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*** I still have this blue coat, which hangs in my office over my desk. Clearly, this is a vintage piece! ***

I have few memories of my grandmother because she died when I was almost four. Mostly, I remember her rubbing my back, cutting my egg and toast into tiny pieces (her version of baby food) and the way she hung my hand made dresses (her handiwork) on the back of a bedroom door. It embarrassed my mother because I headed straight for that door on every visit, checking for the latest addition to my pint-sized wardrobe.

Beyond that, my grandmother is a mystery. Nothing about her mystifies me more than wondering why she allowed my grandfather to randomly/regularly beat the living daylight out of two of her six children—my father and aunt. How could a woman who loved me so much allow this to happen to her own children? What brings a man to violence against his own family? And why these two children and not the others? Was it frustration, poverty or just a crazy gene that made him do it?

Rebel with a cause.

When my father was in high school, my grandfather gave him one of the worst beatings of Dad’s young life. Afterwards, Dad vowed he would never let it happen again. He was strong as a horse, having worked the fields in summer and played football every fall. At that point, I reckon he was tired of living in fear and well prepared to resist.

On my father’s birthday, May 26, my grandfather came after him with a coal poker, but this time, my father fought back. Evidently, his blows were effective enough to send my grandfather packing.

As soon as Grandpa left, Dad began packing the few clothes he owned. My grandmother pleaded with him to stay. “Let him go,” she said. “You’ll stay and work, Bob.” But Dad was a smart guy and he knew this scenario might change his fate forever. So he fled to the nearest city, St. Louis, where he worked in a factory and slept on the streets until he could get enough money together to board himself in a room.

When summer was over, he hitched a ride home to start his senior year of high school. He registered for classes, bought his schoolbooks and went to football practice. At the end of the day, he cut across the cornfields that lay between school and home.

His parents and two younger sisters were sitting around the dinner table when he strode in the back door. Dad grabbed a plate, served himself and sat down to eat. They hadn’t communicated since he left in May, but no one said a word. It was as if the whole thing never happened. My grandfather didn’t speak to him that year, but he also never raised a fist against Dad again.

Eventually, they made amends.

Over the years, my grandfather must have mellowed because he was good to us. At 77, Dad no longer dwells on his lifelong remorse for leaving his mother in that situation. But my grandfather’s violent streak left a permanent mark on Dad and his sister. She fled the beatings by running into the arms of a man who abused her and their children, too.

When I came to know these things, I longed to console the good boy who endured those blows. I wished I could remove the burden of guilt my father carried for so many years.

But life doesn’t work that way. I can’t shelter or soothe the wounded boy my father was. I can’t scold my grandfather for beating his only son. I can’t urge my grandmother to leave. It’s all part of the past. Deep down, I know why she didn’t leave: she had no alternative.

Although it breaks my heart, I am deeply grateful that Dad shared his experience because it has helped me fully understand and admire who he is. There is nothing I can do to replace what’s missing from his childhood. But lately I have decided there is something I can do that might ultimately be a saving grace for someone else.

Help me help others.

This year, I’ve committed to help raise funds for Coburn Place, an Indianapolis-based transitional home for domestic violence survivors. This means I’ll be writing about Coburn Place and the topic of domestic violence. It also means I’ll be begging my friends for the favor of their charitable consideration from time to time, especially during the next few months.

I do it with confidence, not only because I believe in the work at Coburn Place, but because I have helped you with the causes you care about most. I have purchased candles, calendars, cookbooks and Girl Scout cookies. I have donated to your favorite charities—from disaster relief and libraries, to Leukemia, breast cancer and Alzheimer’s research—because I feel for these causes and I respect your service to them. Now, I’m asking you to return the favor.

I realize that you can’t support every cause that comes down the pike, but I hope you’ll still read along and learn. Perhaps you’ll see fit to help Coburn Place at some point. It can make such a difference for women and children who are rebuilding their lives, preparing to be self-sufficient so they don’t have to do what my grandmother did—stay in an abusive home.

Thanks for reading my Dad’s story. He has been an inspiration to me, showing how people can survive and thrive after such a terrible start. He gave me every advantage in life and, out of gratitude for that blessing, I hope this work might benefit others. Who’s your favorite come-from-behind hero? It’s probably clear who mine is.

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.