I have three children, twin boys, and a girl a year-and-a-half younger. They're in their mid-thirties now, and I'm close to all of them in very different ways. As you might imagine, the road that got us to here was long and winding, and there are a lot of highlights and anecdotes that I would just love to tell you all about. Since this is my soapbox, I am going to, but before I embark on the Tales of the Toddlers, it is necessary, in order for the reader to appreciate them, for me to give a brief description of the life that created El Cajon's oldest teenager. Born in the forties, raised in the fifties, and coming of age in the sixties, it was an era when children were poorly understood, and could legally be treated as poorly as any antebellum field hand. After all my speechifying last Sunday about eliminating the negativity in these posts, I have been considering just abandoning this whole area of subject matter, but like so many times in life, in order to get to the good, you have to hold your nose and swallow the bad first. The kids were a lot of fun, and their tale is worth telling, so let's get this over with.
I was born in the fall of 1948 to a Navy diver and a professional gambler, both under twenty, with likely no idea of how they had caused her pregnancy. They were married, and very soon divorced, as I never met my father, and my mother subsequently remarried without any legal problems. Mom was out of my life by the age of awareness, and the only "parents" I have memories of were my grandmother and great-grandmother.
To say that they had no use for another child in their lives is a study in gross understatement. I have been told terrible things that I have no way to verify, and no interest if I could. Grandmas told me that dad took up a collection on the ship and got enough money for mom to have a Tijuana abortion, legal abortion being four decades away in the U.S. back then. Mom supposedly got to Mexico, found that the abortionist had been called away for some family emergency, and instead of waiting for him to return, used the money to go on a three-day drunk. Thus am I alive to write this today, and that close call, true or not, has colored my view of abortion ever since. Mom told me that the grandmas took me from her and had me made a ward of the court, with them as the legal guardians, because she was alleged to be an unfit mother. This has a feel of truth to me, as in 1950, a nineteen year old gambler probably would have been considered an unfit mother, and besides, I can't imagine anyone who despised children as much as they did keeping one around if there wasn't some money in it. California is one of the states that pays a stipend to foster parents, and you can draw your own conclusions from that...
So I was placed in a home with two older women whose views of men were somewhat jaundiced by their own experiences, and all of their desires for revenge were happily transferred to the toddler who had been placed in their care. From the time I understood words, I heard, "You hateful little hellcat!" "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear," "You can tell a Tyler, but you can't tell him much," and probably my favorite, "You're nothing but a God-damned man!" (at three years old). I was whipped regularly, mostly for infractions that to this day, I don't understand. I use the word whipped because of the instruments involved. Great-grandma's weapon of choice was a nice supple switch cut from a handy tree, and there was no butt-spanking to it. She would hit me anywhere, legs, face, chest, back, it didn't matter. Grandma favored the wire coat hanger, and she would hold me up by one arm and lay it on across my shoulders until she couldn't hold my weight up any more. This was usually prefaced by the phrase, "I'm gonna wear you out!" or else stylized, humorless laughter. I remember hearing the words, "I love you," exactly once during my life with them, and it was used to justify some otherwise unjustifiable torture they were inflicting, in the context of, "We're only doing this because we love you!" Yeah, right.
If you imagine that with this kind of life at home, I was not particularly well adjusted, you'd be close to right. Violence was really the only solution I had been taught to any problem, and once a child enters elementary school, that doesn't take him very far. Throughout childhood I had very few friends, simply because I didn't know how to be one. I was ostracised, isolated, teased, taunted, bullied, and that was on the good days. The science of education was not well developed in those days. The belief was that a child's mind was a blank slate to write on, and if a child didn't learn at the pace of all the other children, it wasn't that he needed a different curriculum. No, it was that he was a lazy bastard who needed to have it beaten into him by force. Personally, I am wired to be adept at the literary and spacial (drafting, geometry) arts, and not so good at mathematics, and they pretty much saw being good at one thing and not another as the work of Satan. The school system treated me accordingly.
So, for the first sixteen years of my life, I was wrong, automatically, on a daily basis. Whatever I was accused of, be it by another child, another parent, a teacher, whoever, the solution was another beating. The only sanctuary was in solitude, and I retreated there more and more often. Oh, I had a couple of friends who were outcasts in the school society, but they had homes where they could go to hide; I had only my own mind to protect me. In the summer of 1965, following my junior year in high school, I was sent to Monterey to spend the summer with my mother, giving the grandmas a break from the "hateful little hellcat." As the school year approached, I announced my intention to join the navy. Mom couldn't sign the papers fast enough.
I didn't enjoy my four year stint in the navy, and rarely have anything good to say about it, but for the record, that structured, disciplined, and ultimately fair society gave me the upbringing I should have had in a loving home as an innocent child, and I owe them a great deal.
So here, after my promise of two days ago to let go of the negativity and just have fun on this site, is without any doubt, the most negative story I have ever shared. Why? Because the story of my life with The Tyler Gang is positive, funny, uplifting, and someone somewhere may be inspired by it to have more fun with their own kids. That would be wonderful. I don't mean to say that our lives together have been like The Brady Bunch, far from it, but there is much to be shared, and in order to appreciate the story, you need an understanding of the storyteller.
In my case, the only reason that I didn't become the greatest serial killer of my era is because I decided not to. See, by that summer in Monterey, I had learned three things. First, that the only time I was safe was when I was alone, and second, to trust no one. It had never crossed my mind that I would ultimately have the "normal" life of wife, kids, extended family, and the whole nine yards, but once I had my encounter with "Ms. Right," and saw that I was going to go down that path, I realized that there had also been a third lesson. I knew from personal experience the living hell that a helpless child endured when he had no one on his side, nowhere to go to just be accepted, comforted, loved. There was no conscious decision, but from day one, whenever someone wanted to go after the children that I had created and was responsible for, they had to come through me. I have faced down angry parents, school administrators, social workers, police officers, and gang bangers, and I have to say, those have been some of the most rewarding moments of my life.
So really, this is a positive post, an almost Dickensian tale of how an orphan unwanted in his own family became a devoted family man. The lesson here in installment one is this: They are your children. Get involved in their lives. Take responsibility. Be there for them. I have done a lot of things in my sixty-two years, and I have to tell you, there is nothing that will give you more satisfaction than coming to the rescue of a beleaguered child.
All right, there's the dark backstory. From now on, I'll make these posts fun. Now get out there and live life like you mean it!