Sunday, June 17, 2007
This is a time for reflecting and writing. Although normally it is when I write about the larger blog posts on the Civil War, today it’s about my Father.
The past couple weeks I have been searching for the perfect gift for him. I’m not always the best at that but I try to keep it away from the normal safe zone. As such, I searched the memories of my childhood to find a hint of what I could get him. I came away with more than I could have imagined because it became an exercise of what my father has taught me over the years, things I thought I would share today.
My father, along with my mother, taught me the life lessons that make me what I am today. They became the core values of what I try to live up to day in and day out. Some of these seemed obvious at the time, while others took reinforcement and only looking back do I see how much it really meant.
First and foremost, he taught me not just patriotism but a true love for the United States of America and the need to fill my responsibilities as one of her citizen’s.
He often told my sisters and me that he only graduated from High School because he was about to join the Navy, during the Vietnam War. Without his diploma, the Navy wasn’t going to accept him as a recruit. There was a time that I thought he might have been exaggerating until one family reunion when all three of his sisters made off the cuff comments that verified it.
He became a Hospital Corpsman and went to Jungle Warfare school after boot camp and his Corpsman training. He would then spend a tour in Vietnam with Marines. He spent his tour walking the jungles on patrol with platoons of Marines, not on a ship or base far away from the battle zone that you would think someone in the Navy would be. Marines call themselves “The few, the proud, the Marines” and as such, often look down on anything that is not a Marine, except for the Navy Corpsman. All you have to do is look at the membership rules of the Marine Corps League and see that Corpsman (with certain provisions) are the only non-Marines eligible to join. Just before he was ready to get shipped home, his bunker – with all his uniforms and personal items – was destroyed in a mortar attack. He would come back to the States to get married, in borrowed clothes.
Even after the tour in Vietnam, he would stay in the Navy for a total of 22 years, achieving the rank of Senior Chief. He gave his heart and soul to the Navy and showed his family that it wasn’t just a job but an honor to serve. During this time he also taught me the importance of voting, to make sure we have the right leaders because especially for him, they did control his life. He also showed me the importance of the First Amendment by not criticizing those who spoke out against the government – as long as they were trying to make things better. I remember him telling me once, “As long as you vote, complain as much as you want. If you don’t vote, stop whining.” I’ve only missed voting once since turning 18, just so my Dad won’t tell me to stop whining.
Family came first for my parents. There are so many times that I can point to that him and my mom putting the kids before themselves. Buying an Atari 2600 for the family when they should have put the money elsewhere, not going to Nursing School because of the hardship that would have presented to the family as a whole, going on a 1 year tour to Diego Garcia without the family - an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean - so that I could finish High School in Beaufort and making sure that I would be able to go to college, no matter what the price.
My father’s hobbies still help me to this day. I didn’t always enjoy them as much as I wished I had but I was with my dad and that I loved, I hope that showed to him. Fishing and carpentry came from his father both of which teach you more about patience than you could ever imagine. As I type this, I realize I need to do a little bit more of both – I need a bit more calming in my life. Building Model Railroads was always fun and I wish I had room in my house now to build one with my kids. The planning, technical and artistic work was amazing – followed by just running the trains. Every other year or so my dad would come back and say, “Time to take it apart and start from scratch.” Looking back, I see where he was teaching me that you will never be finished with some things but that is perfectly ok as long as you are doing your best.
When I was 14, I was working for a tomato packing plant and involved in an accident. I have a six inch scar that runs from my chin to the edge of lips in a curved line. The only reason I still have a nose is because my braces caused the grinder that caused the scar, to bounce off. I remember my father talking to Mr. Shapiro, the owner, after I got out of the hospital - walking out with lots of stitches and a bunch of drugs which did more for me to never touch drugs than any other thing – telling him, “My son will be fine, the hospital has taken care of him.” I didn’t know what that meant than but now I look back and realize we could have owned that packing plant or at the very least made our lives better. But I was fine and there was no reason for a lawsuit. They reinforced this later while I was in college. My mother broke her arm in a Sam’s Warehouse. All they wanted was an apology and a commitment that they would not let puddles stay on the floor without at least marking them. She eventually found herself talking to one of the Vice Presidents in Bentonville because no one would give her an apology. It seems they were all afraid of a lawsuit. All my parents wanted to do was make sure no one else went through the same thing. It doesn’t have to always be about lawsuits and I have reminded myself the same thing on a few occasions when I had the chance to “own” something.
My love for animals comes from my father and mother. My parents surprised me with a dog once; at least that was what my dad was supposed to come home with. Much to my mother’s surprise, he came home with a cat, Tiger. Dad was walking to the dogs in the pound and was stopped by a kitten that came up to him in the cage. He never made it past the cage and had to take her home. My mom wasn’t one for cats because her mom wasn’t but she put up with it well. Tiger was a wonderful cat and I never had another like her. My parents were especially good about letting us have animals, always having fish, dogs, hamsters and even turtles growing up. As long as we took care of them (and mom was always good about helping us) they were part of the family. That was the key, they were not an object, they were a member of the family and needed to be treated as such.
My dad likes the classics – no not Mozart or DaVinci – I’m talking real classics. Growing up, I watched the Old West movies and TV shows. John Wayne was like an uncle to me and for the longest time I thought I had seen them all. I once stayed up until 2 am to see one that I hadn’t just so I could say I had. But the west was on TV too and I have to say I will still sit and watch a Gunsmoke episode every now and then – although I always preferred The Rifleman. But his tastes also included War Movies, Science Fiction, and old fashioned comedies. All of these things helped guide my unique tastes. But it also helped me find myself reading as much as I do - trying to find something I liked because the TV just didn’t have anything new worthwhile on. It also lead to my love for technology– without which, I wouldn’t have the great job or education that I have received. Not to mention my love for watching great movies.
There is a great Country music song sung by Barbara Mandrell, “I was country when country wasn’t cool.” This really encompasses my father. He didn’t care what others thought, listening to Country when everyone else listened to Pop, loving NASCAR when the world loved anything but and wearing what was comfortable not what was considered stylish. I’ll never forget showing my dad my first pair of Nike’s bought at the Paris Island Exchange in 1984 for a whopping $25. Later I heard him exclaim to my mother, “I’ve never paid more than $5 for a pair of sneakers.” Comments like this added up to the point where I would realize, I didn’t need to fit into the masses to have a good life. Want proof; look at the paint peeling, screeching, and oil leaking 1995 Corolla that I am driving. I could easily go get another car today (and almost have several times) but want to pay off our other, nicer car before adding a bill that would affect what my family would be able to do on a daily basis.
Most of all, my parents taught me politeness and respect. I am 37, yet will still automatically call someone sir or ma’am. I hold the door for people and try to be nice to others while driving. In this day and age it might be strange but this is what they taught me and what I am teaching my kids. Life is better when you are nice to other people.
As I have written this, the noises have started. My children are awake and walking about – doing their best to let me finish writing this as they want to wait on me hand and foot. While I doubt I can ever express to my Father the thanks and appreciation for all that he has done for me over the years, I hope I can repay him through my children. As I look at them, I can only hope that I can instill as many good life lessons as my father did.