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Commentary: A Second Chance

By Steve Banko

Buffalo, NY – Hardly a day passes when I don't think about the old days; that rarified time when the physical wounds of a war were trying to heal but when its psychic wounds remained raw and seeping and threatening to turn my spirit septic I was angry and confused back then, not to mention too weak emotionally to handle what was supposed to be peace. It was hard enough for me to live with myself. It would become nearly impossible to live with a new wife who would soon be delivering our first child. While I had only been a soldier for three years, I was very afraid of being a civilian again. The notion of being a husband and father bordered on terrifying. Not surprisingly, I wasn't very good at any of those three things.

I stayed drunk for 12 painful years. I missed the growth years of both my kids. I damaged my relationship with my wife beyond mere repair and I caused a lot of people a lot of pain. Twenty-one years of sobriety have allowed me to make amends for what I inflicted on those I was supposed to love but the fact that I was so much less a father than I wanted to be is hard to forget and harder still to forgive. Yet the Rolling Stones often reminded us: "you can't always get what you want but if you try real hard, you get what you need."

Now, as I inch closer to forgiveness for my failure as a parent, I've been given the incredible gift of a grand child. The mere sight of her can fade the frustrations of a workday far from memory. She is five, going on fifteen. She was sitting on my lap recently, reading me a story from one of her books. "This one is a classic, Poppy," she insisted and it was all I could do to keep from hysterical laughter. When she caught me trying to sneak peeks at the basketball game on television, her little hands gripped my cheeks and she returned my gaze to her face before admonishing me: "Focus, Poppy. You've got to focus."

It is as though God in His (Her?) beneficence has given me another chance to get this (grand) parenting thing right and I rejoice at the opportunity. Her smile dismisses the darkness. Her laughter is an anthem of joy that brings my heart, soul and mind to attention. Her joy is an elixir that makes me feel young and allows me to forget the pain I've endured and inflicted, if only for a moment. But my devotion to my beautiful Devyn has given rise to some unreasonable expectations, even for a Poppy.

During a recent thunder and lightning storm, she crawled into my lap and put on a poor disguise at her fear of the flashing light and the booming noise. I could feel her little heart beating faster against my own as she clutched me as shelter from the storm. I thought we might make it a little easier for her to take the storm by showing it to her from a different vantage point.

I took her upstairs to my darkened bedroom and we watched the storm flashing outside. In the darkness, the veins of silver cracked across the black sky. Without the trees at ground level to block her view of the light show above, Devyn was soon delighting in the lightning and clapping her hands each time it flashed. But as the storm settled down and the thunder faded farther into the distance, Devyn was disappointed. She jumped from my lap and started using the bed for a trampoline. Then she said: "Do it again, Poppy. Do it again." Only five and already she was imposing impossible demands on me.

Perhaps, if I focus