More About Dave
A Man Named Dave is the conclusion to a trio of autobiographical books by Dave Pelzer, who to millions of readers of A Child Called "It" and The Lost Boy has become an inspirational figure. A Child Called "It" is the gripping and harrowing account of Pelzer's abuse at the hands of his mother, beginning when he was four years old and continuing until teachers and neighbors were finally able to intervene and he was placed in foster care at age 12. The Lost Boy picks up where A Child Called "It" leaves off and details Pelzer's experiences in foster care and his difficulty navigating the "normal" world with the dark shadows of his abuse and of his mother's actual presence in his life looming over him.
In this installment, Pelzer narrates his life from his enlistment in the Air Force at age 18 to the present day. While all three books show the consequences of profound cruelty with a frank immediacy and gut-wrenching, carefully chosen detail, they are -- as the subtitle of this final installment of the trilogy suggests -- ardently inspirational works. Pelzer's thematic focus is forgiveness and the ability of the human spirit to triumph over adversity. Pelzer demonstrates that it is possible to channel feelings and experiences of trauma into positive energy.
Pelzer includes just enough flashback and summary material that the reader new to his work has a complete grasp of the scope of his mother's abuse and his experiences in foster care. And those fans who have read his previous work will find A Man Named Dave to be an essential, capping complement to A Child Called "It" and The Lost Boy.
A Man Named Dave describes Pelzer's more recent experiences and affords readers access to a more mature, gradually ripening adult perspective during Pelzer's agonizing struggle to confront the demons of his past and conquer them. To read all three works in sequence is, therefore, to experience a voyage from darkness with only a glimmer of hope to full illumination.
Throughout A Man Named Dave, Pelzer carries with him a touchstone memory from his childhood, on which he ruminates and to which he returns in his most acute moments of distress. The memory is from his very early childhood, when he and his father had a tender talk alone during a family outing to the Russian River. This is an immensely precious memory for Pelzer, who has an abiding love for the father who mostly stood by or was absent during the long period of his mother's abuse. This treasured fragment from the past serves as a driving force in Pelzer's adult life -- he dreams of building a house on the Russian River and ultimately, living there with his father.
Sadly, this is not to be. Pelzer joins the Air Force with the intention of becoming a firefighter, which, for a time, was his father's occupation as well, and while there, he writes letter after letter to his father, who responds only once, in a mostly illegible, scrawling letter that includes no return address. Pelzer fears that his father is lost to alcoholism and vagrant wandering. When Pelzer is finally alerted to the fact that his father is near death, he rushes to be with him. Pelzer's dying father is barely able to communicate, but in spending his final days by his father's side, Pelzer is able to begin to confront his childhood and to form a positive, productive link to his traumatic past. One of his father's final actions is to pass his cherished fire department badge on to his son.
The death of Pelzer's father means that he must also confront his mother, who, though she would have little to do with her husband during his decline and death, makes her son feel ostracized and uncomfortable at the funeral. The full-grown Pelzer, an outwardly successful man in an Air Force uniform, must struggle to avoid becoming a craven boy in her presence once again. The narrative is punctuated with such excruciating encounters between Pelzer and his mother.
Despite the fact that his mother no longer has any physical or legal power over him, Pelzer is still dominated by her presence. The scenes provide a telling portrayal of the consequences of childhood trauma and illustrate the almost epic immensity of Pelzer's ultimately successful struggle to overcome the legacy of his mother's abuse.
Essential to this struggle is that Pelzer realizes despite the welling of powerful emotions inside of him, he must do all he can to not hate his mother or wreak vengeance on her in any form. If he is to "break the cycle" of abuse, he must confront his childhood and its effects on his adult life. It is this triumphal will -- to come to grips with his past and somehow transmute its effects on his character into a positive view of himself and the world he inhabits -- that forces Pelzer to seek out and speak with his mother despite his instinct to run from this past and hide it from others.
In his depiction of himself as a young boy, Pelzer showed how he used indomitable spirit to triumph over tyranny. In A Man Named Dave, he will inspire most readers as he makes his voyage to adulthood and a fulfilling life -- all the while struggling with the legacy of his abuse. Part of this legacy is a difficulty with intimacy and attachment. Pelzer hides much of his past from his first wife, Patsy, and is unable to tell her he loves her. His self-doubt contributes to the tumult of their relationship, essentially a mismatch cemented by the discovery that Patsy is pregnant.
Ultimately, the birth of his son, Stephen, is the final key to Pelzer's reconciliation with his past. Stephen is a constant reminder to Pelzer of the preciousness of life and the imperative of breaking the chain of abuse so that Stephen will grow up knowing abundant love. In order to provide this love to Stephen, Pelzer must learn to love himself as well.
In a touching moment near the book's end, Pelzer walks with his son to the very spot where, as a child, he remembers walking with his own father many years ago and sharing in the natural splendor. The cycle of abuse has been broken, and Pelzer shares his quiet triumph not only with his son but also with his readers.
David S. Rosen