I claim me.
– Michele Weldon
Michele Weldon has survived domestic violence and breast cancer. She is passionately vocal about fathers who abandon their sons. She is an assistant professor at her alma mater (BSJ and MSJ), Northwestern University’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism. She speaks about domestic violence, and she is on the advisory board of Between Friends. She writes the EveryWomanNews and WrestlingMom: Victories in Wrestling, Cancer, Life and More blogs.
Ms. Weldon is a seminar leader for The OpEd Project. To increase the volume of women’s voices in the media, they are training women to express their opinions effectively. Our words have power. I hope you will join me in checking this out so that we can break down the walls of silence more effectively. If you want to get excited about the difference your training can make, check out how Between Friends is painting Chicago purple this month. Bravo!
Ms. Weldon’s memoir, I Closed My Eyes: Revelations of a Battered Woman, is about rebuilding our lives after experiencing domestic violence. It was one of the first survivor’s stories that I read and remains one of my favorites. She is a brilliant writer who focuses more on healing than fists flying.
Ms. Weldon and her husband appeared to be the perfect couple ~ a match destined to succeed. They were both reared in affluent homes devoid of violence and filled with faith. They were Chicago yuppy journalists when they started dating. After they were married, he went to law school. There was nothing to suggest that his dream would be to kill her:
I chose him, at first, because he seemed safe. He was from a good Irish Catholic family. We were in the same high school class at Oak Park-River Forest [IL] High School. For God’s sake, he almost became a priest. He was a man with promise, a man filled with dreams I wanted to share. He was witty, captivating, smart, and strikingly handsome. He didn’t smoke, drink, gamble, or do drugs; he wasn’t even rude to strangers. He loved his sisters. He hugged his mother hello. He would admit his faults, and he was always so sorry.
The violence started shortly after the wedding. The episodes seemed to coalesce around holidays. Shortly after the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson, the couple “masqueraded” as O.J. and Nicole for Halloween:
As deeply as I knew he was the same kind of duplicitous personality as O.J., I knew in the basement of my soul that I was the same as Nicole: a battered wife. She and I had been in love with the idea of our husbands, the press release image.
It was my idea to be O.J. and Nicole; it was my leak of the truth to the world, a muffled call for help. . .maybe I felt safe enough to whisper the secret out loud. When you have hidden the truth for so long, you can never shout it out all at once. You must tell slowly, test the waters. . .You can’t completely shed your disguise.
By July 4, 1995 ~ Independence Day, she “wanted the monster gone.” It was time for an order of protection. She was very fortunate that members of her large family had all the professional expertise she needed: cop, attorney, and physician. They were steadfast and generous in their loyalty and support.
Laughter has been very healing for Ms. Weldon, and she needed her Irish sense of humor to endure her husband’s litigation abuse. To retain control, he filed for divorce on July 28, 1995:
In divorce court. . .there is no prejudice from the domestic violence. . .I spent nearly the equivalent of three college educations. . .for my children [three sons] on hearings, motions, pleadings, mediations, complaints, violations, and attempted settlements. And I am still spending. I thought once the divorce was over there would be no more legal battles. I was wrong.
. . .just entering the Daley Center [home of Cook County, IL’s divorce courts]. . .would make me feel as battered and dejected as a night after he hit me.
. . .though I mostly prevailed for myself and my children, the process was exhausting and demeaning, and so expensive. There was never a true sense of victory or calm. . .I was tired of the game, but I was still playing. . .It isn’t over. . .Money robbed from the future to pay for the past. . .I wanted it all to stop. . .I was even afraid of the mail. . .The abuse had not stopped even though the man who abused me was out of the house. I was still living in fear.
She went to Sarah’s Inn and started the healing process. It came in inches ~ “one story at a time.” She focused on the future:
I had to retrain myself not to think, Oh, God, what will he do next? to What will I do next?
She got a job. She discovered a gallon of paint could begin “steps toward making a life where my dreams are possible.” Before she moved into a new home, she jettisoned painful memories:
I could not change the past, but I could shape the future.
Ms. Weldon’s second book, Writing to Save Your Life: How to Honor Your Story Through Journaling, is about the healing power of words or “scribotherapy.” Yes, it is a writing workbook. It is also a guide to a well-balanced, happy, healthy life. Ms. Weldon generously shares intimate experiences and feelings which build a word bridge from pain to healing. One of the first exercises in the book is to say and write:
My copy of the book is in an honored place along with The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron and With Pen in Hand: The Healing Power of Writing by Hernriette Anne Klauser, Ph.D.
Ms. Weldon walks her talk. She is a fierce warrior mother who grieves her ex-husband’s abandonment of his sons. She wrote the extraordinarily moving “A Father Is Born from Many Strangers” which is an homage to the surrogate fathers in her sons’ lives. As a woman who was emotionally abandoned by her father, I burst into tears when I read:
It is not just teachers, coaches, and uncles who populate this volunteer father club, but also men like the friend who once quietly left a $50 bill in the pocket of the blue cashmere overcoat he gave my oldest to wear to a formal dance.
The Huffington Post published “When the Parent You Lose Is Not a Hero” a few days after the tenth anniversary of 9/11. She wrote it last month after her ex-husband filed a motion to modify child support. I was livid to discover that the litigation abuse continues; he apparently hasn’t paid child support since 2005. The post is a blistering rebuke that I’m sure many PAS mothers feel:
My boys lost a father. It was not on 9/11; he did not die in the line of duty or while at work, with photos of his sons on his desk. He has chosen to never speak to, visit or support his children, a decision so unfathomably cruel, that it takes a court document he initiated just last week for me to realize it is not a bad dream.
Father’s Day, obviously, isn’t a holiday that is celebrated in the Weldon home. Mine either. Last Father’s Day weekend, the Chicago Tribune published “Why a Father Has More than Rights” which is a call for men to be more like her own loving father than her ex-husband:
This weekend, instead of just blindly saluting all fathers with grills, golf shirts and “Best Dad” coffee mugs, let’s encourage all dads to be fully accountable. Instead of some organizations rallying aggressively for fathers to do less, let’s push for all fathers to do the best they can. Let’s join forces not to divide mother against father, or parent against child, but to create a movement beyond fathers rights to fathers rights and responsibilities.
Update: The Huffington Post published Ms. Weldon’s excellent op-ed, “My Female Colleagues Told Me Not to Talk About the Abuse. I Did It Anyway” on October 25, 2011.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Please join me in wearing your purple and celebrating survivors.