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Battlefield Dad

As I rolled through the suggested watching options on my Netflix, “Best Picks For TJ,” I was open to see what the software had figured out about me. It was a pretty good list: action, comedies, epic adventures all in the four or five star rated category. This time I felt led to, opted for something that I rarely consider. I almost never pick TV series because I don’t want to commit the time or energy they require. However I thought OK, this is just one season and I have a few hours, it’s a real life war series; lets do this.

Battleground Afghanistan is a true to life series of episodes that follow Capt. Ben Middendorf and the men of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, as they bravely fight Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Netflix was right in so many ways. I loved the hardware our troops used, watching the tanks and rocket launchers. I was drawn in thinking about the hardships the guys faced. 130 degree temps, 100 lbs. packs, up at 3 am and marching through the desert till sunrise. You watch as they dealt with danger all around. So powerful, I was proud of our soldiers. These men.

But there was one scene that has just stuck with me; it kept me up that night, it bothers me now as I am remembering it. No, it was not bloody body parts or innocent children in the middle of a terrible war, it was the comments one Marine said during an interview.

LCpl Eugene Weilbach was described as the shortest guy on Capt. Middendorf’s team. It was also pointed out that he also carried the biggest gun. In the interview, Weilbach talked about how his father reacted when he told him he was going to Afghanistan. “Good, it’s about time you became a man,” Weillbach laughed and kept talking. “He said ‘just don’t be a pussy.’ It caught me off guard. I thought he would give me a hug or something and tell me to come back safe.” I told him, “l will try my best.” The interview ended and the guys proceeded to head out on their mission.

I have heard it over and over. The words of a father set the course for the heart of a boy. Was this a broken man passing on his wounds to his son? Generational brokenness. I realize I am making somewhat of a judgment call here and I do not know Eugene’s dad. I really don’t know how this all played out to have his dad be that direct in his words. Maybe Eugene had been a dead-beat teen? However I have seen it a thousand times and I know what statistics and my life story tells me: those were brutal words.

There is an urban legend about a pastor who spent one morning a week ministering to the men in a local prison. These were hard men, men who had done bad things. A small group of these men were meeting with him each week. They were studying the bible and discovering a new way to live. One day as the preacher was concluding his visit, an inmate asked if he would please bring him a Mother’s Day card on his next visit so he could send it to his mom. Several of the other inmates heard the request and asked if they too could bother him to bring them a card for their moms. By the end of the week and before his next visit, he had hundreds of request for cards. So he activated. He asked for donated cards and money to purchase cards. On his next visit he wheeled in boxes of Mother’s Day cards and stamps for the inmates. They used them all.

With the success of the Mother’s Day card initiative the pastor began thinking and decided to prepare in advance for Father’s Day. He collected cards and stamps. He then put the word out offering free Father’s Day cards to anyone who wanted one. No one did. The holiday came and went without a single request.

Yes, actually verifying this story was unsuccessful, however statistically men in prison are far more likely to have been raised in fatherless homes. Boys who do not have dads struggle. Wounded dads raising boys create wounded boys. You can only pass on what you know.

At the age of 13 my parents divorced. My mom took my little brother and sisters to her mom’s 1000 miles away and my dad took his bottle of rum and went another direction. I took off on my own. Four years before the divorce, dad had checked out. My little brothers and sisters never knew him. I seemed to get bits and pieces of his personality that confuse and create hardships for me today. The story was told to me that my dad’s dad, grandpa, was bad to drink early on. He was a tough guy who worked on the railroad and lived hard. One day he quit drinking but he retired to his chair where he rarely engaged with his family. Seems these are the skills my dad learned too.

I remember a lot of lonely days as I wandered about. I remember being scared and tired and hungry with no place to go. I have shared the story before of one early morning, maybe 3 am, I was on the interstate hitchhiking. I was 14 or 15 and wanted to go see my mom and brothers and sisters who then lived in Alabama. My last ride was an old farmer who turned off the highway and let me off in the middle of nowhere. It was dark, cold, I was hungry and lonely and then it started to rain. As I stood there I could see across a plowed field a small farmhouse with the porch light on. I so desperately wanted to go to that farmhouse and ask them to take me in, love me, care for me. Instead, I turned off all emotions and shoved them down deep inside where they would not affect me, make me soft, a pussy.

The National Fatherhood Initiative is an organization that is highly focused on the true significance of a father in the life of a child. A recent article on its site talked about how society today has minimized the need for both parents and the impact a fatherless home has on a child. It boiled down to two things. The first is that we are told being a rugged, independent individual is the American way, we can do it, anything, if we just work hard. So, even without a dad, we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and get down the road just fine. We are tough. I lived by this mantra for years.

Secondly, we don’t want to agree with things that do not match with our beliefs. If we know a single mom whose kids turned out good, then that is our fact-based belief. Maybe a celebrity says something they believe and we agree. That becomes our stance, our belief, even though reams of information contrary to that may be out there. We just go with it and that is that.

My mom always put a pinch of baking soda in her peach pie. When I asked her why, she said, “I do it because your grandmother did it.”

For me, my pattern for the most part has been to walk away from friends or relationships that get hard. Looking at it now, it is almost always for little or no real reason. A couple years ago when my buddy Joe Don did something that made me mad, (I have no idea what it was), I packed my proverbial ball and went home. I decided, screw him I will find another friend. He however decided that was not going to be how our friendship ended. He called me out and told me, “I don’t care if you are mad at me. I love you, you are my friend and I am not leaving.” This was a life-changer for me. The two times my dad stood up for me are etched in my mind as clear as I am sitting here today. Once when I was falsely accused at school for something and another time when coach did not play me in a ballgame.

Joe Don did it again recently when I became mad at him and he called me out. He lovingly talked to me about my anger and how I was misusing it and hurting those closest to me. I argued my side. I was rightfully mad, I was right in my argument and others were wrong, I was not going to be walked over, neglected, kicked around. I was far from a pussy and if people did not agree with me, because I was right, they could move out of the way. My heart was crushed when he took my favorite Bible verse and dug deep into the love Jesus has for us, for me and that He had for His disciples.

In the back of the book of John, Peter denies Jesus three times. Christ is suffering and the guy who told Him I will die with You told those who questioned him he did not know that guy, Jesus. Oh how that wound must have sat heavily in Peter’s heart. But Jesus, in His infinite beauty and wisdom, returns around the campfire just a few paragraphs later and forgives His dear friend. He asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” So powerful, so important for us to understand as dads, men.

I have so many lies that over the years I have agreed with. There are so many things that I have to work through to be the husband, father, man I long to be in my heart. Anger never produces my heart’s desire. I lost my way many years ago. I chose to turn off my heart that night on the highway and getting it back can be a day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute struggle far too often.

When Chris Kyle, the American Sniper, came home, his heart was filled with the desire to be the father, husband, friend and mentor he longed to be in this new life. He fought to embrace the new and put behind him the past. Did he struggle? Yes. Kyle said, “It was my duty to shoot the enemy, and I don’t regret it. My regrets are for the people I couldn’t save: Marines, soldiers, buddies.” He battled regrets and things he could not change. But he also knew the new battle, his hardest battle, was returning to his family as a loving daddy, father, husband and He had to count on God to win.

It is critical for men to find other men they can get real with, learn to trust. Men need to then fight for that relationship. It can be hard, really hard. The things we learned or taught ourselves as kids can be cruel guides for our hearts today. We all want to create legacy, be the one who  rescued our family, loved the fair maiden (our wife), spoke wisdom to our kids and grandkids. If you truly want it, you are going to have to fight for it. You are going to have to be vulnerable and battle the urge to prove you are right about everything. This will be your hardest but most important mission here on earth men. You’re not a pussy when you do, you’re not less of a man in any way. You are a real man, a warrior, a hero, a knight in shining aromour and a daddy.

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