It’s a crazy thing to attempt: searching for the words to explain my relationship with my father
and how I suspect his time at Florida School for Boys affected the outcome of his life, and
I can start by saying that I consider myself among the fortunate to have been raised by a man
with all his screws securely in place. I didn’t fully realize – and suppose I never will – how
psychologically traumatic his childhood was. And then I read Richard a.k.a. Paul Markwalter’s
story about his time at FSB: 27 lashes with a paddle for smoking; 32 lashes for talking after
lights out; 52 for a pillow fight with the other dorm boys which he said the headmaster referred
to as a riot. To think that pop’s punishments were considered among the merciful. And then I
consider some of the other residents’ assessments: FSB “taught” them to be criminals rather
than to have helped them reform.
Pop had officially cleaned up his act by the time he was in his mid-twenties. He never made it
past the eighth grade but I’d be willing to bet his i.q. is in the one-twenties. He’s spent the bulk
of his years self-employed, always avoiding the system. He’s lived in fear of applying for a
straight job in the event that his undesirable past may be chasing him.
I have spent my adult years dropping out of college, fearing confrontation, attempting to buck
the system, and not quite knowing how to become a part of it. When I was a kid, I was riding a
moped without documentation and feared arrest when the policeman pulled me over. As I fill out
my unemployment information, verifying my job searches, I fear that they will cancel my
benefits. This is who I am, a clear illustration of the reality that the dysfunction of abuse is
passed from generation to generation regardless of intent. Still, I have the benefit of being a
generation removed from the direct effect that FSB had on human life. Pop doesn’t. Pop is
trapped in the fear of being caught, being punished.
I don’t recall pop ever laying a hand on me. He promised himself that he would transcend his
parents – his past. And he so much as made me promise to do the same simply by telling me I
would. He taught me about honesty and alternative thinking, but he couldn’t help me find the
right schools. He couldn’t help me plan an interview. He couldn’t help me fill out forms. And
there was always, still is, something there: pain, fear, sadness.
It’s a crazy thing to write this – to wonder if it will make a difference. But I owe it to pop – my
father, a victim of the system. He hides, so he loses its benefits as well. The system owes
Richard Markwalter, the friends he made at FSB, and the boys he never knew.
Zoe & Pop