My father made a sandwich for Johnny Cash and went to prison, what about yours?
Okay, him going to prison had nothing to do with the sandwich he made for Johnny Cash, but now that I have your attention, I’ll get back to that in a minute.
As humans, we derive inspiration from an abundance of sources.
Perhaps it’s the story of an athlete coming from the mean streets of an inner city and making it to the big leagues, or maybe the TEDtalk video you saw while scrolling Facebook of a refugee who escaped unimaginable abuse to start a new life in America. For some, it’s the homeless man with a big smile on the street despite his destitution, or just a random act of kindness we witnessed at supermarket checkout line. Heck, sometimes even a good 1980s rock ballad will get you inspired.
Since I was a teenager, my source of inspiration has been my father. If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to give you a bit of a look into the life of the man I’ve come to admire.
Born in 1966 as the third of five children, Steven Thomas Naumann was raised by William (Bill) and Patricia (Pat) in upstate New York. Born-again Christians, my grandparents sent their kids to a private Christian school where they would be taught biblical values and stray from trouble.
My father was dedicated to getting as deep into that trouble as possible, quickly asserting himself as the rebel of the family. He was barely a teenager when the FCC showed up at his family’s home with complaints about a certain unlicensed CB Radio operator — nicknamed “Moonraker” — whose signal was messing with everybody’s television sets in the Lyell-Otis neighborhood of Rochester. It’s safe to say that my grandfather was unaware of the enormous antenna my father had strapped to the top of the house.
A move to Florida in 1983 further pushed him towards rebellion, eventually leading him to drop out of high school to work in local restaurants and party on the weekends (note: and weeknights).
My father moved to New York City around 1989, where he worked at restaurants such as Isabella’s on the Upper West Side (closed in 2017) and The Coffee Shop in Union Square (closed in 2018). He eventually landed his first head chef gig at a popular restaurant near Madison Square Park, Live Bait, where he met my mother who was then moonlighting as a waitress while she wasn’t away on a modeling gig (Live Bait shut it doors in 2018 as well).
(Fun Fact: In the early 1990s, in a penthouse somewhere in the Upper East Village of New York City, my father also briefly met Donald Trump.)
From a now-defunct musical periodical, Rough Mix, in October 1991: “…if Pistol Dawn keeps up their hard work they will eventually get the interest needed for their next big step — a shot at major label land.”
A local music beat reporter, Aviva Levy from Long Island Sounds, reviewed one of Pistol Dawn’s performances, “The sore spot of the performance was lead vocalist Steve Slapdash. While his style sounds quite versatile on tape, he does not come off nearly as well in a live setting.” My dad would attribute that poor review to the countless number of alcoholic beverages he consumed before each show — though the cocaine surely wasn’t helpful either. The band disbanded in 1993 after failing to get a record deal.
In 1994, my mother discovered she was pregnant (a Sage surprise) and my parents quickly tied the knot in what could only be described as a shotgun wedding in the small backyard of a friend’s home. Soon after their marriage, my parents moved out to San Diego, where my mother was originally from, to raise me. My father quickly picked up his culinary career in Southern California, first as the head chef for Leucadia Pizzeria for a short period of time, then moving towards catering for television shows and movies filming in the area.
This is where Johnny Cash comes in.
In 1996, Johnny Cash was the celebrity guest on Season 4, Episode 22 of Renegade. My father made a sandwich, as requested, for the great country singer. If you’re wondering, his order was two eggs, over easy, bacon, and mayonnaise on sourdough bread. He enjoyed it so much that his personal assistant returned sometime later to order another for the road. This is more of a side note than a significant life event, but it surely grabs ones attention, doesn’t it?
During this time, while managed, my father’s alcoholism continued, as did his casual addiction to cocaine.
In 1998, my brother, Dylan, was born. After his delivery, doctors noticed he had petechiae, which are spots of blood under the skin of his face. While not usually a cause for alarm, this led them to run some additional tests — and eventually a scan of his brain — when doctors recognized that something had gone terribly wrong. Lesions of darkness scarred a large swatch of my brother’s brain.
“Something attacked half of your son’s brain during the pregnancy,” my father recalls being told to him. The diagnosis was quite vague — “mental retardation.” The prognosis wasn’t great — potentially a permanent vegetative state.
(I don’t have the room to discuss my brother in this piece, but he is not in a permanent vegetative state and is a happy 22-year-old with the precious mind of an 18-month old.)
My father’s addiction began to spiral from this point. Drinking no longer began at 5 PM, it began at 9 AM. Soon, he was introduced to methamphetamine by a crew member at the restaurant he was working. At the time, this seemed to be the solution to alcoholism as the meth eliminated the desire to drink.
In 2001, my father fell into a string of drug-induced arrests that eventually landed him at the Vista Correctional Facility (county jail) for a year. Originally intended to be just a six-month stay became a full year when a little knife — fashioned from the pot of a cooking pan — was discovered in his shoe.
Once my father was released, he was soon arrested again for possession of meth, but released due to California’s Proposition 36, which allowed him to waive prison time in exchange for attending a rehabilitation center.
(Fun Fact: He did not attend a rehabilitation center.)
It took two more arrests before a judge finally ordered my dad to serve two years in state prison. Part of the his time was spent at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, while the bulk was spent at Baker Correctional Facility, a now-defunct private prison that is located in the California desert. My father eventually became the warden’s trustee, and while he didn’t have a Shawshank Redemption moment, he does have a fun story of being the “escapee” in a facility-wide drill.
Once my father was release from prison in February of 2005, he immediately went to his parole office, where he discovered that his parole officer was on vacation. Those at the office informed him of a seminar — in two weeks time — about a residential substance use disorder facility in Vista called Casa Raphael.
What was he to do for two weeks? Get high, of course.
My dad managed to get what he wanted, being arrested once again that evening. What kept him from going back to prison was the fact that he quickly swallowed his bag of drugs to prevent a possession charge. What he wasn’t counting on was the bag exploding in his stomach, resulting in a high that lasted another day (and another arrest that next night).
On February 19th, 2005, my father was released from jail again, quickly shopped for some clothes and stopped by the liquor store, eventually coming down from his high and falling asleep at the Oceanside pier. He awoke, many hours later, with a grey hoodie being placed upon him by a stranger.
He headed to an enclosed bus stop as it began to rain.
There, he prayed for an answer. He made a decision.
February 20th, 2005 marked the first day of my father’s sobriety.
Spending his nights at Bread of Life in Oceanside and his days laying on the beach, my father made it those two long weeks.
There’s a great span of time between 2005 and today. My father stayed in Casa Raphael for 14 months, worked through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, and eventually rooming with a few other recovering alcoholics. From there, he began working in the pool cleaning industry, eventually starting his own business that he still operates to this day. He restarted his relationship with me, who was ten at the time.
In 2011, while I was still in high school, my parents reunited. They eventually moved back in together and remarried in 2015. I unfortunately lost my mother on July 2nd, 2016 from the same disease that nearly took my father, which I’ve written about before. Despite this, my father still remained sober and committed to living his life to the fullest with the time he didn’t think he’d have.
Today, my father is at peace.
He owns his own home. He has a cat named Taboo. He constantly debates whether it’s worth maintaining the grass in the front yard versus laying down some decorative rocks. He is in fantastic shape, running a few miles every day and lifting weights. He occasionally plays Xbox. He dabbles in cryptocurrency, calling to fill me in on what I’ve missed in this new digital wonderland. He has been dating for awhile now and is currently in a relationship with a wonderful woman with an amazing story and a selfless career of her own. He still plays his guitars and sings daily.
The first Christmas my wife and I had in our new home in Brighton, Colorado, my father stayed at a nearby hotel. One night, he declined my offer for a drive back to the hotel despite the temperature being well below freezing. I was a bit puzzled, and my father dismissed my inquiries into why he was making such a choice.
The next day, he turned to me and said, “You asked me why I walked in the cold. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded of what the cold feels like — because I’ve been out in it without any other option.”
I sometimes find myself sobbing — for no apparent reason — when thinking of my father’s journey. It usually happens when listening to some of the 1990s grunge music that my father has had me listening to since I was a young kid. This story always has a tragic ending, but this time, perhaps through the grace of God or a ripple in spacetime, it didn’t. My father’s resolve, his wisdom, and his faith continue to inspire me on a daily basis.
There is so much more that I wish I could write about my father’s life. So many lessons learned, so many stories to tell. Prompted by a tweet, I was asked what sort of book I’d write if I was given a $50,000 advance.
I think I just started it. Where’s the check?
Happy Father’s Day, pops. I couldn’t have hoped for a better dad.