Making the Good Stuff Louder: Trauma Dad, Byron Hamel

 

Byron Hamel, (AKA Trauma Dad), is a filmmaker, children's rights and men's wellness advocate. He's also a father with "ACEs through the roof," who survived child torture at the hands of a man now on death row for infanticide. 

Before the Father & ACEs chat started last week (see full chat transcript), we discussed if and how to give a trigger warning. Hamel's experienced horrific trauma during childhood. He didn't want to traumatize those on the chat but wanted to be honest. Infanticide is hard to hear about and I wasn't sure what to do.

I pictured Byron with hands already full and juggling ACEs balancing the weight of worry as well. He considered how his words and life might impact others. That's what survivors often do.

Later, I wondered if I worried enough about Hamel. I thought about how often we, as a society, ask those with ACEs to keep quiet in order to protect friends, family, health care practitioners, and even strangers from difficult truth. Are some facts are too awkward, uncomfortable or difficult to talk about? Sometimes. But also, ACEs can be hard for others to face or to hear about.

Sometimes I wonder when we seek a common language about ACEs if we forget how singular, specific and nuanced language is? Do we inadvertently silence, shame and sanitize the reality of ACEs by asking for common language that might be uncommon to some with ACEs?

Some conversations about ACEs are so clinical, academic and data-filled one can forget ACEs are about adversity, childhood and human experiences. Maybe that's necessary sometimes but I'm not sure who and how it benefits or creates change?

Sometimes, I hide behind impersonal language because it feels too personal or unprofessional to share from the heart when the topic is pain, parenting or vulnerability. Sometimes, it seems wrong or inappropriate to get "too" emotional? But why isn't it o.k. to be emotional or sad when talking about ACEs?  Shouldn't child abuse, torture or infanticide be extremely upsetting? 

"Triumphing against massive hordes of evil bastards is actually kind of common. People do it all the time," Hamel said.

He knows.

Hamel's childhood was life-threatening and traumatic. It's true that he has lived through ugliness. His story is hard to hear but he is not tragic. His words are inspiring and beautiful.

"It is through my personal quest to uplift myself that I do my best to uplift others. I feel like if I can make the good stuff louder, it will be like a rallying call. I think if dads in particular can see how good we can be, and indeed already are, we will do more to be good dads."

Byron Hamel

His voice is needed. His perspective is important. I don't want to give a trigger warning before he shares. Instead, I want to issue invitations and share his words so we can listen to them and learn.

"I have seen so much evil, I feel brought down by how horribly people can treat one another. But I know that if you really look, there is such beauty and goodness happening at the same time," Hamel said.

Excerpts from our  Q&A are below. The exchange below is related to but distinct from the chat about Fathers & ACEs (that full chat transcript can be found here).

How have you learned to parent differently than you were parented?

I systematically explored my behaviors and beliefs, and examined them without prejudice. I acknowledged my parents were fucking garbage at parenting, and I sought roads less traveled. When there were areas to improve, I improved. When there were good things I was doing, I acknowledge them. I accepted constructive criticism of my beliefs and behaviors as valid criticism and evaluated it without prejudice. I have been improved greatly by accepting when I've been wrong, and by accepting the potential of wisdom in others, and exploring their ways.

I am not a perfect parent. I sometimes find ways I can improve. I always listen to my children. When they think I am being unfair, it take it very seriously. When they say I am wrong and I realize I am, I let them know they have improved my perspective and I reward them for it. I always listen. Even when I don't have time in the moment, I devote time to listening later.

What's it been like to be a parent for you? How has that impacted how you feel about your own childhood and/or parents and your experiences of being parented?

I used to feel like life gave me the shaft until I saw how good I could make life for my children. I know how bad bad can be. I know what not to do. And that makes doing good something I can navigate easily. I want to show them how good good can be. I want to show myself that, too.

I don't feel cheated as much as given the opportunity to be a shield. I now feel like my childhood is something that spared some other kid from getting tortured like I did, and because I love children, I would actually choose to go through my abusive upbringing again and again and again until the end of time if I knew that by doing so, another child would be spared. And I feel blessed and honored to take the hits in their place. 

Maybe that don't sound so great to you. Well it isn't. But I'll take what I can get in this life.

byron 4

Sure, I'm broken. Complex PTSD isn't a gift. And neither have been my bouts with depression. Nor my eating disorder, nor overcoming drug addiction. I was heavily damaged as a child as a result of abuse and neglect. 

It was wrong to abuse me, and I assign no goodness to my abuser based on how I've dealt with and overcome my abuse. It was an obstacle I used to strengthen myself, but I feel there are other ways to strengthen oneself without the negative impact abuse can leave. 

My own strength as a dad is something I'm hugely proud of though. And let me tell you, the quality of my children's smiles is second to none. I am always made happy by them.

Did you have fears/ concerns around becoming a father?

In a nutshell, I thought I'd be a piece of sh*t, so I shouldn't have kids. Then I worked extremely hard to evolve and grow until I did. If I had not been successful, I would not have had children. I fully support anybody who chooses not to have children because they are afraid they will abuse them.  Don't do it until you're good and ready.

What do you love about being a father?

Children have a lot to give.  I love watching them evolve into amazing people with such light and love in them. I love when they school me on the ways of life and shift my paradigms and alter my philosophies. I have learned about true strength, true love, and true greatness from my children. Without them, I don't believe I ever would have learned these lessons. A child's gifts are not to be underestimated.

byron 6

How have you worked with shame and stigma?

I am sorry to say it still works on me. When people tell me I am bad because of bad things people have done to me, it still grips me. It still staggers my progress and dampens my efforts. It only lasts until the reasoning kicks in and I bring EVIDENCE, CLARITY, and RELEVANCE into focus. But sometimes that little bit of awfulness is all it takes to throw you right off track. Just because a train can be put back on its rails doesn't mean damage is negated when it comes off of them. The truth is, this is a relentless fight. It is forever. The victory is in the persistence.

Do you find that ACEs are less shaming/stigmatizing to discuss?

If you read the comment section, yes. People love to tear people down. And they'll use anything they can. Mostly, I have stood my ground, but I have had to tread carefully just like anybody else who has these experiences. 

How has it been to be so public and open as a parent and as it related to parenting?

This has not been easy at all. It is hard even thinking about my personal history of being abused. Talking about it brings up new memories that had been automatically deleted by my brain. Things no person should live through.

Being public about BEING A VICTIM of abuse, often makes people assume you yourself will be a perpetrator. I don't think this is exclusive to men, because I know women who have said they experience the same social prejudice. And you know, it is a real thing. People who are abused do end up abusing their kids sometimes, because they never learned another way. This doesn't excuse abuse, but it does help explain the epidemic of child abuse continuing and worsening over generations.

bryon 5

If you are public with what you deal with as a parent with adverse childhood experiences, there will be a lot to deal with that is unfair, and that you maybe didn't count on, and it will probably hurt. And not just a little bit. It can harm your life in very real ways, including legal and financial ways. I've heard of people being mysteriously let go from jobs when they revealed they were dealing with ACEs. Two weeks later. When confronted, employers often claim their reasons are unrelated, even though their reasons are unclear. For me, it can mean I don't land a contract, because it is assumed I will break down mentally and not be able to complete the task of producing a film.

And of course there is all of the gaslighting my ex and her family, and members of my own family, have done. All the gossip and backbiting. All the uninformed judgement and assumption and presumption and attempts to intervene... Strangers saying I need to "get over it" and "forgive" the person who tortured me for five years and then tortured a baby to death, as if that's some cure-all that stops people from torturing babies to death. My unwillingness to forgive horrible behavior is talked about as if it is the cause of said behavior. Victim blame. Nothing new there.

How do parents make childhood safe?

Ain't no miracles. Childhood isn't safe. Predators are everywhere. A guy exposed himself to my kid last week at a park. You get your kid out of the park and you call the police. Be vigilant. Learn what grooming is and how to stop it. Monitor their activity online. Ask them about school. Tell them they can tell you ANYTHING and they won't get in trouble. Tell them they don't have to fear for their safety, or indeed for YOUR safety. And don't wait for them to come to you. Ask them regularly. Make your home a fortress for their well-being. Make it feel like the safest place they can possibly be. Show them the greatest love. Be their greatest protector. Listen the most intently.

What are the special issues with extended family if we've not been safe or supported in our families?

In our own families, divorcing yourself from them may be beneficial. Families often defend abusers and blame victims. Sometimes you just gotta tell blood to go f*ck itself.  You don't owe abusers shit, and you don't owe the people who justify them anything either. Find your real family elsewhere if you have to. I got a whole lot of people who love me and who I consider family, whereas my family of origin is mostly not even a thing anymore.

Byron first

Any advice you'd offer to professionals working with fathers who have experienced childhood abuse, neglect and "ACEs through the roof?"

I'm assuming professionals will have more know-how in this area. I would defer to them. The times I've sought counseling have been productive and helpful for me. I think any dad with ACEs to any degree would do well to consider the benefits of free drop-in mental health clinics, where you can talk to a professional about serious stuff and not worry too much about consequence. I suppose I would encourage professionals to encourage all of the good things dads are currently doing, but more of it.  The practice of developing good parenting traits should be ongoing and consistent.

What do you think Dads could use more of?

Dads could use more time with their kids. Kids could use more time with their dads.

What are some of the needs of Dads not met or supported enough in our culture?

Other dads to talk to probably. Moms seem to get a lot of time sharing parenting tips and tricks. You don't see dads hanging out and chatting about parenting much. I don't know if that's because dads typically need the advice less, spending less time with the children in common households. But dads who are more involved probably need that social interaction as much as moms who are more involved with parenting do. Most of the helpful parenting advice I've received has come from moms. Maybe dads could hang out with moms more?

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How can we find you, your work, links to your movies or social media or writing?

My website isn't up yet, because I just sell to TV channels. I haven't really had the need to maintain a public audience. But...

Note: To read the Fathers & ACEs chat transcript with more conversation between Bryon Hamel and others,  please go here

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Christine Cissy White posted:
Robert Olcott posted:

Of late, I've found myself wondering if I sustained a 'Moral Injury'... The night before my mother  'committed suicide', she tried to apologize to my younger sister and I, for being 'such a lousy mother'-as she put it. I said: "It sounds like you're going away, and I don't believe you'd do that, so I refuse to forgive you"-at age 15. The next morning, ...I asked my father why his gun [duty weapon] was in the back of the car. We both knew he also had a personal pistol, too, but it was not visible, in the car. My father 'ignored'/did not answer my question. When I returned home [from summer school] later that morning, ... I found my mother with my father's other gun in one hand, and the Holy Bible in her other hand... and her brains were all over the wall behind her.

When I read a cover article by a Family Physician in an issue of  [University of Pennsylvania] Health Law Project Library Bulletin, back in the late 1970's, the doctor described a relationship he developed, on his way walking to work each morning, with a Viet Nam Veteran he regularly passed by walking, who had 'acquired' a heroin addiction, before he left VietNam. The doctor usually greeted the veteran daily, en route to his office. One morning, they had a significant conversation. The Veteran noted he had been on a machine gun nest of a [helicopter] landing zone, one night, when the Viet Cong had attacked his position, after sunset/night-fall. Unbeknownst to the Veteran, the Viet Cong had marched all the women and children from a nearby village, in front of them-as they attacked his position. When sunrise came, he 'discovered' the carnage, and 'believed' he was totally responsible for death of the women and children from the proximate village. The Family Physician told the Veteran that he was not 'totally responsible' for those deaths-especially during wartime combat. The Doctor elaborated on that point for a while, with the veteran. A few days later, the Veteran spoke with the Doctor about giving up his 'heroin addiction'-as he no longer felt like he needed it. ...

The article by the Family Physician was written about 20 years before Jonathan Shay, M.D.  is credited with facilitating the construct of 'Moral Injury' in 1994. I sometimes wonder if I should have been able to more clearly articulate my concerns, at age 15, when my mother tried to apologize for being 'such a lousy mother', without refusing to 'forgive' her... as she wan't the 'perfect maternal parent', but she also contributed to my 'Resilience Score' [10] being higher than my ACE score [6].      .......

Dear Robert:

Your comment gave me chills. My daughter is almost 15. No child at any age should have to go through what you went through. No child could / should ever be in that position of forgiving, especially if forgiving feels like goodbye. That's too much to put on a child. I'm sorry for what you've lived through and am blown away by your advocacy work.  

My step-father, who was abusive did, on his death bed apologize for the father he'd been (we called him Dad even though he was our step-father). I refused to go to visit him on his death bed. I didn't, at that age, have any capacity to hear his apology or words. And I was even older than you, in college and in my early twenties. I'd not yet found a voice or a way to inhabit myself. I was still just trying to survive. I get, in adult brain, that I was a child and a child shouldn't be in that almost religious like position of absolving anyone, especially a parent who has hurt them, in such an intense moment. That's what I think.

AND, I sometimes still feel bad that I wasn't able to go and hear his words. I sat on the living room floor with my Nana who was battling ovarian cancer. And at my father's funeral, had horrible experiences with other abusive family members. The truth was, while I love the idea that I could have heard and felt and even given forgiveness, it was also not a safe environment for me to be in. There was still danger. There were reasons that was not possible. I don't know your whole life or the particulars. But I hope you are generous in your understanding of where you were coming from, as a child.  

It's not tidy or simple or neat. I think complex trauma is an understatement but at least it has the word "complex" because that's accurate and remains true, at least for me. 

Thank you for sharing. I'm truly sorry for your early pain. 

Cissy

Christine Cissy White: Thank You so much, for your Response here....I'll need to add an addenda later-when I regain some 'composure' .......Thank you for sharing also....

Robert Olcott posted:

Of late, I've found myself wondering if I sustained a 'Moral Injury'... The night before my mother  'committed suicide', she tried to apologize to my younger sister and I, for being 'such a lousy mother'-as she put it. I said: "It sounds like you're going away, and I don't believe you'd do that, so I refuse to forgive you"-at age 15. The next morning, ...I asked my father why his gun [duty weapon] was in the back of the car. We both knew he also had a personal pistol, too, but it was not visible, in the car. My father 'ignored'/did not answer my question. When I returned home [from summer school] later that morning, ... I found my mother with my father's other gun in one hand, and the Holy Bible in her other hand... and her brains were all over the wall behind her.

When I read a cover article by a Family Physician in an issue of  [University of Pennsylvania] Health Law Project Library Bulletin, back in the late 1970's, the doctor described a relationship he developed, on his way walking to work each morning, with a Viet Nam Veteran he regularly passed by walking, who had 'acquired' a heroin addiction, before he left VietNam. The doctor usually greeted the veteran daily, en route to his office. One morning, they had a significant conversation. The Veteran noted he had been on a machine gun nest of a [helicopter] landing zone, one night, when the Viet Cong had attacked his position, after sunset/night-fall. Unbeknownst to the Veteran, the Viet Cong had marched all the women and children from a nearby village, in front of them-as they attacked his position. When sunrise came, he 'discovered' the carnage, and 'believed' he was totally responsible for death of the women and children from the proximate village. The Family Physician told the Veteran that he was not 'totally responsible' for those deaths-especially during wartime combat. The Doctor elaborated on that point for a while, with the veteran. A few days later, the Veteran spoke with the Doctor about giving up his 'heroin addiction'-as he no longer felt like he needed it. ...

The article by the Family Physician was written about 20 years before Jonathan Shay, M.D.  is credited with facilitating the construct of 'Moral Injury' in 1994. I sometimes wonder if I should have been able to more clearly articulate my concerns, at age 15, when my mother tried to apologize for being 'such a lousy mother', without refusing to 'forgive' her... as she wan't the 'perfect maternal parent', but she also contributed to my 'Resilience Score' [10] being higher than my ACE score [6].      .......

Dear Robert:

Your comment gave me chills. My daughter is almost 15. No child at any age should have to go through what you went through. No child could / should ever be in that position of forgiving, especially if forgiving feels like goodbye. That's too much to put on a child. I'm sorry for what you've lived through and am blown away by your advocacy work.  

My step-father, who was abusive did, on his death bed apologize for the father he'd been (we called him Dad even though he was our step-father). I refused to go to visit him on his death bed. I didn't, at that age, have any capacity to hear his apology or words. And I was even older than you, in college and in my early twenties. I'd not yet found a voice or a way to inhabit myself. I was still just trying to survive. I get, in adult brain, that I was a child and a child shouldn't be in that almost religious like position of absolving anyone, especially a parent who has hurt them, in such an intense moment. That's what I think.

AND, I sometimes still feel bad that I wasn't able to go and hear his words. I sat on the living room floor with my Nana who was battling ovarian cancer. And at my father's funeral, had horrible experiences with other abusive family members. The truth was, while I love the idea that I could have heard and felt and even given forgiveness, it was also not a safe environment for me to be in. There was still danger. There were reasons that was not possible. I don't know your whole life or the particulars. But I hope you are generous in your understanding of where you were coming from, as a child.  

It's not tidy or simple or neat. I think complex trauma is an understatement but at least it has the word "complex" because that's accurate and remains true, at least for me. 

Thank you for sharing. I'm truly sorry for your early pain. 

Cissy

Of late, I've found myself wondering if I sustained a 'Moral Injury'... The night before my mother  'committed suicide', she tried to apologize to my younger sister and I, for being 'such a lousy mother'-as she put it. I said: "It sounds like you're going away, and I don't believe you'd do that, so I refuse to forgive you"-at age 15. The next morning, ...I asked my father why his gun [duty weapon] was in the back of the car. We both knew he also had a personal pistol, too, but it was not visible, in the car. My father 'ignored'/did not answer my question. When I returned home [from summer school] later that morning, ... I found my mother with my father's other gun in one hand, and the Holy Bible in her other hand... and her brains were all over the wall behind her.

When I read a cover article by a Family Physician in an issue of  [University of Pennsylvania] Health Law Project Library Bulletin, back in the late 1970's, the doctor described a relationship he developed, on his way walking to work each morning, with a Viet Nam Veteran he regularly passed by walking, who had 'acquired' a heroin addiction, before he left VietNam. The doctor usually greeted the veteran daily, en route to his office. One morning, they had a significant conversation. The Veteran noted he had been on a machine gun nest of a [helicopter] landing zone, one night, when the Viet Cong had attacked his position, after sunset/night-fall. Unbeknownst to the Veteran, the Viet Cong had marched all the women and children from a nearby village, in front of them-as they attacked his position. When sunrise came, he 'discovered' the carnage, and 'believed' he was totally responsible for death of the women and children from the proximate village. The Family Physician told the Veteran that he was not 'totally responsible' for those deaths-especially during wartime combat. The Doctor elaborated on that point for a while, with the veteran. A few days later, the Veteran spoke with the Doctor about giving up his 'heroin addiction'-as he no longer felt like he needed it. ...

The article by the Family Physician was written about 20 years before Jonathan Shay, M.D.  is credited with facilitating the construct of 'Moral Injury' in 1994. I sometimes wonder if I should have been able to more clearly articulate my concerns, at age 15, when my mother tried to apologize for being 'such a lousy mother', without refusing to 'forgive' her... as she wan't the 'perfect maternal parent', but she also contributed to my 'Resilience Score' [10] being higher than my ACE score [6].      .......

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