ME: I see the new millennium’s version of Jurassic Park. It’s a giant pterodactyl nesting on the side of the road.
JIM: You’re kidding, right?
ME: That’s my best shot. So what do you see, oh wise one?
JIM: I see the military’s latest secret weapon in the War on Terror. Transformers placed all
around the perimeter of the nation’s capital sit right under our noses, poised to
morph into fighting machines capable of withstanding a 50 megaton bomb.
ME: You win that round, oh wise one. I do like your version better than mine.
JIM: I do too.
ME: Don’t let it go to your head.
JIM: Never happen.
ME: Okay. What else could it be?
We went on like this for another minute or two until a sign on the side of the interstate brought the game to an end. See if your educated guess is any better than our banter. Here’s a clue.
If you guessed the Marine Corps Museum outside Quantico, Virginia, you’re probably a lover of modernistic art, a dreamer and idealist ready to change the world. Otherwise you might be a pragmatic, black and white kind of guy (or gal) more comfortable selling rather than designing a product.
I’m obviously a bit of a dreamer; Jim is the realist. He loves solving problems. According to Jim, I love to create problems. Don’t ask me how, but it works for us.
The facade was not exactly something I expected from the Marines. Having lived with one for 20 years as a kid, I can tell you they’re known for dogged determination, steadfast morals and strict discipline. Essentially we’re talking a no-nonsense, meat-and-potato kind of guy (or gal, as the case may be) ready and willing to put his life on the line for God and country. No casseroles or quiches made it to our table at chow time. Few boyfriends made it to the table either. My father was a ‘bulldog’ (the Marine Corps mascot) through and through, a twenty-three year veteran with two wars, three wives and four kids to his credit.
It’s still hard to believe my dad joined the Marines at 17, two weeks shy of his 18th birthday. The depression had all but snuffed out any dreams of a college education. Dad lied about his age; the recruiter undoubtedly looked the other way when my father signed the enlistment papers one year, one month and one week after the attack on Pearl Harbor. My
father needed a job and a future; the country needed a 'few good men'. As the saying goes, the rest is history.
Holy mother of all things innocent, my son is a stone’s throw away from 17. He knows almost nothing about himself or the cold, cruel world (sorry Ryan, I know you think that engineering degree from the University of Illinois and your new job as a consultant means something, and it does, something along the lines of a hundred thousand dollar investment and a commendable work ethic, but the classroom called life says, ‘hell, you ain’t seen nothing yet, much less paid your dues!’).
Suffice it to say, it wasn’t always easy growing up with a Marine for a dad (or being one, based on my dad's stories of boot camp and the front lines). I guess it wasn’t easy being married to one either.
I was haunted by the disappointments. I’d yet to sort through the tangled mess of emotions called excess baggage I carried around for thirty years when my mother died suddenly the summer of 2000. I shoulda, coulda, sorely wish I hada sorted and washed that dirty laundry before hanging it out to dry.
My father, quite simply, is my redemption after all the water under the bridge. I’m running out of parents, running out of time to put it all to rest. I have more time now to devote to cleaning house. Or maybe less time to continue sweeping it all under the rug.
My father and I are friends now, a viable relationship between us after years in dry dock. I guess stubbornness runs in the family. His year-long battle with Stage IV Lymphoma in 2008, two years after losing his third wife, provided the wakeup call I never got with my mother. My father and I have a relationship now that works much better than the last one. I like it this way. I think he does too.
I took about 20 pictures before Dad was ready to leave, something unprecedented for someone with my predilection for digital dalliance. We spent more time driving there and back then we did seeing the Museum and grounds. Dad tires easily at 87.
I thought about the fact we only get one lifetime (as far as I know; I’ll get back to you when I have more details) to sort through all the choices.
Sometimes the choices don’t always feel like choices. Sometimes they can feel like life sentences of poverty or discrimination, impulsiveness or stubbornness, ignorance or indifference, success or something less. Sometimes we do what we feel we have to do and hope for the best; occasionally the struggle gets the best of us.
The lessons never stop; the learning lasts a lifetime if we choose to show up for class. Long after we think we've exhausted all need or want, all mental and emotional capacity, the lessons just keep on coming.
I just hope when my kids show up for class I'll have the same chance and the same stamina my father has had for fielding the questions and disappointments that inevitably come with being a parent.