As an American, I have always had a special feeling for those who have served our country in the military. It’s the most patriotic thing I can think of to honor those who have sacrificed a part of their lives to perform this service and have kept us free. It is even more meaningful to honor those who gave their lives in the line of duty.
Somehow, I missed all of that. I did register for the draft when I turned that age, but the Vietnam war was all but over and they weren’t drafting anyone. Not many in my extended family served in the military either. For me, the closest relative to honor on this day is my stepfather.
He passed away several years ago. He served in the military before he married my mother. I don’t know a lot about his military service except that he was a boxer. It was never really much of a relationship between us when I was a boy. I was sensitive, prone to cry, and not much interested in sports. He was the perennial tough guy and I don’t think I interested him much.
I used to think he was mean, but then I started to observe other fathers of his generation and he was much like all of my friends’ fathers. He was not a member of the Church and claimed to be a Baptist, although I never saw him set foot in a Baptist church. He was definitely religious, believed in God, but I think that going to church was, to him, something for women and children.
I was somewhat afraid of him. His two children from a previous marriage lived with us and he was very strict with my stepbrother and very easy on my stepsister. I mistook his lack of engagement with me emotionally as a rejection, but as I grew older, I realized it was more complicated than that.
Everything in his lifestyle seemed to revolve around his idea of masculinity, which was a combination of tough on boys and soft on girls, never showing emotions, working through pain, and watching sports. I remember once when he was putting up a chain link fence, he cut his knuckles, and even though blood was running down his arm, he kept working without bandaging it up until the job was done.
He could be fun. We had a badminton net in our front yard and he would play that with us. It was a family thing for awhile to play croquet in our large front yard. He was very competitive. He loved to travel and we spent a lot of time in the back of our station wagon traveling to places like the World’s Fair in Seattle, Yosemite, and Yellowstone.
As his own children left us and began to get in all sorts of trouble, he mellowed a little towards me. I think he still thought I was overstaying my welcome when I graduated high school and hadn’t moved out yet, but he was nice.
Years later, when I graduated from trade school, he cried. As my own children started to be born, he became a superstar grandfather. My children grew up thinking that Dad and Grandpa were great friends. By that time, we were good friends, but not great.
They have one memory very fond memory of him. We were camping next to the Salmon River in Oregon near Mt. Hood. A trail goes along the stream. Our camp site, in the wild, was next to the trail about six feet above the water. I had tied a bucket to a rope so we could throw the bucket into the stream and haul up water if we needed to.
Once, when I was getting water, the rope broke and the bucket went rolling down the river. Dad was off like a shot, running down the trail to keep up with the bucket. He somehow managed to get it and bring it back. This happened about three times that day. We all laughed. He was probably in his fifties, not in good shape, but he wasn’t going to let that bucket get away from him.
When my mother died, my stepfather wasn’t far behind. I don’t think he really felt much like living after that. By the time he passed away, he had become comfortable with hugs from me. He had been an awesome Grandpa and a pretty decent father. In my mother’s final days, I heard her telling people about the many things he did out of concern for me when I was a boy. He just didn’t really think it was important to let me know that he had my welfare in mind.
At the cemetery, the army gave him a military salute, complete with the guns and the folded flag, which I received and now cherish. The funeral director had known him and related a story about him at the service. My dad never went to church activities when I was a boy, but he went to lots of things for my children. The man asked him why he liked coming to the church building when his family was doing something. My dad said, “I don’t know. I just like being with them.”
He wasn’t perfect. We had issues between us, big ones, but I look at him and remember him fondly. I’m proud of his military service and am very grateful that when he parted this life, there was affection between us.