By John Agar
Copyright 2005 The Grand Rapids Press
All rights reserved. Used with permission

Don Hunderman figured his marriage — maybe his life — was over when his wife of 24 years left with their two sons.

After years of abuse, she was sick of it.

“It sort of woke me up: You need help,” Hunderman said.

“My wife’s girlfriend called police on us. Grand Rapids police put me in touch with (counselor) Randy Flood.”

He wasn’t arrested. But Hunderman, 48, was left alone, considering suicide.

Suddenly, he could no longer control her.

For years, he had put the fear of God into her with a booming voice that resonated throughout their Grand Rapids home.

He had seen his two boys cower. Other times, they acted out aggressively.

He called Flood — a counselor at the Men’s Resource Center in Grand Rapids — and started therapy.

It turned his life around.

After a 21/2-year separation, his wife returned.

“She saw some changes in me, thank goodness,” Hunderman said.

Now, Hunderman is among men fighting domestic violence — a scourge that affects communities as well as families, and often passes from generation to generation.

He is counterpart to the usual face of domestic violence — the poster of a battered woman, with telephone listings for battered-women shelters.

Hunderman started a volunteer support group two years ago. Some nights, he sat alone, waiting for others who never showed.

Now, a dozen men take part every Wednesday night.

They say that men, the majority of abusers, must take responsibility for domestic violence, whether it is physical, verbal or emotional abuse. They have to reach out to the community and serve as examples.

The socialization of boys as tough and strong, silent on their feelings, has to change — especially in this culture that seems to glorify violence and victory.

Some need to realize how destructive their controlling behavior is to a relationship.

No part of society is immune.

The stereotype might be of the belligerent drunk berating his family but, often, the outside world has no idea what goes on in the abuser’s home.

As one member of Hunderman’s group said: “In public, we can be very pleasant.”

West Michigan Domestic Abuse Programs

Flood, the counselor, said: “We can continue building shelters for women, and that’s not going to stop domestic violence until we work with men. It’s men confronting men.”

Leaders in Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties have made battling domestic violence a priority.

Ottawa County is tracking offenders over the past five years. A 200-page report, due out this month, studied arrests, sentences and treatment to find out what works best.

Kent County Sheriff’s Department and area health professionals recently started a Batterers Intervention Program in the county jail that focuses on anger management, substance abuse and parenting.

The Lakeshore Alliance Against Domestic Violence is working in schools. It wants to educate boys and girls about domestic violence, especially those exposed to violence at home.

“They can be huddled in their beds and still hear what’s going on,” said Donna Cornwell, executive director of Center for Women in Transition.

She said domestic violence for many is just a family issue, not a problem for society.

While courts force most men into counseling, the majority of women at her shelter have not gone to police, so the spouse gets no consequences.

Too often, young boys grow up in homes where it is accepted, and they become abusers. And violence at home leads to violence in the streets.

“I believe through the experiences I’ve had, and the years dealing with the next generation, that behavior that is demonstrated in the home is learned by the kids, and then demonstrated throughout the neighborhoods, playgrounds and schools,” Holland police Chief John Kruithoff said.

“There are always exceptions, but more times than not, you can pretty much plan on your children growing up like you,” he said.

Ending the Cycle of Abuse

Allegan County Sheriff Blaine Koops said domestic violence is wrongly perceived as a women’s issue. “This is a serious quality of life issue. It’s just a never-ending cycle that we have to end.”

That’s what Hunderman is trying to do. He and other members gave a presentation to 250 area pastors and want to speak to other groups.

Now married 28 years, Hunderman said: “I have more reasons than just my own self. I’ve got two boys. I’m teaching the boys to be a little different.”

It is an uphill battle in today’s society, where men are taught to hide feelings and insecurities, said Charlie Donaldson, who directs the Men’s Resource Center in Holland.

They’re supposed to be real men, tough and strong. In control, they never back down.

“They’re not supposed to be emotional, weak, talk about problems or ask for help,” Donaldson said. “They show affection, and they get called names: ‘girl, fag, pansy.’ All of this is about male socialization.”

Donaldson is trying to change those attitudes in his 26-week program in Ottawa County. He learned that domestic violence is about control — not just being drunk and angry.

The abuse can range from silent treatment to threats to physical beatings.

In his course, he uses a video of a wife who wants to return to college. The husband doesn’t like the idea, and she drops it. She brings up the issue a few months later, setting him off.

“He grabs her by the shoulder: ‘You’re not going anywhere.’ It’s the scenario of how domestic violence happens. It happens out of insecurity and anxiety. Essentially, what’s going on here is the guy’s insecure, scared if she goes to college. He thought he had put a lid on it,” he said.

“We spend a lot of time talking to the guys in the groups about how control can lead to victimization. We have to teach to negotiate, rather than intimidate. Use respect rather than threats.”

Teaching the Boys

A 30-year-old Grand Rapids construction worker said the stories of anger and control leading to marital problems are similar throughout the group. His wife, his high-school sweetheart, left but eventually came back. After undergoing a 26-week course, he joined Hunderman’s group.

Like others, he didn’t want their names used because of the stigma domestic abuse carries.

“I still get angry with my wife, but I don’t have to be right,” he said.

He thinks that boys’ socialization is important. Now, he isn’t afraid to dance around the kitchen with either his son or daughter. He is trying to teach his son that he does not have to live up to a stereotype.

“We joke that we’re in touch with our feminine side,” said Hunderman, who isn’t afraid to have his 10- and 12-year-old sons sit on his lap and hug them.

A 59-year-old sales manager also kept his family together. He has the look of a successful businessman and a favorite grandfather.

“I was a pillar in the church. No one knew.

“My approach was absolute intimidation with fear,” he said. “My mantra was, ‘My ability to put the fear of God into my wife and children.'”

His relationship with his wife changed dramatically since he started counseling.

That isn’t uncommon.

“Rightly so, the wife starts to be a controller. Not a born-and-bred controller — they become more independent,” he said. “I really resented that my wife’s become a controller. She was no longer afraid to stand up to me. I thought I was becoming a wimp. What I really was doing was disciplining myself.”

Meanwhile, a 39-year-old Fennville business owner is nearly finished with counseling. He had met with Donaldson, of the Men’s Resource Center in Holland.

Most in town consider him a successful, law-abiding citizen. No one saw him in the back of an Allegan County sheriff’s squad car past September.

The trouble started at his ex-wife’s house. He wanted to talk. She wouldn’t listen. He pushed her, and pinned her on the bed so she would listen. She yelled to call 911.

At first, he was defensive. His ex-wife should share the blame. After all, their 16-year marriage was “fairly volatile.”

Counseling has taught him to seek change in himself.

“When I sat down in the back of that (police) car, and he handcuffed me, my first thought was, ‘I’m stupid, I’m stupid, I’m stupid. I knew she was going to get me in trouble.’ Now, I was stupid for going in there. I got myself in trouble.”

He had a good upbringing. His parents never fought. He can’t believe his life took this turn, but he now wants his own three sons to learn from his mistakes.

“There’s a concern that they would repeat that cycle, and I want to show them that I’ve changed,” he said.

“I have to realize quite possibly I predisposed them to that type of relationship. We’ve talked about that quite a bit, how you break that cycle.”

He said that the counseling has changed his life because “men don’t sit down with guys in a group and really open up. I think it’s important that people hear this happens, and there are ways of getting help. Unfortunately, right now, most of us need the court to say you need to go to this.”

After his first counseling session, “I thought, ‘What a crock.’ By the fourth session — you know what? — this is probably going to be a good thing for me.”