Andrew Benson’s CHILD USA Story
April 6, 2022

If an unstoppable force had an encounter with an immovable object, the pair would only ever reach a resolution if Andrew was called in to make it happen.

The man is something of a Swiss Army knife of stories and ideas, observations and insights. His experiences are far-reaching into countless realms of life, while his spirited demeanor in describing them is the only reason an audience could ever digest them all at once.

Andrew’s vigor has slowly renewed itself through years of reflection, of trial and error. Akin to turning coal into diamonds – or an idea into reality – this combination has given Andrew the rare ability to make things clear both in brief and thorough story. Were it not so genuinely expressed, his at once disarming and expansive self-summary, “2 dogs, 2 cats, 3 marriages, and a 9 handicap in golf,” would feel like it was deliberately obfuscating a wealth of details. Instead, it’s just how Andrew sees his world.

In one moment, we’re talking about his hand in developing the technology behind early versions of privatized live-feed video systems. In the next, his experience as a Private Investigator. In the next, his past experiences working as a freelance agent with the DEA. In the next, the trials and tribulations of raising two sons and a daughter. This trend of fascinating points quickly becomes a constellation – a story all too vast to ever capture in full, but whatever information you can glean from it you appreciate nonetheless.

“I’m good at making things happen,” Andy says, direct nature clear, grin obvious even through the phone; a self-described questioner. Andrew’s story is one of tough questions, tough decisions, and tough love; he doesn’t hide that it wasn’t all easy. What you’ll likely find quickly apparent, however, is that his questioning nature has frequently given him the answers to keep going.

As a child, Andrew was subjected to cruelty and violence at the hands of his father. A local attorney, sometime politician, and a non-drinker, Andrew’s father would inflict his stress on Andrew along with his mother and 6 siblings, 4 of them being girls. While all in the house were subjected to various forms of abuse, it was Andrew and his mother who primarily “got the beatings”. When Andrew recalls his abuse, he also recalls the instincts he relied on to keep himself safe. He describes the sixth sense he had for his father getting home, and how he would sneak out through a crawlspace, shimmy down a post from the second story deck to hide in the bushes until his father fell asleep. Avoiding beatings was an answer, though doing so by hiding wasn’t a permanent fix.

Andrew’s father’s abuse culminated in his high school years. Around 16, Andrew stood up to his father and said he’d had enough. The literal whipping he promptly received in the front yard from his father only strengthened his resolve: that exact moment, he left home. From then on Andrew stayed with friends, and was taken in by a kind family nearby familiar with Andrew’s abuse; many knew, and many wanted to help.

And then what happened?
After leaving home, Andrew’s life took on a course of his design. He started at Dartmouth College after high school, and started to accrue a combination of business ventures and life experiences as he started a family. The truth of the tale is as succinct as it is layered: Andrew was able to remove himself. He walked away, and slowly built a life for himself, with all the joys and trials that come with it. Some jobs are worked for twenty years, some marriages blossom then wilt, some experiences shape everything in their wake.

Don’t be deceived, though: Andrew’s decision is not one every child can make, on legal, logistical, or emotional grounds. The environment he was fortunate enough to escape was one he never forgot about, and the same is true for the reality of leaving home. Leaving might promise physical safety, but it doesn’t promise closure – an arduous dilemma Andrew would feel the brunt of more than once in his lifetime.

“Trying to protect yourself in the moment is the simple part. Early on, it might be day-to-day. But that isn’t forever. And when there’s no longer immediate danger – when it’s no longer day-to-day, and you aren’t protecting yourself in that way anymore – how do you deal? How do you grow older? That same threat isn’t there, but… the feelings it instills in you don’t go away. These feelings are always there.”

Pondering the impact of painful experiences on our lives can be overwhelming but Andrew’s words underscore how bumpy the road can be. Just as our bodies and brains can protect us from traumatic experiences and memories, they can also be surely injured by trauma. Andrew was harmed at the hands of his father, and all of the perseverance, success, insight, and growth in the world wouldn’t erase this for him. It’s not that the past has to define the present; rather, we must accept what has happened in order to work on moving away from it.

Andrew’s relationship to his past has had its fluctuations, but he’s gained more comprehension of the day-to-day impacts. Still a questioner at heart, years of searching have given him the solace many of us aspire to find, though not without significant effort. “I’ve worked all my life to accept it.”

And accepting it, he notes, isn’t static. Some days you do, some days you don’t. Some days, you see it right in front of you, shaping your day, and without the right tools, you may feel overwhelmed.

The physical abuse Andrew faced as a child has repercussions that can permeate into other parts of one’s life if healthy supports aren’t in place. For one, Andrew points out, it meant that he didn’t have a reliable blueprint for being a father.

But that uncertainty doesn’t have to carry into every part of life. Andrew, for example, knows he could never inflict the harm he received on another person, especially his own child. Far too often, the arc is presumed by onlookers – “the abused will eventually abuse”. But, as Andrew points out, abusing another is a choice. People that are abused don’t just abuse.

“If my dad did what he did to me back then, now… he’d be in jail.” Again, Andrew aptly sums it up: “Why would you beat up a kid? It’s because you’re a coward. I will never be like my father was.”

How do we make sense of the past and the present?
How do we navigate such pain in our day-to-day lives?

“No matter what happens, I’ve persisted to be me, and not lose sight of what I have. I have children, right? The struggle is to stay on task. You have to choose who you’re going to be; don’t undermine where you’re going. I just want to be happy – be happy being happy. But… (we all) have to figure that out. For me, it’s whether or not you can stay happy. You don’t get through it and just say, ‘I’m okay’. It doesn’t go away, it’s what you get. This pain… you build yourself up, but then you can hit a point and end up self-sabotaging. In 2009 I lost everything I had and ended up sleeping on a park bench in the Boston Public Garden and/or an ATM area for almost a week. That is the moment when it was really “sink or swim.” It ranked up there as one of the most significant parts of my life. I decided to swim. And I managed to build everything in my life back to “good” and better than “good.” I just don’t want anyone to think that I never really struggled as an adult. I’m not perfect, but I do know how to survive, in a good way.”

“You have to learn how to be happy with being happy.”

Andrew is, in many ways, a living equivalent to a poster for perseverance, and not only for surviving his childhood or building a career for himself in its wake. His life now, as he makes clear, “is what happens when you don’t give up”. His story is an active demonstration of holding on to and for yourself. As the conversation shifts to more recent events, this becomes even more salient.

Andrew’s relationship with his eldest son is laden with its own history between the two, and their individual lives. Andrew had made impossible choices in the past to protect his son, which in turn suspended their relationship for years. Yet, now, Andrew says, their relationship is stronger than ever; a relationship once thought lost forever is now blossoming, healing, and continuing anew.

“If you had told me I’d be fishing with my son, all these years later, and with my granddaughter, I don’t know if I’d have believed it. But here we are. Here I am. At one point, he said to me, ‘you saved my life, dad’”. “And that,” Andrew says, “is worth everything”.

As our conversation approaches its end, I ask Andrew what he wants to make clear for those reading his story. Without missing a beat, he responds, resolved, understanding, and encouraging:

“We feel the anguish of what we’ve been through, and we can move past it, even if it’s hard. It’s always there, it’s just about how you process it. You have to realize you went through it; you try, you make mistakes, you stick to the path. Talking through it with [other people] is how you understand what happened, how you help yourself process. But just telling doesn’t change the future. This is a burden. You have to learn to deal with and process what happened. If you don’t, you continue to pay the price. Someone hurt you in the past, but then when you don’t deal with it, you end up hurting yourself. People think they can turn it off – it’s not off. It’s never off. If you try to turn it off, it can still affect you every day.”

If you try to turn it off, it can still affect you every day. Andrew walked away from the abuse present in his childhood, but only with time did he realize that he was, still, an adult who had experienced abuse in his childhood. It’s not the only thing he is, by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a part of his story. Every day is at once anew, yesterday’s tomorrow, and tomorrow’s yesterday. All parts – painful or not – are parts.

“Every person wakes up and decides what to do that day. What I want is to be me. I want to be satisfied when I wake up, and say ‘it’s okay’. There are ways to not let it continue to hurt the same. You can’t just give up. It’s not easy. But you have to; there is a way through it.

We take a second to chat about this in agreement, before Andrew calls on his skill to put this story, this perspective on survival, into its ideal short-form reminder.

“You have to commit yourself to making something better than what happened to you. It’s never too late to figure out how to be happy, and learn how to choose yourself.”

For Andrew, it’s about the power we all have to take charge of our lives. It’s about sticking out today for tomorrow; because, for him, the tomorrows he’s witnessed have proven to him that holding on – and working to understand and accept his pain – was the right choice.

For Andrew, it’s about believing that each of us can find our own bright future, too.