Night was when the strange things would happen. Terrell Davis would be asleep sometimes when his father came home, and sometimes he would be awake. A great storm would roll through the little house on Florence Street in San Diego. Nothing would be safe. No one would be spared. A hurricane of emotion, a typhoon of words and activity would rattle everything in its path. Joe Davis would be drunk again. Or high on drugs. Or something.
"I brought you into this world, and I can take you out!" Joe Davis would boom.
"I'm from the Show Me State," he would add. "Show me."
No answer to that would be the right answer. Not even silence. The four youngest boys in the family—the two oldest boys were living with their mother in a larger house on Latimer Street—would say "Yes, sir" and "No, sir" and would await Joe Davis's next move. Terrell was the youngest of the youngest, eight or nine or 10 years old. He was caught in a mix of love and hate and terror.
Maybe his father would simply want to talk, about women or life or anything, go into one of those familiar drinker's monologues. That would not be bad. That would even be fun. Maybe, on the other hand, Joe Davis would pull out the extension cord and administer justice for some transgression he had seen or imagined. That would not be fun.
"He came home one night, and we had these puppies," Terrell remembers. "The puppies were making noise, whimpering and whining the way puppies do. He said he couldn't stand the noise. We had to give away the puppies. It was two o'clock in the morning. He had us get dressed, take the puppies and follow him into the neighborhood. We had to throw the puppies over fences into neighbors' yards. I remember hearing the puppies crying, lost, confused, on the other side of the fence. We went home. We never saw the puppies again."
Joe Davis wanted his boys to be hard and tough. Their neighborhood, Skyline, was a hard and tough place. The world was a hard and tough place. There was no room for punks, for sissies. The boys should be hard and tough because he was hard and tough.
He had been to prison a couple of times back in Missouri, for armed robbery and grand theft, and he would go to prison again. In San Diego, in the '70s, he worked at a variety of jobs, mainly welding, but he also worked around the fringes of the law. A television would suddenly appear in the house. A stereo system. There were guns in the house. There was a scale that could be used to measure drugs. Joe Davis was a figure of mystery.
"We always called him Diddy," Terrell says. "I guess it was because someone had trouble pronouncing Daddy. I'm not sure. Anyway, he came home one night and started yelling, 'Why does everyone call me Diddy? I don't want to be called Diddy. I want to be called Joe.' I remember waking up the next morning and not knowing what to call my own father. Should I call him Diddy or Joe? Did he remember the conversation the night before? I could get the s—-knocked out of me either way.
"I called him Diddy, and I guess he didn't remember. It was O.K. I never called him Joe."