On Friday, my Wife and I celebrated our 16th anniversary. It was the third anniversary we have spent apart, and each time I promise that this will be the last time. Somehow that hasn’t worked out yet. 8000 miles and 9 time zones is a long ways apart, but we managed to spend some time together anyway. It was early evening here, late morning there, the kids were at school, and I was done with work for the day. We chatted, flirted, and blew each other kisses on the webcam. We smiled and laughed. We talked about the past and the future and pretended that the present wasn’t real, like we were on a date, enjoying dinner and each others company. Keeping a marriage going is tough under any circumstances, but we are pretty much a statistical miracle. 3 deployments, and 9 years working in a prison, night’s weekends and holidays, working Christmas day or Thanksgiving evening, it amazes me still that she stuck with me. What the hell is she thinking? Well, whatever keeps her from tossing me out like yesterdays trash, Thank God for it!
Missing another anniversary reminded me of all the other moments I have been missing. A couple of weeks ago, school started. Our oldest daughter (the artist) started high school. Our middle Daughter (the athlete) started middle school. And our youngest Son(the Jedi) started second grade, his first year of being “alone” at school, without the burden of a big sister running around the school creating oh so unreasonable expectations for him. The Artist is keeping my absence a secret from her teachers to avoid any special attention it may bring, because talking about it with people who lack a mutual perspective just doesn’t help her deal with it. She made me very proud the other day when she told me that she doesn’t like her government teacher because “Dad, she is really liberal”. I get the feeling that if this particular teacher knew that The Artist spent Election Day 2004 waving a Bush/Cheney sign over Highway 10, it may cost her a few points on the final. She is currently scheming to create the perfect moment to inform this teacher that “My Dad’s in Baghdad and he says wishing failure on his mission does not support him!” She chuckles with glee when she talks about this, and at the same time feels bad that I am not there to share the fun. Her confirmation is next spring, and I will be home.
The Athlete doesn’t share too much with me about how she feels, until it is time to say goodbye, then the emotion comes surging to the surface. She has always been the fiery one, tough as nails and determined, but still a little girl when faced with a father going to war for what seems a lifetime. The single most painful moment of my life was in 1996, as I was leaving for Bosnia, when my name was called to get on the bus. The athlete, who had been tough through the whole thing, asking questions and taking in answers with little comment, watched me turn to climb on the bus and screamed, as only a 3 year old can, “Daddy Noooooooo!” as I walked away. How I climbed onto that bus I don’t know to this day. Subsequent goodbyes have gotten easier, sort of, if only through repetition and familiarity. Hockey tryouts start in 2 weeks. I won’t be there.
The Jedi, named that because he is 7, and what else could a 7 year boy old be? While I was home on leave, we saw “Revenge of the Sith” together. It was all he would ask me before I came home. “Dad, are we going to see Star Wars together?” As far as he was concerned, once we checked that box, it was a successful vacation. The rest was icing. His current plan involves building a clubhouse in the backyard together when I get home. The plans are elaborate, as they should be. When I asked him how we would build the clubhouse in the middle of winter, when I get home, he applied perfect 7 year old logic: “we can build it in the garage, and then move it when the snow is gone”. As far as I am concerned, it is a perfect plan. A few minutes a day of sweeping snow off of cars, and scraping windows, is an insignificant price to pay. Cars come and go; clubhouses last forever in a son’s mind.
Four more months. I get to be a real Dad again in four more months.