My dad is 60 years old today. I remember when I thought 30 was ancient, but of course I don't believe that now. So, in honour of his 60th birthday, I wanted to write a tribute to him.
My dad is the second of five boys. Born in St. Joseph, Missouri and raised in Atchison, Kansas from the age of 2 until 18. He joined the Air Force so he wouldn't get drafted in the Army during Vietnam. It turned out to be a wise decision, because the USAF sent him to Thailand in 1968 or 1969. That's where he met my mom. She was a housekeeper. To hear them tell it, the romance sounded fated. Made in heaven, in other words. Or in my spiritual belief system, a pre-mortal existence agreement to meet at a certain time and place on earth. Mom was pursued by quite a few guys, including officers (and the ladies in Thailand knew all about the pay differentials between the two distinctive groups)...but she fell for the enlisted man.
They married in a Thai courtroom in December 1969, even though my dad's chain of command was against the marriage. His own father wrote him a letter (the first ever letter he wrote to his son) telling him not to marry. He didn't like Asian people because "the Japs killed my cousin." That logic made as much sense to me as, "I hate Italian food because Germans spit in my water." It took a year before the American government granted a marriage license, and in that time, my brother was born. I arrived fourteen months later. My dad was stationed in Taipei, Taiwan at the time. We moved to Eglin AFB, Florida then to the Philippines, where my earliest memories are from. After eight years in the military, my dad got out and attended school at the University of Kansas. I started school in Lawrence. Once my dad graduated and received his commission as an officer in the USAF, we moved to State College, Pennsylvania so my dad could get an additional year of school at Penn State University.
I consider my dad's decision to make a career out of the Air Force a blessing in my life. Had he remained in civilian life, I would've lived probably my whole life in Lawrence (and even gone to college there). Instead, I got to see a lot of the country thanks to my parents love of travel. It seems like he picked different regions on purpose: Pennsylvania so we could travel the northeast and New England; Utah so we could travel out west; Nebraska so we could visit the upper Midwest; Germany so we could see all over Europe; and Georgia so we could travel around the South. However, the one place I wanted to live the most was California and my dad never wanted to live there.
I'm proud to be an "Air Force Brat" and an officer's kid. Expectations were higher for officer children than they are for enlisted children. Supposedly (or so I was taught), my behaviour could affect my dad's career. Not that I was unruly. Being an officer's kid might've had an affect on how I was viewed when I was an enlisted man in Italy and other people thought I was an officer when they saw me in civilian clothes.
Because of the choices that my dad made in his life and because he has four brothers, I can see the huge difference between what I experienced and what my cousins experienced. They grew up in poverty, stuck in a dying Midwest town and no desire to travel. I've probably seen more of the world than anyone in my family and I got a head start in life because of my dad. By the time I graduated high school, I had been to 44 states. Twelve years after that, I finally added state #50, beating my dad (he's been to 49 now).
As a kid, I remember being worried if anything would happen to my parents, because I didn't like the brother he selected to be our legal guardian in the case of death. Out of all of his brothers, my dad values education the most. He loves school so much that he sometimes jokes that he would love to be a permanent student. He retired from the Air Force in 1993 and when he retires from his current job (RN), I wouldn't be surprised if he went back to school for a doctorate in something.
Though I inherited my love of books from my dad as well as my journal keeping, love of travel, and love of maps, I'm not like him in "playing it safe" in terms of career. Job security is important for my dad and he has done well financially, especially in comparison to his brothers. Me, on the other hand, I still haven't landed my dream career where I'd want to work until retirement. I didn't see the military as a career option. I'm too much about freedom and not being tied down. My mother told me that when I was a little boy, I was "unhuggable" because every time she tried to hug me (or anyone else), I would always try to break loose. I think it's interesting that I always had that tendency, for I think it reveals the true essence of my soul (the strong dislike of being trapped). Though I hug people now, it's not something I particularly enjoy and is almost always initiated by the other person (and I feel it rude to reject).
Because I have witnessed first hand how my father's life differed from his brothers, I can see the difference education made. Seeing my cousins get pregnant or getting girls pregnant when they were fresh out of high school and the struggle they have just trying to live in towns without good wage jobs, with dependent mouths to be responsible for feeding, it has made marriage and children a scary prospect for me, particularly when I'm still trying to break out of my own low wage nightmare. My dad was 22 when I was born. When I reflect on that, I shake my head because I remember what I was like at 22. I couldn't imagine being a dad at that point in life. I loved being 22...for it was the year that I went to South Africa for my vacation and the year that I bought my first car.
Often, I think and wonder how my parents were able to raise two boys at a young age. The sacrifices they made. I'm so spoiled...yet, I do desire my own family some day. I didn't count on the tragic detour my life has been on since losing my dream jobs in my dream city of D.C. in 2000. Though my parents don't say it to my face, I have heard them tell other people how much they want grandchildren. I'm disappointed in myself that I haven't been able to give that to them. Had I known college wouldn't lead me to the promise land of good paying jobs, I never would've done it. I would've followed my dad's example and made the Navy a career. Not a great option, but a safe one. Just recently, I saw a pay scale and was shocked to see that had I stayed in and made it to E-8, I would be making DOUBLE what I make now!!! That can't be right, can it?
But, it's all about choices. My dad made smart ones and was able to support a family of five. A life of moves to different locations and of vacations aplenty. I have no complaints. Some day soon, my ship will come in and I might be too travelled out to give my future children the kind of travel experiences my dad gave me. Hopefully, they won't hold it against me. I'll just say, "I lived life before you came into the world! Now I'm ready to focus on parenting." But, there won't be any marriage and children so long as I work in the place that I work, with the poverty wages, no chance for advancement, and the hypocritical claim that it's all about the family.
Here's to my dad on his 60th birthday! I wish I was as smart as you and I still hope that one day, I can give you a grandson (I want a son named Patrick) and give my sister a nice sister-in-law. But first things, first...landing a satisfying career.