How My Girls Helped Me Break The Cycle Of Family Violence

A son would be the perfect way to exorcise the brutal relationship I’d had with my own father - or so I believed. Instead, here’s why my girls are the best things that ever happened to me.

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How My Girls Helped Me Break The Cycle Of Family Violence

The birth was all a bit of a blur.

My girlfriend Donna was seven months pregnant with twins when she started to feel unwell and was swiftly diagnosed with severe preeclampsia, a serious condition affecting pregnant women that causes very high blood pressure and threatens damage to vital organs.

The consultants didn’t want to take any risks and we were rushed immediately to the delivery room. She’d been panicking slightly about the idea of giving birth to two children but now she barely had time to think — the twins were coming.

Privately, I had my own worrying to do.

Throughout the pregnancy, we’d been asking the obstetrician for any clue as to the twins’ gender. At each scan, as the consultant ran the gel-slicked transducer over Donna’s stomach, I had strained to discern any sign of the twins being boys or girls.

But I’d failed.

The main reason I wanted a son was to right the wrong of my own upbringing.

And each time I asked the consultant the answer was the same — “I cannot see any genitalia; they are facing the wrong way.”

You see, I really wanted a boy. It wasn’t just the usual ego-trip. I didn’t just want a mini-me.

Yes, I wanted to play football, build camps and wrestle and play with my offspring. But I was pretty sure I could do all those things with daughters.

When I was born my father already had two daughters. By all accounts he was deliriously happy when I arrived – I was the son he’d longed for.

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Paul with his father on holiday in Majorca, 1970.

My only early memories of my father are positive.

In those memories he’s always smiling. We used to wrestle for hours, play football and watch sport on TV. I adored him. However, as soon as I reached the age where I could think for myself, a switch flicked and we entered a state of almost continual conflict.

He couldn’t bear that I no longer unquestioningly accepted everything he said as the absolute truth and I was baffled that he could take such offence at my curious mind.

The verbal rows soon escalated into violence, and my bafflement twisted and soured into hatred.

When I was 11, he bashed my head against a wall and punched me as I bounced back.

On a long car journey, when I was 12, I corrected his wrong directions from the back seat when my mother was driving. He swivelled round and punched me in the face from the front seat.

At the same age, he told me I had made a mistake in my algebra homework. When I told him it was his calculation that was wrong, he punched me twice in the face.

I ran towards the hallway, but he tripped me as I passed him and then kicked me twice as I lay at his feet.

I remember looking up at him as he kicked me. He didn’t look angry. He just looked determined, as if he was trying to kill a rat or mouse.

When he died I felt nothing – I’d lost my father a long time ago.

The physical war ended when I was 15 with one last big fight, a fight which ended with me holding my dad in a headlock as he flailed his arms trying to hit me. He tired himself out after five minutes or so and I let him go. There was no more violence thereafter.

The fight was never discussed and we resumed lower-level hostilities, which usually meant him constantly deriding me for my looks, my ability at football, my girlfriends – whichever topic gave him enough purchase to knock chunks out of my self-esteem.

Still, I’d tried several times to understand him in the last few years of his life, to forge some last-minute bond – I really wanted to connect with him but the effort had been useless.

He simply had no idea he’d been such a poor father, so had no reason to modify his behaviour or build bridges.

When he died I felt nothing – I’d lost my father a long time ago. All my grieving was done.

I’ve long known that my father had been a victim of violent parenting himself and just didn’t have the cognitive resources to realise he was perpetuating the cycle of violence and abuse.

So he had absolutely no chance of understanding that he could combat and reverse it.

My desire for a son was driven by a need to prove my dad wrong, to prove that lousy parenting does not have to continue in perpetuity, that the cycle can be broken.

On reflection, my motives for wanting a son were probably more ego-driven than most men’s and far less honourable than I thought.

Pig-headedness and an uncompromising need to be right are two of the least attractive qualities I’ve inherited from my father, an irony in this situation I’d have to be unutterably stupid to miss.

Back in the packed little operating theatre, the cry of our firstborn sounded almost magical in a squawky way.

Donna and I exchanged glances. Our tears were mirrored in each other’s eyes.

“It’s a lovely little girl,” said Hannah, the consultant obstetrician performing the caesarian section, as she placed the tiny infant on my girlfriend’s chest.

Donna and I exchanged glances. Our tears were mirrored in each other’s eyes.

We had a daughter!

“Now for number two,” said Hannah, as she returned to the foot of the operating table.

I gazed at the little girl and felt a starburst of love and amazement.

Then, unbidden, another thought sneaked into my head. “I really hope the second one is a boy.”

“And another little girl,” said Hannah, as she held aloft our second child. I experienced the merest flash of disappointment before Hannah’s next words doused the flare.

“She’s not breathing. Team, please take over.”

And the support medical team briskly took our second daughter into an ante-room to try to resuscitate her.

I squeezed Donna’s hand and quickly followed them, already racked with shame, my head singing with just one thought: “Please live, please live, please live.”

Thinking back to that tumultuous day five years ago, I can’t quite believe I felt that microsecond of disappointment.

It consumes me with guilt even now.

My daughters are lovely, bright, funny, sweet girls – I can’t even begin to imagine either of them not being her.

And it’s slowly dawned on me over the last few years that if I thought I was contemplating a big challenge by raising a son in defiance of my father’s own deeply flawed parenting style, then successfully raising two daughters will be a mighty feat indeed.

Speaking to friends who had children when they were much younger, it’s become apparent to me that dads are much more important to their girls than popularly thought.

Everyone thinks it’s the father-son, mother-daughter relationships that are so vital.

Most research confirms that a woman’s romantic dealings with men will be hugely influenced by her relationship with her dad.

But dads have a huge amount of sway in the lives of their daughters.

Research has shown that fathers have more influence than mothers on their daughter’s academic and career success, their dealings with authority figures, their willingness to try new things, and their mental health.

More important still, a daughter will first see herself through her dad’s eyes.

If he treats her as beautiful, clever and worthy she is more likely to see herself that way.

Conversely, if he treats her as unworthy and unimportant, she is more likely to see herself that way, too.

If you thought that was enough pressure on poor old dad, there’s more.

Daughters also take their first major lessons in male-female relationships from their father.

Most research confirms that a woman’s romantic dealings with men will be hugely influenced by her relationship with her dad.

So, if a father treats his daughter with warmth and consideration she will most likely expect men to be caring and nurturing.

If a father and daughter have an affectionate, loving relationship, daughters learn to be regarded as people and not as sex objects.

But if the father is harsh, dismissive, or worse, completely absent, daughters will be predisposed to being involved in abusive relationships.

This vast amount of responsibility is enough to make any man’s head spin.

I thought I’d just have to be around to buy the newest pair of ridiculous shoes or to say ‘No’ when the twins decide they want a pony and a puppy.

The lesson that my attitude towards them and their mother is so completely responsible for their worldview should be on the syllabus at the School of The Bleedin’ Obvious.

But I’d really never thought about it. Yet, while I do find such responsibility terrifying, it’s also quite exciting.

I can help mould these two little girls into loving, confident, smart adults who can make a contribution to the world. I can already see them grow and develop.

Leila may look more like her dad (poor poppet) but she is the most feminine of the two at the moment.

Caitlin is the image of her mother but is much rougher and more tomboyish.

Leila doesn’t much like Caitlin’s penchant for rough and tumble.

She’s much more interested in reading, walking and finding stuff out.

She’s dreamy and imaginative and is happy playing by herself.

She also chats unceasingly, offering us a stream-of-consciousness account of her daily activities, and she loves having her back stroked and tickled – it’s pretty much the only time she’s quiet, apart from when she’s asleep.

It’s like tucking a chicken’s head under its wing.

Caitlin’s much more sociable and prefers to be with people. She’s funny, quirky and chatty. She’s also already super organised and very keen on having all her toys in a line.

Heaven help you, though, if you disrupt her orderliness or routine.

I always have preferred the company of females.

Cat has an iron will. Her tantrums when she doesn’t get exactly what she wants, exactly when she wants it, are already legend. But she is the most cuddly, lovable girl imaginable and is a daddy’s girl, through and through.

When she smiles and waves at me from her bed first thing in the morning, I always seem to have a little bit of grit in my eye.

I find their company improbably captivating. But then I always have preferred the company of females.

I grew up with two older sisters, who apart from occasionally using me as an oversized doll to be dressed up at their whim, prepared me well for life.

My sister, Maria, is still my best friend.

And I’m not really not sure I would have wanted a boy now.

First there’s the obvious hygiene problems of how little boys wee indiscriminately over bathrooms (when I was a little boy, I weed everywhere, my male nephews weed everywhere — the male anatomy is simply too powerful for little lads).

I’m also not sure that there wouldn’t have been a butting of heads as he grew older.

But a life with two daughters I think I can handle.

A survey a few years ago found that two daughters make for the happiest family life as they rarely fight, will play nicely with each other and are generally a pleasure to be around.

A friend of mine with twin daughters claims that his house is heaven — he’s doted upon, made endless cups of tea, and gets more hugs than most teddy bears do in a lifetime.

But he had a word of warning.

“They’re only ten — they haven’t hit adolescence yet. I expect things might change.”

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