What I remember the most about my father is our weekend hikes in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Daddy and I had a rock collection and he had this uncanny ability to stop dead in his tracks, bend over and pick up an obsidian Indian arrowhead. I can still smell the sage and pine in the crisp air if I close my eyes. But scattered among the sweet memories are many dark ones. I can remember climbing out of my bed in the middle of the night and stumbling to the dark living room. Daddy was always there, in the dark, sitting in his recliner with a beer in one hand and the slide projector clicker in the other. I would climb up in his lap, nestle up to his fat belly and press my face against his bare chest, wrapping my little fingers in mounds of chest hair. Click Click Click I’d look up to the projector screen seeing the same images night after night, click after click. “These are the children from the village. This is the school we built for them. Didn’t matter…they blew it up three days later,” he would say in a voice that rumbled through the husk of too many cigarettes. “This is the field where they shit…that’s all toilet paper, those little white balls. They didn’t have toilets, you know.” And it always ended with you know your Daddy’s a coward. I heard them coming that night and, like a coward I got up and went to the bunker. That piece of shrapnel ripped right up my bunk…had my name on it. Lost some good friends that night.” I can smell beer and cigarette breath mixed with sweaty head if I close my eyes and I would give anything to smell it again.
My father was a radar technician in the DMZ. When I was 16 he finally died of the Agent Orange that poisoned his body and the war that poisoned his mind. I’m 52 now, and I still talk to my Daddy every day. He was my whole world. I am his DNA. I came here with programmed memories that came directly from him. That’s how we survive as a species. That’s how adolescent sharks know instinctively where and how to hunt; the DNA memories. But I also hear his voice; remember the important lessons about life and people. I know my father and when he speaks back, the message is clear, “It wasn’t worth it to miss your whole life and my grandkid’s lives.” But I also know he would do it all again, given the same choices; except for the bunker that night.
I am a soldier, just like my father, my step-dad and the many Vietnam vet dads after him taught me to be. I won’t fight you for what I believe is right. But I will put out my arms and lend you my voice and my mind as an offering of peace. I’ll let you tear me down and everything I stand for. And just like my dads, the only thing that will move me into violence is if you fuck with the one standing next to me. So, lay down your politics, give me your hand and let’s find a better way than the one that ends lives. I know it’s possible.