EXCERPT: 'I Am Dog'

My dad, Wesley, also known as "Flash," had dirty-blond hair and piercing blue eyes. I am built just like him. He wasn't particularly large, though he was remarkably strong and fit. He had the most gigantic hands I ever saw. Dad was a navy welder, serving for many years. Flash earned his nickname boxing welterweight, because he moved with great speed and finesse. His boxing career was rather illustrious: He never lost a fight. Flash was a tough son of a gun -- a real scrapper.

From the outside looking in, my childhood was pretty normal. Mom and Dad lived a decent middle-class life in Denver, Colorado. My two sisters, Jolene and Paula, and my younger brother, Mike, and I were not very close growing up. We all played together and probably watched too much of my favorite television programs, like The Lone Ranger, Sky King, and The Green Hornet.

Every summer, I looked forward to joining my mom on her annual trip from Denver to Farmington, New Mexico, down to Sister Jensen's Mission. Even though Sister Jensen's congregation was primarily made up of Navajo from the local reservation, they all loved to hear Mom spread the word of God. She wasn't an ordained preacher, but she was mighty and powerful in her love of the Lord and her unshakable faith. Until the age of twelve, I tagged along as her helper, passing out hymn sheets and collecting tithes.

One of the first life lessons I remember Mom teaching me was that God sees all of us as His children, which makes us all brothers and sisters. Listening to Mom preach gave me a will and inspiration to live the way God intended us to. I wanted to grow up to be just like her -- to live a righteous, good, honorable, God-fearing life.

As a young boy, I never knew that other kids didn't get hit by their dads. I thought it was a rite of passage to have my father knock me around. I simply didn't know anything different. I can't recall any long stretch of time in my young life when my dad didn't hit me. He used a special paddle he'd made from some old flooring. Flash whacked me on the back of my legs and bare ass until I was black and blue and so sore I couldn't take another hit. To this day, if I get a sunburn anywhere on my body, it reminds me of my childhood and Flash's beatings. Just thinking of the abuse I endured can make me cry.

As a way to toughen me up, Flash began to teach me the basics of boxing. Although he never hit above the shoulders, I wasn't allowed to show any emotion after he threw a punch. A jab to the ribs, a left hook to the body -- whatever came at me, I was expected to take it like a man. But I wasn't a man. I was a young boy looking for love and approval from my father. I was desperate for his affection, so I ignored the pain. Sometimes I even thanked him for it, as if I deserved what he doled out.

Because of my religious upbringing, I thought my dad was punishing me for being a terrible sinner. Until very recently, I never understood that none of his abuse was my fault. I just thought that was how all dads treated their sons, and yet I swore that I would never beat my kids. I wanted the Chapman family abuse cycle to die with Flash.

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