From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

Lessons from My Father

You don’t raise heroes, you raise sons. And if you treat them like sons they’ll turn out to be heroes, even if it’s just in your own eyes.

Walter M. Schirra

It was a day that held more emotion than any other in the nineteen years before it. The day spent with my son made me so proud; then a short while later, the trip home was very hard to bear.

Our youngest son, Tim, wanted to join the Army shortly after his nineteenth birthday. He asked if I would take him down to the recruiting station, saying I could watch him being sworn in if I wanted. I told him I wouldn’t miss it for anything in the world.

The trip to the recruiting office was over before we knew it. Time had passed through our hands quickly as I tried to tell him every important thing (at least to me) I could think of. After we arrived and Tim was checked in, we learned the meaning of “hurry up and wait.” We were told it would be a while before the ceremony would begin. Tim and I decided to wait in the main auditorium. The room held thirty to forty men and women. Most were close to the same age as Tim, and most, like us, were waiting.

A young lady sat down by Tim and struck up a conversation, asking where he was from and where he was going. Tim answered her questions and then introduced her to me. She said she wished her mom had come, telling us how they had gotten into a big fight before she left home. It was about her joining the Army. Her voice sounded very dry and rough, and I knew they hadn’t parted on the best of terms. She needed someone to be proud of her. I wish I would have told her how proud I was, but it was not the right place to tell her. The wait ended, and before we knew it, the new recruits were taken into a small room for their swearing in. Not as many parents were there as I expected, but I was proud to be able to join the group as an observer. The commander explained the swearing in and the oath they were about to take, asking the soldiers if they were there of their own free will. All answered, “Yes, sir!” He then asked the group to hold up their right hands and repeat the vow to serve our country.

As I looked at each soldier, every one of them meant every word—every word! The service took my breath away. These young men and women knew what they had just committed to do. I kept saying to myself, Dear Lord, give them strength!

After the group was released, many, like Tim and I, took a few photos. It was those photos that would help carry us for the next eight weeks. We would not be able to see him again until his graduation from boot camp at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Tim walked me out to the car and we said our good-byes.

The ride home was one of the longest of my life. Being all alone with my memories was the hardest part of this day, and one of the toughest moments of my life. I felt like I had just given away my son. Question after question filled my mind. Had we taught him all he needed to know? Had he listened? What is he going to be like when he is all done? Did he know how much his mom and I loved him? This was my little boy! We watched him grow up. Now, suddenly, he wasn’t ours anymore. Yes, he was still part of our family, but we no longer helped control his decisions. Tim was still our youngest son, but no longer our little boy. Today, he was quickly becoming a man.

It wasn’t until after Tim arrived in Iraq, six months later, that I would get the answer to several of the questions that had filled my mind on the long road home from the recruiting office. The answers came through an e-mail Tim had sent me at work:

   Hey, Dad, I got a special coin today from our Lt. Colonel for fixing a generator while we were on a three-day mission. We had mechanics who couldn’t even fix it, so I stepped up and said I would try. I found the bad wiring under the control panel and fixed it. It started right up! They asked how I knew how to do that, and I told them my dad was a mechanic. My sergeant said, Well, I guess he taught you well. So I just wanted to say, “thank you” for always making me stand out there and help whenever something broke, even though I really didn’t want to. I guess they really needed that generator so we could continue on our mission; so fixing it was a big deal. That is why they gave me the coin. This is also a big deal because I’m only the third one in my company to get one of these coins. Well, I just wanted to tell you that I miss you and I hope things are going good. Love, Tim

I sat at my desk thinking about the many lessons my father had taught me. I smiled remembering how he was never afraid to try to fix anything, and he, too, always encouraged our help. Today the lessons from my father worked through the hands of my son, a half a world away, and I have never been prouder.

William Garvey

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