The Darker the Night, the Nearer the Dawn
Joe Perretti changes the destiny of the men in his family.
by Joe Perretti
When I was 11 years old, my father left my mom with three boys to raise on her own. Normally, a child longs to see their parent again, but in my case, my father moved around the corner. I’ll never forget the deep pain that tore through my heart each time he passed by our apartment and pretended not to know us. My pain morphed into deep anger that I took out on others. Even the smallest things would send me into a violent rage.
By the time I was 15, I had dropped out of high school and would disappear for weeks at a time, using drugs and causing trouble. One day, I left a young man bloodied in the streets for trying to steal my brother’s bike. Shocked at my own rage, I feared ending up in jail one day. In 2008, I got married, and a year later, my son, Giuseppe, was born. I thought having a family would bring me happiness, but I was wrong. I directed my anger toward my wife. I’d scream at her and, fueled by my drug habit and episodes of paranoia, become violent at times. After a 15-year relationship, she had enough and decided to leave.
At this crucial time, I was introduced to the SGI, and I received the Gohonzon on Feb. 19, 2015. Through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and challenging myself in SGI activities, I began transforming the pain I had carried for most of my life.
I saw changes, including being promoted at work and developing a closer relationship with my son. I even mustered the courage to reach out to my dad who had left my family 23 years earlier. I shared my Buddhist practice with him, and he opened up about why he had left our family.
Then, in January 2016, I received divorce papers, and learned that my wife was filing for sole custody of Giuseppe. The thought of losing my son pained me more than anything I had experienced in my life.
On top of that, my brother’s heroin addiction was taking a turn for the worse. I realized that although my life was improving, the people around me were suffering deeply.
The men in my family gave up their kids and lost to addiction. I decided that the hardships facing me were the opportunity for me to transform the destiny of my family—for my son, my brothers, my father and myself.
I chanted every day no matter what to rid myself of the anger and frustration in my heart, while making causes to move my life forward. I was appointed the Jamaica Chapter young men’s leader, returned to school and supported my son—all while my employer was facing potential bankruptcy. I hardly slept during this time.
SGI President Ikeda writes: “When facing adversity, we may think we’ve reached our limit, but actually the more trying the circumstances, the closer we are to making a breakthrough. The darker the night, the nearer the dawn. Victory in life is decided by that last concentrated burst of energy filled with the resolve to win” (www.ikedaquotes.org).
I introduced my brother to the practice, and he was able to overcome his drug addiction. I also engaged my ex-wife respectfully, and she agreed to joint custody of our son.
Recently, we all went to dinner together and my son said, “Hey dad, you two are best friends again!” My ex-wife and I enjoy a better relationship than we’ve ever had, and my son takes his own Buddhist practice seriously. One night, I awoke to him doing gongyo!
Out of appreciation for how much my own life has grown, I’ve introduced over 20 friends and family members to Buddhism, including my mom, dad, two brothers, six cousins and four childhood friends.
My cousin hosts district meetings at her home, and many of my family members regularly attend. My mom avidly reads the SGI-USA publications, and my dad chants abundantly every day. The only way I can repay my debt of gratitude to my mother for her support is to ensure her three sons are involved in their children’s lives.
Last year, I officially earned my GED diploma, a seed planted when my son asked me how long ago I had graduated from high school, to which I had no response. He replied, “Then why do I have to do it?” If I wanted to be an example, I had to stop selling myself short. I will soon pursue my childhood dream of becoming a real estate attorney.
At 35, I feel like I’m starting from scratch, but armed with Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and the Gohonzon, I have the tenacity to pursue what two years ago seemed impossible. For the 50,000 Lions of Justice gathering in 2018, I am determined that Jamaica Chapter will bring 170 youth. I will continue to share Buddhism, confident that, when I help someone achieve a breakthrough in their life, a transformation happens in mine.