The Toughest Story Ever Told

Just a few days ago, I posted about parents who don’t know how to set limits for their children. Tonight I’m going to address the opposite end of the spectrum. A friend forwarded me a link to a video that made me nauseous. I will warn you, the following is not safe for work nor is it safe for children. It is the full, unedited footage of Arkansas County, Texas judge William Adams beating his then-16-year-old daughter over downloading music and video games online in 2004:

From what I’ve been able to piece together, his daughter Hillary had been told to remove the file-sharing service known popularly as Kazaa from her computer. In fact, he apparently didn’t even want her to have the computer in the house in the first place. Hillary has ataxic cerebral palsy, which is a condition that affects motor function and balance. Typically it causes tremors in the hands and feet. Hillary, against the odds, learned to play piano (and she has some pretty amazing talent) and developed a keen interest in computers and related technology. Against his wishes Hillary signed back on to Kazaa to download games and music. Her mother found out and punished her for it, but when her father came home, he doled out the abuse you see in the video.

What I am about to say is not easy, but I think it speaks to my experience.

When I was a kid, I wasn’t all that bad. My mother had some pretty impossible expectations of me, but I never sneaked out of the house, never stole the car, never smoked or drank – pretty much the worst that can be said about me when I was a kid was that I wasn’t interested in school work. I loved reading, writing, and studying music, but not what I was being taught at school. I was caught stealing gum on a couple of occasions when I was little. I remember stealing baseball cards once. That was the worst I did as a child. Now, if you had asked my mother, she would have told you that I was violent, dangerous, disrespectful and incorrigible. She even went to Tough Love meetings when I was a kid (and you have no idea just how embarrassing it was much later to read about the founders of the group and the quandaries that parents who attend meetings really face – kids who drink, party, use narcotics, commit grand larceny, that sort of thing, none of which I ever came close to doing). I wasn’t innocent…I did things from time to time that genuinely deserved a spanking or being grounded. I also wasn’t the demon my mother made me out to be.

My father quite obviously did not like to punish any of us. When we had done something that merited a spanking, he didn’t chase us down – he told us he was going to spank us, turned us over his knee, gave us three swats and that was the end of it. In fact, the only time I saw my father shed tears was on the few occasions that he spanked me or my siblings (he cried the night before he told my mother he was done, but that’s a different story). All three of us knew as kids that dad did not like doing things that hurt us and that was the part that made us straighten up. My mother, on the other hand? She may have loved me as her daughter, but she has never really liked me. The majority of her aggression, when not directed at my father, was directed at me.

She crossed the line from discipline into abuse on several occasions. At one point she took a swing at me with a cooking spoon and broke the spoon. One evening, my parents came home to find that my siblings had finished their chores, but I had slacked off all day and was rushing to get mine done when they got home. My father took my siblings out for a reward and left me at home, an act that I protested in my room in tears. My mother came thundering into my room with one of my father’s leather belts, swinging wildly, hitting me everywhere from head to foot. I went to my first day of the fifth grade with belt-sized bruises on my neck and forearm. To this day I cannot explain why I answered as I did when teachers asked me what happened: “I fell.”

That was not the first nor the last time my mother lost her temper in such fashion. What’s more, my teachers thought my father was the abuser. Fifth grade was my first year in the D.A.R.E. program, and when the officer teaching us asked if we’d ever seen our parents consume alcohol, I raised my hand only to find I was the only one with my hand in the air. That afternoon, my mother raged at me for telling them that my dad was an alcoholic – an accusation I had never made. To the day my parents divorced she never stopped bringing it up. Well into my adult years, she would pull that incident out of her hat and dangle it in front of me as if to say, “see? You were a major pain in the ass when you were a kid!” Well into my adult years, I feared correcting her.

The one time I tried to remind her of the times she had beaten me, screamed insults at me, or grabbed me by my shirt collar and shaken me until I saw stars, she again lost her temper. Even now she would vehemently deny that it happened. Maybe she really has forgotten that she did those things; I don’t know what her frame of mind is and I can’t make that accusation. What really confused the hell out of me as a kid was how she could blow a gasket at home and, once we got to church half an hour later, she could turn on the charm and nobody had a clue what was going on at home. When other people were around, my mother had a great sense of humor. She was very witty and was a lot of fun to be around. Once we got home, though, she wasn’t happy unless she was angry, arguing with my father, or going over some drama with me.

In my EMS work, I go on a lot of domestic violence calls. Every time we go to another one, I always walk away from the victim who has just been beaten half-senseless and still refuses to press charges against her animal of a boyfriend and wonder to my partner how so many of them can return to their abusers so willingly. One night, we got back to the station and I crawled back into my rack and it suddenly made sense. It’s not just because they have nowhere else to go. It’s not just because they have no money. They genuinely love these men and they believe even as they are being abused that they can fix them.

I love my mother. I wish more than anything that I could have a relationship with her but she became so vengeful and vitriolic after my parents divorced in 2004 that I simply couldn’t be around her anymore. My therapist has since remarked that in the two years since I stopped trying to force myself to work things out with my mom, I’ve become a much more easygoing person (yes, I see a therapist – I think everyone should see a therapist). Like any person in a bad relationship, though, I had to recognize the situation for what it was and remove myself from it if I hoped to maintain my sanity. Loving a person does not mean we need to do all we can to fix them, even to our own detriment. Eventually we have to say goodbye and hope that they fix themselves in the interim.

I have no trouble believing that Hillary, too, was a good kid. What I fail to understand is why, after being told not only about the offense but that she had already been punished, he felt it necessary to go off the deep end over a file-sharing service. My father never threatened me, he never growled at me, and he certainly never cussed at me. This man says some pretty unbelievable things to his disabled 16-year-old child while literally beating her until she screams for him to stop. Then he jabs his finger in her face and threatens to beat her again over slight offenses.

Incredibly, when answering for the video, he said, “it was a long time ago…I really don’t want to get into this right now because as you can see my life’s been made very difficult over this child.” He had the temerity to make light of the incident. William Adams has no business being a judge. Hillary has said that it’s “a heavy thing to do” to ruin her father, and she is correct – but the man has reportedly ruled that the testimony of children is “fantasy”. I would not want him on the bench any longer than I would want my mother on the bench. There is a tremendous difference between a spanking and a beating, and this man has obviously not learned that difference yet.

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3 thoughts on “The Toughest Story Ever Told

  1. Sometimes, I am still amazed at how much families can damage each other when they obviously love each other because abusers can and do love their victims. That makes the situation even more damaging, in my opinion. I think the whole idea of marrying for love is over-rated and pointless. People can love each other, but not have respect or understanding or self-control even. But I also realized that I felt a lot better about myself and had stronger self-esteem once I stopped holding onto a family member whose abuse had already reached the point of no return.

  2. We only really hurt the people we love. Sometimes, once we realize what’s going on, letting go is the best thing that we can do both for ourselves and for that family member.

  3. I’d be strained to surpass your observations and comments. I don’t possess the cool surgery that you apply. It’s an outrage.
    So, let me veer off into a broader picture of this as part of American life; American family life and values.
    It’s videotaped!
    Someone had to do it. Was she so talented to orchestrate it herself. If so, good for her.
    However; the low-lifing aside, what does it say about us – not just her and her parents – but us, culturally? It was videotaped!!!

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