Tony Pallotto knew that his father hated it when they were late for something. Time mattered, even when he was plastered on a barstool.
“I once picked him up four minutes late at a bar,” Pallotto said. “When I disagreed with his (correct) assertion that I was late, he balled up his fist and backhanded me in the chest. It felt like my chest had caved in. As I regained my breath, I protested again that I had been on time. Whack! He nailed me again. This time, I thought I felt bones cracking and loosening. I bailed out of the car at a stop sign, screamed profanity at him, and walked home.”
He stayed out of sight until he knew his father was fast asleep. That’s what you do when violence hobbles a household.
“Another time, my brother came home late,” Pallotto, now 65, said. “I was in the bedroom. I heard the screen door in the kitchen creak open, then I heard smack!
He heard a verbal tirade unleashed on his sibling.
“A minute later, my brother emerged from the bathroom with a white towel stained red,” he said. “His nose was bleeding like crazy and turned to one side. Some time later, my dad popped him again and turned his nose back the other way. He was a monster.”
Life in the Pallotto home wasn’t always a combat zone.
“Mom was nurturing in those days,” the Oceanside resident said. “She’d bathe me and my older brother, wrap us in warm towels, and put us to bed in warm, cozy pajamas. She’d cuddle us. Dad was much more composed in those days. Everything felt safe and normal in those early years.”
About the time Pallotto hit adolescence his father lost his job and “dived into a bottle. My mother dived in, too. Dad’s violence against the family became horrific.”
He knew no limits, often bruising and disfiguring his mother. Police officers weren’t immune from his rage.
“He was a vile, wicked man, although he did manage to teach me a few good things,” said Pallotto, an Indiana native who was raised in Connecticut. “But life in those days was tense and often frightening.”
Like father, like son
As kids are apt to do, Pallotto followed his father’s footsteps, adding pot and LSD to his repertoire.
“The one time I used heroin, I flew into a rage and tried to beat to death the guy keeping company with my estranged girlfriend (now his wife, Maryann),” Pallotto said. “God stopped that barrage in a miraculous way. Years later, that same guy, named Dave, showed up in an unlikely way and bestowed upon me the greatest example of Christ-like forgiveness I’ve ever known. He also told me about the Lord and His forgiveness. He gets the credit for leading me to salvation through Christ. It’s an amazing story.”
Pallotto’s story is now chronicled in “Sidetracked: A Story of Family Wreckage and Radical Redemption,” written by Brian Lamay. The book is available on Amazon.
“After I accepted Christ, I walked with Jesus for several years, but an absence of fellowship and too much corporate prosperity set the stage for a monumental retreat from Christ. I returned to drinking, drugs and other forms of debauchery.”
He found his way back during a three-day anger-infested recovery from a weekend cocaine binge. After rallying from a half-dead state, Pallotto tore apart his bedroom while threatening to kill anyone who came near him.
“I squandered the last shred of Christian dignity I had by uttering the Lord’s name in vain,” Pallotto said, adding that God “even used the profaning of His holy name for His glory. The realization that I’d let that slip away brought a tidal wave of conviction like I’d never known. It brought me to the end of myself.
“God brought me back to repentance by clearly revealing to me what a despicable, ungodly mess I had become. I was a substance-abusing, foul-mouthed, mean-spirited louse.”
Months later he lost his high-paying advertising job.
“God took everything away—my job, my house—but He gave me a ministry,” he said.
From the ruin, Pallotto launched Teen Adolescent Placement Services, a full-time ministry that offers a hotline, consultation, referrals, group home placement, and transport of teens who are troubled or a danger to themselves or others.
Since its origins in 1995, TAPS has helped nearly 20,000 families, placing more than 3,000 youth and transporting more than 1,300 to various programs, including ones in Northern California and Missouri.
Despite the ministry’s success, Pallotto could not save his own son, who died from a heroin overdose in 2001. Mark, the middle of three boys, fought addiction much of his life, though he kicked it for a time through Victory Outreach. He was running a successful street ministry in San Antonio when he relapsed after a break-up.
“We learned the sweetness of deep, personal fellowship with the Lord in the midst of our profound suffering,” he said. “Had it not been for Mark’s death—which we deeply, agonizingly regret nonetheless—we probably wouldn’t be nearly as close to the Lord as we are now.”
Pallotto has also lost two brothers to heroin, one through AIDS contracted from a dirty needle.
“I should have been dead many times over,” he said. “I’ve had enough car wrecks and close calls to be long gone, but God did not let me go over the edge. He tweaked events enough to keep me alive and breathing. I don’t know why, but He did. It’s not because I deserved it or because He needed me; He just did it.”
Learn more at www.taps14.org.
by Lori Arnold