When I was a small boy not more then 5, I laid curled up in my daddy’s lap as he sat in a green chair in the living room of my grandparents’, my mother’s parents’, in San Francisco. We had flown there from Santa Monica not for a visit but to live. This was the last night I would see my daddy for what would seem like years; this was the night my daddy would leave. As I lay on this lap I cried begging him not to go, I cried to exhaustion and fell asleep while he held me in his arms.
I woke in the morning to find my daddy gone and my world turned upside down. I didn’t understand, all I knew is that my daddy was gone. Divorce had come to my world and I was alone, in a house foreign, big and scary. I don’t know what my sisters felt for some reason we didn’t talk about it, or at least I don’t remember us talking about it.
It was not long before we moved from my grandparents place into a large two story house my grandparents help my mother purchase and that’s when bad got worse. For the next three years I lived in a perpetual hell, my mother was psychotic; yelling and being beaten until I bled became the norm. Fights with my siblings seemed like a daily thing, although now that I’m older I guess it wasn’t it was just the stress of being a children that feared there mother. Always waiting for her to explode for no reason and to be the catching mitt for her rage and it was rage, for anger was something we only dreamed for.
It was during one of these rage episodes I would finely be released. My sisters Daisy and Cindy were doing their homework in the dining room. Me, my sisters Gretchen and Kathleen were in the living room, I was shirtless sitting on the arm of the sofa eating something out of a cup; there was a big Black dog in our basement that our mother was watching for one of her friends. I remember my mother coming in the door from work; she looked irritate, she had ‘that look’ in her eyes, I knew she was ready to explode. She went upstairs to her room without a word. An argument ensued as normal between siblings I can’t remember if I was involved or not but I remember while my sisters were arguing I slipped off the arm of the couch and fell on my sister guitar which was leaning on the wall next to the couch. I screamed as the strings tore in to my back; at that moment my mother came running down the stairs like screaming like a banshee freshly release from hell coming to get us. She was screaming what seems now a jumble of words, it all seems so surreal now. My little sisters started to wail out of fear; all while the dog downstairs barked at all the commotion it was hearing. My mother ran in to the kitchen and returned with a butcher knife. She looks at us with this wild look, her eyes seemingly bulging from their sockets, she held the knife in the air then pointing it at us yelled, pausing between each but the last two words “I’M… GOING… TOO…. KILL.. THAT… FUCKING DOGGGGGG!” with that she opened the door leading to the basement. We all stayed where we were, knowing if we moved we would pay for it on her return; we stayed whimpering and crying because we knew what lay ahead for us.
I didn’t hear anything coming from the basement, no barking nor any yelling from my mother it seemed as if she were down there a long time. To this day I don’t know if she killed that dog or what happened in that basement; but I think that dog saved at least one of our lives that night. When my mother returned; to my surprise, we were not beaten. She lined us up shoulder to shoulder and asked in a stern and demanding voice ‘who of you wants to go live with your father!?”
Without hesitation I raised my hand as did my younger sister Cindy; my mother had a surprised look in her face, I don’t think by my wanting to leave but because my sister wanted to leave. My mother always made it clear she had no use for males which included me her son. By the end of the week we were on a plane heading to Southern California to live with my Dad. The excitement of seeing my Dad as we exited the plane was dwarfed by the relief I felt escaping from my mother.
As a little boy my father seemed so big; a towering military man whose only blemish was the bits of shrapnel lodged in his arms and hands from the Korean War that the doctors didn’t remove because it would have done more damage than good. I cried the minute I saw him. He kneeled on one knee and grabbed both me and my sister and hugged us so hard I felt I couldn’t breathe.
My father, I would soon learn was the polar opposite of my mother. I never heard my father curse or raise his voice more than one octave in anger and in the 9 years I lived with him, I had seen him only lose his temper thrice. The first was when my elementary principal spanked me with a ping pong paddle and my father after asking me what I did leaned over the principals desk and said “You ever hit my son again and I will beat you to a pulp”, the second was when this man gave my Dad the finger for whatever reason when we were driving down the freeway; my Dad followed this guy until he pulled over and made him apologize to me and my sister for giving the finger and the third was the time a stray chiwawa dog killed all 6 of our Chickens; Last I ever saw of that dog was him being drop kick like a football game. Come to think of it there was a fourth time; but that’s a story for another day.
The first time I ever did something wrong I was shaking with fear as I waited for my Dad to come home from work. All I could see in my mind was this giant of a man taking me over his knee and spanking my bare behind or being beat bloody by a belt or shoe like so many times before by my mother. I was sure his beating would be so much harder than my mother’s because he was so strong; I feared it would hurt so bad that even the escape into my own mind wouldn’t keep the pain away.
When he walked in the house I was shaking with fear, he asked me what was wrong and I told him what I had done at school though my tears. I remember him sitting me down and asking me why I did what I did, he asked what I leaned from doing it, and then he asked if I was going to do it again.
He said; “Well, I’m disappointed that you didn’t make a good decision, but you told me you won’t do it again I’m taking your word on that; everyone makes mistakes in life; that’s how we learn. So go wash you face and come help me make dinner” I didn’t get yelled at, I wasn’t spanked, I was in awe of my Dad.
My Dad never spanked me and never raised his voice in anger at me. He was patient; when I moved in with him I couldn’t even read yet by the 6th grade I was reading Hamlet. He always provided love and encouragement.
Fifty years later; as I lay here in bed at 12:30AM; my wife and 8 year-old son next to me asleep. I feel like that 5 yearold little boy curled up in my daddy’s lap; only this time wishing my daddy was still alive so I could tell him that I love him and ask that he never leave me. My father died January 21, 2013 and I miss him every day; but for some reason especially tonight.