My dad, now in his mid-sixties, spends a considerable amount of time reflecting on his life.
At this point, he’s accomplished all the things listed on the societal checklist of success: his marriage has lasted four decades, he’s raised four children, and retired after a remarkable career in the United States Army with a little less than forty years of service under his belt.
Yet, in several of our recent conversations I heard my dad wondering if he had made a mistake somewhere along the line. Like many military parents, my dad stomachs the guilt of having been absent for large parts of his children’s childhoods. Whether it be for deployments, field exercises, or simply nights assigned as the staff duty officer, my dad missed birthdays, anniversaries, sports games, and proms. His job in the Army also meant picking up our family and moving every two years—if we were lucky—across the country. As a family, we left behind friends, schools, and opportunities in support of my dad’s military career.
From his perspective, it is easy to see all the hurt—the resentment for having to attend four different high schools, the disappointment of cancelled vacations, the fear of the unknown which inevitably came with each move. It’s evident that my dad sometimes feels his service to his nation was a disservice to his family. While his perspective is true, what is suggests is not; the greatest gift my dad has ever given to his children is his service to his country.
In 1969, my dad was an afro wearing, rock ‘n roll listening teenager living in San Francisco. Faced with a draft number for Vietnam and an opportunity to attend the United States Military Academy, he chose the latter in hopes of having a little more control over his inevitable military service. What began as a plan to “five and fly” (serve his minimum five year contract to the Army before transitioning to a civilian job) led to 39 total years of active duty service.
During those years, I was privileged to grow up in the military community. As a “brat”, the affectionate term used to describe children of military service members, I made lifelong friends with kids all over the country. I was raised on bases whose added security measures allowed me to play uninterrupted until the sun went down. I saw more of the world in fifteen years than some people see in their whole lives.
When my dad finally retired, crocodile tears ran down my face during the entire ceremony. The presiding officer jokingly suggested that if leaving the Army made me that sad, I could always join up myself—he “knew a guy.” But the joke was on him and my dad was the first person to laugh when I rejected the acceptance letter from my previous first choice school, a small liberal arts women’s college, in favor of attending the United States Military Academy Preparatory School.
It was there which I realized the values which my dad had engrained in me as a child were the same values that the Army had engrained in him as a young Soldier. Hard work wasn’t optional. Neither was integrity or honor. Most importantly, my dad raised me with the understanding that I was part of something bigger than myself—nowhere is the value of selfless service seen, or practiced, more than in lives of the service members and families in our armed forces. Regardless of whether I had joined the Army or not, these beliefs were imperative to my development as both a good citizen and a good person.
This isn’t to say that my military upbringing totally set me up for success in the real world. It wasn’t until high school that I realized most families don’t set up rally points when splitting up in the grocery store. Or that “tracking” and “roger” weren’t normally used in everyday conversation. Most embarrassingly, all those moves as a child (and the requirement to continually make new friends) left me with an overt friendliness that can be a little disconcerting to strangers.
All jokes aside, there are things about being a military child that are challenging. But when I think about my childhood, the things I tend to remember about my dad aren’t the birthdays or the sports games he missed. I remember helping him shape his beret. I remember the excitement of welcoming my dad home from his deployment. I remember watching in awe as he addressed his troops.
I don’t harbor resentment or disappointment; I swell with pride and gratitude.
To all the military fathers (especially mine),
On this Father’s Day, I’d like to tell you thank you. Thank you for serving both your country and your family.
- Veronica Bryant