Editor's Note: Below is an excerpt from CNN commentator Jack Cafferty's new book "It's Getting Ugly out There". Jack appears daily in "The Situation Room" on CNN 4-7 p.m. ET.
Jack Cafferty says his upbringing influences the daily commentaries he delivers on TV.
Looking back, I wish my parents, Tom and Jean Cafferty, had been emotionally equipped to do a better job of looking out for my younger brother, Terry, and me. It's bad enough when the rich, powerful, and arrogant people we put in office tilt the playing field against citizens striving to make an honest go of it. This makes me want to scream, or at least rant for a few minutes a day on CNN. Sadly, the demons my parents had to fight when I was growing up weren't the kind you get to vote out of office every couple of years. They were there with us at home.
My folks were alcoholics who, between them, were married 11 times. It would have been an even dozen, but my dad accidentally killed one of his fiancées. My dad had gotten a medical discharge from the Army for a bleeding ulcer; a half-century later, he died from bone cancer, broke and alone in a V.A. hospital. My mom was so incapacitated by addictions after their divorce that she was eventually unable to hold down a job.
I'm the product of a very dysfunctional, sometimes violent, Irish background. Indeed, very little of my back-story qualifies as Hallmark Card material, but it may help you to make sense of the way I see and interpret what's going on around me. People don't wind up with this kind of jaundiced, offbeat take on things without going through some interesting stuff. I grew up with no money and dealt with some demons of my own. I was never on a fast track from Andover to Harvard to big-media broadcasting. And this book ain't therapy. I'm content being mildly maladjusted, with absolutely no desire to change.
Through all the turbulence of my Reno, Nevada, childhood, I learned a lot about protecting oneself. My mom, Jean, battled booze and painkillers and, at times, deep depression. My dad, Tom, was a complex, fascinating man: a hard-drinking, sometimes abusive parent when drunk, but a charming, outspoken local radio and TV celebrity when sober. Whatever my parents' heartaches and weaknesses, they taught me the importance of integrity, of truth telling, and of being able to give a man your word. I also learned from watching my dad at his best -- in the studio. His gift for relating to everyday people made him a friend of the common man. People sensed he had character and honor. Maybe some of that rubbed off on me.
Reno in the 1950s was a nonstop, neon-lit 24/7 casino town where it might have seemed, at least to its gambling and quickie-divorce tourists, that anything goes. But just a brief, head-clearing ride past the city limits, there lay the vast, still unspoiled, almost primordial American West. Winters could be brutal, the mountains and lakes were breathtakingly serene, and everything had a certain kind of black-and-white simplicity.
You didn't weasel your way out of stuff. If you said "But that wasn't my fault," someone else told you, "Bullshit," case closed. As my father once warned me, "If you get arrested, don't ever call me when they give you that one call, because what I'll do to you is a lot worse than what the police will do to you." That was my father's attitude once I was in my teens. I was in charge of taking care of myself.
My dad was a force of nature to be feared. If I lied to him, I knew he'd cuff me. It was best not to try to get something over on him. A friend of his called him one afternoon to report that he had spotted me smoking on a corner with some pals. I was 13 and thought I was hot stuff. My dad picked me up in his car and tortured me with terrifying silence as he drove around seemingly forever. I was dying a thousand deaths.
Finally, he pulled into Idlewild Park and stopped the car along a lake with ducks swimming around. When he turned off the engine all I could hear was my heart pounding. "Are you smoking?" he asked. I had barely uttered my one-syllable confession when his right hand came off the steering wheel and whacked me across the left side of my face. The blow knocked my head against the passenger window as his huge turquoise ring ripped into the side of my face. Blood ran from my mouth, nose and ear. There was blood all over me. "Quit," he said. Not another word was spoken as we drove back.
It was five years before I lit up again. E-mail to a friend