Yesterday was Father’s Day and I had a great time with my two kids. I started thinking about my dad, who died of agent orange related cancer at the age of 47 and missed the rewards of being a good father.
He only lived long enough to see two of his five kids graduate from high school and didn’t see any of us graduate from college. He never got to see that all of us somehow managed to to become productive adults – no criminals or ne’er do wells among us. He never got to see or dote on any of his now six grandchildren either.
Dad, an Air Force “lifer,” was away a lot when we were growing up – year-long trips to Vietnam and Thailand and six-month “temporary” assignments to Spain, England, Africa, and on and on. We always missed him. As a father myself now, I realize how much he probably missed us too.
Nonetheless, Dad, and we, were luckier than many others. No matter where he went, how long he went for, or how dangerous it was, he always came home. Many of those who serve their country never do.
I remember a few friends who lost their dads in Vietnam. When the blue staff car with the general’s star insignia rolled into base housing, we kids knew that it wasn’t coming to deliver good news. We all used to run home to make sure it wasn’t coming to our house. Most times, the family moved off the base pretty quickly after notification was made. We usually never got a chance to say goodbye to them, or find out what happened to them.
I was reminded of that today by this story that appeared in the Stars & Stripes. In what has become a tradition at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., relatives and friends of the fallen left messages and placed 2,000 roses at the Wall for Father’s Day. For some reason, it made me feel sad and glad at the same time. Sad, because it brought back a few painful memories about what for the most part was a great life growing up as a “military brat,” and glad, because it’s good to see that four decades later, the dads who never made it home are still in our collective hearts.