Dave Pelzer’s Father: The Passive Witness to Abuse

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "A Child Called 'It'" by Dave Pelzer. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Who was Dave Pelzer’s father? Did he also abuse David?

Dave Pelzer’s father did not initiate the abuse. But he went from being a passive protector to an apathetic observer.

Read more about Dave Pelzer’s father.

Passive Protection From Dave Pelzer’s Father

Dave Pelzer’s father works 24-hour shifts at the firehouse. On the days that Father’s home from work, Mother largely refrains from—or at least limits—her abuse. Consequently, David sees Father as his protector, and he stays by Father’s side whenever Father is home. 

David’s parents seem happy. They have a habit of celebrating their own happy hour, drinking and dancing around the kitchen together from 3 p.m. until the boys’ bedtime. But these good times don’t last long. 

When Father is home, Mother gets dressed, does her makeup, and is in a generally good mood. But on days when Father is at work, Mother sometimes wears only her robe and spends the day watching TV on the couch. These are the days when Mother’s Mr. Hyde emerges and David endures the worst abuse. 

One day, as Father is leaving for work, he tells David to be a good boy. In this instant, David feels that Mother must be right, that he really is a bad boy. 

Shift in Father’s Role

Withholding food is Mother’s primary punishment for David. She seldom feeds David dinner or breakfast—at most, if he finishes his morning chores in time, he gets his brothers’ cereal leftovers. 

Father tries to help David, but he doesn’t dare cross Mother to do so. Sometimes Father sneaks food scraps to David or gets Mother drunk in hopes that it will help, but alcohol only makes her crueler. And worse, Father’s efforts cause fights between him and Mother, which Mother blames and takes out on David. 

David comes up with a plan to steal frozen lunches from the school cafeteria. He sneaks into the cafeteria right after a frozen lunch delivery, snags a few trays, and inhales them in the bathroom. He feels full, accomplished, and excited to do it again the next day. 

But when David gets home, Mother has a hunch that he’s found food. She forces him to vomit, and she’s triumphant when the frozen hot dogs appear from his stomach. Mother forces David to collect his vomit from the toilet into a bowl.

Later that night, Mother shows Father the bowl as evidence of David’s stealing. But worse, Mother forces David to eat the bowl’s contents. Father—having failed to talk Mother out of it—looks on numbly. This is the first time Father witnesses and passively allows such blatant abuse in front of his face, and it devastates David, who has always considered Father to be his protector. 

Dave Pelzer’s Father: The Passive Witness to Abuse

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Dave Pelzer's "A Child Called 'It'" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full A Child Called 'It' summary:

  • How David Pelzer survived horrific abuse at the hands of his mother
  • How victims and survivors of abuse can find support and overcome their painful past
  • Why child abuse may go unnoticed by other adults

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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