A Man Named Dave, by Dave Pelzer

My Copy: 9780452281905 (image from amazon.com)

The third stage of Pelzer’s memoirs: his adulthood and the learning curve that never stops. I appreciate reading the honesty in the pages. Dave isn’t a perfect person going “woe is me” when bad things happen; he’s trying to understand them as best he can and falls into bad habits along the way.

A Man Named Dave is all about Dave’s evolution from the child called “It” by “The Mother:” a scared, shy boy full of determination to live, into a shy, control-seeking adult trying to put that past behind him. But he admits he spends far too much time reflecting on his mother and father, and on his family life in those first 12 years. I would’ve thought after all that mess he went through, he’d want to be several states away from his mother and never see her again, but something in him was drawn to her and needed some closure of a sort.

What I find amazing is how after such a childhood, and teen years spent skating on very thin ice much of the time, that he grew up into a caring individual instead of a bitter person lashing out at everything. It’s not to say it didn’t affect him, his social life, or his marriage, but we hear stories of people breaking under less all the time.

Its an honest story about living from a flawed human being trying to live, and when he becomes a father, sacrificing to do everything for his son. The parts where he was married, you can definitely feel his frustration with what was going on, and then the realization Dave had with the problems he was making in the marriage, too. As in his other books, he is good at telling the events from the point of view of the person he was then.

A Man Named Dave gives some insight as to how the system changed over time regarding abused children and abusers, and a glimpse of what Dave’s mother believed during her abuse of him. That’s been one of the most frustrating aspects of reading this book, knowing The Mother got off scot-free with what she did. But then when we read about what was going on in the 60s and 70s, about the quiet little secrets that stayed in the family, and how long it took them to see the light, perhaps it’s not so hard to see why that happened that way. The law had to respond to the crises in front of it, and couldn’t retroactively go after her…even with that thick file of his injuries Dave was allowed to peek into before it became a sealed record. I think we can see how far we’ve gone, and how far we can still go.

I think it’s worth a read, and a fitting ending to the Pelzer memoir trilogy. The scenes where he speaks with his grandmother and mother made me wonder what he was hoping for, and what was going to happen. Those two women gave me the creeps…especially since probably everybody my age knows someone at least a little bit like the opinionated grandmother and her frankness and discipline.

The book is a window on a time this younger generation of parents may not understand, and mine barely remember. I grew up in that weird transition time when spankings were common but some were beginning to vocally disagree (at least in the South). Granted, I rarely did anything to really get in trouble, but knew a swat on the rear could happen if I was a total idiot (and did probably less than a handful of times–I couldn’t understand why other kids liked to do things to get in trouble all the time). But very few people screamed “child abuse,” even while the numbers of people lashing out against society and blaming their abused backgrounds for their actions increased dramatically.

The Mother and grandmother belong in the time before, when discipline could border on sadistic because it was a family secret and nobody’s business. Dave, however, turned his experiences around to help kids going through the system of abuse like he had, and finding his voice. It’s a glimpse of something most of us only read about in true crime stories or hear from social workers after a stiff drink.

Worth a read, because there’s a lot to it (and if you’ve read the other two, time you read something a bit more upbeat and just finish the trilogy).

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