heftily to me wetting the bed until I was 10. I wasn’t horrified watching him hit, strangle and belittle my mum. I was not surprised to learn that he had taken money from the mortgage to use for spending without asking my mum. I was, however, shocked when I slept over in houses where the daddy did not shout or throw bowls at the mammy for asking how his day was. And yes. He hit me. I vividly remember being hit in the stomach while he carried me upstairs as I was having a tantrum while my mum was out. Strangely enough, it did not stop my tears.

The aggression my father demonstrated was scary, but it was the ‘perfect family man and recovered addict’ facade which he put out to our family and friends that was far scarier. The truth I have shared is all that I can articulate, but is most definitely not the entirety of what my mum and I went through. The trauma responses from these times are alive and kicking. I cry at the drop of a hat, shouting sends me into a panic attack and I am still half-convinced that my achievements, my behaviour and people-pleasing are the things that will gain me love/acceptance/tolerance some day.

The strength my mum has shown in opening up about our life is what has inspired me. In order to accept that one day I will find someone who loves me and all that I have come through, I have to start living my truth. That truth is that I loved my dad and he loved me. No one can ever deny that. The truth is also that he was an abuser. This will come as a surprise to a lot of you. But:

It’s what he would have wanted.

E x

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