My great grandfather, Peter, was an alcoholic. He lived in Poland and I’ve been told he died before his children came to the United States. My mother left that home as an adult and married an alcoholic. My grandfather was so mentally ill that my father hired a Pinkerton guard to watch over him when he was not at home, to keep my grandfather from killing himself.
I am the youngest of five children, the youngest of five who have stumbled and tripped through the same disasters as our parents, our grandparents, and our great grandparents. As a very young child I had an intuitive grasp that there was not enough love, compassion, mercy or joy to go around in our home. So, I did what all children do, I learned to scavenge for scraps of affection in the corners. I tried many tricks to gain love, some worked, some failed, and all of them in combination put me on that inevitable path. That horrid path leads into the trap that swallowed uncounted generations before me. I became another alcoholic. No matter how hard I squirmed, no matter what jobs I tried, no matter what churches I wandered into, my life became darker, smaller, and more impoverished.
At the age of 28, perhaps through a miracle or maybe just by luck, I found something that worked for me. I became sober with the help of countless strangers. We still sit around tables, drinking bad coffee and sharing our experiences, strengths, and hopes.
Now I’m an old man. The people of my parent’s generation have completely gone and those of my generation are beginning to pass away. Funerals are more frequent. Each time the Universe is left smaller. But in this life, I did something wonderful. Something amazing and preposterous. With the loving support of my wife, I overcame cowardice.
It may be that my cowardice had just become bad habit, losing its teeth over time. But my fear and loneliness were once as real as a thick dirty icicle hanging outside my childhood bedroom window. I remember the nights of screaming, throwing, crying, slamming, the holes punched in walls, and the other madness of my childhood home. This is a mistake I was bound never to repeat. This was a family I would never recreate. I would not pass on generations of madness to my children. I would have no children.
But I am blessed by my long life and a loving wife. At the age of 55, I finally admitted to her my cowardice. I would never have children and this cycle would stop. In that moment I realized that I was wrong, I had been wrong for decades. I had been sober since I was 28 years old. I was free. My fate was not that of those poor souls who gave me this life.
That insight, and the successes of a lifetime, let me see that I could be a father, perhaps a marvelous father. My wife and I began working on adoption soon thereafter. We had adventures in Guatemala where we found our daughters as infants.
One cold October night, three years ago, as I changed my daughter’s diaper, I kissed her and she smiled at me through her large sleepy eyes. I knew the Universe had expanded with her arrival. My beloved adopted daughters in their diapers easily confirm that God’s Mercy exceeds God’s Wrath.
However, until that night I did not know the extent by which Mercy exceeds Wrath.
Now I see the difference is infinite.