Life of hardship can't dull his 'love of whole world'

2013-07-07T00:00:00Z 2014-10-24T09:50:40Z Life of hardship can't dull his 'love of whole world'Kimberly Matas Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 07, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Milton Chalifoux has every reason to be bitter and angry.

He has suffered throughout his lifetime for the wrongs done to him in childhood.

Yet, the bearded 69-year-old harbors no ill will.

"I've had a rough life, but I've accepted it," said Chalifoux, who moved to Tucson in 1973. "I love everybody no matter how they treat me."

His mother sold him into servitude when he was 4. The abusive man he called "father" treated him more like a slave than a son on the family farm. And a judge sentenced him to spend almost six years at a psychiatric hospital in his teens and early 20s.

Despite the bad memories, he returned to the Midwest in the late 1980s for a family visit and went to a hospice to see the man who raised him.

"When I was little my dad would lock me in an oat bin and once a day my dad would give me this much peanut butter," he said, holding his fingers an inch apart, "and a half a glass of milk."

Chalifoux said he still suffers from stomach ailments today because of malnutrition.

Yet even though the father figure never apologized for abusing Chalifoux, "When I went and saw him in the nursing home, I felt sorry for him.

"I loved him," Chalifoux said. "I might not like what someone does, but I love them. When I start to get angry, I think about love. I learned to love the whole world. That's why some people think I'm a weirdo."

For a decade or so after his 1967 discharge from the psychiatric hospital, Chalifoux drifted, living for short stints with relatives, until personality clashes caused him to move on. For a while, he lived on the streets in Chicago.

"I lived in a hole under the lifeguard tower on Lake Michigan," said Chalifoux who would bury himself in sand at night to keep warm.

Between health problems left over from childhood and trying to explain the six-year gap in his work history, Chalifoux had a hard time finding and keeping jobs.

He wed in 1972 and the following year he and his wife moved to Tucson after doctors told an ailing Chalifoux the warm weather would improve his health. They had three children - two sons and a daughter - before divorcing in 1980. Chalifoux is estranged from all of them.

Chalifoux now lives in a Christian-based apartment complex on the south side. He gets by on payments from the Supplemental Security Income program for disabled adults.

Life in the desert agrees with him.

"The heat and the fresh air healed my heart," he said.

Even in July he prefers to be out of doors in the desert heat wearing a windbreaker, a hand-rolled cigarette held between nicotine-stained fingers, telling stories of his youth and proclaiming his love for the world.

Contact reporter Kimberly Matas at kmatas@azstarnet.com or at 573-4191.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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