I have written a lot about PTSD and my own experiences. Unwanted Heroes, my latest novel, focuses on the struggle of a Asian-American war veteran. But, ironically, I have never given serious consideration to the impact on the children.
I once threw my then four-year-old child to the ground and jumped on top of him when firecrackers went off for a funeral in Chinatown. I remember how it took a while for him to begin crying – he just stared at me in disbelief that his father would do something violent to him.
There are two chapters in Unwanted Heroes where our protagonist, Will, visits his boss’s children in an attempt to understand their father better. He meets two very different ways of dealing with their father’s illness.
One is galvanized to help him and advocates to help others suffering from PTSD. The result is an incredibly strained relationship which almost estranges them on numerous explosive occasions. The other builds a wall, similar to the one his father has, a tool of defense he deems necessarily to protect himself and his father. Ironically, this drawn line in the sand enables him to maintain contact with his deteriorating father whereas his sister cannot.
It has never occurred to me that the traumas of the father (or mother) transfer in one way or another to the children. I realize it is obvious in retrospect, especially as my generation is the children of Holocaust survivors, and there are many studies, interviews and written accounts by the children.
On one occasion, my eldest (maybe 12 years old then) turned the lights off and jumped out to surprise me when I entered the house. My hand stopped inches from his throat in a move that, I absolutely know, would have damaged him severely. When I realized what had transpired, I screamed at him and he slunk off to his room. I calmed down and we talked. Boys are boys and they still often jump me. Sometimes it is fun and we roll around laughing on the bed or floor in tickling fights, sometimes I push them away and yell at them.
My sons are lucky. Their father might be flawed but he is not broken. He works hard to ensure that they all remain a close and loving family.
The tickle fights are fun. I guess the rebuffs are worth it.
Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.