My Father's Keeper | Sojourners

My Father's Keeper

Editor's Note: This article is part of a blog series for Women's History Month featuring stories of men and women working to create a more equal and safe world. May we all continue to partner and pray together for gender justicedownload our free March 2015 Prayer Calendar.

I stood next to my brother, same height and age, our small hands grasping the clothed edges of the casket. We were five years old. Would you like to see your daddy? The man’s voice was kind as he lifted us up at the same time and tilted us into the casket. I cried. I knew something was terribly wrong with the way mama stood closely behind, my two-year old sister clinging to her black dress, my other brother and sister by her side.

I don’t remember him much ... just the way he played with us, always in his dark blue khaki uniform, the smell of sweat and hard work scenting from his pores. His laugh, so robust and raw. I knew he adored his family, felt a sense of pride. Then why, I often heard my small mind wondering: Why was mama always crying? Why the ugly scars on her face, the knife wound on her leg? Why, his voice like music to my small ears, sometimes suddenly so bitter?

It was March 1973, the day so many conflicting emotions floated through my delicate heart. But I knew one thing for sure: daddy wasn’t coming home anymore, and mama — though now all alone to raise five children on her own — would never have to cry that way again.

I was six by the time my new daddy showed up. He was quiet yet strong and kind. I could tell by the way he always spoke to mama, his voice tempered, the way he looked at her. For the nearly 40 years that they were together until my mother passed away, I can’t recall a time I ever saw my stepfather raise his voice to her, let alone hurt her. In fact, I don’t know too many men that would accept an abused woman with five small children and raise them as his own. He cherished my mother, in ways that I suspect my biological father, tried so desperately to do.

They were two men. Each woven in his own love and laud for my mother. One cloaked in his pain; the other in his kindness and kinship. But despite their differences, they were both my father, and we still have an equal and equitable obligation to dignify them the same.

That is why when I founded Saving Promise — a national domestic violence prevention organization inspired by my daughter’s little girl named Promise—there were three things that I was clear about:

  1. We must focus on greater public awareness and prevention.
  2. We must mobilize the community to take action.
  3. We must engage and invite men to be a part of this movement. Men who need help and men that want to help.

This month marks Women’s History Month, a time when we lift up and honor women around the world, especially those whose journeys have paved the way for the next generation. Through my journey of building Saving Promise there is one thing that I have come to understand: if we continue to address intimate partner violence as a women’s issue and not invite men to be a part of this dialogue, we will no sooner prevent this global public health crisis. Therefore, I personally believe we must reflect not only on the paths that we’ve paved for women, but those that we carry in the deepest corners of our hearts — our communities, our families, our children, and our men.

L.Y. Marlow (@lymarlow) is the founder of Saving Promise—a national intimate partner violence prevention organization inspired by five generations of mothers and daughters in her family that survived more than 60 years of domestic violence, and her granddaughter, a little girl named Promise. She is also the award-winning author of Color Me Butterfly (the story that inspired Saving Promise) and A Life Apart (a story of love, war and forgiveness). 

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