My brother called today to remind me of our terrible beautiful mother’s death exactly one year ago today. Fitting it should be on Veteran’s Day actually, given how much of our lives was devoted to waiting for my father. He was an Air Force career man and he was always going away on TDY or coming home soon from some other country or the DEW Line. He got sent into the cold for six week week stints constantly when I was a kid.
During the Cold War, the DEW Line, Distant Early Warning System, was a line of sites that were monitored for enemy activity. Dad was a cryptographer and into computers very early on so he was always getting sent to some ice bound hell hole or other for temporary duty. We talked to him weekly on the MARS radio, the kind where you say something and then you say, “over”, because its not true two way communication, but kids love it because its so spacey.
My father was not a big presence in our growing up years, my mother shouldered the yoke and dragged us along the path in my father’s wake. Wait until your father gets home didn’t work with us, everyone would have forgotten the issue by the time he showed up.
Here’s the thing, no one ever talks about the families of military men, the career men whose wives and kids give up what we would call a normal life. Those wives are heroes too. The military is notoriously underpaid when it comes to families. The saying,”If they wanted you to have a family they would have issued you one”, still rings true. It was then and is now a struggle to make ends meet for families of career enlisted especially.
It goes a ways towards explaining my mother’s constant fury and my father’s passivity. He had someone telling him exactly what to do and she was forced to comply with the stupidest regulations ever written on a daily basis. Things like a white glove inspection before we could clear quarters when we lived on a military base, never mind that the first time she flipped the lights on in the place 10 million roaches ran for the hills. Things like getting decent dental care for her kids on a military base which didn’t ever happen. I broke my front teeth when I was 8, they got fixed when I was 21 and could pay for them on my own. Things like just getting a doctor’s appointment for a kid sick with a high fever were an exercise in the power of anger. I salute my mom for never giving up and never giving in. My ability to fight like a tiger for what is right and mine came directly from her example during those years.
Military kids are overlooked unsung heroes that no one ever thinks about thanking for their sacrifice, but they give up so very much. The average military brat changes schools 6 times in 12 years. They never have time to make lasting friendships or build relationships or put down roots. When they get to new schools they are treated like they are stupid and automatically put in the slow classes. They are never in sync with learning. I still don’t know my times tables because one school hadn’t started and the next one was finished with them.
They are packed up and taken without being consulted to all corners of the world and they make it work. My husband is the kid of a career Army man and I grew up in the Air Force. To thrive, I developed a Pollyanna outlook early and I still have it, It was an adventure and I was having it. I learned to pass in any society I was pitched in and I’m a lucky one. My husband grew up terribly shy and without close friends because he never had any opportunity to make or keep those friends. He had a successful career in the fire service but he still struggles with social situations and innate shyness because he never had the opportunity to be ‘normal’.
So, here’s to those other heroes the wives, and now husbands, who do the parenting work of both mother and father for as long as they need to fill that role, when their partner is serving their country somewhere else. Here’s to the smallest heroes, the kids who didn’t ask for this,but cope and survive and live their own kind of normal. Don’t just thank the vet, thank the family who stands with him everyday.