When the video tapes and media accounts revealed NFL players knocking out their girlfriends and beating their kids, I thought first about the ugly history of my own family and then about all the local guys I'd known or dated in Hawaii who had been subjected to dirty lickings.
They all believed they'd deserved the abuse — whipped with garden hoses, belts, electrical cords, switches, getting kicked, beaten with wire coat hangars and hairbrushes, pounded with fists — because they'd been kolohe, smart-mouthed, intransigent.
Back in the day, they used to say, their parents had told friends, neighbors, teachers, older siblings, that it was OK to haul off and slap 'em upside the head, twist their ears, give 'em dirty lickings, if they felt it was needed to bring them into line. Because, of course, they must've deserved it. The violence couldn't possibly be attributed to the adults' own abusive upbringing, lack of control, alcoholism, inability to find another way to discipline, or deal with a situation.
It was always the kids' fault. They were bad. They deserved to be beaten.
And they all, every single one of them, grew up with some major problems: substance abuse, most often; low self-esteem that prompted self-destructive behavior; violent behavior toward others, including me; uncontrollable tempers; sudden outbursts of rage; power and control issues; an abiding sense that they never were worthy of anything good.
Because they'd been told, over and over, that they deserved the beatings, the dirty lickings. Not surprisingly, many of them modeled what they'd been taught, even though it filled them with self-loathing, which was such a familiar feeling.
I remember one time, when I had to call the cops and the policeman told my then-husband, hey, you can't be treating haole girls like that — like maybe it's OK to brutalize, terrorize, harm local women?
I remember the man at Lihue Court Townhomes who confessed to me that he'd brain-damaged his son, beating his head against the wall in an alcoholic rage, and though he was sober now, he could never forgive himself for disabling his own child. When I asked if he'd been beaten as a kid, he shook his head, yes, then added, "But that's no excuse."
Today I saw an editorial cartoon, first published by Scott Stantis in the Chicago Tribune, that perfectly conveys the soul mangling effects of child abuse –– and yes, dirty lickings are abuse, no matter how culturally acceptable they may be.
And I had to share it, because it's something we all need to talk about, especially in the Islands, where far too many women and kids are getting dirty lickings, which leads to a downward cycle of more dirty lickings, more pain, more addiction, more suffering, until one day, I pray, we can all say, no, that's not acceptable, it must stop.