Tough Love, Survival and Severe Bible Verses
How my father pushed me into the .06 percentage survival range while the rest of my friends died of drug overdoses
“They shall say to the elders, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a drunkard and a profligate.’ Then all of the men of the town shall stone him to death.”
People don’t die as fast as they used to in the drug world of the day; maybe the drugs just aren’t as strong as they used to be and the price factor, being so expensive, may come into play also. But back in the mid to late sixties, they died like flies.
I lost fifteen friends in less than five years, some just part-time associates, but most close friends, some I had known since elementary school. Most of the deaths were heroin overdoses. I survived, and while there may be many reasons for that, some beyond my limited knowledge, there are some very probable factors that played a role.
The biggest factor was the man who was my father. We had never had a very strong relationship, not in the best sense, anyway, but that may have helped him to do the things he needed to do in order to up my chances of living past 18. I was conceived of at a very bad time for him and my mother, and was a sickly baby that had to be kept in the hospital adding more economic stress to an already stressful situation.
I hit the Los Angeles Hall of Justice Jail, down town, (the Old County Jail) at the age of 17, a week before my eighteenth birthday. I had already been in several city jails during my Juvenile years. I was picked up for glue sniffing, and I will never forget explaining why I was arrested to an older black pimp who was one of my cell mates. He laughed so hard, he had to sit down. “Sniffing glue! Good God, my man, that’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard! Excuse me; do you happen to have a tailor made? No? Well, you gots to learn. If you gonna dance to the music, little brother, you gots to pay the piper!”
That was the beginning of many, many trips to the LA County Jail. 13 times in my 18th year alone. Car wrecks, brawls, stealing, burglary; in broad daylight climbing up into the lower floors of skyscrapers and other unethical acts of lawlessness.
All my other friends bailed out, again and again. Their parents were always there for them. My pappy bailed me out one time, the first time. After that I quickly learned that I was wasting my dime to make the phone call. “Sorry, Mark. Have a great time,” click. I still have to laugh as I remember it. Though at the time I was spitting mad. However, while I sat in jail doing “dead time”, waiting for the trial, my friends who had been arrested with me and been given bail by their parents would show back up in jail, sometimes within the week.
Sometimes, by the time I went to court on my one case, my friends would show up with 3 cases, two of which they had picked up while out on bail. They would end up getting 90 days and I would get thirty, and time served on the 21 days spent waiting for trial.
Another thing I found really irritating about my father was that he had a fairly well enforced “no work, no eat, no live at home” law. Dog, that bothered me. All my friends were welcomed back into their home by loving parents who fed them and found or gave them jobs and bought them nice clothes, etc. etc.
Oh, but did I tell you? All my friends are dead, all those boys overdosed.
My father had a tough time enforcing that law. I tried his patience. He would tell me;
“Don’t come back.” I would climb in the window at 3 in the morning, raid the refrigerator and then plop onto my bunk bed. And so the war was on. He would try to lock me out, I was expert at breaking in. He couldn’t throw punches at me because I could block them with my hands or feet and he was getting too old for that. But one night I came home at 2 in the morning and threw myself on the bed. Ouch! Who put the d**m suitcase on my bed? Still it was a tough game for my dad.
They would take off on a trip and I would throw a party. Girls, gambling, drugs and booze. The house would be torn apart. At this point my dad did a very unkind thing. They had gone to Vegas and I threw a party, a three day affair. Two of the guys there were some of the toughest guys out of West LA. One of them, a good friend named Johnny, had disarmed a police officer a year before, broken his arm and tossed his gun in the street. And the officer weighed a good 280 lbs. of solid muscle, his name was Haymaker and I believe he could throw one, but he didn’t do very well with Johnny.
Unbeknown to us badboys though, my family had come back early from Vegas. My two buddies entered into the house but then came back out fairly quickly. “What’s up?” I asked Johnny. “Yore Papa’s got a gun.” He smiled. I stormed into the house and almost ran into the barrel of the rifle aimed right at my forehead. He grinned at me and then cocked it. Well to make a long story short, I stood up and was talking back, but I was also backing up.
While I was acting mean and frisky, you might find it strange, but my heart was swelling inside with pride in my old pappy. I thought to myself, “Dang. He just backed out two of the toughest guys in West LA, right out of the house, and at gun point.” A whole new perspective of my father took over that day. I was just as proud of him as if he had won a gold medal at the Olympics and the feeling stayed with me for weeks.
The next thing he did was apply for and receive from the local police department a standing warrant for my arrest if I ever even stepped one foot on the property. If I was in the neighborhood the police would drive down and park across the street from my house. So irritating. How is a guy supposed to get a free meal?
I soon found I not only had to find jobs, I had to keep them, or I wouldn’t eat. I had plenty of hungry nights. I would break into old garages in the middle of the night to catch some sleep. I even would steal the blankest from some dogs that slept on porches at my friend’s houses, to get some warmth. I mean, how low can you go? What a mean old man my father was.
But did I tell you? My other drug friends all died.
Ecclesiastes in the Bible tells us that there is a time to embrace and a time to let go. And it can be a tough call for parents. But all I can tell you is, my father’s tough love pushed me into an extremely narrow survival bracket. My father not only learned how to say “no,” he learned how to back the no up relentlessly.
Many of those boys came from good homes; sons of school principals; senators sons; very well-heeled folks from the best neighborhoods; they pulled every string to help out the sons they loved so well. Some of the very rich, movie stars, actually took their sons out of the country to live on estates in Ireland or such, that did work. Others came from more normal situations where there was less money and so less strings that could be pulled. These generally survived longer.
And no doubt, in other homes and with other sons, it may have worked out well for them. But all I can go on is in my own experience; they often loved them to death.
My father apparently thought that when you acted like an irresponsible criminal, you should be treated like an irresponsible criminal. And had my father lived among the ancient Israelis, he probably would have had me stoned, and I think he would have grinned while they did it.
That Law of Moses in Deut. 21:20 that the then Senator Obama mocked, is not a law I would mock. Think about it. Before I finally reformed, I did many things that hurt people. I drove under the influence of drugs in downtown areas and urban neighborhoods. I once tried to pull a pistol from a glove box and fire into a vehicle, but my friends threw me onto the floor of the vehicle before I could get the gun in my hand. I could have killed or maimed innocent people in a dozen different ways. And every drug addict is the same.
So the first time I read that verse, I thought; “I should have been stoned.”
Now, does that Mosaic Law that allowed parents to take extreme outlaw children to their elders to be stoned still seem quite so incomprehensible to you? It actually would have saved innocent lives and property as well as put the fear of God in any remaining renegades among the youth. Moses was not just dealing with the welfare of one family, but an entire nation. Just a side thought.
And while I don’t ever imagine I was his favorite, I did go on to develop a very interesting relationship with my father, and a unique one in comparison to my better behaved brethren.
He would always look at me like, “You should have died.” And I would look at him and think, “You hard ass. You saved my life.” And before he died, he, who had played the role of an atheist his entire life made at least two phone calls to me in which he admitted to me that there was no evidence for evolution, and we would talk about God. This from a man who read hundreds of pages of scientific journals every week.
Anyone that knew him would find that hard to believe. But it is true. We didn’t argue about God, we discussed his existence and he was very open and childlike in both conversations. How odd that the kid who probably would have been aborted if he had been born after 1973, the cranky, backwards maverick who should have been stoned, who pushed him to his limits, turned out to be the only one of his offspring that didn’t remain an atheist. Thus the only one he could admit his evolutionary and atheist doubts to. Apparently he thought he saw God in my survival, just as I think I see the providence of God in my dad’s callousness and his toughness, in my survival.
Have a great day.