Every person has a story to tell. The story, in this case, don’t mean a random excerpt; rather, it showcases the individual’s life – the culmination of his/her entire life experience. Today’s story is about a man named Robert Martinez Jr.
Robert is a 43 year old man residing in La Habra, California. He is married and fathers five children. He works three jobs to support his family. On top of that, he coaches three sports teams: softball, baseball, and football. If those duties weren’t already time consuming, he also participates in Polynesian dance with four of his children.
Balancing the aforementioned tasks is already an impressive feat deserving recognition. However, this man did not always lead a conventional life. There’s more than meets the eye to him than what is seen on the surface level. Introducing Robert’s story.
Robert had an absurdly unstable childhood. With his parent’s divorced and neither prioritizing his life over their own, Robert was on own his own at the measly age of 12. That is not a typo. With nowhere else to go, Robert was homeless and left running in the streets before his teenage years. In the city of Lakewood, he resorted to robbing and stealing from others to survive. Lacking a safe haven, he slept in abandoned homes or restroom floors of 24-hour restaurants. Fighting on the streets became a norm. Survival became the means to an end.
It was during these early teenage years that Robert earned the nickname “Dutchboy.” Knott’s Berry Farm formerly included clubs Cloud 9 and Studio K, and it became a hangout spot for the young Robert. It was at this time period where he learned breakdancing and popping. Dancing may seem like a safe hobby, but fights routinely broke out on the dance floor. Dutchboy continued to gain notoriety.
At the age of 18 and now a street veteran, Robert and his 15 year old sister were relocated, on behalf of their father, to a motel room. His father brought him groceries once a week, and those two minutes every seven days weas the only time his father saw his children. There were no holidays nor vacations. The motel complex itself was Hell’s kitchen, for anything could be acquired there: hard drugs (heroin, cocaine, amphetamines), alcohol, weapons (guns), and prostitution were all readily available in this Anaheim location. He soon became addicted to illicit drugs and embraced alcoholism.
Within two weeks of his senior year in high school, Robert was expelled for persistent fighting. Because of his prior records (including expulsion from continuation school and other high schools), he was now outlawed from both the entire Los Angeles and Orange County school districts. With no incentive to acquire a diploma, Robert permanently took to the streets, returning only occasionally to the motel to rest. It was also at the age of 18 when he joined a gang whose name will be kept confidential. Already accustomed to a life of crime, this was just another outlet for Dutchboy to feel a sense of belonging. Drug use, alcoholism, and violence remained a daily habit.
One night, Dutchboy and members of his gang were in attendance of a party. He wore a trench coat with an unloaded sawed-off shotgun; the bullets were readily available hidden in a nearby bush. Unsurprisingly, policemen intruded the party and caught sight of his weapon. Robert will never forget this moment in his life.
The cop put the tip of his gun at the back of my head and shouted ‘If you move mother****er, I’m going to shoot you.’ At that moment, I turned around, put my hand around his gun and connected it to my forehead and said, ‘Pull the trigger. I don’t care.’ I could tell that the cop was caught by surprise. I knew he didn’t expect me to say that and had never seen anyone do that before.
He was immediately arrested and locked in the county jail. Although Dutchboy weld the weapon, the police were actually searching for his wanted friends. He was released the next day on Release on Recognizance (R.O.R.) – method by which an individual is released in lieu of providing bail, upon his promise to appear and answer a criminal charge. Soon afterward, his friends were detained and incarcerated in prison for three years. Although he never revealed their whereabouts, Dutchboy was subsequently labeled a rat and was jumped by his own gang members. Consequently, he quit the gang life and resumed one of solitude.
Shown in the center is Robert in his late teenage years, with fellow gang members on both sides.
No longer being a gang member did not dissuade Robert from resuming his deviant behaviors. He mugged innocent bystanders at bus stops. He robbed the pizza man. He broke a marine’s jaw in three different places. He walked up to people and assaulted them for absolutely no reason. When stealing from others who complied with his demands, he “beat the s*** out of them anyway.” Robert was imprisoned twice on assault charges at the ages of 18 and 19, both being 1-year sentences. Note: had he been convicted a third time, the Three Strikes Law would have come into effect and he’d have been imprisoned for life.
Skipping forward several years, Robert was now at the age of 26 and was stressed with divorce procedures. Drugs and alcohol were still a significant part of his life. During this time, however, he met a woman named Jennifer. Although their first impressions were horrible, they eventually engaged in an intimate relationship. Unfortunately, Robert maintained contact with his ex-wife, who often times upset him on multiple levels. On many occasions, he released his anger on Jennifer.
One night, Robert consumed an almost lethal amount of alcohol at a bar. He proceeded to called Jennifer and let her know that he was driving to her house.
I drove from Montebello to Norwalk in five minutes… I must have gone over 100mph on the freeway. I was just so mad at my ex-wife that I didn’t care about whether I lived or not. At this time, Jenn was pregnant with my daughter. According to her, she already heard my car swerving before I got into the neighborhood. I must have pulled into the place at 70. As soon as I entered the room, she placed me on the bed and sat on top of me. She refused to get off until I fell asleep. She knew I wouldn’t hurt her because she was pregnant with my baby.
According to Robert, Jennifer saved his life that night. He realized, then and there, that she was the right person for him; up until that point, no other person had ever remained so loyal by his side. Soon afterward, he married Jennifer.
Even in marriage and bearing children, Robert was still unstable and inconsistent. Drugs and alcohol was still a major issue. He widely neglected his first three children – Jessica, James, and Jeanna. In addition, he had taken up gambling. Many-a-times betwen 2003-2005, Jessica refused to go to sleep until her mother searched for and found her father; on several occasions, Jennifer had to pick Robert up at the casino or from the bar at 4am.
In 2005, Jennifer finally presented Robert with an ultimatum. She pleaded, “It’s either us [the family], or that [drugs, alcohol, and gambling.” Robert reflected on himself, realized the pain he caused his wife and his children, and chose to give up his adverse behavior for the family’s sake.
In that same year, Robert discontinued all drug use and binge drinking. He devoted his attention solely to his family. To be the breadwinner by working three tiresome jobs; to be a father by creating deeper connections with his children; To be a loyal husband and staying by his wife’s side.
I put my family through Hell. I didn’t know how to be a dad. Now I want to [set a good example for my kids]. Everything I do now is to be a positive role model, so my kids know not to follow my path.
In the years that followed, Robert has taken his family on vacation several times, including Hawaii on three separate occasions. In all those trips combined, he’s drank one beer. “It’s the kids’ time on vacation, not mine. I am only there for them. I don’t want them to think ‘Dad’s drinking again. I wonder if he’ll go crazy’ and not want to go on vacation anymore,” he remarked. He chooses not to drink on those events because he refuses to let his children feel discouraged from spending quality family time.
“When you are out on the street by yourself with no one loving you, you don’t respect yourself. I was told that I would die at 18. I didn’t care if I lived or died,” Robert said. When asked to reflect on himself now, he said:
Yes, I respect myself and my capabilities. I want my kids to be kids. I want them to enjoy life, not having to look behind their backs everywhere they go. I don’t want them walking around feeling like a badass. I am very happy right now. I have a great wife, great kids, and I am a great person. This is me. I love life.
I have zero doubt in his statement. Robert is a great and respectable man. He’s been through an incredible ordeal, one that would have swallowed many other peoples’ lives. His early childhood and adult experiences didn’t deter him from being the reliable, humble, friendly person he has become today. He puts a great deal of effort in making up the lost time with his eldest children. He puts the same amount of effort with his younger ones. He keeps them away from any deviant behaviors. Most of his extended family continues to be involved with gangs, and not wanting his family nor himself to be part of that life, Robert cut ties with all of them. According to Robert, everything he is now is because of his wife. As one who practices religion, he devotes his life to her and to God.
James (left), Jacob (center), and Robert in baseball practice.
As mentioned earlier, Robert participates in Polynesian dancing with four of his children. It was at Alohis (the Polynesian dance studio in Whittier) nearly a year ago when I met him and his two sons James (13) and Jacob (6). It’s worth mentioning that James and Jacob are extremely sweet kids. Just over a month ago at our Disneyland performance, he introduced me to his daughters Jessica (16) and Jeanna (12).
It was during that same day where I caught a glimpse of Robert’s past… He had humbly mentioned prison and how one should not use it in an analogy if one could not relate to it. I was genuinely surprised and wanted to find out more. My hour-and-a-half conversation with him last week touched my heart in indescribable ways. When confessing how much pain he put his wife through, Robert cried. I had a great deal of trouble suppressing my own tears and almost stopped jotting down notes. Robert Martinez Jr.’s story inspires me to try my best to never give up on any one person.
Robert and four of his children. The youngest daughter Jordan (3) is not pictured.
As someone who strives to understand anyone and everyone’s story, I’ve found that any individual could be interesting. That individual just needs to realize it! Anybody can be a valuable asset; anybody has the potential teach me a thing or two about myself, his/her life, or life itself. When the opportunity presents itself, learn more about others and their stories. You won’t regret it.