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Archive for the ‘paterfamilias’ Category

On Friday evening I sat on the patio of my favorite Italian restaurant and listened to my son’s stories.

Little more than a year ago, he and his older brother successfully completed the U.S. Army’s Ranger School, often considered the most difficult thing the Army can throw at a young man outside of actual combat. As though that were not enough, this strapping son had just come through the Army’s other elite training program, the Sapper Leader Course (a.k.a. ‘Sapper School’).

A few hours earlier, his father-in-law and I had dabbed at moist eyes as the 24 soldiers—of 45 who began the course—had received their Sapper ‘tabs’ in one of those military ceremonies that is at once understated and profound.

Kind people say ‘You must be proud’, but I am not proud. I deeply admire the commitment and relentless persistence that have produced my two sons’ achievements. More, in fact, than I can say. But there is no place here for a father’s pride. What they’ve done, they have done. I’ve stood back in bemused awe, always, and cheered them on when I can. But this thing is theirs, not mine.

Back to an exquisite Missouri evening and that Italian restaurant. I know of no more gentle, no kinder human being that the son across the table in front of me. People sometimes observe aloud that he is authentically humble, and they could not be more right. My son’s mere conversational tone, his attentive interest in the stranger just met, his deflection of naive praise, deflate military caricatures in the time it takes to get to the second sentence.

Of the Sapper Leader course’s 28 unforgiving days and nights, my son describes nine days straight of unending ‘missions’, a bewildering kaleidoscope of hunger, sleep deprivation, and cerebral challenges. When asked, he says that he and his ‘Sapper’ comrades averaged 45 minutes of sleep every 24 hours during that phase of their training. He has lost fifteen pounds in these four weeks, his muscular face now chiseled by the lost body fat that in gentler times softens the lines of his jaw.

I hear, between his lines, the tale of countless moments when he felt that he could not do the next thing. And then found out that he could.

From my remote (and emphatically more rotund) position in the conversation, I recognize what he’s describing. No stranger to pain—though I have volunteered for less of it than my sons—I am familiar with the moment when you know you can’t. And then find out that you can. The moment when you do the next thing, the surprise when you’ve come—How does this happen?!to the other side.

This is, I think, one of the mysteries of being human. This meticulous construction of limits and limitations, and then this capacity to perforate them. This knowing that I can’t. This discovery that in fact I can.

My son is now ‘double tabbed’. He belongs to that elite cadre of my country’s soldiers who wear on their uniform two muted arcs of fabric that signal to the knowledgeable that they have been to hell and back, in a manner of speaking, two times.

One says ‘Ranger’, the other ‘Sapper’.

And that my son and others like him stand ready to deploy the dark skills and the self-mastery that are required when softer people decide that our nation needs them.

My son is not a morality play. He is not a parable of achievement. He cannot be reduced to the uniform he wears when he must. He’s my son.

But on this Sunday morning, he is a reminder—no, he has reminded me—that the moment when we cannot comes just an instant before we discover that we can. One day we will understand the mystery of being human better than we do now, this odd mingling of glory and squalor that is our nature and our fate. Perhaps this capacity to overcome will stand near to the core of what we have discovered that we are.

 

 

 

 

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I am, today, a statistical outlier in the most unlikely of ways: I may be the only father in this country with two sons in the U.S. Army’s Ranger School at the same time.

I stress the word unlikely.

My sons are warriors. I am not. They wear a uniform I did not at their age choose to wear and have now lived too many years to put on. For these reasons and others, I take no credit for what they are surviving and conquering in Georgia’s mountains and Florida’s swamps. I look on in wonder, admiration, and paternal concern, asking myself ‘How did this happen?’ (more…)

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James Scott Wheeler’s workmanlike narrative of the First Division’s storied legacy begins with the unit’s July 4, 1917 parade through Paris en route to bloodier encounters along the line that would soon yield to the American bolstering of the Anglo-French defenses. It ends with the Division’s performance in the First Gulf War.

In between, Wheeler chronicles engagement after engagement with phenomenal precision. One thinks with gratitude of the after-engagement reports that became the dull but immensely valuable stock-in-trade of American infantry and the relentless effort required of historians like Wheeler in processing these and other sources. (more…)

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(This brief talk was prepared for a knot of men, mostly from Indianapolis’ Church at the Crossing, who refuse to stop meeting at a Perkins restaurant on Thursdays at the ungodly hour of 6:30 a.m. for no discernible reason except to sing one song badly off-key, drink more coffee than is good for them, and hear talks like this one.)

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This coming Sunday is Father’s Day and I’m a father, so I’m claiming this one.

I’ve not only got two sons, I’ve got two sons in uniform: ‘C’ is an infantry officer at Fort Benning, Georgia; ‘J’ a combat engineering officer at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Both will likely be deployed to a hot spot next year.

But my wife’s car now has four stars on the back of it. Her ‘T’ recently finished up his time in the Army and is re-entering civilian life. ‘R’ will be deployed to Afghanistan this year.

Together, we’ve got skin in the game, both as father and mother and in the geopolitical sense: we watch the news out of the world’s hot spots with a little more attention because of our connection with this country’s military through four sons who serve. (more…)

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When the moment came, I chose not to stand.

Out with friends and a raft of new acquaintances with their arms full of food they were hell bent on sharing with everybody, I take in for the first time an Indianapolis ritual that—frankly—until this year never held much appeal. (more…)

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My paternal ancestor Salome ‘Sally’ Hoy married William Jacob Leicht in Killinger, Pennylvania, the picturesque valley where I was to walk naively past the gravestones that memorialized—for those more attentive than I—the many Hoys whose remains were lovingly interred in that picturesque place. Alas, I was not among them.

I come only lately to the task of remembering.

There were many Salomes, a.k.a. Sallies, in my family. They included my grandmother, who died when I was nine years old. I have only the dimmest memory of her Pennsylvania German baking and cooking and of the way my grandfather lovingly took her hands in his as he and I shared an uncharacteristically private moment before her open casket in Millersburg, the town of which Killinger somehow manages to style itself a remote outpost.

Alas, none of Salome’s children were to be buried with her husband’s name. They became ‘Lights’, leaving behind the Germanic ‘Leicht’ under which they, presumably, were born.

The Leichts were adventurous in more than just this way. They were among the Hoys and hangers-on—the words seems both cruel and appropriate—who moved west.

Born in Killinger’s rolling, fertile environs, the Leichts cum Lights lived out and finished their days nearly four hundred miles west of that cradling valley in a place called Sulphur Springs, Ohio. It lies midway between Columbus and Cleveland and, except for the lack of hills, might have reminded Salome and William of Killinger, whence they came.

By the time the Leichts had accomodated themselves to their new, level, surroundings, their children were trotting off to school and responding to roll call under the family ‘Light’. Germany was a distant memory.

America had not yet been called upon, twice, to save Europe from herself. The migration of a family name must have obeyed more prosaic rhythms. Perhaps Salome’s ‘Dutch’ dialect had no cachet with the young folks. They were American. They were Ohians. Pennslvania, Killinger, David’s Church … these were memories of the old folks.

Something was lost in the exchange. Something was gained. Few noticed either.

It is ever so.

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When I left my beat-up, loyal, and long-suffering Boostaroos on a plane, I seized the opportunity to see if I could match the force-multiplying role they played so well for this long-suffering long-haul traveler and his beloved Sennheiser PXC 450s at a smaller size and weight.

Mission accomplished.

The tiny, Chinese-made FiiO E5 headphone amplifier measurably improves the quality of sound I hear when I play tunes on my iPod or iPhone through the Sennheisers. That’s news enough. What truly astonishes is the minute size and weight of the E5, even when you factor in the handy little clip that sturdies the whole deal by latching it onto a shirt pocket while the airplane meals come and go. Spaghetti sauce never did the old Boostaroos much good whenever they did their slow roll into the pasta end of the pasta-or-fish? conundrum.

The small and long-lasting internal battery is charged via a USB connection, so you can also can the trips to Costco for AAA batteries.

Next up in the Pleasant Surprise Category is another little thing: the price. Twenty clams get this gizmo from Amazon to your door.

I note the opinion voiced my some reviewers that you can do better elsewhere. I suspect they’re right. But for $20 it’s hard to imagine going wrong with the E5.

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My distant relatives Johannes and Anna Maria Weaver (Weber) Hoy lived to the ripe old age of 78 and 76. After a Sunday afternoon drive through the greening fields and mountains of Lykens Valley in a luxuriant Pennsylvania Springtime, it is easy to imagine Johannes and Anna breathing the fresh air and working the rich soil of the place. Life might have seemed inevitable.

Yet death stalked this unfortunate couple.

Prolific though they were, life seems to have been fated against their desire to raise children to the healthy adult strength that came naturally to them. (more…)

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I must confess that a smattering of cheer floats in this third cup of coffee or, more likely, comes via this morning’s Wall Street Journal article called ‘Friendship for Guys (No Tears!)

An explanation may be in order.

Allow me to begin it with an uncharacteristically (for a man, apparently) dramatic statement: I have guy friends who would die for me. They’ve never told me so, yet I know this to be true. I would die for them, too. Pardon the whiff of melodrama, these are just the facts. (more…)

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Because I’ve grown to trust the Costco buyers, I didn’t hesitate to snag this gizmo online when my furtive attention fixed itself upon the need to secure the slides and photos our family had accumulated.

Many hours of digitization later, I have no regrets.

I rock with delight as I discover slide-bound memories one at a time in the process of scanning them into the iPhoto library of my MacBook Pro. iPhoto or the software that comes with the PrimeFilm PF7265Ou permits the rescue of legacy-rich but tragically underexposed (or overexposed) slides.

I could hardly be more enthusiastic about the value of this product. You can go upscale and secure greater control of your images, as a friend urged me to do. Or, you can tread the economical path and come away, as I have, one very happy scanner-camper.

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