This was the first Christmas in five years that Joe had spent with any of his family. He’d been in prison for the aggravated assault on his ex wife, Raquel. She had been complaining to her adult kids for years that he was hurting her, but Joe was so convincing. Besides, she was so loud and aggressive herself, wasn’t she? She drank a lot and she was angry all the time. So it had been easy to say that “You never know what really goes on,” and, “It isn’t really my business.” It was easy, that us, until they visited Raquel in the Intensive Care Unit. It took so long for the breaks in to heal, and longer for the shock to wear off for all of the adult kids and grandkids. They rallied around their mom and several of them went to talk to domestic violence advocates themselves, so they could understand how it had changed them, and how to find their way now.
Part of Joe’s sentence included probation after his release, and the requirement that he complete a certified Intimate Partner Abuse Education Program. He’d been attending his program for three months when he came into group the week following Christmas. It was Joe’s turn to report out. Had he practiced taking accountability with his family without minimizing, denying or blaming? Had he conferred with others while making family decisions over the holiday? Was he able to tolerate including the needs of others, and not always getting his way? Was he a safe person to disagree with? Could he be relied upon to initiate sharing in the burdens of organizing, cleaning and supporting the holidays?
“It wasn’t that stuff which was the hardest part,” Joe explained after reporting his progress. “It was when we came into the dining room. You know, I’d been setting the table and carrying stuff in and helping distract the kids, like we planned I would. And when they went to sit down, I kind of held back, like we said, to see where everyone wanted to go.
Then my daughter Hailey said, ‘Dad, this is your seat. We’ve been setting this place for you at every holiday when it would have been your turn to see us, you know, when it wasn’t mom’s turn. No one sat in it. We saved it for you, because we wanted you to know it is your place.’ Joe put his head in his hands, hiding tears.
After a pause, his facilitator asked him, “What is that like, Joe, to feel how much families want a safe Grandpa and Dad at the table? How they want to have things feel alright, and safe and loving and whole? How does it feel to work to deserve that place?”
“Hard. Really hard,” Joe whispered.
By JAC Patrissi