Why a Montreal dad is talking to his sons about relationship violence

Why a Montreal dad is talking to his sons about relationship violence

No one wants their son to become "that guy" who winds up abusing his partner, says David Hemens, the father of two teenage boys.

While Hemens says he's seen his sons vent frustration in a healthy way so far, he's keeping a close eye on them.

"I'm going to be watching them — probably up until the day they marry — just for signs," he said. 

Hemens, who served in the Canadian Armed Forces in Bosnia and now works in sales, lives in Rosemère with his wife and their sons Colin, 14, and Aidan, 13.

- MORE IN THIS SERIES: Teach teens the warning signs of dating violence early, students say

The family openly discusses relationship violence often — not in an official way, but whenever the opportunity comes up, said Hemens.

Colin recently told him about another teenager demanding to take control of his girlfriend's smartphone.

"I was a little surprised [the controlling behaviour] was that sophisticated at such a young age," Hemens said.

That sparked a conversation with his son about boundaries, mutual respect, privacy, trust and communication in relationships.

Unwanted affection

As his teenagers get older, Hemens wonders how they'll cope if they become interested in someone who does not return their affection.

He said he initiates that discussion by asking his sons questions such as, "Where do you stand on that? Are you owed anything?" 

Hemens tells them the answer is a clear "no" and he goes on to explore how to manage one's emotions in that situation.

"That, more than anything, can lead to a frustration they don't know how to deal with," he said.

It also leads to conversations about how all relationships have to be mutual, said Hemens.

Violence amongst friends

Hemens also seizes the opportunity to talk about relationship violence when his teens bring up incidents between students at school who are "just friends."

"We can't say, if they hit a girl in school, 'Oh, but they'd never hit a girlfriend,'" said Hemens. "Yeah, they would  — and you have to address that."

'What if she's hitting you?'

Hemens also walks his sons — especially Colin, who is a football player in Grade 9 — through scenarios of what to do if a girl hits them. 

"Can you hit her then? No," he said.

"Can you leave?" he asks, and lets them think about it.

"You can do that. The minute you do you remove the other person's ability to hurt you," Hemens says he tells them. 

Making sure boys are not victims

In trying to sensitize his sons to relationship violence, Hemens said he hopes he doesn't go too far.

"For boys, I think, we tend to be more vigilant that they're not the instigators. The trick is going to be making sure that they're not the victims," he said.

Hemens is trying to teach his sons to find the balance between respecting other people's boundaries while also being assertive enough to enforce their own.

'She'd make him feel like garbage' 

Hemens's son Colin says he has already seen a friend experience emotional abuse from his girlfriend.

"It wasn't physical, it was mostly emotional abuse. She'd make him feel like garbage and he'd cry," Colin said.

He says he also helped a girl who was coping with an abusive boyfriend.

"The guy was hitting her, calling her names, abusing her, so she had to get the police involved," Colin said.

Both sons say the open discussions with their parents are helpful.

Colin, however, says he'd also appreciate more information about partner violence at school.

He says he received "no help whatsoever" from staff members he approached about his friend's situation.

"I think teachers need to talk more about it...the overall subject of bad relationships," Colin said.

'No parent knows what they're doing'

Hemens insists that even if the education system takes on the issue of relationship violence, parents can't afford to drop the ball.

"If [parents] don't teach them, you can't assume they're going to learn somewhere else," he said.

That said, he wonders if all his discussions with his sons are having an impact.

"No parent knows what they're doing. We're all wandering through hoping to God that what we're doing has some kind of effect."


- SURVIVORS: Talk to your kids about youth relationship violence, survivor says

- TEACHERS: Teaching teens about healthy relationships & the cycle of violence

- STUDENTS: Teach teens the warning signs of dating violence early, students say