My Turn: Breaking the culture of fear in Alaska

Posted: Thursday, October 18, 2007

Our world is both beautiful and broken. Few places demonstrate this so clearly as Alaska, where unspoiled nature coexists with depression, suicide and abuse. Too many of our families are broken by domestic violence, fear and despair every day. Yet this also is a state full of hope and opportunity - and full of families in need of repair.

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Gov. Sarah Palin recently signed a proclamation making October Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In recent weeks, I have visited the Anchorage shelter, spoken with front-line social workers from around the state who rescue children from abusive homes, and joined the governor in speaking out against domestic violence.

The past weeks have provided the opportunity for me to think on who we are as Alaskans and what we must do to wipe out domestic violence in our homes and communities.

I know something of the ravaging effects of substance and domestic abuse from my own family history. My grandfather was an abusive alcoholic who verbally and physically pummeled his kids. As one of his grandkids, I was not allowed to spend time with him. Ultimately, he died on Skid Row in Seattle. His choices deprived him of love and community; they robbed his family of a husband, father and grandfather who could impart wisdom, tradition and experience.

Thousands of Alaskans can relate to my family's experience. My visits in numerous communities across our state have demonstrated that some men have been misled to believe that masculinity means ruling the household with an iron fist and using that fist to maintain control. Some learned that using words as weapons is acceptable, because words don't leave a mark - at least not one that we can see.

One need only see the women and children in our local shelters to conclude that many of our men have fallen asleep at the wheel - either by neglect, unhealthy aggression or by passive reluctance to initiate change - and we are driving our marriages, families and communities into the ground as a result.

Masculinity has been warped, and we have misplaced the truth that being a man means using strength to defend, protect and serve - not control. True masculinity means putting our needs second and ensuring the well-being of those around us. When it comes to relationships between individuals, it means fighting for what we believe in and using respect and healthy communication as our tools, rather than manipulation and physical force. It means not looking the other way when we witness or see signs of abuse.

Some women have been taught incorrectly that the abuse they receive is their own fault. This is another manipulative lie. Too many Alaskans are living in fear of their own families, and it is we - their neighbors, friends, families and fellow survivors - who must stand up for them.

Thankfully, my family history didn't follow my grandfather's path to Seattle's Skid Row. My father had all the seeds of destruction planted in him by my grandfather, but my dad chose a different path. Where my grandfather laid his life at the altar of alcohol, my father chose a different, transformational faith. And, he chose to treasure his wife and invested himself in his sons, breaking the cycle of violence. My brother and I, our lives and our families, are living proof that a life-change can happen.

Working together to promote courage, respect and selflessness, we can change the culture of fear that exists in parts of our state. Palin and I are committed to being part of that change. And, I'm calling out the men to turn unhealthy aggression into strength - from controlling others to serving others. From brokenness to wholeness.

• Sean Parnell is the lieutenant governor of Alaska.

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