What Can Dads Do about Domestic Violence?
Like you, I have been saddened by recent cases of domestic violence that have dominated the headlines. I can only imagine what goes through a man’s mind when he carries out violence toward a woman or a child. I know drugs and alcohol often play a role, but to take it that far is hard for me to grasp.
I also know that people are just different. One person’s mind processes information and emotions much differently than mine or yours or the next guy’s. Some people go through abuse as kids, then they grow up and do the same thing. There are all kinds of complex factors.
You’ve heard all this, and I don’t claim to be an expert in domestic violence. But here are four brief thoughts on this matter. I know I’m just skimming the surface of this issue, but I hope this is useful and encouraging for you:
1. Fathers matter. It makes a difference when a father does his job the right way. That’s often my first thought when I see these kinds of tragedies on the news. If all dads were doing what we should be doing—in our own families and with other kids who need father figures—then domestic violence would be rare.
I know a majority of abusers either didn’t have their dads around, or their dads neglected or abused them. They were not coached by their dads in a healthy way. I’m thankful that, through coaching from my Pop and others, I grew up with respect for women and children. (I suppose it really comes down to having respect for myself.)
2. We have to coach our children. As men and fathers, we have to have self-control and train our kids to do the same. My Pop gave me an awareness that my choices had consequences and an impact beyond my little world. What I do and say reflects back on my family and extended family, my church, the National Center for Fathering, and even the university where I played football and received my education.
I am very much aware that I’m representing others wherever I go and by whatever I do or say. If I go out and do something foolish, that reflects back on those people, groups and institutions. So there’s a lot at stake in how I conduct myself. You probably know this. Maybe men who abuse others know it too, but they lose track of right and wrong. Or maybe they never learned to deal with anger in healthy ways.
It’s important that we coach our children about having respect for people and regarding others as more important than ourselves.
3. We are role models—especially in how we handle emotions. Can you recall a shouting match, an outburst, or even physical violence from your childhood? We leave lasting impressions on our children based on how we handle our emotions—especially anger—and often they will imitate what they see in us, either tomorrow or years in the future.
I have been in intense situations with my kids where frustration boils over and in a split second I have to decide what to do. And yes, there have been times in my marriage where I’ve had strong emotions. How do we handle those times? Instead of letting it all loose and doing something we’ll later regret, we have to maintain control—even if “control” means getting out of the situation until we’re thinking more clearly.
Keep this in mind: our children will disobey and do things that are careless or even cruel. Our wives won’t always respond the way we want them to. Being a husband and a father comes with those frustrations, right? But, here’s one truth we should all embrace: our family members do not control our actions. We are the ones who determine how we respond.
We have to find the inner strength—or perhaps the dependence on God—to give a gentle answer, to be slow to anger, to not let strong emotions drive us to something crazy.
4. Men need to be accountable. I have a friend who was in an accountability group with me some time ago, who was on the verge of getting a divorce from his wife. It was a difficult situation with a lot of complex issues involved, and it took months to play out. But here’s what he said: “If I didn’t have you guys to talk to every week, I don’t know what I would have done.”
I don’t believe my friend would have ever carried out some kind of violence, but his story helps to draw a clear connection between accountability and making good decisions, especially in tough circumstances.
That’s one big benefit of meeting regularly with other men who are like-minded. When the storms of life come (and they will), you will have a committed circle of guys to support you and make sure you’re thinking straight. They’ll help you stay in line.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a committed dad and domestic violence isn’t even on your radar. You’d never hurt a child or a spouse. But are there other guys you know who might be struggling in this area? Maybe now is the time to invite one particular friend or acquaintance to meet with you regularly, or start a new group that he could attend. A good dose of support and encouragement might be exactly what he needs—and it will benefit his family as well.
What’s your secret to maintaining self-control? And how do you teach it to your children?
Action Points for Dads on the Journey
- Do you ever bring home stresses from the workday and taking it out on those you love? Find a way to decompress and change your mindset before walking in the door after work.
- Don’t hide emotions from your children—whether you’re crying over a loss, or celebrate an achievement, or something in between. They need to see the feeling part of you, and see that showing emotions is not a weakness.
- When you do lose control emotionally, try to turn it into a positive. Take time to talk to your child about what happened, confess you were wrong, apologize, and talk about better ways to handle your emotions.
- A good question to use often with our kids: “How did that make you feel?” Then listen carefully and draw him out with a nod or “I understand.”
Instead of shutting down when you feel nervous or ashamed, look for ways to open up. Stay engaged with your family members and learn healthy ways of expressing emotions. It may take time, but it’s something we need to learn.
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