The following article is also related to clothing for boys, but it describes how parents can misuse children’s clothing. I was never able to find out why my parents treated me the way they did and why they dressed my the way they did. This report, which borders on the unbelieveble does not describe all that I had to endure as a child. It shows, however, how demeaning clothing can become and how a child, to protect it self, can build a “wall’ around him self just to avoid further damage from mistreatment with clothing. Church and family, at that time, demanded obedience and children were required to obey their parents. My father, Willy Kiener, was born in 1913 in a Swiss farming-family and worked on a farm until he married my mother, Martha Raess. They made their home in the rural farm-country of the Bernese Oberland; Later my father learned the trade of postal employee and was employed by the Swiss postal service. My mother was a home-maker and in 1943 my brother Peter and in 1945 I was born. A big peculiarity was that my parents raised my brother and me in an entirely different fashion.
I was never able to find out why my parents treated me the way they did and why they dressed my the way they did. This report, which borders on the unbelieveble does not describe all that I had to endure as a child. It shows, however, how demeaning clothing can become and how a child, to protect it self, can build a “wall’ around him self just to avoid further damage from mistreatment with clothing. If a child would be treated this way today, the parents would be immediately arrested and the child would be placed in foster care. But, unfortunately, in the 1950s this was not the case in Switzerland. As war, poverty and family-discord can have great impact on children, so can inappropriate clothing forced on children against their will. This is my reason, why I desire to publish this article. Hopefully this article will warn parents and adults from forcing inappropriate clothing on children. In certain places, this article is revolting and borders on the unbelievable. Thanks to many people that have helped me in my later youth and stood by me in my adulthood, I was able to overcome much of the damage thrust on me in my childhood and I have pursued a happy life, supported by my wife and surrounded by my family. My love for nature and model-building were also very helpful in diverting my life from the misery imposed on me and giving me a purpose in life. Today, I look back to a full life that brought me a wonderful family, a productive life and permitted me to dedicate my expertise to model-building, the very activity that protected me in my youth from total desperation.
The bible says: “Honor father and mother”.
Church and family, at that time, demanded obedience and children were required to obey their parents. My father, Willy Kiener, was born in 1913 in a Swiss farming-family and worked on a farm until he married my mother, Martha Raess. They made their home in the rural farm-country of the Bernese Oberland; Later my father learned the trade of postal employee and was employed by the Swiss postal service. My mother was a home-maker and in 1943 my brother Peter and in 1945 I was born. A big peculiarity was that my parents raised my brother and me in an entirely different fashion. While Peter was permitted to dress in fashionable boys clothing and was permitted to do just about anything he desired, I was dressed in worn girls-clothing given to us by the neighbors and in hand knitted, woolen jackets and was not given any freedom.
The home we lived in was a relatively large home that housed two families. It had a large yard behind the house which was used by both families and had enough space to maintain a vegetable garden and some small farm-animals. The garden and animals provided us with some of the food we needed. Our neighbors also had two children of the same age, but they were girls. Both mothers spent a lot of time in the backyard knitting and talking. Very often I had to dress in the backyard in front of the girls and try on some of their clothing that had become too small for them. Especially in the spring, when the girls were given new summer-clothing I was made to wear their stockings, underwear and tights. On top, I then had to wear a woolen, long sleeve jacket and it always had to be buttoned all the way to the top. Over that I was made to wear a red and white checkered smock that was buttoned in the back. If I complained in any way, I was severely punished. I learned very soon, that I had to keep silent and just accept what ever my mother made me wear.
My brother grew up like a normal child, participated in all the normal activities as a youth, such as the Boy-Scouts etc. He was also very talented in sports and had lots of relationships with girls. He became an architect. Unfortunately he became dependent on drugs, which contributed to his social decline. He now is a ward of the State.
As stated above, in stark contrast to my brother, I was not permitted any outside activity and had to obey my parent’s orders to the letter. Primarily, through my being forced to wear girls clothing and the constant reminder that I was “nothing” and that I was not to ever contradict my parents, I withdrew and spent most of the time by my self. I was always reminded that the woolen jacket I had to wear was made for girls and was buttoned on the reverse side. I was also, always dressed by my mother. I was not permitted to do that by my self. I was also never permitted to remove any clothing without my parent’s permission. While at that time, it was the time where boys wore long stockings less and less, especially by the 1950s. Boy’s tights becan to appear. I was required to wear those old stockings from the neighbor’s girls all year round. All this made my a target to be teased by the other kids.
When I grew up, it became popular that boys would wear pajamas at night instead of nightshirts. Here again my mother made certain that this was going to be different for me. Instead of a nightshirt or a pair of pajamas I was made to wear a smock that was buttoned in the back. I was also made to wear cotton diapers and plastic-pants and everything was covered with woolen tights. As there was no inside toilet I had no choice on occassion to use my diapers during the night.
During that time I always had to wear long stockings and woolen jackets and a woolen hat that was tied under my chin. Even when it was very hot outside, I was not permitted to take my jacket or hat off. While it was normal for kids to wear a brown or black smock to kindergarten, I was again made to wear a very colorful smock with colored buttons that were buttoned in the back. For the meals at school or at home, throughout my youth I was made to wear a bib. Even when my parents took us out to a restaurant, they always tied a bib around my neck.
During all my early school-years at home and at school I had to wear a smock, that was made for girls and my parents always reminded me of that. This was very difficult for me on my first day of school in primary school as al the kids started to laugh at me. Underneath the smock one could see my long stockings etc.
My mother was given a few very colorful rain-slickers from our neighbor’s girls. From then on, if it rained or the sun was out, my mother made wear this contraption all the time when I was outside. Again, I was not permitted to ever take this cape off, without her permission.
My father was extremely good in handy-craft and as I grew a bit older, I was permitted to join him in his workshop. For that purpose I was made to wear a white smock as my father insisted that I do all my work very cleanly without soiling this white smock. This treatment isolated me completely from the members of my school and I thought solace in the nature around me and going fishing, or walking my dog. Naturally I had to do that always with my rain-slicker on and all the other clothing, with the woolen jacket buttoned up to the top etc. But this gave me an escape from the psychological pressure; I always was in presence of my parents. It gave me a distraction and permitted me to be just me. When I was at home, I was sent to my room and I was made to draw pictures. This and my walks in the nature gave me great appreciation for colors and also the idea on how to make colors out of materials that one can find in the nature. My father saw that and guided me in the art of making different colors out of tree-bark, mushrooms, berries and leaves. During the night, when I was lying sleepless on my bed, I thought more and more on how to make these colors. I learned to color wool and other materials. My father recognized my skills and permitted me to work with him in his work-shop, but always clad in my white smock.
My father, who was very much into model railroading and related model building, discovered my skills in these activities and assisted me in the learning of these skills.
My dictate of clothing had not changed and I was severely punished if there was any smudge on my white smock. But the model-building and railroading gave me a new outlook on life and helped me to overcome the serve pressures I was subjected by my parents and my environment. Nature, fishing, my dog and model-building became my daily companion and escape from the rest.
Naturally my brother was no help and teased me all the time, but he had absolutely no interest in model-railroad or model-building. Therefore I had something that set me apart in a positive way from my brother. On Saturdays afternoons, when my brother went to the Scouts, I was changed by my mother into the usual clothing with the woolen jacket, buttoned in the back all the way up to the neck and the white smock over it. This way I was allowed to go into my father’s workshop and cut, paint and glue all the models he was working on. I was permitted to work on my first WESA Model railroad. I learned a lot under my father’s guidance. I few times we took a trip to nearby Bern and visited the Stauffer Company. This company organized some competitions in railroad model building.
I was about 13 years old when my father entered me in one of these competitions. My mother made certain that I would wear my stockings etc. and a red checkered smock over
Everything. This event was a display and competition that lasted Saturday and Sunday. With my fathers help we had built a model of the irrigation canals, the way the farmers built them way up in the mountains to bring the water to their pastures. I was so busy that I had totally forgotten what I was wearing and lost all self-consciousness over what I was wearing. I tried to respond to all the questions the judges had. The next morning my father had dressed me as usual, but he made me wear a long black smock, just the way most kids wore every day. As we got to the competition they announced the winners and my father sent me to go up to the stage and accept the prize we had won. I do not know what made me more proud, the fact that I was allowed to wear a black smock, like other boys or that I was allowed to receive the prize. From then on WESA Model building and model building in general became my constant “companions” until the end of my schooling.
Shortly before finishing my mandatory school, a new student joined our class. His father worked for the railroad. With his assistance our school class was able to take a trip to the maintenance yards of the railroad in Bern. His and my interest in railroads brought us closer together and we started to spend afternoons together. While he was surprised of my attire, he accepted me the way I was and the attire did not become a problem between him and me. Slowly but surely, we became good friends and my parents even permitted me to spend some time at his house. For the first time I saw a big Maerklin Model railroad, which his father had built at their home. They also had some steam locomotives and a US-logging model railroad. That is, when I discovered my interest in US-railroad models. I was so fascinated by these models that I begged my father to give me one of these model-sets for Christmas. In 1958, I found one of these sets under the Christmas tree. At that time it was very difficult for me to find much information about U.S. railroads. My father became friendly with my friends father and this made my friendship much easier. As my father was an excellent model-builder, my friend and I were allowed to spend a lot of time in my fathers shop, building our own models or assist him in building his models. My friend and I studied many books that showed us pictures of US buildings etc. and we started to build models of log-cabins, train-depots and more. My father thought this was too primitive and he got us some books from the library that had illustrations of more sophisticated buildings. While my friend never understood why I had to wear girls clothing, stockings, diapers and these red and white checkered or all white frocks he accepted it as he realized that I had absolutely no say in what I was permitted to wear. Our common interest in model-building was stronger then the awful clothing my parents imposed on me. The big breakthrough came for me in the model-building, when I was given a Revell-HO Model kit. I started to use my skills in using colors in painting these buildings in colors, like they looked in reality, weathered and washed down. I had an opportunity to display one of these models and it drew attention of an individual. He called my father and wanted to meet with me and find out more about my skills in model-building. This individual worked for the Swiss short-wave radio station and had to undertake frequent trips to the USA. He brought me numerous models from the USA, which I built and finished. Mr. Fritz Duerr became like a god-father to me and helped me to become very proficient in the building of US model railroads.
As I finished school, the time had come for me to undertake and apprenticeship. Due to my vast knowledge and skills about colors, wood etc. it was decided that I should enter an apprenticeship in wood-carving at my uncle’s place. My mother had bought me new, white smocks, that were buttoned in the back and with my “traditional” girls clothing I started my apprenticeship. I was very shy and tried to keep to my self. My uncle saw that and was instrumental in changing my life. It was he who decided that it was time to change all this. He confronted my parents about my clothing and insisted that I be given “normal” mens clothing instead. He took me in and I lived at his home. Lot’s of counseling and long talks with my uncle helped me to eventually overcome my problems and adapt to a normal life and become less withdrawn.
I was able to enter a “normal” life, found my beautiful wife and she gave us a lovely daughter. I worked a lifetime in providing services through the church and on the side I kept my love for model-building and nature alive. Now, that I am retired, I am again dedicating all my energies towards model-building and assisting young people in learning this wonderful skill. I am extremely grateful to my uncle, who next to teaching me the art of wood-carving during my apprenticeship, provided me with guidance, support and understanding to make my physically and mentally a whole person and assisted me to put the abuse, I endured during my youth, behind me.
As I am of German language, I would also like to express a word of appreciation to my friend Tom who motivated me in putting this story on paper and translated it into English.
I think it is very important that experiences, like the above, not be hidden but be made available to many adults, so that they can learn on how to better provide for their children. If I can save one child from abuse, then my sharing of my story was worth it.
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