As a child I felt my father was a very controlling man, in my eyes he always seemed to want things his way. I saw in my father a man who was stuck in a way of thinking that it was ‘my way or the highway.’ If he didn’t get his way he appeared to simply dismiss those around him, after shouting a lot. I grew up seeing my father shout, rage, threaten and manipulate trying to control the family. One of the ways my father used to control the family was with money. My mother was classed as a full-time housewife, she didn’t have a job so relied on my father for money and there was always a slight comment or a dig, that she should be more grateful he had so much money for her to spend.
Another way my father used to control us from very young was physical punishment. When we were small enough, my father would put us across his knee and give us a good smacking on our bare bottoms, sometimes with his hand and sometimes with the back of the dustpan brush. I was a fat child and when I turned twelve I had got big enough so he couldn’t get me over his knees. This one time I stopped the smacking dead, I kicked and screamed like a wildcat and refused to let him do it. My father was so furious and from that point onwards he changed tactic and took my pocket money away for the slightest excuse, so I started stealing it from him and from my mother.
It started out as me trying to spite him for stopping my pocket money all the time. I would sneak into my parent’s bedroom and take the change he left on the dressing table. I was scared of doing this, but my anger was bigger than my fear. It was calculated, I knew exactly what I was doing.
I’d use the money to buy big bags of sweets. No one ever said, ‘where did you get the money from to buy those sweets?’ That never made sense to me. They knew I’d had my pocket money cut, so you would have thought they would question how I could buy so many sweets with no money – but they didn’t, so I just carried on stealing and carried on eating. With hindsight I can see they were part of the scam.
As I got more familiar with stealing, I got bolder and started taking more. I progressed to taking £1 notes from his wallet; still no one noticed so I’d take £5 and even £10 notes, which was a great deal of money when I was young. I became an absolute master of stealing, it was so easy yet I was angry that they didn’t bother to stop me. I used to buy clothes and comics and loads and loads of sweets and all sorts of things and even then, not once did anyone say ‘hey, what is going on here, where did the money come from for all this?’
I wanted to be stopped just to have some attention, attention from being in trouble was at least attention.
But no one said a thing, so I continued and I didn’t care how brazen I was about it. I even bought expensive presents for them for their birthdays and Christmas, I knew what department store to go to, what they liked, but nothing was ever said. I spent the money as fast as I stole it, if I needed more I knew I could always get more.
This carried on through my young teenage years, I told myself I stopped caring what they thought about me but that was a lie, I cared very deeply. I wanted things from them that they weren’t able to give me. I wanted to say, ‘hey, look at me, just look at me and tell me you love me, that I’m okay, more than okay would be great, but at least tell me I’m okay.’ I was the one doing the stealing and yet I made my parents the bad guys. I held them accountable for my own behaviour, it was all their fault. How ridiculous was that?
I had a clear awareness of what I was doing, whilst blaming my parents for the fact I was doing it. Hah!
There I was, with the calculation of an adult in a teen’s body, refusing to take responsibility for my own thievery. I was making decisions about how to behave based on blaming my parents, I reasoned that they were the guilty one’s not me, it was all their fault. I argued that if they paid me more attention, I would never have done it (so the thoughts in my head told me very clearly). What society thinks about children does not allow for such a perspective to exist. We are told to see children as innocent and not smart enough from very, very young to be capable of adult calculation. Yet I was making full-on adult calculations as a child. I knew what I was doing and that what I was doing was wrong.
Looking back, I can see I was an adult in a child’s body and have since been able to see the same calculation in children in my life now. How did I not see it before?
In the years I stole from my parents, I must have taken hundreds of pounds in total.
In this story of my ‘childhood,’ my father continued to cut my pocket money at the drop of a hat, for putting my elbows on the dinner table, for being too loud, for what I considered to be really stupid stuff, so I continued to feel justified to steal and blame.
When I was fourteen or fifteen, I had a friend who lived down the road from me. I wanted to go to the cinema with her, she said she didn’t have any money to do that. I didn’t miss a beat – it rolled off my tongue before I could think, ‘just steal it from your parents’. The look of shock on her face still stands out in my mind, as she told me gently but firmly that she wouldn’t do that, EVER. That look she gave me made me feel ashamed. She stopped hanging out with me after that. I knew my suggestion to steal was the reason she didn’t want to know me.
I still stole for a while after that, but I just stopped wanting to.
With hindsight I can see what a tremendous gift this friend had been to me, she was the reflection I needed and the truest friend I’d ever had in my young life. Without her I would have kept on stealing and who knows where that would have led me. I will always be grateful my friend responded the way she did, it stopped my out of control behaviour dead.
My parents didn’t even bother to notice what was going on, yet my friend did. She saw the horror of stealing from those who are there to care for us, to her that was one massive no-no. What my friend did was far more than call out the stealing, she called out the hurt and the hard and righteous callousness I’d developed around stealing, thinking it was my every right to steal however much I liked because they weren’t giving me what I wanted. I felt fully entitled to take every penny. I justified it by saying that they ignored me and ignored what was going on right under their noses so they deserved it.
As I saw it, I was the smart one and they were just stupid for ignoring what was going on. We were all playing our games to 'keep the peace' or in my case to blow up the 'peace' and get a bit of honesty!