Friday, November 11, 2011
The Hero's Deepest Wound: A Veterans' Day Post for My Father
My father did not turn out to be a good man.
He was a brilliant child--he got fabulous grades, could play the guitar by ear, and, by the time he went to high school, he was a champion runner. But somewhere between his horrific childhood home life and his time serving as a naval corpsman during the Vietnam War, he did not, as I said, turn out to be a good man.
With a false glee, my dad used to tell the story of how, coming home one day after a high school track meet--which he won and which none of his family attended--he found that his family had moved without him. At sixteen, he wandered the desert streets of California’s “Inland Empire” for six days looking for them. When he finally found them--his raging alcoholic father, his promiscuous mother and all eight of his siblings squatting in some rathole by the tracks in Fontana, they laughed at him and told him he must have been very stupid to have taken so long.
My mother tells the story of my dad enlisting in the navy and, in the process of getting all his papers together, found the last name on his birth certificate did not match the last name of the abusive alcoholic he had grown up thinking was his dad. When he confronted his mother about this she acted nonchalant and said, “Oh yeah, your real father’s last name was Wyss--he worked at some tire plant...I think.”
Then, in the navy, my dad served as a corpsman--officially a medic with the navy but traveling on the ground with the marines seeing to the dead and dying. Once, when I was thirteen, he dug his duffel out of the garage and showed me his gas mask, his boots with a bayonet hole in the toe and, most proudly, his white medic’s tunic still stained with the blood of some marine or other whose name, face, and fatal injuries he had long since forgotten.
All of this is to say that my dad had every right in this and any other world to be completely and totally screwed up--and he was. His depression kept him from ever holding a steady job. His anxiety led him to a devastating Valium addiction. His outwardly acted, self-hating, power-needy PTSD led him to violence and the alienation of both his daughters. All of these things together led him to die absolutely alone on March 1, 2009.
My dad was a brilliant, strong, heroic young man who valiantly served his country and the many, many young soldiers who died in his arms. I tell this story not to detract from the honorable things he did--because they are many--but I tell it to make a plea to Ares, Apollon and any of you who may know and/or love a similarly brilliant but tormented young soldier--that you may help them to heal--that the brilliance and honor may not turn into madness and ignominy.
And for those, like my father, who have already passed, send your prayers with them that in the Kingdom of Hades--in the gray Fields of Asphodel--they will be welcomed as the heroes they are and be given the courage they need to fight one more battle in that place--the battle to reclaim themselves from the terror they knew and had become.
Blessed by the Mystery,