Book Excerpts

Chapter 1

Flawed Foundation


Over the next fifteen years, I would experience my mother’s looks of disgust tens of thousands of times—poisonous, soul-dissolving facial expressions that would add toxicity to her physical, mental, emotional, and religious abuse, and shape every aspect of my personality for the next several decades.

Now before going any further, I want to make it very clear that I have long since forgiven my mother—and others I discuss in the book whose behavior negatively impacted my and Debra’s lives. I understand as well as anyone that to be who and what she was to me, she obviously had endured a measure of abuse herself at some point in her childhood.

There’s a scene in the movie The Shack where the character Wisdom allows the character Mac—who wants to punish the man who murdered his daughter—to be the judge of the world. Wisdom asks Mac if his daughter’s murderer should be punished, to which he replies, “Yes!” And then Wisdom asks him, “And what about his abuser and the one before him and so on?” Then Wisdom continues, “Doesn’t the seed of evil and violence go all the way back to Adam?” So, I understand forgiveness, but restoration, on the other hand, is something that requires additional effort from both parties.




Even as an unusually—oddly—underdeveloped four-year-old, I remember constantly watching Mom—reading her facial expressions and demeanor, and paying close attention to how she responded to my every word and action—in order to gauge her demeanor, determine what was right and what was wrong—at the time—or if I was going to “get it” again. But even then, it was a hit-or-miss effort and eventually, I just tried to stay away from her—as much I could, that is.

The skill I would develop from reading Mom’s facial expressions to protect myself from her would later be of immeasurable value to the abused wolves here at Big Oak Wolf Sanctuary—and a key component in their healing!




Early on, Daddy was fairly engaged with us kids—despite working seven days a week, ten to fourteen hours a day, every single day of the year. But over the course of my childhood, I would watch him gradually retreat into a world of confusion, self-doubt, and despair, to the degree that he would often go days without saying a word.




Daddy, who was working at the golf course all day, every day, saw the polar opposite manner in which Mom treated me versus how she treated my brother, and I think he instinctively knew that it had to be worse for me when he wasn’t around. So he began taking me with him to the golf course for a few hours during the day.

While there, Daddy would attempt to soothe my sorrows by letting me eat crackers and candy and buying me a few things here and there. Unfortunately—even at the very young age of four or five—I was so screwed up that I didn’t really appreciate his efforts for what they were and gradually learned to manipulate him to get what I wanted. I also became a master at rationalizing my behavior to avoid punishment and gain his sympathy when he’d call me out for something I had done.

I had such a deficit inside of me from the previous years of seeing my brother treated like royalty and get the things he wanted and needed, that all I thought about was catching up and getting what I wanted and thought I needed.

Unfortunately, I would refine this manipulative behavior over the course of my childhood and maintain portions of it well into my mid-twenties. Over the course of the next few years, my behavior in this respect would gradually progress to the point where I had all but become the person my mother always said I was.

After a few more trips to the golf course, I noticed that the men who were getting ready to play golf in the mornings would drink a lot of coffee beforehand and then laugh loudly while they were talking. It always looked like they were having fun and really enjoying themselves. So one morning after they left to play, I slipped over to the coffee pot, poured myself a cup and put a lot of sugar in it. Then after a few sips, I remember feeling like I was superman—it was a feeling I had never before experienced, both mentally and physically.

This was my first experience with a mood-altering substance and a powerful enlightenment regarding things that could make me feel good about myself—instantly!




From my earliest memory, Mom referred to me as “stinker,” “dummy,” “pig,” “nasty,” and many other names and labels that destroy a child’s self-image. But as I got older, the names changed to “Hitler,” “the devil,” “demon,” “Judas,” “hellion,” “the prodigal son,” “Cain,” and numerous others, while also talking in graphic detail about Hell, hellfire, the judgment, damnation, burning forever, and other forms of eternal punishment. But the worst by far was her telling me about having to have my head cut off to go to Heaven.

When a young child continuously hears that if he doesn’t change—something he has never been able to do anyway—he’ll be “left behind” with the Antichrist and have to have his head cut off to go to Heaven, it mars his soul, disfigures his self-image, and warps his perception of God!

However, the name “nasty” seems to be the one that caused the deepest wound and was by far the most destructive to my self-image. It also had the most conscious negative effect on me socially—probably because that particular word so flawlessly matched her facial expressions when she’d say it, thus causing its destructive power to penetrate deeper than the others.

In addition, during this time she was constantly shaming me in public about the way I talked and my inability to pronounce certain words, often adding, “I don’t know where he came from; he’s obviously not mine!” Because of how Mom treated me in public—and portrayed me to her friends—I honestly don’t recall ever feeling totally comfortable around people.

But I was always fascinated with animals, and I enjoyed watching an old show called Mutual of Omaha’s Wild  Kingdom, hosted by Marlin Perkins.




In hindsight, I realize that I was so heavily preoccupied with how I was perceived by my classmates and teachers that I was incapable of mentally focusing on learning anything, or even placing any value in it, for that matter. Being liked and accepted by others was the only thing I valued—that was the deficit I needed filled before anything else would work.

Children who grow up with an abundance of love and are watered with a continuous flow of nurture and affirmation rarely even consider how they’re perceived by others and they’re usually good students and over-achievers in their early lives. Conversely, children who grow up without love, nurture, and affirmation have less mental and emotional energy to allocate toward learning because they’re preoccupied with thoughts of being loved and affirmed—and what could possibly be wrong with them!




A few weeks later, we were coming back from the beach one night where we all had gone out to dinner. I had this incredibly ugly, faded out, lime-green, plastic pistol that I took everywhere with me. I was holding it out the window and the wind was bending it because we were going pretty fast. Then suddenly, it slipped out of my hand and was gone—Boom! I immediately screamed and asked if we could please go back and get it. Right away, Daddy began slowing down to turn around, but Mom abruptly said, “No, too bad! You shouldn’t have been holding it out the window!” I remember Daddy just shaking his head and clearly being upset about it, but at Mom’s instruction, he just continued driving and my “hideous-looking” little companion was gone.

While this may seem like an incredibly minor incident, it’s possibly the one I remember most vividly, and for whatever reason, it was one of the more painful of my childhood memories—it was my first encounter with the loss of something I valued.

One day here recently, I was watching the TBN series Restoring the Shack, and William Paul Young was describing some of the characteristics of an “orphaned spirit”—something that’s common in children who grow up feeling rejected by their parents. One of the things he mentioned was that children who are carrying an orphaned spirit can feel as if nothing they have is ever really theirs.

I used to frequently wonder why Daddy didn’t overrule Mom and turn around to get my pistol, or why he never said much when she would do these things—not anymore!

As previously mentioned, everything in our lives was about God and the devil, Heaven and Hell, good versus bad, right versus wrong, and so on. Mom’s opinions on all of these issues—combined with her relentless browbeating of Daddy with them—had begun to undermine his confidence in himself and slowly dissolve the confident, charismatic, and successful person he was before they met. Looking back, I can now clearly see that at that time in her life, Mom’s power to destroy someone from the inside was not limited to the immature mind of a child.

This well-educated, accomplished man—who had excelled in quite literally everything he had done—simply did not have the mental, emotional, and spiritual integrity to withstand Mom’s debilitating, condemning, fire and brimstone brand of religion—he had no defense for it!

Today, I firmly believe this to be the reason Daddy was unable to bring himself to ever really step in on my behalf and put a stop to what he saw happening. Mom was a master at seeing someone’s religious vulnerabilities and putting the type of fear in them that made them question everything about themselves—everything!

Early on, Daddy was fairly engaged with us kids—despite working seven days a week, ten to fourteen hours a day, every single day of the year. But over the course of my childhood, I would watch him gradually retreat into a world of confusion, self-doubt, and despair, to the degree that he would often go days without saying a word.




Over the course of the game, I listened to Mom talk about my brother as if he were a prince and praise him for just about everything under the sun: his looks, his smarts, his athleticism, everything—you name it, she covered it. By the time I was five and about to start first grade, it was crystal clear to me that my value was not even remotely comparable to his.

I didn’t understand why I was treated so differently than he was—constantly being praised for everything he did—when there were many things I was pretty good at doing myself—some of which I was able to do even better than he could.

But Mom continued to either belittle me or completely dismiss my strengths and my accomplishments, choosing to highlight my faults and shame me in front of her friends and mine, especially about the way I looked and spoke. Adding to my shame was that she always made it a point to conclude her public belittlement of me by highlighting my brother’s strengths and accomplishments. Today, however, I realize that the behaviors and characteristics of mine that so repulsed her were those which reminded her of herself.

I understand this today because I tend to struggle with negative feelings toward people whose unattractive behaviors are those I either used to display and have overcome, those I’ve overcome but to my embarrassment still pop up at the worst of times, or those I continue to struggle with and wonder if I’ll ever have victory over.




Mom had begun telling me about something “she thought” Daddy had done; something a child should never have to hear about one of their parents. I never gave mom’s accusations any weight and often wondered if it was just a product of her jealousy—or possibly a strategy designed to take the focus off her and what she knew I was hearing at school about her and the preacher and divert our suspicions onto Daddy. Either way, her relentless attacks on Daddy slowly tore away at him. Over the next couple of years, his light seemed to get dimmer and dimmer, before completely dying out.

The dissolving of one’s identity and the decline in self-confidence that accompanies it—their ideas, their sense of right and wrong, their self-worth, and sense of value to others—is a horrible thing for someone to go through. From the time I was ten years old, what I remember most about Daddy is that he always seemed sad—as if he felt everyone was looking at him like he was a criminal. I think Daddy knew that Mom constantly told me how bad of a man he was and that he, too, was probably going to hell, and his knowledge of that completely crushed his confidence in being a father. While I loved Daddy very much, looking back, I can see that the strongest emotion I had toward him was sorrow—I felt so sorry for Daddy.




By this time, we had already gone to several churches, and each time we “moved on,” we’d end up in a smaller one with odd, even more awkward people whose presence alone made me uncomfortable. I was desperately trying to hold onto some sense of value and self-worth, yet I was constantly being told how bad I was by the pastor, the church folk, and, of course, Mom.

Each Sunday—after the verbal beating from the pulpit—we’d sing what seemed like a hundred verses of “Just as I Am,” to prompt us to go to the altar, ask forgiveness for our sins, and rededicate our lives to the Lord. But having been browbeaten from the pulpit for who and what I was over the previous hour—a condemning the condescending looks from various people in our small, awkward congregation made even more alienating —“just as I was” just wasn’t good enough. It literally made no sense to me! In fact, it was actually a massive contradiction in terms—being told how bad I was over the course of the sermon and that I needed to either change or burn, versus coming “just as I was”—like the song we sang afterward said! It was extremely confusing to say the least. Also, my internal programming dictated that being perfect—flawlessly sinless—came first.

Looking back, it’s astonishing that, in addition to “Amazing Grace,”—which we also must have sung a thousand times over this “decade and a half” period of condemnation—I never really heard the words I was singing in either song. If I had—and had been able to really take them in—I don’t think my perception of God would have been that of an angry judge and punisher.

I must have rededicated my life to the Lord hundreds of times over the course of my childhood, but rather than to God—like I thought I was doing—it was always to a life of more self-effort than that which I’d put forth in my previous attempt, and it would always—inevitably—end in failure. With each failed attempt to behave with the perfection I learned was required in order to receive love and affirmation from Mom, God, or anyone else, for that matter, I would spiral a little further downward into despair and hopelessness and only reaffirm my complete worthlessness.

As a young child, I learned that there was nothing really good in me anyway—only bad—and each time I went around this familiar merry-go-round, I just reaffirmed it. The only image of God I knew—or could have possibly developed in that condemning environment—was that of an angry one who couldn’t wait to punish me for my badness. That image of God was deeply engrained in my soul. Since there was little to no value in anything I did, I felt there was no value in me. Mom’s response to my presence alone was disgust, and on a good day, it was nonexistent—as if I weren’t even there. As a result of my first decade of “training,” I increasingly saw others as being either far superior to me, or far inferior—regardless of their age or their status.

Chapter 2

Futility Galore—The Curse


It was a cool night on October 25th, 1978, in the post-Vietnam Era, as the bus with about fifty others like me pulled into the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Paris Island, South Carolina. When the bus came to a stop, the drill instructor stuck his gnarly-looking head in the front door, glared at us—with the most startling, psychotic look I’d ever seen—and after a few brief instructions said, “Get off the bus!” I instantly realized that the “tough guys” I looked up to in our small po-dunk town couldn’t even spell tough!

This was one of the longest nights of my life, and the way I looked the next morning was possibly the scariest part of it all. I now had a near cadaver-pale bald head, and my eyes looked twice the size they were the day before—the ugly kid had returned!

As previously mentioned, I enlisted in the Marine Corps so I could escape the self-image Mom had created in me and prove to everyone how “big of a man” I really was. But with what I saw in the mirror after getting my head buzzed, I had my work cut out for me.




Surprisingly, Mom showed up at the graduation ceremony along with my brother. But when he pointed out the rank insignia on my sleeve indicating that, unlike him, I had been promoted from Private to Private First Class, she actually frowned, shook her head, and rolled her eyes, completely dismissing my accomplishment and displaying the same familiar reaction of disgust I’d come to know so well. At the time, it really didn’t even register that much, as by then, her reactions of disapproval were not just the norm, they were expected.

Ironically, disapproval from Mom was no longer my problem; rather, my problem was me—I had become my own disapprover. When I left our abusive home, I brought with me the same condemning spirit Mom had hammered me with over the previous seventeen years; only now, I was hammering myself— my new abuser was me. Once she was no longer around, it was only a short period of time before I realized just how much I hated every aspect of myself and began to self-condemn.

The self-image Mom had created in me was the only one I knew, and my inner voice was now the only voice speaking words of disapproval, hate, and condemnation into my life—the very same ones I had learned from her.


Unable to perform my job with two steel plates and eleven screws holding my crushed forearm together, I was ostracized and constantly belittled by my superiors—who routinely referred to me as a malingerer and a sh*t-bird who wasn’t fit to be in the military. With my new label—which was really no different than what I had grown up with—combined with the stress of being confined in a small room all day, every day, I developed a fondness for pain killers, alcohol, and other drugs—and a nasty, insubordinate attitude toward my superiors. Making matters worse, about a year before my enlistment was over, I was informed that Daddy’s cancer had returned, only this time, it was terminal—he was given only six months to live.

At that point, I applied for a Humanitarian Discharge—a type of discharge created specifically for these types of family situations—and usually granted during peace time. But nothing was happening, Daddy was getting closer and closer to his death, and my attitude was rapidly worsening. Considering the possibility that he may die before the paperwork was done, I decided to go home for the weekend to see him. But somehow—in my frazzled, self-absorbed state of mind—I ended up staying at the beach with my friends all weekend partying, and only dropped in on Daddy for a few minutes on my way back to North Carolina.

I remember patting Daddy on his right shoulder with my left hand and saying, “Hang in there, Daddy,” before getting in the car with my friends, driving away from the small, one-room rat-hole in which this WWII Veteran and PGA Golf Professional with a Master’s Degree was left to die, and then lighting up a joint and heading back to Camp Lejeune. To this day, I am haunted by this!

Upon returning, I would ask my commanding officer each day if there had been a decision on my Humanitarian Discharge, and not only would he say no, but he wouldn’t even make a phone call to check and see why the process was taking three times as long as it normally takes. After a few more months of this futile routine, I realized that nothing was going to happen and that it was highly likely that they had never even submitted my paperwork. So I went AWOL.

I stayed off base with some friends over the weekend and then caught a Greyhound bus home the first of the week. At a stop-over where we changed buses, I called to tell Mom that I was on my way home, and I’ll never forget her response.

When she answered the phone, I said, “Mom, I’m at the bus station in Wilmington and on my way home; I should be there by 7:00 a.m. or so.” Mom said, “Well, I hope you brought some clothes with you because your daddy is dead; his funeral is at noon!” I would later learn that in his last hours, he was continually asking for me—another memory that haunts me to this day…if only I had left sooner.

Sadly, the very last words I said to my father, just a couple of months earlier were, “Hang in there, Daddy,” as if he and I were just co-workers carrying a heavy piece of furniture and only had a little further to go before we could put it down.


I was getting increasingly frustrated with our situation, although much of my frustration was due to fatigue because the idiotic work schedule I had adopted was slowly killing me. I was working constantly, getting very little sleep, and becoming psychotically exhausted. I was also getting bitter because of our ongoing financial struggles, considering that it appeared—on paper—that we should be doing fine. Making matters worse—for all of us—I had no idea how to be a husband or a father, other than to make sure that we all went to church and adhered to the law, rules, and punishment garbage I grew up with. There was no natural flow or interaction between personalities in our little family, and no structure—only hit-and-miss interaction that caused confusion and unnecessary tension. While I honestly tried to be a good husband and father, the truth is that I was astonishingly clueless in both areas and therefore awful—like someone trying to play football with golf clubs.

Then one Saturday while working overtime, a coworker saw how tired I was, asked if I wanted a boost, and offered me some cocaine. Completely exhausted—and therefore, off my moral game—and knowing full well that cocaine would give me a much-needed boost, I accepted. Now chemically energized, I “zoomed” through my work the rest of that day and into the night. Then at 10 p.m. when we finished, I followed my coworker to his dealer’s house to buy some coke for myself. This began a two-week coke binge that would blow through two thousand dollars and completely freak out my wife.

After coming clean about what I had done, my wife reluctantly forgave me, and I resumed my overtime work schedule, only now, my guilt and shame drove me to work even more hours. After all, it was my reckless decision and behavior that had put us an additional two thousand dollars in debt—and I had to fix it.


I was now digging drain fields—by hand—for a septic tank company for about thirty to fifty dollars a day. It was incredibly exhausting work digging huge holes in the ground, all day in the heat and humidity, and I drank every day after work. I remember sitting in the back yard at Mom’s house after work one day, drinking beer and not caring that there were literally dozens of mosquitoes all over my arms, legs, and face. I was so full of self-hatred and depression that I just let them continue to bite me—knowing that I deserved much worse.

Every now and then, we’d finish a job early, and the boss would buy some beer for us to drink as we rode home in the bed of his messy old truck—like migrant farm workers. What’s astonishing is that I was only twenty-five years old, and these drunken rides home had become what I considered to be “the good times”—that’s how much my life and my mentality had declined.


My attorney knew Mom was lying, my probation officer—who today is an attorney himself and a personal friend—knew she was lying, and everyone else in the courtroom knew she was lying. I also believe that the judge knew she was lying as well. But having made a previous ruling that cost someone his life, he wasn’t about to take the chance.

I vividly remember exactly how I felt about what Mom had done that day in the courtroom, but to this day, I still can’t describe it.

Chapter 3

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Chapter 4

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Chapter 5

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Chapter 6

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Chapter 7

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