Ernie Strives To Be The ‘Papa’ His Grandkids Need
Third time’s a charm—that’s what Ernie’s proving. He’s nearing graduation of the Life Recovery Program, after spending time at the mission twice before.
While Ernie acknowledged that he had a wild side as a young man—“I’ve been in gangs, gotten into trouble, but I grew out of that stuff,” he said—he was on the straight and narrow until his wife divorced him. “That’s when things got bad for me,” Ernie said. “She left me for somebody else. Things started to fall apart.”
To cope with the pain, Ernie turned to alcohol. “I was just medicating myself to deal with it. I just didn’t want to do anything anymore. I lost hope.”
Ernie entered the mission and made great strides, but fell to his addiction. After another go at it, he was doing well until his landscaping work slowed down and he had to move out of his house. “Even with all that, I thought, ‘I’m good, I got this.’ Apparently not. Once I had too much time on my hands, I started drinking again.”
Ernie left that house and stayed with his ex-wife for a while, who didn’t want to see the father of her children on the streets. But after she lost her house, Ernie had nowhere to go, and ended up homeless. Ernie’s daughter was also experiencing homelessness. “She and her boyfriend had a truck,” he said. “They were staying inside the cab and I slept outside in the bed of the truck for a few weeks. I got so depressed, I just start drinking more and more. My daughter was worried about me. She said, ‘Dad, you need to go back to the rescue mission.’ She didn’t want to see me keep drinking.”
Ernie’s granddaughter overheard the conversation, and the 14-year-old was forceful with her words. “She got mad,” Ernie said. “She told me, ‘Get back there, Papa.’ So I did. I knew it was time. I just had this feeling, if I would’ve kept on, who knows what would’ve happened.” Ernie has been studying the bible in order to “get more of the tools I need to stay on the right path,” he said. “My mentors have been telling me: ‘Ernie, you stick with it. Forget about how many times you’re been here. You’re here now and you’re doing something about it.’ They encouraged me to coach the new guys, to use myself as an example as someone who fell, who did not stay focused, and then came back and did it right.”
Ernie had learned from the house cook during his last stay at the mission, so he picked up where he left off. He now is the head cook, doing all the shopping, planning and cooking for the other men in the program. “It feels good because my mentors are always asking me how I am doing and I’m able to say, ‘I’m doing exactly what you told me.’ The guys are listening and asking and looking up to me. I’m going to be that one for them, to let them know that ‘Yeah, it took me a few times, but this is it.’ Maybe a year from now I can come back and talk to the guys, let them know, ‘I’ve been there and now I’m doing great. I’m still with the Lord. Just listen to him, and he’ll guide you.’”
Ernie sees his former landscaping boss every Sunday—they go to the same church. “He’s a Christian and he is a really nice guy,” Ernie said. “He told me, ‘When you’re ready, when you graduate, you got a full time job. I’ll even get you to and from work if you need it. I’ll get you going.”
Ernie has also decided he’d like to enter sober-living housing after he graduates. “I’m trying not to think that far ahead, but I know I want to help myself stay on the right path. I want to work, help at the mission, and live in a good environment. Mentally right now I know I can do it. I’ve already made these promises, and once I do that, I stick to it. So this time, I’m going to do it. I want to be the grandpa that my grandkids want me to be.
“That’s the thing about my grandkids,” Ernie added with a smile. “When I’m here at the rescue mission, they know I’m good. When I had a beer my hand, they would just give me that look. They’d ask, ‘Papa, are you drinking again?’ I would just sigh. It was hard. … That’s another thing I promised to them: ‘Next time you see me, I’m going to be a whole different Papa.’”