In Gratitude of a Father’s Service to His Country

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I likely won’t get through this without crying, but Veteran’s Day was never about celebration anyway, so I’m okay with that.

Every Veteran’s Day, I’ve known exactly whom I wanted to honor. Stationed behind enemy lines as an Air Force aircraft mechanic during the Korean Conflict, my father was the bravest, most stoic man I knew – and while he spoke very little of his time in combat, his commitment to his country was of paramount importance to him. He firmly believed that his time in the military turned him into a man with discipline and strength of character and often voiced his opinion that there was little wrong with the young men in our country that couldn’t be sorted out with some time serving their country. He spent his entire career working for the Air Force, first as an enlisted airman and then as a civilian. He was part of the 4950th Division, serving as the lead mechanic on experimental air craft, meaning that he could rarely talk at home about the top secret projects he worked on. There were times he left in the middle of night to catch a military hop halfway across the world to repair an aircraft just enough to for its crew to hobble back home. When a blizzard shut down most of Ohio in the late ’80’s, my father spent several days with his men at the base. And when an aircraft needed to land without the benefit of any landing gear, he was one of the first to be called as a consultant to help the aircraft and crewmen land safely (they did).

But it wasn’t until his last years as he fought valiantly against the encroaching loss of memory and speech to Alzheimer’s that I learned things about my father’s service that I’d never known. One day when my mother dropped him off to visit me, he brought along a box of mementos. I expected him to share a nice collection of rocks or old silver dollars he’d collected over the years, but, instead, he opened the veil for a few short moments on a career that was mostly shrouded in secrecy.

I discovered my father was a consultant to NASA. Who knew? I didn’t. He never bragged about it, despite the prestige and respect it would have garnered. He didn’t care at all about those things. He cared about people, about helping others and doing the right thing by those he encountered. Fame and accolades were never an attraction for him.

I also found a small card tucked away in the box that stated that my father was an essential emergency responder and should be allowed passage and support when the card was presented. Again, I had no idea.

My father died this past summer, and even now, I sometimes feel completely adrift when it hits me that this man – the rock of my childhood – is no longer here to tell me everything will be okay. I miss him terribly, and I am so grateful for every memory he was able to share before it was too late.

And so today as I remember my father and the life he gave in service to his country, as well as the pride he took in quietly contributing where and how he could, I honor not only his sacrifice but the kind of man he became because of his service to our country. I am deeply grateful for so many who, just like my father, contributed and continue to protect the freedom I enjoy today.

I can’t call my father this Veteran’s Day. Oh, how I wish I could. If it isn’t yet too late for someone you know, take a moment this Veteran’s Day to thank them for their sacrifice. One day it will be the memory you hold dear when, like me, the gratitude simply resides in the heart because the words have nowhere else to go.

Also published on Huffington Post.

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About The Video Of My Father And Our Dog

Mom and Dad, Thanksgiving 2013

Mom and Dad, Thanksgiving 2013

Yesterday afternoon, I had the privilege of spending a little bit of time with my dad who is in the advanced stages of Alzheimers. I’ve written quite a few posts about our family’s journey through this terrible disease, and the support and care from family, friends and even strangers has been a comfort not only to me but to my mom. She has faced the biggest impact of anyone, and the grace and dignity she’s exhibited is nothing short of a miracle. She is the living example of what it means to live out your vows of for better or for worse and in sickness and in health.

My parents have two dogs in their home, one of which, Molly, is my father’s constant companion. More than once, I’ve watched him coo and talk to Molly even as his ability to form sentences and find the words he needs to communicate has deteriorated.

Dad in his favorite chair with his favorite dogs.

Dad in his favorite chair with his favorite dogs.

When my father and I arrived at my home yesterday to give my mom an hour to run some errands, our own family dog, Roscoe, greeted him at the door. For the next hour, my father petted and talked to Roscoe. Not wanting to lose the memory of the moment, I filmed a few moments of his interaction with our dog, amazed at the clarity of my father’s words.

That evening, I watched the clips of videos and wanted to share the moment with my mom and our family. I wanted a memory for all of us to hold onto and spent some time editing the clips into a small video with the help of my teenage son. Once we were happy with the video, I created a personal Youtube account and uploaded the video, sending my mom the link. I also shared the video on Reddit from an account that prior to this post had next to no activity.

I had no idea the video would touch so many people or be shared so many times. The comments and emails – for the most part – have been a wonderfully moving procession of individuals sharing their own journey through Alzheimers or dementia. It is a cruel disease, and the kind words of others who have faced similar experiences has left me feeling not quite so alone in it all.

And for those who continue to send messages offering to monetize the video, I’m not interested. This was a tribute to my father and the celebration of a beautiful moment within a tremendously difficult journey my mother and father are facing. So thanks, but no thanks. It’s not for sale.

Girls Don’t Do That

200531_10150123792089383_6399271_nOne of my earliest memories of my father is of me when I was probably three or four years old sitting on the edge of the tub talking nonstop while my father shaved. He never said much; in fact, I doubt he had a chance. But he was a willing sounding board to the imaginations and ideas of his little girl. And while he wasn’t the kind of father who spent hours giving me advice or lecturing me, his quiet support has been a great bulwark of support many a time when I had self-doubts as a grown woman.

I recently overheard a father chiding his little girl to get down from the wall she was climbing, telling her that girls don’t do that. It occured to me that in a generation where gender bias was alive and well, I never heard those words come out of my dad’s mouth. Whether it was me wanting a newspaper route like my older brother or him finding me high in a tree in my skirt reading a book, he never scolded me for not “acting like a girl”. In fact, the only time I remember him really ranting about anything to do with me being a girl was when he was struggling to pack our car for a road trip with clothes for a family of five only to discover that one entire suitcase was filled with nothing but my shoes. He said a few choice words about the fact that he only owned two pair of shoes and that no one needed more shoes than the number of days we were going to be gone. He had a point, but, really, how does a teenage girl know what shoes she’ll need to wear 1500 miles away?

When I started college, my advisor steered me into teaching rather than pursuing my dream of being a writer, telling me that a news room was no place for a nice woman. That was in 1984, and it is still hard for me to believe that there were men who thought that way in the 80’s. But I was young and scared of making mistakes, and so despite my dad telling me that he didn’t care what I did, just as long as it was what I wanted to do, I chose the safer path and hated every class. I loved kids, but the thought of being a teacher just somehow filled me with dread. And years later when I did become a writer, I knew I should have followed my heart and not the advice of some man in a small cubicle who thought nice girls didn’t belong in a room full of reporters.

I think of all the things I did as a girl growing up when my father could have told me girls don’t do that, and he didn’t. He never told me that girls didn’t chase lizards in an empty field or pet horned toads or climb trees. He never said that girls didn’t need an education if all they were going to do was get married and have kids. He didn’t say girls shouldn’t strive to do well in school. I realize now what an impact this had on me; there was very little I didn’t think was possible from the time I was a little girl.

But come to think of it, there was one thing he was firm on – girls did not call boys first. He was implacable on that one, and even when boys started calling the house, he was a bit stern with them. He didn’t like that they were interested in his girl, and he made sure they knew he was watching them.

I meet my parents often now for breakfast and tell them about how things are going with my company, and they often tell me how proud they are of me. I couldn’t have made it in the early days of starting my company without them. They believed in me, not only in words but with early investing, and I don’t know of any bigger risk than throwing money at some project your kid thinks is a good idea. They didn’t understand mobile or really anything about what I was aiming to do, but they believed in me, their daughter. Many a night when I doubted myself, their belief and investment in my company kept me going.

Recently my parents came to our company’s open house, and as my father looked around the room filled with other investors, clients and colleagues, he smiled and squeezed my shoulder. “You’ve done good,” he said.

Coming from my dad, that is high praise indeed.

 

Promise You’ll Remember

Sometimes the most powerful reminders of what in life is actually important come from the most simple of phrases. Tonight I hugged my father, who is valiantly battling the loss of his own memories against his ever progressing dementia. He held me tight just long enough to say, “Be sure you remember this one, won’t you?”.

I will.

I promise I will.

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