“When I was young, my father said to me Norman, you like to write stories don’t you? And, I said yes, I did. He said maybe one day, you can write our family’s story. Only then will you know what happened, and why”.
A River Runs Through It
Fast forward about eighteen years or so, my life looked completely different than when I related the events in Part I of this piece. Just like my Dad had predicted. I had built a respectable career for myself. One of accomplishment, because I did exactly what he told me. Never give up, never take no for an answer, work harder than anyone else, surround yourself with the right people in friendship and in the job, do what you are told to do when you are told to do it, do it all with a thankful heart. Never forget where you came from. Never treat anyone less than you would yourself. Above all, always look to the man above and listen for his guidance when you are in trouble.
Those words not only helped me excel in my chosen career, they kept me alive on more than one occasion. I was not perfect under any circumstance as I became a man, an Airman, and a professional. Far from it. I screwed up plenty of times, I am here to tell you. The reason I continued to rise no matter the setback, is I always had one more rule Dad taught me in which to live by. If you get knocked down, don’t ever stay there. If you fall, get back up again.
No truer advice was ever given. I would invite you to watch this clip, and see what I mean.
As I said before, I was a much different person eighteen years later. I had two tours overseas, multiple service medals, several letters of commendation, five different law enforcement academies, and numerous awards and certifications. I had a broken marriage, a new marriage, and a house full of children. It is chaotic, but it is ours. Suffice it to say, seventeen year old Robert could have never predicted the journey he embarked on September 30th, 2002.
Fast forward to 2020, and who wants to go to boot camp other than my seventeen year old step son. He had some struggles here and there in his first semester of college and some struggles in his personal life (nothing major, just growing pains and young love). He did his research and decided that the perks of the Army National Guard were his best option to continue and finish college. His mother and I at first, as you might surmise were adamantly against it. During our talks, I told her all of the inside baseball of the military that recruiters will not tell anyone. That the National Guard deploys just as much if not more than active duty soldiers. While a lot of it depends on the Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), it was my strong opinion that there were very few, if any jobs in the Army that I would consider “safe”. I reached out to a few of my Army buddies and my wife did her due diligence with recruiters that were outside of my step sons’ hemisphere.
Try as we may have (and we did), we were unable to talk him out of it. Not one single scintilla of what we said seemed to make any bit of difference.
My wife said under the circumstances, that he should take the ASVAB. For those unfamiliar, the ASVAB is what I would call the SAT of the military. It measures your aptitude in several different areas. No sooner had he taken it, it seemed the results came back. My step son has a brilliant mind (believe you me, he got it from his mother). When we reviewed the results, that fact was definitely confirmed. His total score was in the 97thpercentile.
Again, for those of you unfamiliar with the entry process, that score is incredible. It virtually guarantees a prospective recruit about any occupational specialty of their choice. Which naturally, did provide some relief to my wife as well as myself. His father was already on board being an Army veteran, and he also provided his own insights. We came to the cold realization that he was going to turn eighteen in four months. Eventually, there was not going to be a damned thing we could do to stop him from going. Not only that, we did not want to hold him back. He was essentially a man, already. It was time to let him make his own decisions like one.
My step son came upstate to visit us for a couple of days before shipping off. It was a very good visit albeit short in duration. The last night that he was with us before he left, we had a very nice dinner and enjoyable conversation. We returned to our home and sat down on the couch in the living room. I could feel his mind racing even from across the room. I looked at his body language, the look on his face, the wringing of his hands. I saw a young man across the room from me that I knew so well. I saw, me.
I saw seventeen year old me, all over again. I saw the fear, the reservation, the anxiousness, behaviors and emotions that I know as well as just about anyone. I saw EXACTLY what I was going through eighteen years before, in a different person. While he is not my biological son, I love him like he was my own. By virtue, it was my duty to have the same conversation my father had with me, only in reverse. I sat down next to him, and said a silent prayer I held in my chest. A prayer, for God to give me the exact words to say, and that will give him the comfort he needs.
“How are you doing” I asked him, well let us just call him Paul for our purposes. “Well, I am okay I guess” Paul replied. “Are you sure?” I asked again. “Well, I just have a lot on my mind” Paul replied. I said, “Paul. I understand you a lot better than you might think. I went through this once upon a time too, you know”. Paul half-heartedly made an attempt at a smile and began to speak. “Well, I am just worried about all the same stuff that we have talked about before. I am worried about training, I am worried about being gone for four months. I am worried about what happens when I get back. I am worried about Tasha. I know I screwed up so badly with her, and I would do anything to fix it. I would give anything to take back how I acted at the end and what happened. All I want is one more chance, but I know I will probably never get it knowing what she said on the phone the other day. I feel excited and ready to do this, but I also feel lost”.
He was a slightly different variation of me, eighteen years later. Suddenly, I found the words I was looking for.
“Son, I do not really know what to tell you about Tasha. I had a young love once, one that I left as I was going to boot camp. Just as you are now. I pissed that relationship away, just like you. I wrote her several letters during training to try and at least rekindle a friendship, and that worked. But, it was never more than that, ever again. Now, I go years at a time without her even slightly crossing my mind. Do you know why? Because that is what happens to young men. They love, and they lose. That is just the way it is. It isn’t all for nothing. It is all a learning experience and it is all part of becoming a man. It is how you BECOME a man. It is making mistakes, and learning from them. It is what makes us human, and it’s the best part of being human. It is all about the ride.
I can promise you this, you will not have any time in the world to think about it, at least at first. What you are about to take on, I promise you, is going to be bar none the hardest thing you have ever done in your life. I cannot give away any secrets, because no one gave them to me. It is kind of an unwritten code, and telling you what will happen will cheat you out of your own experience. You will tested to the ends of your physical and mental capacity. I am sorry to tell you, but they are going to break you down all the way to a base level. Then, they rebuild you to what you go there to be. A soldier. It will be damn hard. It will be a challenge. Once you are done though, it will be one of if not the greatest accomplishments of your life. One that very few men can say they were able to do. It will be your identity from there on out. You will catch yourself one day ten years down the road in a Walmart parking lot swinging your arms 6 feet to the front and 3 to the rear. I am serious. It is uncanny how it happens. You will be a soldier the rest of your life, long after you leave the Army. It will be a permanent part of who you are. Now, maybe when you get back, that man and that soldier will be the man that Tasha wants in her life. Maybe not. Either way, don’t lose any sleep over it. You know why? One, you have a job to do and you do not need any distractions. Two, even if not her, there will be an ocean of women who would want to take a chance on you. The uniform, trust me son I know what I am talking about. You have your whole life ahead of you, and as much as this hurts right now, the pain will not last. It is like getting shot with a rubber bullet. Your heart will heal. I promise you.
The greatest challenge and the greatest adventure of your life is waiting for you. Are you ready? You damn well better be. At this point there is no turning back.
You will do well. I am always going to support you no matter what, no matter what happens. Give it your all, never quit, never say never, and do exactly as they tell you to do. You will be fine, and you will do well. That is just who you are. Your Mom and I love you, and we will be waiting right here when you get done”.
He found a smile, he found a big hug for me, and it appeared, he found some relief.
What is the point of all of this? I think it is important that wisdom continues to be passed, and continues to be communicated to our sons, daughters, and our closest family and friends. I thank God to this day that my own father did, so that I could do my part when my time came. If we do not, then we set them up for failure in its own way. That my friends would be in and of itself, a crime.