Most of the memories are gone now, but the scars still remain.
Yet one memory lingers vividly. Probably because it was the moment when I had reached a breaking point. I was 16 years old watching a college football game in my bedroom, when all of a sudden I could hear a loud commotion coming from the kitchen down the hall.
I had heard this commotion before, and had learned to ignore it so as to not get caught in its cross-fire. That commotion meant they were at it again. More specifically, it meant he was at it again. The step-dad who had given me my last name. The step-dad many of my friends thought was "cool" because we had a pool table in the basement, he liked to get high, and he had taken me to every amusement park in America that matters growing up.
He was assaulting my mom. Again.
I learned later he had come home drunk and/or stoned from a pheasant hunting trip with his younger brother, who was eight years older than me and a grown man. Yet considering the sounds I was hearing from the kitchen, he must have just been standing there useless or paralyzed with fear himself while this was happening.
I had no idea what started it this time.
But regardless of what she may or may not have said, here was a fully-grown, 35-year-old man and former Navy enlistee once again dishing out a portion of the abuse and hostility his father had sadly beaten into him when he was growing up. He didn't know any better. He was trained by the most important person in the world to him to act out this way.
Yes, this and every other time he did this he was accountable for his actions, but in some way he was a victim of this vicious cycle, too. I learned later that's why we went on those amusement park vacations and had the best Christmases. These were his atonements.
I didn't understand that at the time. I simultaneously deeply desired his approval and hated him. I just didn't have the courage to say so as a teenage boy pretending to be a man that was deathly afraid of him. And I had reason to be, for he had done the same to me. The beatings I got sometimes when I was smaller were so bad, he would have to coach me on what to say to my teachers when I got to school the next morning.
Oddly enough, I don't remember them nearly as much as I remember the time he took a swig of his beer and spit it in my face. I'd take a beating over the sheer humiliation and emasculation of that moment any day of the week.
His consistent emasculation of me growing up, teasing me about not getting "laid" when I was only 14 years old and already self-conscious because I was a late-bloomer, or his constant belittling of my God-given intellect growing up ("nobody f***ing cares what you think" he would always say) almost made me just like him.
In this Jan. 16, 2013, file photo, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice speaks during a news conference at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills, Md. Rice was let go by the Ravens on Monday, Sept. 8, 2014, and suspended indefinitely by the NFL after a video was released that appears to show the running back striking his then-fiancee in February. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
We had one common bond, he and I, which was a love for "Star Wars." I remember watching a scene in "The Empire Strikes Back" with him once, when Luke Skywalker's integrity is tested, and he angrily assaults a vision of Darth Vader (his own father) in a cave. He decapitates him, but when Vader's mask opens up Luke sees his own face inside. That spoke to my deepest fear. That I would become him.
The choice I made that day when I was 16 is what put me on the wrong road.
I tried turning up my TV so as to drown out the noises. I had learned that if my step-dad thought I was listening to music and unaware of what was going on, I would escape his wrath when he came looking for me.
However, this time felt different. My nascent masculinity was calling me to act. To defend the innocent, but I was afraid. Instinctively, before I realized what had happened, I found myself in the kitchen physically confronting him for the first time. He was almost as surprised as I was. It stunned him, and that gave his younger brother time to finally step in and convince him to leave and cool off, which he did.
The next 24 hours felt like "for whom the bell tolls" for me. I knew at some point he would come home, and the mother I loved dearly would probably take him back. This wasn't our first rodeo. Heck, there were times she wanted to leave but I urged her to take him back because "he was a good provider." Translation: I was selfishly afraid we'd be poor and I'd lose my friends if she left.
This is what it's like to be a hostage in your own home.
Finally he had sobered up and came home the next day. My heart was beating so fast. He walked right up to me, and I could smell the cigarettes on his breath. He eye-balled me up and down fiercely, but then just when I thought was going to throw up or he would strike (whichever came first), something perhaps even worse than a beating took place.
"I'm proud of you for what you did yesterday," he said. "They way you stuck up for your mom shows me you're a man now."
And that was it. No apologies. No repentance, but rather a devilish affirmation from Hell itself. Needless to say, my concept of what makes a man was wickedly distorted that day. I weep for all those I hurt in the years after as a result of that. I never physically abused anyone, but I did emotionally abuse. I took advantage of people, manipulated them, and/or shunned them when it suited me.
Janay Rice listens as her husband, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, not pictured, speaks during an NFL football news conference, Friday, May 23, 2014, at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills, Md. Ray Rice spoke to the media for the first time since his arrest for assaulting his fiance, now his wife, at a casino in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP/Patrick Semansky)
If not for what God did in my life at a Promise Keepers event in Kansas City on Sept. 18, 2003, who knows how much potential I would've wasted.
Those scars are healed now. I have God to thank for that, but there are still some tears in my eyes as I write this from my hotel room at 5:30 in the morning. Unable to sleep, because our culture's hypocrisy over the Ray Rice story has been on my mind.
However, to understand my reaction to the culture's response, you first had to know my story. What it's really like to live with an abuser.
And now I see a culture that cheered Rice in his first home preseason game suddenly wants to shun him now that we've been visually confronted with what he did.
Both reactions are wrong, by the way. Probably the last thing Ray and Janay Rice need is affirmation or the lack of structure and financial security belonging to a pro football team provides. There's a reason many of these guys act out in the offseason in their free times. Many of them come from homes with no capable father figures, just like me, and they're too undisciplined away from the field to practice self-control.
Boxing champion Floyd Mayweather is considered America's richest athlete by some estimates, but he was sentenced to 90 days in jail back in 2012 for domestic violence when two of his children witnessed him assaulting their mother. It wasn't his first offense. He's assaulted at least four women.
But here's a video of politically-correct ESPN, which has been playing hanging judge for the National Football League and the Baltimore Ravens this week, yucking it up with Mayweather after he signed a new deal with Showtime just a year later. ESPN even had Ray Lewis, who once copped a plea to a murder charge, commenting on-air about the Rice matter.
In this March 11, 2013 file photo, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, left, poses with his daughter, Rayven, and Janay Palmer as they arrive for a screening of a new film released on DVD that chronicles the team's championship NFL football season in Baltimore. A police complaint alleges Rice knocked out Palmer, his fiancee, during an argument at an Atlantic City, N.J., casino. Police charged both Rice and J Palmer with simple assault in the incident Saturday, Feb. 16, at the Revel Casino. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
Former ESPN star Dan Patrick, now doing his own popular thing in talk radio, has been righteously indignant about the Rice matter this week. But here's a video of Patrick yucking it up with Mayweather in 2013 as well.
I've read columns from feminists who support the ultimate war on women, killing them before they're even born, sanctimoniously claiming the moral high ground here. The same feminists who call what previous generations described as honor and chivalry, bigotry and discrimination, and demand we place women at the frontlines in warfare to be blown to smithereens, now all of a sudden want to acknowledge bigger and stronger men have a moral obligation to protect what St. Peter describes as "the weaker vessel?" Color me confused.
I've seen pop culture demand the NFL hold Rice more accountable than the penal system supposedly equipped to do so. Here's a hint: if you think NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell needs to be fired for only giving Rice a two-game suspension, but haven't demanded the resignation of the prosecutor who let Rice go with a slap on the wrist, you're doing it wrong.
But I'm not angry at all this hypocrisy.
In fact, I'm guilty of it, too.
I experienced domestic violence firsthand, but that didn't stop me from selfishly drafting Rice in one of my fantasy football leagues when I thought he might be a late round steal. I had actually forgotten I'd done it until I looked at my team yesterday and saw him buried at the end of my bench. It was then I realized I was in no position to cast stones at the hypocrites in our culture when I was among the worst.
Janay Rice, back left, looks on as her husband, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, speaks during an NFL football news conference, Friday, May 23, 2014, at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills, Md. Ray Rice spoke to the media for the first time since his arrest for assaulting his fiance, now his wife, at a casino in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP/Patrick Semansky)
From now on, do we just assume every athlete accused of something is automatically guilty? I've had big time college football coaches tell me to my face they have to have chaperones for players on their team when they go out at night, because girls are lining up to get impregnated by them in anticipation they've got a big professional football payday coming. But we don't want to have that uncomfortable conversation. Because it attacks victimology at its core, and reminds us that sin knows no gender.
But that is a topic for another day. This story, and our reaction to it, points again to what plagues our culture at its core. G.K. Chesterton was once asked "what's wrong the world" by a newspaper reporter. He famously responded with "I am."
We are the problem, and those problems only get worse when we stubbornly refuse to look outside of ourselves for the answers. Hypocrites can't heal hypocrites.
(Steve Deace is a nationally-syndicated talk show host and the author of “Rules for Patriots: How Conservatives Can Win Again.” You can like him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @SteveDeaceShow.)
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