I was a child during the Vietnam war. My Father was a young sailor, frequently gone on deployment. My Mother was like a lot of young military wives back then-alone, afraid, struggling to be a grown-up too early in life, trying to raise, at the time, a family of three kids far from extended family support on a budget more appropriate, but still insufficient, for a family half our size.
Mom was successful at what she did. She kept the house functioning, neat, clean, and well stocked despite budgetary limitations. Another thing she did very well was insulate us from any indication times were tough, and that she was lonely and afraid.
I frequently look back on my life growing up in an enlisted man’s family in the 60’s and the 70’s . As I get older, I am in complete awe at what my parents accomplished. I could tell you story after story about how difficult our life was during that time period, but I would temper it with absolute respect for the way my Mom handled it. I mean no disrespect to my Dad, but Mom was the anchor and the foundation of the family.
Dad did what he could, with what he had. And I know, from constant self-reflection, I took many good things from my short and too limited relationship with him.
I have a strong memory from when I was in kindergarten, and Dad was home with us. Dad had a “friend” who lived in the same military housing complex we did. This man (and I use the term loosely) had a son my age that I played with frequently.
One day, my Dad and his friend were sitting in front of this friend’s house talking and drinking beer. My Dad was a drinker, but his friend was a mean drunk. My friend and I were playing nearby.
I vaguely remember hearing the friend of my Dad say something about his son, my friend. I don’t remember the exact words, but I remember my friend, also in kindergarten, going suddenly quiet and still.
I remember him calling my friend over, while telling my Dad discipline was the key to control. I remember him taking his son over his knee, and telling my Dad he was going to show him what he meant. As he raised his hand to strike my friend, I remember my Dad standing and grabbing the hand of my friend’s Dad and stopping its downward momentum.
My Dad wasn’t a big man. But he had been in the military since his teens, and had been through things I couldn’t imagine. He had a commanding presence, and when he spoke, I listened.
I saw him speak quietly to this other man, though I don’t think I heard what he said. But the other man listened. When my Dad released his hand, he let his son go. My Dad stood there, quiet and still, while the other man collected his things, and went into his house with his son. A few months later, the man and his family moved away. I remember it, because I lost a friend when they moved.
I remember my Dad gently took my hand and walked me home. He was quiet, and, although I didn’t know at the time what had happened, I knew not to say anything. When we walked into the house, my Mom took one look at him and asked what happened. My Dad didn’t speak, but walked up the stairs to the bedroom, and shut the door. Mom followed shortly after she got me settled with a snack and cartoons. I have no memory of what happened after that.
I realize my perspective of that incident was that of a 5 year old child. I realize that my memory of that incident may have been colored over by my own experiences growing up, and the fact that my Father passed away before he and I could discuss many things as men. I also realize, and understand now, better than I ever could before, that my Father had his faults.
I have thought of that incident many times in my life. For whatever reason, I believe that incident has guided many of the decisions I have made in my life.
Both Mom and Dad are gone, now. Dad taken at the far too early age of 38, when I was just 14 years old. Mom passed later, but still too early, in her mid-60’s. Quite honestly, I have a mental block concerning my Mom’s passing-I can never remember the year she passed, or what age she was.
The nature of my personality mandates that I analyze my life constantly. I frequently get lost in introspection. As I get older, I struggle to make sense of . . . things.
That experience with my Father is one of the few I can remember easily. When I reflect on that experience, I am reminded that we, as men, as fathers, as human beings, can have a profound effect on our children and their development, without even realizing it.
We never got the chance to discuss what happened, or what it meant to him that he did that. He probably never knew how much I watched him when I was young. He died before I learned to understand how complicated life is, and before I could ask him the “whys” and the “whats” I needed to know.
But I know he wasn’t frozen by indecision or by fear of unexpected consequences. He didn’t worry about interfering with someone’s child-rearing. He didn’t second guess what he did. And what he did was heroic in its own right.
I’d like to tell him how much that one incident in the vastness of time and space affected me. I’d like to tell him that I remember his heroism that day. And that I appreciated it, and that his story lives on through his son.
I don’t know what happened to my friend. I don’t remember his name. I don’t know where he went. I don’t know if he subsequently suffered even harsher treatment from his dad because of what happened. But I have to think, no, believe, that he didn’t.
I remember my friend’s watery eyes looking at my Dad as he spoke quietly to his tormentor. I’d like to believe my friend was as profoundly affected as I was, that he grew up a good and loving father in his own right.
And I’d like to believe my Father’s memory lives on as my friend tells his own children of the day a man, my Father, did what every man should do without question or fear of consequence. . .stand up for what is right.