How my childhood trauma followed me into adulthood

By Thu Ha   December 7, 2022 | 03:56 pm PT
How my childhood trauma followed me into adulthood
A child sits on the floor. Illustration photo by AFP
Over the last 40 years, I never told my parents that I loved them. Instead, I grew up fearful and distant thanks to the endless beatings that my parents called love.

For those born in the 1980s like me, we are no strangers to taking beatings from our families. It was considered the norm, almost a rite of passage for any kid my age. In our neighborhood, children get beaten every day by adults.

There were more than enough reasons for a child in those days to be on the other end of the rod in the name of education. Some intentionally provoked dogs so they would be chased after. Others climbed neighbors' trees and stole fruit. Some skipped noon-time naps to take a dip in the river, while others were scolded by teachers at school. Growing up, we were so used to our parents physically punishing us that we were legitimately surprised to know any kid who never suffered from it.

How parents beat their children also tells who they are. The more lenient ones would make the kids lie on the bed and recount their mistakes, before delivering lashes to their buttocks. And at night, when the child cried themselves to sleep, they would creep in, look at the red bruises on their kids and gave them balms, tearfully regretting what they had done. They were the softer ones.

But there were also those who believed violence was always the answer to child education. They would chase their kids around the house, screaming and lashing at their backs like horses. Their kids would grow up with contempt, resentment and hatred for their caretakers, and they would no longer display love and affection for them.

The first time I watched "Little House on the Prairie", I was surprised to hear the words "I love you," when a daughter said that to her father in the show. It was the first time I saw such beautiful affection between a parent and a child.

As the years went by, we were beaten less often. But by that time, we were already hardened to the world. We became more stubborn and more apathetic, even when we saw someone else getting beaten and cursed at.

I remembered when I was 10, there was a boy in the neighborhood who stole a chicken from a local official. He was tied up and the neighbors made him carry a wooden board that said he was a chicken thief. They tied a chicken onto his back, and made him parade around the block. Whenever he reached a house, he had to tell the people inside who he was, whose family he belonged to, and that he stole a chicken and would never repeat that mistake again.

I remembered how the kids in the neighborhood followed the crowd and used sticks to beat the boy’s back as if he was a grave sinner. I remember how when he got home, he collapsed and went unconscious. I remember how no one shed a tear for him. But what I remember the most was that his father silently lifted him up and carried him to the doctor. The father was sobbing. Whether he was crying out of shame or because his son grew up to be a thief despite the father's violent way of teaching, I will never know.

And today, when I and my peers have become fathers and mothers ourselves, when the scars on our arms, legs and backs have already faded with the years, we still feel that pain as if our suffering happened just yesterday.

We have had much to learn about the world, about love and duty. But somehow, I never learned to say "I love you," to my parents. The pain from my childhood continues to follow me until today.

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