This year, ahead of Fathers’ Day (November 12), I suddenly remember a former co-worker and a friend I used to know. Let’s just call him Jacob, which is not his real name.
I met Jacob some years back, when we used to work in the same multinational company. He was a chatty, friendly guy. We sometimes talked about many things, from politics (especially in his home country), our clients, our hobbies, family and friends, and so on. He was married to an Indonesian woman and they had a son who had just started grade school.
Jacob often joked about himself. He told us that because he was 20+ years older than his wife, some teachers at his son’s school had initially thought he was the grandfather of his son Jason (also not his real name).
It didn’t take long before I started noticing something behind his smile and laughter. Jacob had been hiding his pain. At first, when we chatted over coffee breaks, there was the topic of relationship/marriage being mentioned. When words like “jealousy” and “infidelity” were brought up, Jacob suddenly spoke up:
“I don’t understand why people make it seem so easy to just cheat on their partners. I’m already exhausted with one. I don’t have the energy to do such a thing.”
Some of our female co-workers might have found that endearing, but something about what Jacob said didn’t sit right with me. He was obviously struggling with something.
Not long after that, I began to notice some changes in him. Gradually, he became less cheerful and looked more sullen and exhausted. He’d grown quiet too. Another thing I noticed about Jacob was whenever his wife suddenly called him while he was at work. Every time she did and I (or other female co-workers) happened to be close by, he motioned for us to either lower our voices or keep quiet. It was puzzling at first, until he finally gave us an explanation:
“My wife is the jealous type. Every time she hears another woman’s voice while she’s on the phone with me, she gets upset. I don’t want to come home to another fight.”
Some of the other female co-workers found this funny. They giggled, but they might have reacted differently if Jacob were a woman with a super jealous and controlling husband. They would’ve called the husband abusive and she had to get away from him as soon as possible.
I didn’t. I could see that Jacob was really fearful of his wife’s wrath. It was obviously not a healthy marriage. Unfortunately, I didn’t know what to say back then.
His Only Cry for Help
Months rolled by. I thought everything was fine until one morning at work before our shift started, Jacob took me aside and asked if we could have a private chat somewhere. I chose an empty room in the office and we both sat down. That was when I noticed something on his neck and I gasped.
Three – no, four angry red marks – decorated his pale neck. From the level of the redness, those scars had been recent.
I was horrified by the sight of his scars, “Jake, what happened?”
“It was her,” he admitted painfully. I could see that his face was full of mental anguish. “It was my wife. She did this to me.”
“Oh, no. I’m so sorry, Jake.” Then the stories came pouring out of his mouth. I sat there and listened for ten minutes or so and felt a chill creeping inside of me. Another same fight, another same accusation about him cheating on her, and the physical violence.
Finally, her threats and manipulation got to him. He couldn’t hold back his tears.
“I don’t know what else to do, Ruby,” he was close to wailing. “She has threatened to have me deported. She has also threatened to take Jason away from me and I’ll never see him again.”
Unfortunately, our shift started, so we had to go back to work. By the end of that day, I looked for him, but he had already left. I tried to call him, but there was no answer. He didn’t respond to my text message either.
A week later, Jacob didn’t show up at work. Our supervisor tried his number, but just like before, there was no answer. I did the same with similar results. I checked all his social media profiles. They all had been deleted.
Domestic Violence Is Never Okay
Years after that, I came across a video about Alex Skeel, one of the male domestic violence survivor in the UK. Skeel had been subjected to domestic abuses by his then girlfriend, Jordan Worth. She is now serving time in jail for seven years. Also, according to the statistics in National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence.
I don’t need to display the statistics on domestic violence against women here, but you’re more than welcomed to check out Komnas Perempuan for that. I am not here to debate on quantity to consider the seriousness of this on-going issue, year after year – even worsened by this Covid-19 pandemic.
Even one person, man or woman or child, matters. Don’t pretend to be daft by wondering why Jacob never fought back. You know how it looks like if a man does. Unfortunately, even the female victims of domestic violence are still not taken seriously by the law enforcement here. It is either the wife has to be more patient and not upset her husband or the child misbehaves that he or she deserves the punishment.
I’m still sorry that I didn’t know how to help Jacob back then. I believe he was not the only one, but most of them (are forced to) stay silent because of the stigma caused by patriarchy and toxic masculinity.
Jacob, if you are reading this, you know who you are. I am so sorry that I couldn’t help you back then. Wherever you are, I hope you have gotten the help that you needed.