About the Book
A Man Named Dave by Dave Pelzer is the third part of a three-part memoir. In this piece, he discusses his life after leaving the foster care system. His strength of character is clear in this book as he struggles to get his GED so that he can enlist in the United States Air Force, fight against the odds to save his first marriage, and strive to be a good father. Central in this third memoir was his failed attempt at reconciling with his family, especially his father.
1978 and No Prospects
It’s 1978 and Dave Pelzer finds himself eighteen and no longer a ward of the state, in the midst of a statewide recession in California, no diploma, and no job. Swirling in his head are the words “loser” and “F-kid”. The former were words drummed into his head by his mother when he was a child and the latter a derogatory label by the foster care system, which in effect said he would not amount to anything. Ironically, the last words he had heard from his father who was now a homeless alcoholic was, “Don’t end up like me”. (28) These words, inspite of his circumstances, became Dave’s personal commandment. He was determined that he would amount to something.
After analyzing his situation, he decided that the best move would be to enlist in the military. He chose the United States Air Force because he had always envisioned flying as a kid and because he had met a man while in foster care that enouraged him to read books on aviation. Getting in was not easy. After struggling to get his GED and filling out a myriad of forms, he was finally accepted.
Dave discovered that even though he was in the Air Force and far away from his mother, she still lived in his dreams. He was plagued by nightmares of her trying to kill him. He was warned by the master sergeant that his behavior would not be tolerated and he would have to undergo psychiatric evaluation for a possible medical discharge if he couldn’t solve the problem. After figuring out when his nighmares occurred, he figured out a way (with the help of his bunk buddy and a change in his work schedule) to avoid the nighmares.
The second problem occurred as a result of paperwork that was not filed correctly. He had hoped to train as a fireman to impress his father. Instead, he was told that as a result of mission necessities, he would have to accept a position as a cook.
He was ashamed to tell his foster parents and his father about his situation. He led his father to believe that everything was okay, because he wanted to make his father and mother proud of him. He continued to feel sorry for his father and believed that his father suffered because of a son, a wife, and a family “he could not, would not save”. (45)
After several failed attempts to reach his father, he received a call from his foster mother informing him that his father was very ill. After dreading the thought that he might run into his mother at the hospital, he reasoned that maybe this was a chance to bring everyone together. He was aware that they had never divorced. Maybe that meant that his mother cared. After all she had been the one to notify his foster mother. Unfortunately, he later learned that his father had been in the hospital for several months and no one had visited him.
After seeing the deplorable state that his father was in, he decided that he would visit his mother and make an appeal to her. The visit turned out to be a disaster. Not only was she verbally abusive, she even lied to his grandmother and said that he had threatened her.
A short time later, his father died. His mother was not there, but had left word that she wanted to be notified if anything happened to him. Dave notified her. At the funeral, he was confronted by her. She was upset that he had even attended the funeral and became physically abusive when she asked him about papers that his father had given him. In a fit of rage, she slapped him. That blow caused Dave to stand up to her for the first time in his life. While Dave considered tearing the papers up in her face, he refused to stoop to her level. Before he left her he stated, “May God be with you, Mrs. Pelzer, for no on else will be”. (97)
Mothers and Daughters
Upon returning from an assignment in Egypt, he learned of his uncle Dan’s death. While talking to his wife, Aunt Jane, he learned that his uncle wasn’t much different from his parents (i.e. volatile temper and hard drinking). His aunt explained that it was a different era back then and urged him, if he could, to try and break the cycle. This advice was much like his father’s advice.
He decided to visit his grandmother in Utah to get more insight. He learned that she had raised her children as a single mom and was quite negative. He learned that his mother had moved to Utah and his grandmother was quite bitter over not receiving any of the money from the sale of the house. As much as he tried to learn more about his mother from her, the more negative she became. He also learned that she knew what was happening in his house when he was being abused.
During his visit to Utah, he met with his brother Russell, who described the situation at home. He had, however, managed to resist the brutality she had inflicted on Dave. While Dave tried to imply that it was an accident when she stabbed him, Russell didn’t think so. He was well aware of the beatings and had conversations with her in the past about them.
Oil and Water
Shortly after arriving back at his base in Florida, Dave learned that he would become an air crew member. Finally, his dreams were coming true.
It was during this period that he met Patsy. Her forward manner was new to Dave and somewhat intriguing. As time went on, he and Patsy became close. He had no experience with women and while he felt things were happening rather fast, he was flattered that she appeared to like him.
Upon returning from a job overseas, he found that Patsy had moved in. This made him uncomfortable, but she convinced him that this move would help her get out from under her mother’s grip. Dave had observed how Patsy’s mother had treated her, so he agreed to the arrangement.
Patsy became pregnant and he felt obligated to marry her. Although he wasn’t sure how he felt about her, he felt obligated, because she had been with him during some rough times. Becoming a parent was a big matter of responsibility and he felt that he owed his unborn child a chance. He was terrified that as an abused child, would he be an abusive parent? Also, he didn’t have confidence in Patsy’s ability to be a responsible parent.
Much to his surprise, his friends didn’t approve of his marriage to Patsy and refused to support him. They felt that he had been taken advantage of by Patsy.
After the baby came, he felt somewhat better about the marriage, because she seemed to be a good mother.
As a parent, Dave decided that he would make one last attempt to visit his mother and find out why she had done what she did to him. The visit proved fruitless. She made excuses for everything that had happened to him, even blaming the school authorities for interfering. She also blamed her mother for her behavior and implied that her mother had abused her. She also blamed his father for his drinking and absences from the family. She blamed her drinking on being left alone to raise five boys. At no time did she take any responsibility for what she had done.
Making a Difference
Shortly after the visit with his mother, he began to take an interest in children who had been abused. He decided that if he could talk about his situation with others that would help. As with everything he had ever done, he gave the speaking engagements his all. Between his military responsibilities and his speaking engagements, his marriage began to falter. Patsy couldn’t understand why he did what he did and more important, she didn’t believe it did any good.
His mother became very sick and called him. He felt compelled to go. While he could sense that she was really ill, he felt nothing for her. He could not forgive her. Her last words to him was that she was proud of him. She died of a heart attack in her sleep a short time later.
A New Page
After eight years of marriage, Dave and Patsy separated and finally divorced. They remained friends and had joint custody of their son. He continued to work as a motivational speaker and started to work on his memoir. He and his editor became very good friends. She was very supportive and believed in his work. The relationship grew and they later married.
1. Analyze the impact of the abuse Dave Pelzer suffered by describing how different aspects of his abuse worked together to influence his emotional growth.
2. Dave stated that he was labeled an “F-kid” (foster kid), told that he would never amount to anything, never graduate from high school, and never go to college. Evaluate the impact of this method of mental conditioning as he became eighteen and was no longer a minor provided for by the state. In what ways could his ability to be self-reliant be helped or hindered?
3. Dave stated that as a foster child he discovered that he knew nothing about living in the real world, because his life had been dominated by elemental needs of survival. What did he mean by that statement? What are some of the real world skills that one needs to be a functioning member of society?
4.. Dave stated that he and Patsy had similar childhoods, but at the same time, as adults, saw the world in different ways. Compare and contrast the characters of Dave and Patsy. What specific traits did Patsy have that favorably or unfavorably affected Dave’s personal growth?
5. Dave’s mother asked Dave if he loved his son. He replied that he loved him with every fiber of his being. His mother said, “Just remember, at one time I did . . . I loved mine, too.” Explain what you think she meant by that statement. Analyze the impact of that statement on Dave’s role as a parent and his parenting skills.
6. Dave stated that he and Marsha had the same values and believed in him. However, he felt that Marsha was too good for him and he didn’t deserve to be with her. Compare and contrast the characters of Dave and Marsha. What specific traits did Marsha have that favorably or unfavorably affected Dave’s personal growth?
7. What is the significance of the title of this third memoir, A Man Named Dave?
Pelzer, Dave, A Man Named Dave, Penguin Putnam Inc., New York, New York, 2000. ISBN 0-452-28190-3
Image Credit: Amazon.com