Here, Mark*, tells the story in his own words.
'G￼reat game son,’ my dad, Steve* said, ruffling my hair after the soccer match. I was nine and I absolutely idolised him.
Along with my sister Emma* and two brothers Tom* and Oliver*, we’d go to the park, or Dad would watch us play sport.
But there was a darker side to him, and if Dad was in a bad mood, we all knew about it.
He would often start arguments with our mum, Susan*, then he’d hit and slap her.
It was always worse when he’d been taking drugs.
Afterwards, Mum would be curled up on the ground, sobbing and covered in bruises. Helping her up, I’d hug her tightly. ‘I’m going to leave him,’ she’d say.
But Dad would go back to his caring, loving ways. He’d take Mum out to dinner and promise to make it up to her.
The good always outweighed the bad, which made it so much harder. We loved him – even when he used his fists on me and my brothers.
One time, he headbutted me so hard he almost broke my nose. And I’ll never forget the day when he forced us all in the car and drove us to the middle of nowhere.
I desperately tried to jump on Mum and protect her as Dad continuously punched her. He then dragged her out of the car and beat her right in front of us. I couldn’t understand why my kind and loving dad was suddenly so angry.
Then, when I was 12, Dad went to rehab to get help with his drug addiction.
Back home, he was much more relaxed and Mum looked so happy.
For a fresh start, we all moved to Auckland. Life was good, there was no tension at home and Dad was even a bit of a romantic, giving Mum kisses and telling her he loved her.
When I was 17, I got a job with him. Working side by side, he told me about his difficult childhood and his opinions on the world. He’s my best friend, I thought.
In my early 20s, I moved out of the family home and into a place with my partner, Charlotte*. I felt carefree and excited about the future. Except one thing niggled away at me. ‘I think there’s something wrong with Dad,’ Tom said.
When I asked Dad about it, he’d change the subject, and Mum would do the same. ‘Stop worrying,’ she soothed. ‘We’re all fine.’
When Mum and Dad revealed they were having another baby, I convinced myself things were on the right track. And when my little brother Ben* came along, my dad doted on him.
But a few months later, I was at home one night with Charlotte, Emma and Tom when there was a knock at the door. Answering it, I was shocked to see Mum and baby Ben. With her eyeball hanging out and the other swollen, I barely recognised her.
Breaking down in tears, I pulled her into a hug. ‘Look at your face, Mum,’ I wept. ‘Look at what he’s done to you.’
I’d never seen her this badly hurt before. Dad had punched her repeatedly and kicked her on the floor. ‘Your dad’s lost it,’ she sobbed.
As we tried to stop the bleeding, Dad suddenly pulled up outside. Screaming and shouting, he tried to kick the front door down. I pulled the curtains and turned off the lights, then we all hid, terrified. When he didn’t stop, I tried speaking to him through the locked door. ‘Dad, what’s going on?’ I asked, trying to control my trembling voice. ‘You’re a traitor!’ he screamed at me.
By now, he was trying to pull the windows open and he was threatening to smash my car. ‘I’m going to go out there and calm him down,’ I said. ‘If you go out there, I don’t think you’ll come back,’ Emma said, petrified.
Charlotte had called the police, so I told Dad they were on the way.
After that, it went silent, and moments later we saw lights as Dad drove away from the house. ‘He’s gone!’ Emma sighed in relief. ‘I’m going to see if my car’s been damaged,’ I said.
In the darkness, I walked around the side of the house when I heard footsteps. Then I heard Dad yelling and felt his fist in my face. Everything was a blur as we brawled.
The next thing I remember is sitting on the ground, holding Dad in my lap. There was blood everywhere. ‘You stabbed me,’ Dad gasped. I didn’t even realise I’d been holding a knife. ‘I’m so sorry Dad,’ I sobbed, hysterical. ‘Why did you make me do this? I didn’t want to. It was an accident.’
Yelling for my family, they came rushing out. Everyone broke down crying as they took in the scene in front of them.
An ambulance arrived and paramedics desperately tried to save him. But it was too late, my dad was gone.
I’d killed him.‘What have I done?’ I said, inconsolable. ‘It wasn’t your fault,’ Mum said, wrapping her arms around me.
The next few weeks were a blur as I tried to come to terms with what had happened.
Police questioned me and eventually I was charged with murder. Granted bail, I was allowed to live at home and I continued going to work.
My family were so incredibly supportive, reminding me Dad loved me and that I wasn’t to blame. ‘I know my brother,’ Emma said. ‘You’re not
a killer, you don’t have an evil bone in your body.’
But I was awaiting trial and a jury would decide my fate. I was depressed and I couldn’t sleep. All I thought about was that terrible day. I was also mourning.
So many times I would reach for the phone to call Dad before remembering he was no longer here.
Then something good happened amongst all the heartache. Charlotte and I discovered we were expecting a baby. ‘There’s not a lot of positives in this situation, but becoming a dad is one of them,’ Mum told me.
It was hard to keep optimistic though. Especially when my daughter Maya* was born. I had to accept there was a chance I wouldn’t get to see my girl grow up.
Every day I’d wake up and be reminded this was real – not a dream.
‘If things don’t go our way babe, just focus on you and the baby,’ I told Charlotte.
In May this year, I appeared at Auckland High Court and pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors said the force used was excessive. Dad had been stabbed six times, once through the heart.
For almost a month, I listened as my family gave evidence, living that awful day over and over. When Mum was on the witness stand, she revealed shocking incidents that I hadn’t even known about.
I sobbed as she went into detail about the violent ways Dad would abuse her and how he’d threaten her with weapons.
At the end of each day, I’d hold Maya for hours trying to take in every detail and baby smell.
I chose not to give evidence because I couldn’t remember the moment I stabbed Dad. Finally, the jury retired.
Just four hours later they filed back in to reveal their verdict. Was it murder or self-defence?
‘Are you ready?’ my lawyer asked me. I shook my head, my heart pounding and closed my eyes. Please let me go home to my daughter, I prayed.
It felt like hours rather than seconds as I stood there.
The judge asked the foreman how they’d found me on the count of murder. ‘Not guilty,’ he said. Then on manslaughter… ‘Not guilty.’
I was free to go, acquitted of all charges. ‘Thank you,’ I wept.
In tears, I stumbled from the stand and grabbed my baby girl as my whole family bombarded me with hugs. Shell-shocked, it didn’t feel real as we made our way home.
Not a day goes by when I don’t think about that devastating day and wonder if there was a way I could have stopped it from happening. And it’s still so hard to accept that Dad is no longer here.
If my car breaks or something happens at work, I’ll instantly think to tell him, before the grief hits me all over again.
Dad was my best friend and my teacher, and despite everything, so many of my good traits came from him. But I did feel some relief as well.
‘You know I love Dad,’ I said to Mum. ‘But you are free now.’
I’m speaking out because I want others suffering from domestic abuse to know that they are not alone. And to please talk to someone before it’s too late. The cycle of domestic abuse has been broken in our family now. I’ve been given a second chance. I’m the worst-case scenario of what can happen and I don’t want anyone else to end up like me.
If you are experiencing abuse and need help, call 1800 737 732 (Aus) or 0800 456 450 (NZ).
*ALL NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED FOR LEGAL REASONS
*ALL PHOTOS POSED FOR BY MODELS
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