(Written August 8, 1990)

It was June of 1969. I had just come home from my freshman year at Texas Tech. I had not declared a major except for General Studies. I liked my psychology and sociology courses, and thought about going that direction for a major.

We lived in Fort Worth, and during the school year a lot had changed. My Dad had moved back in with Mom, and they had moved in to another house - on Spurgeon Street. I was leery of this arrangement - too many unresolved hurts and angers, and a deep mistrust of my Dad, even though he had stopped drinking. I didn't know why consciously, because I didn't remember much of the hell of the last four years of his drinking.

Subconsciously I did not want him there. Yet waging war against that - the internal proddings of my inner child who was screaming "this man is dangerous, get him away from here," - was the deep seated need to have his blessing, win his approval, do something or be something that he could be satisfied with.

So I took the protective course, though I didn't know why. There was a large attic with a partially finished room in our new house. I made that my bedroom and moved up there, to be as far as possible from him and to have what felt like an island of safety. He couldn't just walk in on my like he used to do - drunkenly heaping abuse on me. I could at least hear him coming.

So I began my summer job, and warily explored his renewed presence in my life. I was bonded to him by the abuse, and though I didn't know it, he had a total power over my life.

I had begun taking Russian classes the previous spring, to satisfy my language requirement for general studies. The previous Christmas he had suggested he'd always wanted to take Russian; that was enough for me, so I ended up in Russian class.

Now I was taking the second semester by correspondence over the summer, to be able to take the second year on schedule. It was rough sledding, trying to find time and motivation to study, while working and hanging around with my friend during off hours.

I was studying in the living room one night, trying to finish the first lesson. He came in and asked what I was doing. I told him, and gave my reasons.

"So what are you going to major in?" he asked.

"I don't know yet. I really liked psychology and sociology, and I'm thinking about going into one or the other." I said it almost with a query in my voice, seeking his approval.

He thought for a minute. He seemed to be in one of his ugly moods - reminiscent of the drinking days. I knew the signs, but didn't know what to do about them.

"You know," he said, somewhat reflectively, "if you had any sense, you'd get a business degree. You can do more with it, get better jobs."

I just sat there, stunned. I took it in, but once more my inner child quailed and screamed inside me: "No, I don't want that. I hate business. That's your path. I want something else!" The something else I wanted was English, writing, but he had taken that away five years ago and I could not even bring that thought to the level of conscious awareness.

He sat for a few more minutes, then picked up his coffee cup, and went into the kitchen. But he had left the seed. By this time, in my mind, it was like a royal decree - I hated the thought, but could not ignore it. It had total power over me - just like he did.

It stewed inside me for a week or better. He made no other comments - he did not need to. I dropped the Russian course and changed my major to business. I told myself it was because the Russian was hard, and business curriculum had no language requirement. that was not the real reason, though I didn't know.

I decided to go into marketing. He was a salesman, and through my freshman year the one thing I didn't want was business school, especially nothing dealing with sales.

So I was doing the thing I hated. I hated it all the way through getting my degree. I took a literature course once, as an elective, my inner child yelling for sustenance, but I could not break free of the path which had been ordained for me.

I was afraid to get a job - he had threatened to kill me if I thought I was better than him for getting a job, at a time when his drinking had bottomed out and he was about to lose his own job. So I went to graduate school in business, stifled and hating every minute of it.

His comment was to determine my path for the next 20 years as I tried to fit into the businessman mold. I was successful, but each time I began feeling the success, I tripped myself so not to threaten him and thereby threaten my existence.

I was trapped, imprisoned in chains clamped on me by a chance remark of someone in a bad mood, covering his pain and hurt by inflicting some on me.

I hated him with a passion that had begun when I was 12, and which by now had blossomed into an obsessive hatred - linking my destiny even more firmly to his. But unaware, always unaware. Unable to hear the roarings of my inner child over the conscious awareness of the simple line: "If you had any sense, you'd get a business degree."

So I sold my soul - so as not to appear stupid.

Author's Bio: 

Dan Hays is the author of "Freedom's Just Another Word, a hopeful and inspirational memoir about his struggles to overcome the effects of growing up with a violent alcoholic. Dan also presents hopeful radio messages in his broadcasts "Minute to Freedom." On his roundtable radio show "Dialogues With Dignity," Dan discusses topics of depth and substance.