(Draft of Chapter 6 of developing memoir with working title, “Diary of an Ocean Lover”)
My rebellion against a tyrannical father was fraught mostly in my head. At what age had this insane thought system spawn? Who knows. But by 17 my mind was already a rabbit hole, a warren of crazy-thinking ruled by a narrator constantly questioning and berating me for anything I did. I remember the fear and loathing because it was marked by a moment of self-reflection after taking a couple of drags on a marijuana cigarette in the back of Ontra’s Cafeteria. It was a frightening hall of mirrors I never wanted to look at again.
Entering my senior year in high school, I remember making the conscious decision to flake off. “I’ll show him!” I told myself. With all the noise in my head I had still managed to get good enough grades to be accepted to San Diego State University. However, the acceptance was provisional based on my grade performance in my last semester.
Today I understand clearly the leading issue and common theme of our troubled and hopeless co-dependent family. Each of us, and all of us together, were in a perpetual identity crises. Dad was determined to shape me, Danna and Mom into the persons he expected us to be. It was hard-wired in him as the authority figure he had chosen to be at an early age. He never accepted or saw us as the individuals we already were or were becoming on our own.
You can imagine how crazy-making this was for all of us. We were all his children, including Mom. When a parent screws around with a child or spouse’s identity in the midst of the process of it being formed, in its unfolding, we have years of head trips to overcome. How could a parent, namely our Dad, who as a child was emotionally abandoned by his own, have much of a chance at being anything other than cruel with raising his own children?
Realizing now this insanity and how screwed up I had become allows me to see the miracle Danna and I are today. Life is a miracle! We are endowed with unfathomable creative ways and methods to mend and heal if we can get out of our own way and let devine-ness be. But back then, there would be decades ahead of insanity and confusion.
I remember being certain at age 17 that when I grew up I was going to have a very respectable and high-paying job. Some of the occupations I fantasized about were a radiologist, a professional surfer and an architect. What these professions had in common was that they didn’t seem to me at the time to be too difficult to achieve. And if I wasn’t thinking about any particular occupation, I would become without question a very powerful and important person. How would this happen? It just would. I had no plan. But as long as I didn’t do anything toward it and fall on my face, I could keep the fantasy alive.
It is not unusual for young people to dream. And perhaps believing these thoughts are not atypical for children and even young people in their teens. But there is a difference between dream and fantasy. And my ideas of a future life for myself were illusions that hardened into belief. The deep pain of our family had driven me to create a thought-system in an alternative reality. It was a sugar-coated practice in denial, a way of avoiding reality and assuaging the negative thoughts in my head.
This is the reason it took me such a very long time to grow up.
We struggle as young people, particularly in the teenage years, to find and hold to who we are. We’re told to be ourselves. Well, thanks a lot. Who is that? What does that look like? How do we know how to figure out who we are when so many of us in this culture struggle through the teenage years and well beyond and sometimes never find out?
When I started fourth grade at nine years old our Dad came up with an idea for me. He bought a hard cover briefcase and gave me one of his old wristwatches he wanted me to carry and wear to school. He never asked if I would like to have them. And he didn’t say, “David, it’s time you start growing up now and be just like me. Use this briefcase for school and wear my watch.” That would have been truthful. All he said was, “Tomorrow you will take this briefcase to school and wear your new watch.”
Perhaps some nine-year-olds would protest. That wasn’t my way. I was always trying to please him and win his approval. I think I might have taken the briefcase to school a few times, perhaps a week. But the feeling of embarrassment was far stronger than any pain of displeasing him, and I abused the new briefcase in short time. As for the wristwatch, well, I was always losing things anyway.
During the summer of 1967, I would sometimes walk or skateboard on the sidewalks of downtown Beverly Hills by myself or with a friend on weekends. There were a few stores I’d frequent— Whalen’s, a corner drug store with a lunch counter serving great burgers, fries and cherry coke. A magic shop whose name I’ve long forgotten. Newberries. Hans Ohrt bike shop. And several clothing store for boys and young men named Birdsall’s and Rudnick’s.
Not that I went out of my way to sport the look, but I was a surfer beginning to look like one. My mouse brown long hair turned bleached blonde from the sun. My skin was deeply tanned. And I walked barefoot. It just felt good. On one of those days downtown I ran into Dad on his way home from his office on Wilshire Boulevard. He scolded me for going out without shoes. Now that I think about it, he no doubt felt chagrined by his experience with me over the briefcase and wristwatch from eight years before.
I understand a lot now. An impossible feud had been stewing for years between us as it had with Danna. ‘Who and what was my son becoming?’ he must have been thinking to himself. My crime was my love for the ocean. Our clash was over different eras and choices, lifestyles. For him, it was work, work, work, the only thing that makes you happy. His was a harsh cruel world he was trying to force on me. I did not know it then, but that year I was taking the beginning steps on a long and lonely path scripted ahead with endless switchbacks. With little clarity I was trying to figure out a way to grow and develop my passion, to find work and a place in a cold and confusing world where the joy I had discovered in the sea would sustain and nourish me.