Annoyed at the men singing a song about a girl waiting at home for them at the beginning of scene one, Yank says the ship is his home. What they are calling home was the place he ran away from when he was a kid. "Home was lickings for me, dat's all." Meaning that all he remembers from home was his parents beating him.
The other men shout Yank down for saying the ship is his home because for them the ship feels like hell. However, for Yank to feel so comfortable in such poor conditions shows just how bad Yank's home life must have been.
We get further insight into Yank's childhood in scene 5 when he tells his friend Long that his parents used to leave him at church while they went home to get drunk:
Dey never went demselves, dough. Always got too big a head oon Sunday mornin', dat was dem.
Once they were drunk, they would fight so hard that it was like watching two professional boxers:
Dey was scrappers for fair, bot' of dem. On Satiday nights when dey bot' got a skinful dey could put a bout oughter been stages at de Garden.
Yank ran away soon after his Mum died of alcoholism.
In the first scene, Yank gives the impression that he feels sad about his upbringing and the person it has made him into. However, the more people challenge him about who he is—in particular, after Mildred calls him an ape, the more defensive he becomes. In scene five, he proudly states that his parents taught him how to cope with punishment:
I'm a chip offen de old block, get me?