I was born a bastard. I used to hate it when my friend Jeremy would call me that. He did it as a joke because he knew that I never knew my biological father. He and my mother weren't married when I was conceived, and he took off when he found out my teenage mother was pregnant.
My mother's string of bad boyfriends ended, when I was nine, in a marriage to a carnie – you know, the guys who work at the traveling carnivals, running those whirly rides and conning kids into throwing their money away. He was a piece of work as well. For nine years I shared a house with a man who mocked and derided my mother and I, drank himself to sleep at nights, and modeled abusive behavior. I spent nights listening to them fight with each other, hearing him hitting her, and understanding that this was marriage.
People are often surprised when they hear about my background. They often think that because I am now Mormon that I must come from a perfect Mormon background. You know, perfect parents who read the Bible daily, serve in the local PTA, and are fine upstanding citizens. Not quite.
People often ask me how I got out alive. What enabled me to break out of my family cycle? Here's what I did.
The first thing that got me started on the path of the abuse cycle was service. I was blessed with the opportunity to do some community service work as a high schooler. From that I was presented with the opportunity to become a two year volunteer missionary with the Chinese community in Vancouver, British Columbia. The two years of service allowed me to see the world from a different perspective, get outside myself and away from my situation.
New Role Models.
One of the other great things that came from my missionary service was the opportunity to work with men who modeled good marriage behavior. The man who led the group of missionaries I was with was a kind, gentle, and financially wealthy man who treated his wife as if she were gold. It was a revelation to me. I had never seen men behave that way before, except in old movies. I had always thought that gentlemanly behavior was something of an anachronism that didn't belong in our times. I learned what a good husband could be like.
A well rounded education gave me the tools that I needed to become more self aware. When I read the classic writings of the world's great authors I started to get an understanding of my place in the human race and the history of the world. I can see how my behavior compares to the behavior of the great men of the world.
Escape from Poverty.
George Bernard Shaw said that the greatest sin in the world is poverty. While that may or may not actually be true, poverty is at the root of many social ills. Poverty is the primary cause for a lack of education. Poor people tend to be obese, more violent, and less open to change. I'm still experiencing my own emergence from poverty, but knowing that I have a good job that will provide for myself and my wife has allowed me to change the way that feel about situations that I am confronted with. There is less stress about where rent money is going to come from, a more relaxed attitude about bills in general, and a willingness on my part to give to others.
Last on my list, but certainly not least, communing with the divine has given me a sense of purpose in my life, as well as a direction to go. Prayer has not solved every problem I've had, but it has certainly given me the tools to get up and work at solving my own problems.
I still struggle with my childhood. There's a lot of insecurity inside of me when it comes to marriage. I still have nightmares about being like my stepfather, and I still wish that I could have known my biological father. Sometimes I act a certain way towards my wife and I wonder what could have triggered it – then I remember my stepfather acting that way. Luckily for me, I have an infinitely patient wife who stands by me through all of these struggles.
Being born an illegitimate child may have formed the framework for how my life would go, but it certainly did not set that framework in stone. Anyone who wants to can change themselves. Anyone can move beyond selfishness and serve others. Anyone can recognize the good in others and try to emulate it. Anyone can pull themselves up out of poverty, get an education, and learn to rely on the merits of prayer. Not only can you, but you must. If you want to improve your marriage and your life.
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” - Mahatma Ghandi.