“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
“One of my favorite authors and poets of all time is Norman Maclean. A true transplanted Montanan such as I consider myself. The man of “A River Runs Through It” fame. If for that and not anything else, every Montanan knows who Norman Maclean is. One of my favorite quotes by him says,”My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him all good things-trout as well as eternal salvation-come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.” It is a quote I could always see my own father thinking, but never speaking out loud. Perhaps he did, it would not surprise me as he has always been an avid reader. He was very intellectual, though he rarely engaged in it openly.
My father and I were never incredibly close. I would venture to say we still are not. We have always had hot and cold periods, and our fair share of ups and downs. Regardless of what has transpired, we have always found a way to come back to one another. Neither of us has been perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but we always swallow our pride eventually and reach out again. I know these days the more I continue to age, my father is no different. All of my grievances of the past, and scores that a younger me would like to settle, fall by the wayside lately. They remain left in the past, where they belong. Because, one day they will be just as meaningless as they are today. They will rob precious time that one day we will yearn to have back.
Even with our up and down history, there were definitely a fair share of “ups”. My father taught me numerous things that made me a better man and a decent man (some of the time, I have as many faults as anyone). My father taught me to throw a baseball, to catch a fish, to not only shoot a gun but to be a marksman, to build a fire, to change oil on a car, to read, to appreciate literature and poetry, to hunt, to have a discerning spirit, to put in a hard day’s work, and to always question the nature of what is around me at all times. All being qualities that I still use today, and will be eternally thankful that he took the time to teach me. While not perfect, as no one is, he laid the foundation of the man I am today. I look back in retrospect and consider myself blessed. There are so many men that their own fathers did not take time for them at all.
I will never forget the day before I was about to leave for BMT (Basic Military Training). It was the first day that the prospect of leaving home for the first time sunk in. I became terrified. I had the feeling so many of us have experienced of “what in the hell have I gotten myself in to”. I sat on the back deck of my Dad’s old house chain-smoking, and trying to figure a way to get out of it. I knew during those days that soon after training, I would be deployed, and then what? I was prepared to do anything asked of me, but at the same time I wasn’t. I felt lost, and alone.
Out of nowhere, my Dad appeared on the deck with a cold beer in each hand. My Dad rarely drank, so my hope was that one of them was for me. “You should quit smoking those damned cigarettes you know” he said. “I know” I replied. “You really probably don’t need one of these since you’re smoking those things, but I will give you one anyway” as he handed me a beer. “Thanks Dad” I said. I took a long drink and then leaned my head back to enjoy the sunshine of a perfect day.
“What is on your mind?” Dad asked me. “How do you know something is on my mind?” I replied. “You should give me a little credit once in a while” he said. “I may know more than you think”. I smiled and asked myself what the use is. Dad had read my mind over the years more times than I could remember. Why would the most important decision of my life be any different?
“Dad. I don’t know how to say this other than to just say it. I am scared. I have this overwhelming feeling of, I don’t know what the hell I have just gotten myself in to. I am going to leave everything behind that I have ever loved or cared about. Friends, family, girlfriends, my home, I am leaving it all. For what? So I can go get my head blown off somewhere? What if I fail? What if I never see any of you again? What if I never make it home? What then? I don’t know Dad. I don’t know if I made the right decision.”
I lit another cigarette and then took another pull of my beer.
Dad looked at the floor for a few seconds, then took a look up at the big, beautiful, blue Montana sky. Almost as if he wanted to come up with just the right words. He lit one of his favorite cigars, pulled off of his own beer, and then began to reply with his well thought out words.
“Robert. I don’t really blame you one bit for how you feel. You are feeling the anxiousness that every man feels before he embarks on his own journey. At least, every man who wants to do some good out there. Your greatest critic right now, and your greatest critic in the future I will guarantee, is yourself. You have high expectations for yourself, and I do not know if that is because of me for good or for fault. Son, you have excelled in anything you have ever attempted to do, and this will be no different. I remember when I left home I felt like I had no choice. I didn’t really when it came down to it. I went to Vietnam to do SOMETHING with my life and to get away from my damned parents. You have built a foundation for your life already, all you are doing is going to build on that with new skills. You will succeed just like you have up to this point, as long as you remember what you’ve been taught. Don’t be afraid, no matter how hard it is. Remember what I have taught you. Remember your training when you get it. Remember this, I cannot give all the secrets away to you. No one gave them to me, and I cannot to you. What I can tell you is as long as you do what you are told when you are told to do it, you are going to be fine. It will not be long before you are running everything because that is who you are. I have tried my best with you. I have not been perfect, but the man I see now I am extremely proud of. Never give up, never say no, and never quit. Do all of that with a thankful heart, and there is nothing you won’t accomplish. Because son, honestly, what choice do you have? This state is dying. There is nothing for you here. There is nothing for young people here. There is so much out there for you, there is a new career and a whole world. Your home will always be here and you come home when you have time. Right now, the world needs you out there. Remember, I will be with you, always”.
I immediately remembered the words of Jesus Christ, and I wept. Once I finished weeping, I was ready. The words of my Father were with me from that day on, and they still are to this day.
To be continued.