I came to a profound understanding of exactly what being a father means when my oldest son was 8 yrs old and in 3rd grade. For the majority of his life, he knew his Dad being in uniform. Yes, that is a picture of me at my Change of Responsibility ceremony that had to be conducted before my retirement. The reason I posted the picture is so you could perhaps see how my son saw me at that early age. But, the event that brought about this profound understanding occurred a few years before my retirement.
I was stationed away from my family at the time in 2006. This was to be my last tour before retirement and we had bought a house at my previous duty station. My wife, being the strong military wife that she was for all those years, said, “You go do what you have to do. We’ll be here when you get back.” My oldest had started school, had friends, and my youngest was just shy of 2 when I changed duty stations. It was a long year and a half.
But in the summer of 2006, I got a little package in the mail from my family. We talked almost daily on the telephone and via computer in the evenings, so this was a nice surprise. Now before I tell you what was in the package, I have to set the stage.
That year at my son’s school the local pro-basketball team was sponsoring a “Who Is Your Hero” project. The kids had to fill out a little form, describe their hero and draw a picture of them. Now the stage is set.
I opened up the little package and inside with some other things was a single sheet of paper with the words “My Hero Is” at the top. I started to read my son’s 3rd grade handwriting with tears in my eyes. Here is what it said:
“My hero is my daddy. He is my hero because he loves me and plays with me. He also is in the Army and protects us and our country.” The drawing he made was of me in my dress blue uniform.
Wow! Out of all of the cartoon superheros and sports figures that most kids tend to look up to, my son had chosen me as his Hero. Not only that, even at that young age, he got it. He understood it. What it means to be a soldier and expressed a love not only for his dad and what his dad did, but also expressed a young love of country.
The enormity of this hit me; the responsibility of being a father and being a good father to set the example for him. I had a high standard to try to live up to. Hero status can be a fragile thing. It can easily be lost if the hero acts in ways contrary to the values that the person looking to them as a hero has. I vowed then and there, that I would never do anything that would make my son ashamed of me, or think badly of me in my personal behaviors. He became my “Jiminy Cricket” in a way.
I hope that I have been able to hold up the responsibility of the mantle of “Hero” for my son. I think I have done a good job. If you were to ask him today who his hero is, he would say, “My Dad.”