He pointed his gun at us. Not steadily. Nothing he did recently could be called steady. My daddy said he would kill us all–my mother, brother, sister, and me. The bizarre crescendo of a middle-of-the-night whiskey-infused maelstrom. My mother tried to shield us. My young mind tried to make sense of this scene. Was that one of my toy guns in his hand? No, I just had cowboy ones. That is my daddy.
Yes, it should have been a terrifying night. Especially for a me, a boy of six. Much of it seemed like a blur. The end was clear…my mother frantically trying to herd my brother, sister, and me out of our harm’s-way house and over to June Bug’s in the middle of the night. Huh? June Bug Hern was my friend who lived next door with his parents. I think the Herns may still live there today.
I don’t remember the events leading up to all that. I just remember getting awakened in the middle of the night by a crazy, common commotion. My father, William Norman Boggs Senior, came home in a monstrous drunken rage. As usual, he was terrorizing my mother, Joan, likely accusing her of flirting with some store clerk. That was his “go to” accusation, her flirting with somebody, anybody. Always groundless. Funny coming from him, a man who was a serial adulterer. She was trying hard to stay out of his way. He was just getting madder. I sneaked into the living room to get a look at the two adults I loved most in the world locked in mortal combat.
And yet it all seemed somehow normal to me. Dad’s drunk and mad at my mom; she’s trying to protect herself and us, just another day at 3106 Charles Street in Ashland, Kentucky, 1964.
Dad’s frustration at not getting a clear crack at my mom sent him to a whole new level of destruction. Crash! The refrigerator became his surrogate wife as he grabbed the top of it and sent it slamming into the kitchen floor. Moving back into the living room, the television was next in his path. I backed down the hall trying to stay out of sight. He hadn’t torn into me or Jimmy or Cindy so far in these rages, but I didn’t want to press my luck. There was what sounded to me like an explosion. How did he bash in the picture tube? Did he use his foot…or, was it that pistol in his hand? I don’t know. Why wasn’t I scared? Numbness was my friend. Detachment my salvation.
By now, my mother was scrambling to rush us out the back door and over to the Herns. She called the police from there. They took William Norman Boggs Senior away that evening. I was worried about going outside in my pajamas.
Another event in my absurd world. Me, a student in the school of manhood. What did I learn that night? There were the obvious lessons…that violence is acceptable, that wives are suitable targets, that furniture, appliances, and home electronics will do if a wife is out of range. That in the spirit of Dr. Henry Jekyll, alcohol was a chemical potion that unleashed the evil Mr. Edward Hyde. That whiskey was a suitable lubricant for the family dynamic.
My world changed after that night. My mother had had enough of the alcoholism, violence, adultery, and chaos. She filed for divorce, an act of raw courage as an uneducated woman in the early 60’s, in the face of no visible means of financial provision beyond the child support ordered of my father by the court. Had she known then that after the court divorce proceedings, that very day, my father would disappear, completely ignoring his legal and moral responsibility to provide for his children, to provide for me, his namesake, William Norman Boggs Junior, she may have subjected herself and us to even more abuse. As it was, we escaped with our lives. Not everyone who encountered my father did, escape with their lives, that is.
As my father prepared to desert his paternal post that day of the divorce, as he packed up whatever he packed up to make his escape from all responsibility to his children, I doubt he realized all he was tossing in with his argyle socks and Old Spice After Shave.
In that bag, he was cramming in my self-worth and my potential for intimate relationships. I wonder if he had to sit on that suitcase to get it closed because it was jammed so full of my ability to love and trust; he took those away, too. They were mine; he took them. Surely his luggage was overloaded. Did he realize he had already removed my ability to feel, leaving me with a numbness that I would learn to use as a shield, a numbness that would lull me toward devastation and shove me down the road toward repeating his mistakes?
It was at this point my tabula rasa started to fill with the “William Norman Boggs Junior Can and Will Be Abandoned and Worthless” content. This course included information about how even people close to me would leave me alone, repeatedly, without love. A warning I didn’t heed and often just accepted because I expected it on some level.
It also carved out a now well-worn mind path I’m still prone to wander, slide, or tumble down. Though today, after years of counseling, lots of hard work, and a dose or two of genuine unconditional love, it is easier to recognize and reverse course. As I look back, I think I’m thankful my six-year-old brain couldn’t do much more than store that data on a time delay.
And it was many years later before my mother located my father after searching in every way possible back then. She found him in a Florida prison for involuntary manslaughter. Seems after a night of Old Crow and way under its influence, he let a woman out of his car and accidently ran over her. Yes, he was drunk, said the newspaper article. My mother then had him formally charged with threatening the murder of herself and her three children.
I never saw or heard from my father again after the day of the divorce. I did see him one last time. It was in 1976. In his casket. I stared at his dead, alcoholism-ravaged body with all kinds of mixed emotions. That’s another story.
What is a man? Surely not what I’ve seen.
Author’s note: This is Chapter 3 of my work, fatherlyFIRE. Well, if you want to get technical, this is Chapter 2, with links to the Introduction and Chapter 1 below. It’s my story. The other chapters are also on this blog. For this to all make sense, I encourage you to look. Here’s Chapter 1. And Chapter 2.
Thanks for reading. June 22, 2019.
William Norman Boggs Junior
“He put the glass to his lips and drank at one gulp. A cry followed; he reeled, staggered, clutched at the table and held on, staring with injected eyes, gasping with open mouth; and as I looked there came, I thought, a change—he seemed to swell—his face became suddenly black and the features seemed to melt and alter—and the next moment, I had sprung to my feet and leaped back against the wall, my arm raised to shield me from that prodigy, my mind submerged in terror” (The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson, p. 49).
According to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, “more than 28 million Americans are children of alcoholics” (National Association for Children of Alcoholics website).
Many studies point out a variety of difficult results stemming from growing up in this kind of environment. One such study states, “findings such as these suggest such pervasive deficits among adult children of alcoholics that it is a wonder they are even minimally functional” (Segrin, 1998, p. 345).
“Growing up in an alcoholic family increases the child’s risk of emotional disorders, health problems, sexual and physical abuse, and neglect” (McNamee and Offord, 1994, p. 472).
Cermak (1990) discusses the impact in military terms, comparing the “wound” received by adult children of alcoholics as “shell shock,” “combat fatigue,” “war neurosis,” and for extreme situations, sometimes even “Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome” (Cermak, 1990, p. 13).
At least one study suggests that ACoAs do in fact exhibit more depression, agoraphobia, social phobia, generalized anxiety, less behavioral control, and lower self esteem, all of which could impact the ACoA’s interpersonal relationships (Sher, Walitzer, Wood, & Brent, 1991).
“The battle scars from alcoholic homes make it difficult for CoAs to develop intimacy and trusting relationships (Robinson, 1989, p. 40).