Healing My Family Rifts
Melvin Harris rebuilds his relationship with his son and fosters “lions of justice” in rural Texas.
by Melvin Harris
Having grown up with a father who disciplined me and my six siblings with a heavy hand, I repeated the same pattern with my own son, Melvin Jr.
That all changed one day, when my son got into trouble at his elementary school. He was going to be sent home but feared what I might do. When I went to pick him up, I was arrested and jailed overnight, charged with child abuse.
I began questioning everything in my life and became desperate when I could not find solace in my own religious beliefs. It was around this time that I was invited to an SGI Buddhist discussion meeting by someone in the neighborhood. As unfamiliar and strange as chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon seemed at first, when the members began sharing about their benefits in faith, I felt they were being genuine. That was enough for me to give the practice a shot. I received the Gohonzon several weeks later on May 24, 1985.
The first thing I chanted for was to overcome the legal woes surrounding my son and me. Grounded in a new philosophy of respect for life, I had a heartfelt dialogue with the district attorney, who decided to dismiss the
charges and, instead, required me to undergo six months of family counseling. This allowed me to keep my career in the military, and, even more important, helped me confront my childhood pain. Counseling gave me the courage to dialogue with my father, and Buddhism helped me see his humanity. He became the kindest man in his later years.
Though things were supposed to be looking up, my marriage turned rocky. The result was a bitter divorce. Melvin Jr., who was in high school at the time, was torn by our separation. I felt he blamed me for the divorce, and even though I
tried hard to mend our relationship, we grew distant. Anger began to fill my heart, and our relationship eventually deteriorated when I remarried. We went years without speaking.
After retiring from a 20-year career in the Navy, I moved back to my hometown of Houston in the mid-’90s. Through my earnest prayer to contribute to others, I immediately found a job as a junior ROTC instructor at a local high school. I worked there for the next 17 years until my second retirement.
Although I was struggling with my own son, chanting Nam-myoho-rengekyo to transform our relationship without an answer in sight, I determined to continue making causes to support the youth within the SGI and in my community.
When I chant, I’m confident that I’m moving my life forward, never regressing.
A few years after I had moved to Houston, I got a call from my sister, who informed me that my son was visiting from California. Stuck in my own bitterness about our failed relationship, I made no effort to see him. After finally seeking guidance about this from a senior in faith, I was encouraged to return to the Gohonzon and sincerely chant to connect with my son’s heart. I chanted until I mustered the courage to call Melvin Jr., telling him, “Son, I am sorry that we do not have the type of relationship that a father and son should have, and I wish to change it.” Immediately, he responded that he felt the same.
Moving forward, I determined in front of the Gohonzon to continue expanding my heart and life to become the best father. Since then, we’ve been in close communication, and our relationship is constantly changing for the better. Melvin Jr. even surprised me on Father’s Day at my home several months after our initial breakthrough. He’d come all the way from California to see me, and we had such a wonderful time together. Now, I get to enjoy our relationship even more with the addition of my grandson, John Paul.
New challenges came my way a few years ago, when I moved to Onalaska, Texas, a lake town 100 miles outside Houston with a population of less than 2,000. When I got here, there were no SGI members, a predicament that I had overcome several times through prayer and introducing others to Buddhism while in the Navy.
As I chanted to connect with SGI members near Onalaska, I received a phone call about another member, Myron, who lived 30–40 miles from me. We started holding meetings at my wife’s restaurant, inviting the local residents. One day, I introduced a young man to the practice when he came looking for work. After attending our meetings, he decided to receive the Gohonzon. Through the joy of his new Buddhist practice, he invited his friend to one of our meetings, and that young man, too, joined the SGI.
This ripple effect continued until we suddenly had four young men practicing with us. Just recently, one of them hosted an introduction-to-Buddhism meeting in Huntsville, a city about 30 miles from Onalaska. There were 19 people in attendance, including seven guests. Three of them decided to receive the Gohonzon! We’re truly creating history
here in Texas! When I first arrived to Onalaska, I was the only member. Today, we have 13 members in our group, and
we will soon become our own district!
Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo abundantly has been the key to all my victories in life. When I chant, I’m confident that I’m moving my life forward, never regressing. I am deeply appreciative of my son and all my challenges for teaching me this invaluable lesson and helping me stay the course of human revolution.
As SGI President Ikeda says: “I am sure that there are those who, even though they practice Nichiren Buddhism, have challenging relationships with their sons or daughters, or with their daughtersin- law, or perhaps with their spouses.
“In the end, the only way to heal these rifts in human relationships is through our Buddhist practice—that is, through expanding our life condition, changing inside, and carrying out our human revolution based on faith” (The New Human Revolution, vol. 26, p. 203). Toward next year’s gathering of 50,000 “Lions of Justice,” I will introduce many more young people to SGI Nichiren Buddhism together with the youth in Texas. They are the future, and I’m here to make sure they win.