The maid’s son

Charles-Nicholson, The maid’s son, Culture Currents
Charles Nicholson

by Charles Nicholson

“The courage it takes to share your story might be the very thing someone else needs to open their heart to hope,” – Unknown. 

Everyone has a story; here’s mine. I was born in May of 1953 in San Francisco. My mother, Parry Dotson, a 40-year-old single woman, worked as a maid in San Francisco. Like most help back then, we lived on the property of the employer. I was her fifth child, although raised as an only child. 

My childhood memories shaped my personality and future, reminding me of the good times. I have faint memories of my babysitter, Mrs. Scott, and her son taking care of me while my mother worked. I recall her son would ride me on his motorcycle and all of us watching television. Oddly, through watching television we learned I needed eyeglasses; I’ve worn them ever since. 

My father, Elisha Nicholson, was a married man who lived in Oakland with his wife, Alberta. My father died in November of 1956 after a long illness with liver and kidney disease; in other words, he drank himself to death at age 48. 

In 1957, Alberta Nicholson found us and she convinced my mother to let me go live with her. I do not know how this happened, although I lived with Alberta through age 12, with the exception of two years. 

I really enjoyed my life with Alberta. We traveled to Los Angeles regularly visiting with her family and creating a close bond. While being raised by Alberta, I joined Boy Scouts, was baptized at Evergreen Baptist Church, enjoyed kid stuff, and most importantly, met my father’s family too. The two years spent away from Alberta were spent in Louisiana with my grandmother and older sister, who was 20 years my senior.

As time went on, my mother became jealous of my relationship with Alberta and sent for me to come back home. “Wow!” as the Fresh Prince would say, “My life was flipped upside down!” 

I did not know at the time my mother suffered from mental illness. She’d had a nervous breakdown before coming to live in San Francisco, and my sister nursed her back to health. 

The mental illness caused her to be extremely paranoid. She struggled and survived through any means necessary to make sure we had a roof over our head and food to eat. We moved every year, always under pressure to pay the rent. 

We all have a story – some worse than others, but a story.

I remember her drinking heavily, being involved in multiple relationships with Black and Caucasian men, betting at the race track and renting out rooms in our home. Despite all, she wanted me to have a good life and recognized the importance of a quality education. She put me in Catholic school hoping to make up for the absence of my father.

During my teenage years, I was going along to get along, mindlessly following the leader. I did what the other guys in my circle did – smoke weed, steal and ignore my studies. I barely made it through Sacred Heart High School. 

There were grace and good influences though – like getting a job pumping gas at age 16 and meeting Rev. Scales with Third Baptist Church of San Francisco. There I became president of the Junior Laymen, sang in the choir, and participated in other wholesome church activities. 

Still, I was a follower not confident enough to believe in myself and struggling with challenging childhood experiences and other life circumstances. At age 18, one of my mother’s boyfriends helped me to get a job with the federal government. 

At age 19, I moved on my own, while working at the IRS and attending college, still not totally focused. In my 20s, through Alberta, I met my dad’s brother, Richard Nicholson, a fantastic business man. Finally, a man in my life to help me grow into manhood and become responsible! Uncle Richard’s influence led to personal growth and development. 

Still, I was following the wrong crowd, and eventually the weed led to cocaine, and together they led to trouble. After hitting rock bottom, I found my way to The Delancey Street Foundation, a self-help organization for substance abusers, ex-convicts, homeless and others to completely rebuild their lives. It took another 20 years for me to stop following and start leading. 

At age 43, my transformative journey towards responsibility, accountability and manhood took a different path. I came to recognize neither of my mothers raised me to do the wrong things; they simply did the best they knew how. 

I decided to focus up and stop following. I made up my mind: No more drugs and alcohol. I have been clean and sober since 1993. I joined Positive Directions Equals Change in 1997, where we help others with drug and alcohol problems. 

I have my own life, a wonderful wife, Linda, a business as an electrician, and at age 48 started my quest in martial arts. I became a Black Belt at age 59 after dedicating myself to rigorous hours of training, meditation and discipline. I only follow God these days.

We all have a story – some worse than others, but a story. Once we are able to seek help, take control of our lives, find strength and trust in God or your higher power, positive change can happen. Get the help you need and live this life the best you can. Thank you, Lord, and thank you, Positive Directions, for your continuous support, encouragement and family. 

PDEC-schedule-0122, The maid’s son, Culture Currents

If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorder issues, please give us a call. Positive Directions Equals Change, a community-based organization in the Bayview, offers classes and support groups each day of the week. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at 415-401-0199 or email our team at: The schedule is below, and all are welcome.