I was three or four when my mom left my biological father. My memories of those early years were surprisingly vivid. I remember my father arguing with my mom and hitting her on a regular basis. I remember throwing marbles and green army men at his back in a feeble attempt to intervene. I remember when he caught me urinating in the neighbor’s garden and slapped me full-force across the face, nearly knocking me off my little feet and leaving my left ear ringing like a gun had exploded near my head.
|Me at about 2|
Although we were still very poor, things improved when my mom left him. She got a job as a secretary at the elementary school I attended and we lived in a trailer on my grandparents’ property. Food was scarce, new clothes even scarcer, and luxuries such as toys, treats and sodas nonexistent.
My mom joined this church that attempted to control every aspect of our lives. We could only read Christian books and listen to Christian music, couldn’t associate with people of other religions, couldn’t watch television, etc. When I was in second grade, the preacher started his own school and we had to enroll. My mom left her job and began working as a monitor for the church’s school, which believed in corporal punishment.
When any of the boys in the school would do something wrong, the principal would make us bend over and grab our ankles while he hit us with a large wooden paddle. I was often forced to let go of my ankles and grab the floor to keep from falling over—that’s how hard he hit us.
Outside of school, my mom had me and my brother stay with the principal several times while she attended religious retreats. On one occasion, he made me wash his van, and then beat me because I left streaks. Well, the first three strikes were for leaving the streaks—the next nine strikes were because I refused to cry. And there was the time he and another member of the church tied me up and dunked my head in his toilet repeatedly, because I didn’t use the “correct” language when asking for rolls at dinner and then I refused to apologize.
|Private School Banquet (Literature Award)|
The whippings at the hand of this principal lasted about two years. I had just finished the fourth grade when the preacher shut down the school and told the parents they had to teach their children at home. My mom got a job as the church’s secretary—the pay was meager—and this allowed her to work from home while “teaching” us.
When I was about twelve, I convinced my mom to let me go to work on a full-time basis, promising to do schoolwork at night. I worked as a carpenter’s helper for a man from her church, and it allowed me to help her pay bills and put food on the table. I didn’t do much schoolwork after that, but I did start reading…a lot. I eventually discovered an author who would change the course of my life forever.
Thirty-one years later, I found myself happily divorced, the father of two amazing children (Brandon and Grace), and in a new relationship with Amanda, a single mom and a psychologist. As Amanda and I got to know each other, we exchanged stories about our lives. She looked at me one day and said, “I’m surprised you’re not messed up.” I laughed it off, but she went on to explain how lots of children would’ve been scarred from some of my experiences. She said she was surprised I’d been so successful, considering the scant opportunities I’d been afforded and the seemingly insurmountable obstacles I’d faced.
I’d never reflected poorly on my childhood. It hadn’t mattered that the principal beat me, or that we were poor, or that I didn’t have a dad. I’d rolled with those punches and remained a happy kid, growing stronger with each challenge I faced. I never looked back and I never harbored any ill feelings toward my father, the principal, or anyone.
Amanda’s words prompted me to consider my past. Statistically speaking, I’d been destined to fail. My brother, who grew up right beside me, had mentioned several times that he had been scarred by our past. I’d brushed him off and told him to get over it…that adversity only made us stronger. However, he eventually turned to alcohol and drugs to cope, and lost a successful business, a wife, and his children in the process. Essentially, it had ruined his life.
So, then, how was it that I was able to work my way from police cadet to chief investigator? Develop and command a successful police sniper team? Become a traditionally published novelist? Achieve my dream of being a professional boxer?
|Me as Sniper Leader, Pro Boxer, Published Author|
As I pondered this, I suddenly realized all of my successes could be directly attributed to one activity: READING. Every time I’d wanted to learn a skill or embark upon a new endeavor, I turned to books to be my guide along the path of knowledge. While I owe a debt of gratitude to the authors of the many instructional books I’ve studied over the years, the one author who has influenced me the most, especially during the most critical years of my boyhood, is Louis L’Amour.
|My Current Louis L’Amour Collection|
I tell everyone who’ll listen that Louis L’Amour raised me. During those impressionable years of my youth, I learned more about real life from his fiction than from anywhere else. I learned how to treat a woman with respect, to persevere even in the bleakest of circumstances, and to be courageous in the face of grave danger. I learned to be loyal to my family and friends, and to “ride for the brand”. I even learned to stand on my own and achieve my goals through hard work and dedication, and to never give up on my dreams.
Later, as a father, I would always encourage my children to read…a lot. At worst, I knew they might discover an alternative means of entertainment. However, I hoped reading would enrich their lives, and assist them in achieving their goals and realizing their dreams. Thankfully, I’m witnessing the latter. One thing is certain; had I not started reading as a young boy, I would’ve been a statistic—the one that suggests fatherless, uneducated boys who come from poor households almost never succeed in life.