Saturday, January 29, 2011

Thoughts on 4 Jan 2007: From Father to Son, Last Words to Live By

One of the reasons for keeping a blog is to see what you were thinking years ago, and compare it to now. This piece was written in January 2007. S and I had started dating, but marriage was not even a thought (and needless to say, neither were children). A potential deployment to Afghanistan was a topic of discussion, but far from being actualized.

This was a commentary on a piece in the New York Times. Of the fiance of one of the Times editors, who was a First Sergeant in the Army, and a father. Who wrote about what he wanted his son to learn as he grew up.

Original post on Xanga

New York Times article

Dana Canedy is an editor for the New York Times. Her fiance, Charles Monroe King, was a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago and a gifted artist. He was also a soldier. As a First Sergeant, he would have been responsible for the training of 18 and 19 year olds for war. And when he went to Iraq he left a yet to be born son behind. During his tour of duty, Charles wrote a journal for his son to read as he was growing up.

Dear son, Charles wrote on the last page of the journal, “I hope this book is somewhat helpful to you. Please forgive me for the poor handwriting and grammar. I tried to finish this book before I was deployed to Iraq. It has to be something special to you. I’ve been writing it in the states, Kuwait and Iraq.

There are many things that we learn from newspapers. There are matters of fact, the 'first draft of history,' scores, events, editorials. But in the better papers, you learn something of what it means to live life. The First Sergeants of the U.S. Army and their counter parts also had the role of teaching their young charges about life as many of them left their familiar homes for a larger world. Of balancing checkbooks, of dealing with the pressures of making their own decisions and of the realities of romance.

Never be ashamed to cry. No man is too good to get on his knee and humble himself to God. Follow your heart and look for the strength of a woman.

One month before his tour of duty would have ended, First Sergeant King died in an IED attack near Baghdad, and this journal became the one means where he could teach his son of what it means to be a man.

Remember who taught you to speak, to walk and to be a gentleman, he wrote to Jordan in his journal. These are your first teachers, my little prince. Protect them, embrace them and always treat them like a queen.

I get the chance to have conversations with people about the training of young men and women, of raising sons and daughters. And the question is what values do I wish to impart should I become a father. And as of right now, what I can work on now is the way I account for the days of my youth.

The 18th was a long, solemn night, he wrote in Jordan’s journal. We had a memorial for two soldiers who were killed by an improvised explosive device. None of my soldiers went to the memorial. Their excuse was that they didn’t want to go because it was depressing. I told them it was selfish of them not to pay their respects to two men who were selfless in giving their lives for their country.

Things may not always be easy or pleasant for you, that’s life, but always pay your respects for the way people lived and what they stood for. It’s the honorable thing to do.

When I was in college, one woman in a bible study declared her goal of being the comfortable suburban mom. And many talk about being comfortable, of the large house, nice car, the trappings of modern american life. But those are not the stories I want to tell. On the top shelf of my bookshelf next to me are the trophies and medals of many races and awards. I've joked with friends that it will be a long time before my kids match that. And it may be something they will respect. But I will also tell the stories of calls in the middle of the night. Of having shots going in my direction. Of going towards and into fires. Of comforting the tired and scared. And I hope that these things are something they will consider valuable. It is not a natural thing. I know many who find it incomprehensible to risk a sacrifice without expected gain. And I have known many who find it outright repulsive. And I do not want to emulate them.

So what of young Jordan, who will grow up without a father? Will he be surrounded by those who tell him that the goal is to be comfortable and that his father was a fool to wear the uniform and lead young men and women that he trained into harms way? Or will he read his father's journal and respond to his father's words by considering his father a man of honor, and believe that being a man of honor is something to aspire to.

God blessed me above all I could imagine, Charles wrote in the journal. I have no regrets, serving your country is great.

Right now, being a father is still an abstract thing. And somehow, after all these years, I have not quite lost the dream of the young, that the world is changed by myself and those I have the privilige of being alongside. Right now, as I read Dana's words, Summon the Hero's by John Williams is playing in the background. Should I have sons and daughters, I hope that they get to hear stories of those who dared to be great, and to see the living embodiment of greatness around them.

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