One man’s journey to healing and the global anti-violence movement he inspired.
Mataio (Matt) Brown grew up in a home where physical and sexual violence and emotional abuse were part of everyday life. The violent behaviour of his father towards his wife and children led Matt to think that male violence must be normal. In the introduction he states, “I wrote this book on behalf of every kid who ever lived in a home of violence and abuse. I wrote this for you. Because I am you. And I’m here to say it’s possible to change the narrative.”
From quite early in life Matt’s ambition was to be a barber. As he trimmed the hair of neighbours and friends he engaged in conversation and found that domestic violence was a recurring topic. Drawing on his own experience and on what he heard, Matt could see how easy it was to repeat the pattern of violence in the next generation. Social hostility, outbursts of rage, over-weaning self-pity, addictions, bullying and constant excuse-making to cloak vulnerability and shame were symptoms of inner pain. Aware of this in his own life, Matt decided to take responsibility for his feelings and actions. Through reading, thinking, talking with others and especially through the influence of his wife, Sarah, he found himself able to make life-transforming changes. He found freedom through discovering how to forgive himself and others so that he was no longer preoccupied with what was wrong in his life history.
Matt also came to see working as a barber not just as a job but as a vocation where he could make a difference by listening to the stories of men who sat in his barber’s chair and encouraging them to think and act in different ways. This led from working in a backyard shed to a street-front business known as My Fathers Barbers.
In the chapter that gives the book its title, he writes of how men who have had an abusive parent or an absence of parental love may project their sense of inner hurt onto a female partner with the unreal expectation that she will rescue them from their pain. When this doesn’t happen frustration may spill over into violence. Matt writes that it is important to recognise she is not your rehab. Indeed, rehabilitation depends on a journey of self-understanding and accepting personal responsibility for building a new future.
The chapter headings are intended to invite men who have incorporated violence into their lives to lay aside excuses and to begin a journey of healing. This is what Matt himself has done. He says as he tucks his children in at night he rejoices that their childhood is so different from his own. They are safe because he has broken the cycle of abuse. The safe place where men may talk and the anti-violence movement originally created in his barbershop has been introduced into other barbershops and salons in Australasia and beyond and into prisons and indigenous communities. It is an inspiring story, filled with examples of healing and every page is redolent with hope.
Authors: Matt Brown with Sarah Brown
Publisher: Penguin Random House NZ, 2021, 319 pages.
Reviewer: John Meredith