Hi, My Name Is Ryan

The clown prince of Phoenix's downtown art scene is sacrificing madcap antics for a Mormon mission

Although he tries to keep his two worlds separate, Avery's faith occasionally conflicts with his lifestyle, and not just because he once sported a Mohawk in church. A few family members are a little concerned that what he's doing might be "against church standards or morals." His art scene buddies, like Trunk Space co-owners JRC and Stephanie Carrico, worry Avery's not only abandoning his craft, but when he returns from his mission in 2008, he won't be the person they know.

"This scene needs Ryan so bad. There's so much more he can do, bigger venues to perform at, bigger channels for him to share his art," JRC says. "I'm just afraid if he leaves, then all the momentum he's made is going to be lost."

Ryan unleashes lyrical terrorism as Douglas Patton during a Fathers Day show in June at the Trunk Space.
Luke Holwerda
Ryan unleashes lyrical terrorism as Douglas Patton during a Fathers Day show in June at the Trunk Space.
Relaxing outside Soul Invictus after a gig in June, Ryan discusses how he enjoys performing.
Luke Holwerda
Relaxing outside Soul Invictus after a gig in June, Ryan discusses how he enjoys performing.

After listening to Fathers Day's twisted discography — with songs like "I Hate My Kids" and a cover of the Ramones' "Beat on the Brat" — it's not surprising to learn Ryan Avery had a troubled upbringing.

And like most tales of childhood woe, this one starts with divorce.

Born in 1986 to lifelong Mormons Crystal and Douglas Patton Avery, Ryan was the youngest of five children in what appeared to be an ideal clan of Latter-day Saints.

But while the northeast Valley family dutifully attended services and participated in their ward, family members report that the Averys weren't exactly the perfect Mormon household.

Crystal Hill Voss, Ryan's 52-year-old mother, is guarded when describing how she suddenly decided in 1993 to leave her husband. (According to court records, Crystal alleged her children were "subjected to prolonged emotional abuse" by Douglas.) She provides few details about the divorce, but claims Douglas was also "extremely controlling at times" of her life and their marriage.

"It just got very apparent that I was his property and I was to do what he said, so that pretty much nixed things for me," says Voss, who's still a practicing Mormon, and has remarried and moved to Evanston, Wyoming.

Matt Avery, Ryan's 30-year-old brother and an Army intelligence analyst at the Pentagon, says their dad was also largely absent from home, off playing golf or constantly working at his now-defunct insurance agency.

Douglas Avery, a 53-year-old Paradise Valley resident, claims his ex-wife's allegations are "completely false," and that he only played golf "like six or seven times a year." He admits, however, he was away from home a lot, which was "unfortunate." He had his share of complaints about Crystal, during the divorce, including the claim that she told their children he broke commandments.

Regardless of who was at fault, the estranged couple endured a long and ugly divorce lasting more than two years and filled with battles over child support and community property. Although their parents shared custody, Ryan and his siblings lived with mom.

Since Crystal worked more than 60 hours a week as a housecleaner and attended night school, older brothers Scott and Matt shouldered the burden of raising the younger kids. (Matt confesses he was "disturbed" when Ryan occasionally called him "Dad.")

Douglas became "weekend dad" or "I'll-take-you-to-Taco Bell-and-Out of Africa dad."

The siblings continued as devout Mormons, and although Ryan's faith helped, he suffered bouts of depression.

"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't shitty at home at that time," he says. "I tried hard not to let the divorce affect me, but I was only 8 and got to see my father [on Wednesdays] and every other weekend, and my mom worked all the time."

Ryan also started acting up at school. He'd show up for class at Pueblo Elementary School in Scottsdale to keep his mom from getting in trouble, but began disrupting lessons or refusing to participate in class, and foreshadowed his current penchant for performance by breaking out into song.

"It wasn't to be a nuisance, but because I thought school was lame or boring, and I could tell other kids did, too," Ryan says. "I wanted to make it better for them, so that was my whole idea for being goofy."

Matt, however, believes it was more than simply showing off.

"He was trying to exert control when a lot of things were out of his control, like the divorce or not seeing our parents," Matt says. "It's like what he does now, but on a smaller scale. Something pops into his head and he'd do it because it was fun or whatever."

As a result of his melancholia and mischief, Ryan's mother tried sending him to a battery of therapists from ages 6 to 13, putting him on meds, and moving him to different schools, like Paramount Life Preparatory Academy in Mesa and Mohave Middle School in Scottsdale.

None of the quick fixes worked.

"I think in her mind, if I went to a different school or spent all this time in counseling, it'd seem like she was raising me," Ryan says. "Lots of people told her, 'You have to put kids into therapy if they aren't happy all the time.'"

At 13, following Ryan's expulsion from Mohave for, among other things, annoying faculty members and excessive absences (he'd stopped going after getting sent home for wearing a wizard costume in class), Crystal let him choose his own path, such as attending Kachina School for Arts & Sciences in Scottsdale and New School for the Arts in Tempe.

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