Updated: Feb 11, 2020
Back’n it in, back’n it in, back’n it in, Dream Shake, turnaround 16 footer. It’s good!
Gene Peterson, Houston Rocket's Radio Announcer
My father tells me that I would sit on his stomach, bunched up like a frog ready to leap. As a three-year-old frog-boy I couldn’t understand sports or the radio announcer or why my Dad was so excited, but I watched him intently, mimicking any emotion I saw. When he cheered, I cheered. When he cursed the ref, I booed. We’ve always been close.
He was so theatrical about everything. Making a sandwich with my father turned into a 30-minute event involving toothpicks and melted cheese and toasting bread in a skillet and mixing a special blend of steak sauces—all while I polished my play-by-play skills from the next room so he wouldn’t miss the game. We’d play Nintendo and sports, and he’d read to me and tuck me in at night.
At age eight, I would hug his legs and bury my head in his thigh and squeak “I love you Dad,” and he would scoop me up with one arm. Probably thinking back to his own youth and his own inadequate father, he warned me, “Deek, one day you’ll be a teenager and you’re gunna think I am the dumbest guy on the face of the earth.”
“No I wont, I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
He told me that being a Davidson was special: “You’ll be a great leaper, and a good shot with a rifle. I always was. We Davidsons also navigate well, got that from your Grandpa—he was in the merchant marines. And one day you’ll have to fight the ladies off with a broom. I know what I’m talking about, trust me.” In his mind, I was the chosen one.
Though he worked in the arts (specifically the Ballet and the Opera), his career as a stagehand was essentially hard labor. He loaded and unloaded trucks as traveling shows came and went, did the necessary woodwork to assemble sets, and ran the fly-rail during performances. After the last showing of an outbound ballet, he would often work a 40-hour shift from Friday night to Sunday afternoon. Later, when he used his sway in the union to get me a summer job, I worked a 40-hour shift of my own. Saying that I would rather be hung from the ceiling and flogged than experience that again is an understatement. How he survived such things at his age baffled me.
A quarter-century of that work left deep cracks across his meaty palms. If he stretched his fingers too far back the cracks would open, and bleed slowly. His job often left him with splinters—sometimes normal wood, but more often straw-like hemp strands or metal fibers from ropes and cables. ‘Scalfs’ he called them. The metal and wood ones came out easy enough, but he would often ask me to use my young eyes to pick out the hemp ones with his surgically sharpened tweezers. He would rub my neck when I came home from school and use the flat of his sandpaper palm to scratch my back. I’ve always been amazed that he can play music so delicately with his scaly alligator paws. His fingers are thick and stubby, and sometimes he would hold my hand in his and label it a shame that I never picked up an instrument.
“You can already play, you just don’t know it yet.” Only after I left home did I take an interest in piano. I was intimidated by his talent. Music was his spiritual outlet. He called it his conduit to God. His Les Paul guitar was named the “Black Cat Bone” after a Muddy Waters lyric and he tattooed “Bold As Love,” the title of a Jimi Hendrix album, on his chest. He’d play and sing without fear. Like most people only do alone in cars with rolled up windows. His music was pure, honest expression, and these days I miss it terribly.
And then one day, his amp was gone. A week later, so was the guitar. A month after that, my mother’s wedding ring. I found out later that these things, along with my father’s rifles as well as his motorcycle, had all been sold or pawned. Initially, it was the lack of food that drove me away. Our cupboards were bare. The formally well stocked refrigerator showed empty, latticed shelves like protruding ribs. My mother gave me half of her meal every night and, being an oblivious teenager, I ate it and still complained of hunger. I began spending all of my time away from home. I rotated friends so it was never more than twice a week in the same place, and most of the solidly middle class kids I met in high school were more than happy to have me at their dinner table. Eventually the only thing I ever did at home was sleep. When our electricity shut off, even that became difficult in our un-air-conditioned house. My father was at work more than ever. I didn’t understand why we were suddenly poor.
Money, like our electricity, would come and go. School became less important. Family became less important. The only things that mattered were my manners and my charm, which I used to get regularly invited into other people’s homes.
I stumbled into our kitchen in my boxers and poured myself some cinnamon toast crunch. Got the milk, poured the milk, and put it back in fridge. Then I opened the silverware drawer and there were no spoons. I looked in the sink and there were no spoons. “Momma, can I get a spoon for my cereal?”
“We don’t have any spoons.”
“What do you mean we don’t have any spoons?”
“We just don’t have any, eat some toast.” I poured my cereal into a glass measuring cup and drank it two-fisted like a mug of hot chocolate.
When I found it, I was in the garage. Next to a lighter on an apple crate, it was bent like an inch worm in stasis. The bottom had some brown discoloring. I wondered how many of our spoons had met this fate. At first I didn’t realize what I had found, and after I figured it out, I denied it. Ignored it. Maybe even forgot. A week later I found a Polaroid of him holding up a massive freezer bag full of cocaine. It was just laying on his dresser, in plain view. He had a huge smile on his face.
I think it was the mythology of the Blues that had appealed to him. The swagger of it. He had that swagger, and it made his music sincere. But that same hubris let him think that he was somehow stronger than the drug. Stronger than the junkies who were smothered by it. Smarter than police officers who would eventually arrest him. And for that, I did think he was the dumbest fucker on the face of the earth.
When they knocked at the door, I was sitting next to him on the couch. He had crashed in the middle of the day, otherwise I wouldn’t be anywhere near him. I answered the door and woke him up and quickly went to his dresser to find him a pair of pants and his wallet. Through the screen he asked them to wait just a second, and they could see that he was no threat to run. He asked me to get him a glass of water, and I did, and then they cuffed him and took him away.
My mother wouldn’t be home for hours. I went to my room and climbed down into a recess I had created between my bed and desk. I sat in that nook, alone and muted, sobbing.
Author’s Note: I don’t know what normal is. But I doubt most people get to watch their father, and then their family fall into drug addiction. And though I’ve left out the worst bits, this was still absolutely terrifying to write. These aren’t issues I’ve held in, or have ever been scared to talk about, but this is the first time I’ve ever written about them. I don’t think my Dad is a dumb fucker anymore. He’s since gotten out of jail, off probation, and sober. He even bought some rifles and an amp and another Les Paul. During the worst of it he always got my mother’s wedding ring out of hock. I can honestly say that he is my favorite person. I don’t know how much these events have damaged me, he always takes credit for all of my high school fuckups, but I’m not sure I would have done any better if I lived with the Brady Bunch. These days he is a ridiculously proud father, and in a way that most kids never get a chance to be, I am truly a proud son.