Every story has a beginning. Mine is in Washington, D.C., in 1969.
Washington, D.C., in the sixties, seventies, and eighties was one of the poorest places in the country. Murder was common. Crack cocaine was just getting its start. Life expectancy for kids was worse than in many third world countries. The politicians were corrupt, homelessness was at its peak, and even lawabiding people viewed the police as the enemy.
But to me, it was home.
I won't say I was unaffected by the poverty and crime around me when I grew up. It's not like I lived on a safe cul-de-sac around the corner from the ghetto, either: three people died at different times in my front yard before I was nine. But to me, D.C. wasn't the life-sucking hellhole it was for a lot of people. And the big reason for that was my mom.
I was born January 18, 1969.
For some strange reason, the date is a big controversy in the wrestling world. At some point very early in my career, someone wrote a story somewhere saying that I had been born in 1966. That year seems to have stuck with a lot of people for some reason. There have been other dates published, too. There have been so many, in fact, that when I give the right date, some people think I'm lying about my age.
I swear to God, it's like it's a big deal.
Just last week some guy told my girlfriend I was lying about my age, that I wasn't really thirty-eight, that I was forty-two. Maybe he was trying to pick her up, I don't know.
I don't lie about my birth date -- I try not to lie about anything, but especially not that. It's no secret that I came to the business really late. I was almost thirty when I got into wrestling. That's real old for a wrestler starting out. I never lied about my age then, so it would be really crazy to lie now. And if I was going to lie about my age, I wouldn't say I was thirty-eight. I'd knock at least five more years off.
I have a sister, who was born about a year later than I was. Our parents weren't very original when it came to naming us. I was named after my father, David Michael Bautista. I'm Dave Junior.My sister was named after my mother, Donna Raye Bautista. She's a junior, too. It made it easier for people to remember our names.
(I spell my name Batista for wrestling, but on my birth certificate it has a u after the first a.)
My father was born in Washington,D.C., but his family was from the Philippines, and as a wrestler I've always felt a strong bond with the fans in the Philippines because of that family connection. His father, my granddad, was in the army; he didn't talk much about what he did, but I know he was in World War II and was wounded or hurt in some way. The family legends have him down as a hell-raiser when he was young, but I don't know much more than that.
I always heard that he was a real ladies' man, and that he got into some trouble in San Francisco when he was younger. Supposedly he was running numbers for gangsters and did something for which, for some reason or another, they wanted to kill him.Whatever it was that he did, trouble chased him out of town and he came east.
Those bad days were long gone by the time I came along, and he never told me about them, even though I was his favorite and he wasn't afraid to show it. On the contrary: he used to brag about it.
According to the family stories, my grandfather would never really hold any of my cousins or me when we were babies. He wasn't the nurturing type. But then one day my mom had to run to grab something burning or something like that and she just threw me in my grandfather's arms. His face lit up. By the time she came back to get me, he and I had bonded somehow. From that day, I was his favorite grandchild. I still remember him asking how much I loved him and holding my hands out to say, "This much!"
When he died in 1988, it just broke my heart. He's buried in Arlington Cemetery, an honor reserved for men and women who have served our country.
My grandfather had a bunch of jobs in the Washington, D.C., area, but I only knew him as a barber. He had his own shop in Oxen Hill, Maryland, an old-fashioned place with four chairs in it. He had to be one of the most popular guys in the neighborhood. Everybody knew him. You'd go into a McDonald's with him or just walk down the block and everyone would say hello. He was very friendly and very well liked.
He was also a very generous grandfather. When I was around six or seven, we lived real close to the shop, maybe a few blocks away. I'd go into the shop and sit in his chair, just hanging out. He'd give me lollipops all day. My cousin Anthony, who was a little older than me, would stop by, too. Sometimes, my grandfather would give us a few bucks and we'd go to Toys "R" Us. It was right across the street.
It was funny. For a while we had a regular little scam going, me and my cousin. We'd buy the toys and play with them; then, after we got a little tired of them, we'd break them and take them back.
"This toy's broken," we'd tell them.
So they'd take them back on exchange and we'd get more toys.
Anthony and I were close while we were growing up, very close. He was my only male relative in my generation, and for a while I lived with him, his sister, and their parents. So that made him the closest thing I had to a brother as a kid. He could be a bully sometimes, like any older brother. Nothing too serious: he would tease me until I cried, things like that. But I still loved him. I always looked up to him and wanted to be like him.
Unfortunately, he died a few years ago in a terrible car accident. It really shook up the family. I still miss him.
LESBIAN AND DEMOCRAT
My mom's father, Kenneth Mullins, was in the service, too. He was in the Marines during the Korean War and got both the Purple Heart and Silver Star. Both of my grandfathers were men to look up to and feel proud of, because of their service to our country.
I was never very close to the Greek side of my family, mostly because my mother wasn't. But she still tells the story of how when I was born, all of her Greek relatives came over to visit. They started yelling when they saw me: "He's Greek! He's Greek!"
They were all happy and proud, pointing out this and that facial feature that they said was due to Greek genes.
Of course, the Filipino side of the family was there, and they got pretty upset. They claimed I looked more Filipino than Greek.
My mother calls herself the black sheep of her family. She was always a lot more liberal than her parents: Granddad was a conservative, she was a left-wing Democrat. After she and my father separated, she fell in love with a woman. At some point, her father caught her in bed with another woman, which was how he first found out that she was a lesbian. I think she may regret that a little bit, but she and her dad have gotten closer over the years, and I know there's a lot of love between them now. She still jokes, though, that she did two things that disappointed her father: told him that she was a Democrat, and told him that she was a lesbian.
"Of the two, being a Democrat was far, far worse," she says. "Not even close as far as he was concerned."
My mother's sexual orientation was never an issue for me. She made it clear that she loved my sister and me, and there was never any doubt in my mind about that.
THE GONG SHOW
My father was a different story.
He and my mom had been high school sweethearts and got married right out of school.They were both really young. I don't know exactly what happened, but it seems clear to me that my father wasn't ready to be a father. They did try, on and off, to get together and get back together. Some of those attempts were halfhearted. But I don't really remember them sharing affection, hugging or kissing or anything like that.
I remember us all watching The Gong Show together. That was about the extent of family togetherness for my mom and dad.
In all the years after my parents split up, basically since I was able to walk, I never felt that my father supported us.
My mother says now, "You can't get blood from a stone."
I don't know about that. It seemed to me he was making a pretty good living at the time, and we just lived in a dump.We had nothing. I always felt something was wrong with that.
We recently talked for the first time in, let me see, over ten years. But it was really awkward. I felt as if I'd been forced into talking to him. Things are still hard between us. I don't really think he ever wanted to be a father. He told me recently that he never knew how to be a father. That was fuckin' obvious. But he could have taken a better shot at it.
He said it made him sad that we hadn't talked in a long while and didn't have any contact. I told him that it didn't make me sad. I didn't miss him. The reason I didn't miss him was that I never really felt like I had a father. I knew he was there, I knew he was my father, but I grew up without the feeling of having a father around. My mother played the role of mother and father, and she was what I knew and what I was used to. He was just never there. I really didn't miss him in my life because he was never there.
Knowing what kind of father he was makes me know what kind of father I don't want to be. My own first marriage didn't last that long -- only long enough to have two kids -- and honestly, we only got married because my wife was pregnant. But I never felt like I didn't want to be a dad. I always wanted to be there for my children. I loved them. And still do. It's a hard thing to put into words. It's something you really just have to feel. And I feel it very strongly.
D.C. was -- still is -- pretty rough.
I don't know how much you know about D.C., but basically it's subdivided into four quadrants -- northeast, southeast, southwest, northwest. There are a lot of nice neighborhoods in D.C., and some of the city is being gentrified, but at the time we lived there it was a pretty violent ghetto.We lived in southeast, not that far from the Capitol. The area had a pretty high homicide rate: guns, knives, even fists were used to kill peop...
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