Augie wanted to be a good parent; he really did. He just didn't know how.
After all, how are you supposed to raise your kids to be healthy and well-adjusted when your own childhood was anything but?
Sure, Mom and Dad loved Augie and his sisters. Mom could barely speak or understand English, but she made certain that her kids learned. Sure, from the outside their family looked happy, but Dad drank too much, and Mom, well — let's just say that even Augie's closest friends never imagined the levels her anger reached.
Agustin Martinez Jr. grew up in south Chicago, the son of first-generation immigrants. He spent a lot of his youth on the streets because alcoholism, emotional abuse and domestic violence were always waiting back home. Augie got out as soon as he could. Joined the Marines at 18 and never looked back.
"Low self-esteem gave me the need to do something bigger than myself," Augie says. "I always knew I would leave, but it wasn't until years later that I realized I didn't leave in search of anything other than who I was and to get away."
Augie was stationed at a base in Beaufort, South Carolina. That's where he met and married Kelli Morgan, the daughter of a Baptist preacher and former Marine.
"Her father was the first man I ever saw open a Bible and teach from it," Augie says. Ed Morgan performed the wedding ceremony himself, in front of the fireplace at Kelli's aunt's house.
At age 21 Augie was a husband. By 23 he was a father, too. And that's when Augie realized he didn't have a clue.
A new father
It was Augie's firstborn, his namesake, who really got his father's attention. Little Augie III was only 2 years old the day he got tangled up in a telephone cord at his grandparents' house. Young Augie let out a few choice words — words picked up from Dad and his Marine friends. Like father, like son.
Grandma's jaw dropped.
"Augie was close by and was in horror of what our son just said," Kelli recalls, "especially in front of his grandmother. Augie must have apologized to my parents and myself a dozen times."
That night, Augie sat on his bed, a broken man.
"I knew that I was lost as a father, that I couldn't do this on my own," he says. "I prayed a very simple prayer: ‘Lord, I have no idea what I'm doing. Please help me.' "
The next few months brought big changes. Augie rededicated his life to the Lord, he began volunteering with an alternative prison program for young offenders, and then he discovered Focus on the Family on a local radio station.
Listening to [Focus] programs inspired me to help others," he says. "The first day I listened, I knew that I had found something special and that God had directed my steps."
Kelli says she noticed a difference almost immediately. Augie became a spiritual leader, both in his own family and in the lives of countless young men. His personal ministry to at-risk youth grew and flourished.
"When Augie discovered Focus on the Family, he was hooked," recalls Kelli. "The parenting tips were not only valuable to our own family, but also to the young men he was working with — because they, too, had something missing in their lives."
A mentor for youth
At-risk youth, Augie says today, come from at-risk families. A child, he explains, is a byproduct of his environment. He says this because, in his more than 26 years of ministry, the number of troubled teens who actually came from an intact family is barely a blip.
For the young men in his life — the gang members and juvenile offenders and prison inmates — Augie is family. Sometimes their only family. Augie's own children are grown, and he is a grandfather now, but the teens he mentors will forever be "his boys."
"Augie has always been there for these young people who are lost and going in the wrong direction," Kelli says. "He tells them they can never be ‘bad enough' — that he will never give up on them. And to this day, there are still kids who ask him, ‘You mean that?' because their own family has turned their backs on them, but ‘Mr. Augie' is always there."
And what does Mr. Augie tell his boys? That single parenting is the No. 1 way to land in poverty, that a poor moral foundation leads to broken communities, and that values not based on solid morals are empty words. All things he heard on a certain radio program.
"I use Focus resources," Augie says, "to teach my boys about family, God and fatherhood."