Jerry Douzat taught his kids a lot while teaching them how to paint houses
When teacher and house painter Jerry Douzat’s children were small, Douzat took them on painting jobs.
It let him spend time with his children, and the work, he thought, was good for them.
“We’ve all worked with him from time to time,” said daughter Claire Williams, 32.
The children, eight of them, used their painting gigs with dad to buy things they might not have been able to buy otherwise and to pay for school.
“We’re proud we got four through college, three still in and one about to start,” Douzat said. “Once they’re all through school, I can kick the bucket.”
“He’d show us how to do something, then he’d come back to check,” said Joe Douzat, 30, a Home Depot paint department supervisor.
Williams paints to supplement her family’s income. Sometimes, she hires her dad who turns 70 in March.
“He took all the helpers,” said Douzat’s wife, Nicole, laughing. “I had the diaper babies.”
Jerry Douzat fell in love with Nicole Hanikenne, a French-language exchange teacher from Belgium, when he saw her photograph in the Clinton Watchman newspaper in the fall of 1976.
“I saw her picture in the Watchman and thought, ‘What a beautiful woman,’” said Jerry Douzat, who’s 12 years older than his wife.
She liked his “honesty, his gentleness. He’s a very kind man. He was not one of those brash, macho guys.”
Jerry Douzat taught with two of the Belgian teachers who’d come to Louisiana with Nicole. He arranged an introduction.
“Dad told us momma married him for his money,” said Sara Douzat, 26.
“I knew he didn’t have any money,” Nicole Douzat said.
Jerry and Nicole Douzat started their family of eight children when he was 36.
“He had this whole other life before he started having kids,” Williams said. “He tells everyone he’s our grandpa. It’s his joke.”
Because Jerry Douzat was older than the fathers of his children’s friends, his painting crew looked upon him as an exotic.
He was a demanding teacher on the job when the children were small, but he paid well and the hours passed in storytelling and conversation.
“His stories start, ‘One day, when I kick the bucket,’” Williams said.
The children knew their dad abhorred the use of masking tape on the job.
“No tape,” Jerry Douzat said. “No matter how close you get the tape to the wood (painting trim) paint always gets in there.”
When he let the children do detail work like painting window sills, they knew they’d been promoted.
“If Dad gave you the caulk gun on a job,” Williams said, “you knew you were in The Big League.”
“I like his stories,” said Sara Douzat, who’s studying graphic design and sculpture at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond.
Sara Douzat crews with sister Williams and their dad to help pay for college.
“Everyone feels their dad is special, but our dad’s stories are different,” said Sara Douzat. “He said his family was so poor that one Christmas his dad gave him a beautiful piece of wood. That was his Christmas present. I love that.”
Jerry Douzat was born in Alexandria, the son of Herley Douzat who supervised the construction of saw mills around the state.
“I learned to paint painting the houses he built when he was between saw mills,” Jerry Douzat said.
Jerry Douzat taught for 20 years in Baton Rouge and Clinton.
“I had to quit teaching,” he said. “We needed the money. I painted in my free time when I wasn’t teaching. I made more money just painting.”
“Always, always, he was in painting clothes,” Williams said. “Even around the house. Even when he was teaching, he painted after work. He retired from teaching when I was 9, in about 1989, so I think of him mostly as a house painter.”
“Working with my kids was a way to spend more time with them,” Jerry Douzat said.
“I enjoyed being with my dad,” Williams said. “Even if it was in the yuckie painting truck. He wouldn’t turn on the air conditioner because that used more gas, and you had to listen to AM radio and baseball.”
“I got pleasure from the camaraderie,” Jerry Douzat said. “I knew it would give them something to talk about ... ”
“When he kicks the bucket,” Sara Douzat and Claire Williams chorused.
His father’s painting standards never dipped, said Clint Douzat, 24, who has a bachelor’s degree in business and is studying for his CPA exam.
“Parenting? Yes, he changed. The first ones couldn’t get away with much. Marcelle and Claire got into trouble for telling someone to shut up. By the time Paul and Philip came along, those weren’t such bad words.”
Like his brothers and sisters, Clint Douzat feels he has something to fall back on should times get tough, but he thinks his painting days are over.
Painting houses with his father taught Clint Douzat how to work.
“Painting in those hot Louisiana summers teaches you a lot about waking up early and going to work,” Clint Douzat said.
“When I run into accounting problems,” he said, “I know I’m the one who has to make it work. There’s a lot of that in painting. You’ve got an awning way high up, and the ladder only goes so high. That’s true in accounting, too.”
Marcelle Gautreaux, 33, her Marine pilot husband, Brad, and their four children live in North Carolina where Brad is stationed.
“My degree’s in mass communications advertising,” Gautreaux said. “It’s hard to have a career when your husband moves around.”
So, she paints houses.
“Someone always needs a house painted,” she said. “I provide that service to Marine wives who don’t know how to paint or can’t paint because they’re pregnant.”
“We all went through our little phases with Dad,” she said, “but we wanted to please him because we love him very much.
“He doesn’t fuss about much,” she said. “And he still tells me, ‘DFYP’ (Don’t forget your prayers) when we get off the phone.”
Brother John Douzat, 28, lives in Lafayette and works for Haliburton in the oil fields.
“I started painting with Dad professionally when I was 14,” he said. “Before that, I painted when I was really small. I’d take him tools.”
Later, a big part of painting was staying close to his parents, brothers and sisters. “We’d be going to school or living in different towns. Painting was when we got together as a family,” John Douzat said.
“It wasn’t a relationship where you went in the backyard to throw a baseball,” said Paul Douzat, 23. Paul Douzat is in his last year at Our Lady of the Lake College where he’s studying surgical technology.
“What did I get from painting with him?” Paul Douzat said. “I took on his standards. I want to do things right.”
Philip Douzat, 21, is studying graphic design at Baton Rouge Community College.
“He paid me, so there’s that,” Douzat said. “And I got a better relationship with him. I learned to cut in trim.”
Going to school, Philip Douzat needed work more dependable than painting, so he doesn’t work with his dad that much, now.
“I’m thinking about working with him this weekend,” Douzat said. “It depends on whether or not I want to get up that early.”