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Don’t Let The Bastards Getcha Down

Chapter One (05)

Life Before West Point

I often used the swamp and nearby woods as my refuge
from the nonstop drama, insanity and violence at home. It
was my haven where I was safe from all the strife and horror
going on in my family. At a relatively early age I found
solace and serenity in nature, and spiritual relief from the
madness all around me at home. I would chill there sometimes
for hours on end, and had several favorite secret hiding
places out there in the woods where no one could find me
whenever I needed a respite or reprieve. I felt such an
affinity for nature’s beauty. It stood as such welcome
contrast to the only life I had known at home. I often would
run through the forest with such a sense of wild abandon,
liberation and exhilaration. I would envision myself running
over the exact same sacred ground three or four hundred
years earlier as a Native American boy. Abound by so much
history and natural beauty around me, I was truly at home in
the forest, my outdoor paradise, completely unencumbered and
unburdened by all the domestic family depravities and inner
demons that haunted me everywhere else I went as a kid.
Nature and sports were my salvation from all the madness,
misery and strife in my otherwise pathetic life.
I grew up having a love-hate relationship with my dad.
Despite the fact that ninety-five percent of the time he was
a tyrannical, out-of-control monster who made our lives
miserable, I loved him. And despite my dread of weekends
knowing my father would be at his unstoppable worst for
another forty-eight hour stretch on Saturdays and Sundays,
deep down I still loved him. That five per cent of the time
that he was not Mr. Hyde, he was sheer joy to be around. My
dad definitely had a Jekyll and Hyde split personality that
was in total contrast with each other. When he was the good
father, he was always so upbeat, humorous, enthusiastic,
optimistic, generous and happy. His all powerful charismatic
persona lifted us up with him so we were giddy with delight,
more so knowing it was limited to no more than a few hours.
So we knew we had to savor it for however long it lasted. My
bigger than life dad had a very powerful presence, as his
mood went, so went ours. His intense strong energy permeated
every corner of every room in that house, whether he was
there or not. He loved classical music, Gunsmoke, Camel
cigarettes (he finally quit at age fifty-five after smoking
forty years), and taking the family on long rides to God’s
country as he called northern New England. We dreamed of
buying a big colonial home and living in Vermont or back to
New Hampshire since, in retrospect, we were happiest as a
family during our all too brief time there, away from the
stress and wrath brought on by working for an abusive older
Plus as bad as our father’s behavior could get at
times, one thing all of us never questioned was our father’s
love for every one of us, and his willingness to sacrifice
and do anything for us nine kids in a time of need or
crisis. We knew we could always count on him to be there for
us. And that bottom line was always very consoling, knowing
how much he truly loved all of us. So we worshipped him in
his greatness, and secretly hated and cowered to him in his
abuse, making for an extremely complex, paradoxical
relationship with a very complex, paradoxical man. Some in
our family believe him to be manic-depressive, and though as
a clinician I would not diagnose him bipolar, all his life
he may have suffered from a less severe form called
cyclothymia. In any event, thanks to my father, it was never
a dull moment at our house.
All of us kids were in total awe of my father’s courage
and bravery displayed while fighting during two wars. He had
earned the nation’s second highest honor in the Silver Star,
a Bronze Star and countless other medals and commendations
from his two decades of naval service on submarines. He had
saved countless lives with his heroics and selfless
sacrifice for his shipmates he loved so much. A natural born
storyteller, my dad reveled in the retelling of his old
salty dog Navy tales. He focused on mostly happy times and
how close he was with his shipmates, and his infamous
carryings on while docked at various ports around the world.
My father was a true patriot who inspired me to follow in
his military footsteps, instilling in me a sense of honor
and pride in fulfillment of serving our nation through
distinguished military service. He had mixed feelings about
not becoming a commissioned officer when his skipper
recommended him for promotion. He felt such camaraderie with
his fellow enlisted men and never wanted to lose that
special rapport that becoming an officer would forcibly
alter and change. Plus, on the inside, my dad always felt he
was less than, despite being a mechanical genius and despite
his myriad accomplishments. My father always felt he was not
good enough. I remember him telling me that an officer had
been so impressed with his intelligence and knowledge that
he suggested my father look into applying to the US Naval
Academy. But upon further inquiry, my father found out he
was too old by less than a year. So when his firstborn son
came along, he made no hesitation in encouraging me to take
advantage of the opportunity he regretfully missed out on in
going to Annapolis. Though I never realized it at the time
while growing up, attending a prestigious service academy
like Annapolis or West Point was actually his vicarious
dream and not really mine. But I was so invested in seeking
much needed approval and love from my father, I internalized
his dream as mine. Impressed by the honor it would bring to
both myself and my dad, from a very young age I planned to
ensure that I got halfway decent grades in school in order
to eventually make my father proud by getting accepted and
attending Annapolis. It became my mission in life from a
very early age. Of course watching “West Point Story” on
television back in the late 1950’s only reinforced my
dream to one day become an Academy man. It ran for two
seasons based on real cadet stories. The West Point march
that was its theme song gave me goose bumps. I was hooked.
That said, there were moments of clarity and vision in
my youth that veered me off course from my father’s and my
holy mission. An example came when I was in the sixth
grade and the project assignment was to create a poster
answering that proverbial question of what you will be when
you grow up. Annapolis had to be on my mind vis-à-vis the
great NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach, then in
the middle of his Heisman Trophy year at the US Naval
Academy, the last Academy player to garnish this nation’s
highest college football honor. His Navy team ended up
ranked number two in the country with just one loss.
There is no denying it stoked my dream of one day playing
football for Navy. But when it came to the immediate task at
hand of completing that assignment to come up with a career
choice, unlike Staubach after doing four years of his post-
grad commitment as a Navy officer and then becoming the
starting Dallas Cowboy quarterback, I must have looked into
my crystal ball and saw myself out of the military to
become a psychiatrist of all things. Though in fact I
floundered for several post-military years as a civilian in
search of a career, eventually I settled on pursuit of a
masters degree in clinical psychology on my way to becoming
a licensed psychotherapist in California. I was not so much
interested in being a pill pusher or pharmaceutical whore as
I cynically view the profession of psychiatry today as a
practitioner of the healing arts helping individuals
overcome their problems in reaching their God-given
potential. And this vision that had me drawing a healing
psychiatrist working his magic on a two by three foot poster
back in the sixth grade was my authentic self (as Carl
Rogers might say), prophetically envisioning my true calling
with a clear and lucid eye on the prize. It carries a
redemptive quality to realize that even then amidst all my
prepubescent darkness, angst, frustration, anger and twisted
up inner conflict, my Piscean intuition and psychic power to
know thyself was still very much alive and well. By the way,
speaking of “know thyself,” helping me get a grip on my
post-military floundering, even before going back to school
in psychology, I became a self-taught astrologer. It has
proven a valuable tool for understanding individual
personality more accurately than any personality theory in
psychology can offer.
Among the most common effects of child abuse is feeling
like a piece of shit, unworthy and undeserving of anything
good in life, or as the way overused cliché goes, possessing
very low self-esteem. Low self-esteem is the multi-
generational legacy that like a contagious epidemic, my dad
must have picked up from his father and of course passed it
down to me not so subtly delivered via his constant little
putdowns like, “You’re nothing but a lazy bum” or “You’re
not going to amount to shit you good-for-nothing, lazy bum.”
These damaging labels and words constitute emotional abuse
that have long term effects that last far longer than
physical abuse. Bruises and even broken bones completely
heal and go away (though memories may last a lifetime) but
harsh words cut deep into one’s innermost psyche and they
are far slower if ever to heal. Of course the healthiest way
to respond to all those hand-me-down put-you-downs is to
channel the hurt and anger from them into such a powerful
driving force of motivation to show pops and all the rest of
the assholes in the world that they got you all wrong, and
that despite their damaging, dream-killing negativity, you
become even more determined to be successful in life. If
Michael Jordan first had to defy and overcome his share of
naysayers before proving them all wrong by only becoming the
greatest human to ever play the game of basketball, then so
must we. Despite the constant putdowns in his perennially
heated moments, I knew my father was betting his future on
me, vicariously living through me making it to the Academy,
using it as a boost for his own ego as a proud parent who
must have done something right. And I saw how he was at
least marginally to adequately pleased when I brought home
my straight A’s and B’s report cards. The occasional
“attaboy’s” from my dad were enough for me to keep trying to
please him. So the positive bone he’d throw me every now and
then motivated me, but the near daily putdowns motivated me
even more.

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