Afterwards, the Regional Director talked as he walked me out of the room, ‘about the hobbies, I recommend taking up rugby, builds character’, he said.
Earlier that day in 1988, while nervously picking at a bowl of All Bran, sliced banana, and skimmed milk, I decided to be authentic. It was time to be me, find my voice, and use it!
Being meek and mild, keeping secrets, and hiding in plain sight had carried me through the first 25 years of my life. Speaking up and out challenged every fibre of my being, even with improved self-confidence from spending four years in post college employment.
I am forever grateful for the jobs that freed me from the toxic family home. Escape from my stepfather’s episodes of psychotic rage, child abuse, and domestic violence directed at Mom. My only regret was leaving my youngest brother, by nine years, behind with his father.
The last time I saw my stepfather we had an altercation upstairs. I can’t remember the cause of the fight. What sticks in my mind is a split second decision that could have negatively impacted my life forever. Being slow to anger, my judgement is often compromised, when I’m enraged. In that moment, clarity of thought prevailed. I was faced with a choice, walk down the stairs and out of the house forever or punch my stepfather causing him to fall backwards down the stairs.
Images of him hitting my mother’s stair lift as he tumbled, followed by his mutilated form lying in a pool of blood at the bottom of the stairs, flashed through my mind. Choosing the former, I got on with my life.
Work roles provided purpose, financial independence, and an identity; a facade of societal compliance. Space, secrecy, safety, and nurturing friends facilitated the exploration of my likes and dislikes.
The appointments at this time, were largely humdrum. I sought out ways to release my creativity. The main barriers to self-expression were self-doubt and a perceived need to keep up appearances, shielding my true self.
Butterfly-like my ideas for a career in the arts were many and fleeting including, a teenage dream of becoming a dancer. In my twenties my friend and I attended ballet and tap, evening classes. Hence the questionable hobbies of a young man seen through the eyes of a conservative authoritarian.
My upbringing had instilled in me to respect and not to question authority. I am sure he thought the advice he was giving was intended to guide me. How was he to know about the inner turmoil raging in my mind.
This brief pep talk pushed me further into hiding.