Violent talk and the sins of the father

The week before our Prime Minister promised to “shirt-front” the president of Russia, I was at the gravesite of a man who hit his wife so hard she went through a door.

The man was my grandfather, on my father’s side, and the woman he assaulted was his wife, my beloved Nana.  When this man died suddenly, aged 51, in 1935, his wife and two sons bought him a hole in the ground but that was all.

In early October his five surviving grandchildren gathered at his unmarked grave in the Catholic section of Adelaide’s West Terrace Cemetery, where he had lain unloved and unlamented for 79 years.

We had decided to give him a headstone.

We did it, not because we had forgiven him his violence but because we have chosen to confront it.

I did not expect that as we grappled with his behaviour and its impact on our family, our country’s political leader would be using a metaphor that suggests roughing someone up is the way to express anger or disagreement.

That was what happened to our fathers – at the hands of their father.

It was only as they approached their own deaths – my father in 1988 and his brother in 1997 – that they opened up to their children about the brutality of their upbringing.

There were stories of smashed toys and holes in walls.

My cousin learnt that in 1928 our grandfather had put her father, then aged 7 , in hospital with a broken arm and jaw, injuries so severe the medical staff refused to believe they had been inflicted by a father.

We grew up living with what World War II did to our fathers with their “surly moods and intermittent brutalities”, as George Johnston put it in My Brother Jack, his brilliant novel about young men of our fathers’ generation. Continue reading


Anne Summers is the editor and publisher of the online magazine Anne Summers Reports.

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