We are kicking off the Fathering as a Survivor series today with someone we consider a true warrior in the fight to raise awareness for parenting survivors, a great dad and a friend of the Trigger Points community. Byron Hamel of Trauma Dad speaks openly and honestly about the challenges he faces as a father and a survivor.
“I grew up severely abused by a father figure who was put to death for infanticide. Left with traumatic stress, depression, and an eating disorder, I’m determined to be the best dad I can possibly be to my two girls.” ~Byron Hamel
We are so lucky to have Byron participate in the interview series and to offer us a look in to what Fathering as a Survivor means to him.
1. Before becoming a father, did you look forward to becoming a parent?
Before becoming a father, I thought long and hard about the decision. Most of what I knew about parenting came from very broken people. I felt that, because of my horror of an upbringing, my children could potentially have an awful childhood too. I loved them too much even before they existed to put them through that. For awhile, I did not want children at all. That’s something I’m going to recommend. If you don’t want to have kids, DON’T HAVE KIDS.
I really did want to have kids. I just didn’t want to end up being terrible to them or something. So instead of deciding not to have children at all, I decided that the only way I would choose to have children would be if I was emotionally and psychologically mature enough to have them. If I couldn’t get there, I would not have kids at all.
I knew I’d have to work harder than people with good childhoods. I knew that I needed to make damn sure that I myself would never be an abusive parent. So I worked very hard to improve my character. I did everything I could to become a better person, so that I could be a good daddy. I stayed clean and sober. I practiced kindness. I found ways to serve others with no expectations of reward. I brought myself to account for any good or bad that I may have done in the run of a day. I researched and delved into various religions and philosophies, and developed wisdom and skills I could pass on to my children.
I knew my abuse had a very deep effect on me, so I dug deep and dealt with a lot of issues I had related to my own abuse as a child. Finally, after much work, self-control, patience, and learning to love myself, I was in fact ready. I was excited about becoming a daddy.
2. How did you feel when you first learned you were going to be a father? Did you have any specific fears and/or joys?
I planned both of my daughters with the person who was my spouse at the time. My deepest fear about becoming a dad was that I might not be able to show a deep love to my child. My relationship with love was quite broken, having spent my entire childhood never feeling what love was like. That proved to be an irrational fear though. Knowing my children has taught me what true love is. The love I receive from my children is the greatest joy I have ever known.
I don’t think that love magically appeared. It came from developing myself enough to recognize the love that inherently could exist between myself and my children.
3. Were there any triggers that came up for you while your partner was pregnant?
I always feared losing the baby, which was a normal fear I suppose, especially because we did have some deeply sad miscarriages. I wasn’t prepared for how devastating those miscarriages would feel. The losses made me feel as though I had somehow failed the children while they were still in the womb.
The depth of my feeling of failure was something I knew was related to my being abused as a child. It was an extreme level of self-blame, and out of sync with the reality that I could not have done anything to prevent the miscarriages. After much emotional devastation and opening up with others who had gone through these things, I realized that miscarriages are sad, but a very natural thing that happens to a lot of people.
4. What has surprised you most about parenthood?
I am surprised by how good I am at being a daddy. I’m amazing! No really, I am. I’m very involved, but I don’t hover. I give them lots of freedom to learn and do things their own ways. In truth, I’m not sure it’s normal for most dads to be as involved, from what I can see, but I like my way of doing things better, because I get a lot out of it. Time with your children is a precious thing, and has a lot to offer the parent too. I really do see a lot of dads who aren’t getting as much out of being a daddy as they could be, and that’s sad to me.
I honestly think most people believe an abused boy is inherently going to become an abusive or neglectful dad. I gotta call bullshit on that one, because I really am great, and my abuser went to death row for how he treated children.
But to be a great dad, when you are a product of abuse, you have to put in all that hard work. More than most people put in. You also have to be there for your kids every step of the way during their lives. Sure, you can relax sometimes, but your number one job is to simply be there for them, whether they realize they need you or not.
My kids adore me, and I’m their hero. I’m good at educating them, protecting them, nurturing their little hearts and minds. I’m good at telling them stories and singing to them. I’m an exceptional book reader, because of all my time voice acting in radio (and acting school, I suppose). I’m good at counseling them through any emotional issues they come to me with. I’m good at listening, cooking, baking, and playing with them. I’m surprisingly good at correcting behavioral issues with productive and reasonable solutions, and I’m REALLY REALLY REALLY great at loving them unconditionally.
5. What acts of parenting have led you to be triggered? Examples could be disciplining, bathing, showing affection/touching, etc. Have you learned anything from these triggers about your own fears, or the parts of you that still need healing?
I was drowned nearly to death in a pool by my main abuser, and to this day, I will not take my own children swimming. Pools are terrifying to me. That makes me feel like a coward and a failure. But I do what I have to do, and simply avoid taking them to pools, in order to stay healthy and maintain more important functions, such as cooking, cleaning, shopping, playing, etc.
Playing with them can be hard when they scream loudly. Sometimes their happy screams make me remember how I felt when I was a kid screaming my scared and in-pain screams. I didn’t play with my parents. I hid from them, or got beaten. A scream doesn’t mean “happy” to my brain. It means other things. But I let my kids scream happily. I developed an effective precaution for that. I simply carry earplugs in my pocket at all times. I put them in my ears whenever we’re about to play, and then we can all pillow fight to our hearts’ content, with no triggering whatsoever.
6. What is the greatest lesson you have learned from your child(ren)?
My oldest daughter taught me that love doesn’t need to be limited. She once said to me, “I have enough love for everybody in world!” I think she’s right. And I think that, jaded as I am, I could stand to make more space in my heart too. My younger daughter taught me to beware of children who are too quiet in the playroom.
7. What would you tell another survivor father who is expecting their first child?
You are not the people who abused you. You are your own person. You are responsible for your own life. If you have not corrected your own behavior, get on it. I can help you. Instinct and behavior are NOT the same. Thinking horrible thoughts doesn’t make you a bad person. Doing horrible things DOES. Either way, if you do think horrible thoughts, you have a lot of work to do. Don’t be ashamed of seeking professional help, or confiding in a trusted person who has been through what you’ve been through.
People are going to gaslight you. They are going to try to make you seem awful because of what you have been through. They won’t care that you’ve been through enough already. You and I both know there are lots of people who like to hurt other people. They will use your history and vulnerabilities to hurt you. Especially your in-laws. They will likely do it more than others will.
NEVER put your kids in the middle of any of your social and/or family problems. Always do what’s right for your kids, even if it’s embarrassing or humiliating for you. Their well-being and happiness is more important than yours. You take the brunt of the hurt. You eat the burnt pancakes. Not them. You protect them. You love them. You see them through, and you treat them like the treasure they are. Do all that, and you will be a hero. That’s what a daddy is.
Byron Hamel was raised by a violent man who got the death penalty for torturing and killing a baby. As a result of his upbringing, Byron dedicates his life to fighting child abuse. He lives with Complex PTSD, Depression, and Anorexia, but is still an amazing dad to his two lovely daughters.
An award-winning Canadian journalist, and television producer, his documentary film, “A Breaking Cycle”, is a powerful journey into the world of tough bikers who protect abused kids.
To hear more about the unique challenges parenting survivors face, get your copy of Trigger Points: Childhood Abuse Survivors Experiences of Parenting, available on Amazon.
Here’s what readers are saying:
“The book so many of us looked for and craved and ached for. And couldn’t find.” ~Christine W.
“I work as a psychologist and a researcher. …This book made me a better researcher because it gave me dozens of hints to study different aspects of abused parents’ emotions.
But most importantly, it made a better father because it helped me reflect on my experience as a parent through the memories of my own childhood.” ~Luca
“This book has been a life changing revelation for me!”
“What I find most impressive – aside from the raw, honest writing – is how the editors chose to include journal prompts and several different types of resources for readers. This is a workbook, really. Incredibly well-written and thoughtfully arranged.” Beth T.
“Finally a book where parents who have experience CSA can go from essay to poem to essay and say “me too.” ~Lara