My parents got divorced for the second time when I was a year old. I lived with my mom full time until I was about four. She worked hard to support us, as a receptionist and as a bank teller. And then when I was five I was sent to live with my father.
My father worked part-time as a mechanic and full-time as a drug dealer. Before I get carried away with all of this, I want to say that I love my father. We don’t have much of a relationship today, although we probably could if I put forth a bit more effort. My father was strict—and my stepmother was ever more strict. I was raised in a time when spanking your kids was acceptable, but my father had a black leather belt with holes in it, which was his favorite disciplinary tool. I hated that belt. Then one day I remember coming home from school to find him in the garage building something out of wood, drilling holes in it. You know that gut feeling you get sometimes, when you just know something? Well I had that, but I asked anyway. What are you making, Dad? And with this crazy look in his eye he looked at me and said he was making a paddle. Apparently he had nothing better to do than to spend his time crafting a weapon to use on his children.
My brother always got it worse than me, but then he would turn around and kick my ass, so maybe it evened out. My father was always yelling and cussing, and it seemed like he was always mad. Was it because he was short? Maybe it was because my mother left him when he wouldn’t quit dealing drugs and now he was married to a fat Indian woman who never wanted to sleep with him and made him sleep on the couch. Still, I believe my father had a good heart and meant well. But I also believe that it’s your actions in life that define you.
I know that raising children is not easy and there’s no one right way to do it. You do the best you can, and just try to lead by example and show them the way. I learned from an example of what NOT to do—but I’m grateful for it and try to learn from it. The physical discipline was one thing, but there was also psychological manipulation and damage that’s in an everlasting category of its own. There are situations in life that will affect the ones we love till the end. During the custody battle, my father and stepmother took me and my brother to a counselor to talk about the situation. The mind is a powerful thing, and also extremely fragile. My father always talked about what a horrible person my mom was, calling her every ugly name in the book, and would tell me and my brother to raise hell when we’d see her on the weekends. He even told the counselor that my mom sexually abused me when I was young, which was not true. It was horrible, the way they used me and my brother to hurt my mom. But I was so scared at the time and I didn’t want to get my ass beat. I was brainwashed by the people who were supposed to protect me. So one day I told the counselor some prefabricated story that had been put in my head…I said that my mother and her boyfriend had shown me their private parts and would have sex in front of me. I was seven years old and didn’t even know what sex was. But that was the nail in the coffin, and after that my father and stepmother got full custody. But what was worse is how badly I hurt my mother, the woman who brought me into this world, whom I loved so much and who was always there for me. The whole custody battle wasn’t about what was best for us kids; it was a fight that my father wanted to win to hurt my mother because of his own shortcomings.
My brother went with me that day, and his interview process was quite short because he was honest, answered the questions straight and then played with the toys. Well, my father and stepmother were pissed; he’d given them nothing to use in their fabricated case against my mother's character. My father beat him with his pants down in the school parking lot when they dropped us back off at school. I, on the other hand, was praised and told that I’d done a good job. I felt horrible, and I admired my brother for what he’d done and wished I had done the same. I mentioned this day to my brother a while back and he said he didn’t remember it. But I can’t forget it and remember it all quite vividly.
Trenton Grant works as an offshore commercial diver in the southern United States. His autobiography Sink or Swim is being edited and published here for the first time by the raffish.