Domestic violence: 'I didn't want my boy to look at me and think what I was doing was okay'
A course helping men to stop abusing their partners has been credited with saving women's lives. Crime reporter Jenna Thompson speaks to one man who has been through the programme ...
LAUGHING and playing with his children, Gary stopped for a moment to reflect.
Two years ago, he was on the verge of never seeing them again after he carried out a violent assault on his partner.
But last weekend, for the first time in 18 months, his children were allowed to spend the weekend at his house.
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"We were all overexcited," he says. "We were baking buns, going to the park. It was like fun house. Just to do normal things like that with my kids, to enjoy life and be a proper dad, felt amazing."
Gary says the transformation has stemmed from one thing – taking part in Hull's Strength To Change course for men who abuse their partners.
Violence had been a feature in each of Gary's relationships for the past eight years.
But, after one of his children saw him attacking his last partner, something changed.
"Social services became involved," he says.
"At the time, I thought stuff like that happened to everyone. I had seen a lot of friends being violent towards their partners and it seemed like the normal thing to do.
"I had to start seeing my kids with supervision and it made me realise, if I can physically assault my partner, I needed help.
"It made me want to change and to do it for myself.
"It wasn't just that. I have a little girl and if she grew up with someone like me, it would absolutely kill me. I don't know what I would do.
"I also didn't want my boy to look at me and think what I was doing was okay and turn out the same."
Although ashamed of his behaviour, Gary found the courage to call Strength To Change and enrol on the programme.
During his first meeting with Mark Coulter, manager of the course, Gary struggled.
He said: "When I first came here, I felt embarrassed and ashamed about what I had done.
"I was coming to talk to someone I had never met about everything.
"I can remember the sweat dripping off my forehead, and I didn't want to shake his hand.
"I was so nervous but it felt good to be able to talk to someone."
Sitting in an office in Health Central, where Strength To Change is based, Gary's leg shakes as he recalls his violent past.
"I would throw stuff, smash stuff that she liked to upset her, I would push her and assault her.
"If I didn't get something I wanted, or get my own way, it would happen then. I would feel a bit of guilt afterwards, but it got me what I wanted."
Although many of the men on the course have been brought up surrounded by domestic violence, Gary's upbringing was different.
"My dad always told me never to raise a hand to a woman," he says. "I was so scared to go to my dad and tell him. He was disappointed but he said to get on with the course."
With 18 months of one-to-one sessions with Mark and group work with other men who have abused their partners, Gary slowly began to change.
He said: "It was all such an eye-opener. I learnt so much about how to stay calm, how to remove myself from situations.
"The biggest thing for me has been being ashamed and being able to overcome that, learning how to release stress and deal with anger and frustration.
"I can see how degrading it was for my ex-partner, about how she must have been feeling, about how my kids were feeling.
"I don't ever want to put my kids through what they have been through again.
"It is hard. You are talking about stuff you don't want to bring up. Some people might think it's just a course, it's easy, but it's not.
"Getting through the door is scary, but it has changed my life."
Going on the course taught Gary that jealously was one of the biggest triggers for his behaviour.
He said: "I had a lot of anger and aggression in me and I wasn't channelling it in the right ways; it was all towards my partner.
"I had a big issue with jealousy. I didn't want my partners to leave the house because I thought they would be doing something.
"My partners had no confidence because of me. They didn't want to go out in case it caused an argument and they didn't want to say the wrong thing."
Today, Gary has a new partner and is regularly seeing his children. He said: "Our relationship is so different to any I have been in before.
"We can talk to each other about anything. She supports me and I support her. We are happy."
Although currently unemployed, Gary is looking for a job and is taking a parenting course to become a better father.
"I want to keep this up, to be a good dad, to be a good partner. If it wasn't for this course, I wouldn't be seeing my kids now.
"I know I have come a long, long way. Having my kids sleep over shows how much I have improved. It killed me being supervised seeing them. But I deserved it. I wasn't a good role model and I understand that now.
"My kids and partner come before anything. I don't ever want my kids to look at me and think I am a thug or a bully."
Gary's name has been changed for legal reasons