My Dad, The Vietnam War Draft, and Not Being Afraid

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He would kill me… Much improved, Dad. Much improved.

Someone once said, “All man’s problems stem from him not being able to sit alone by himself in a room.”  But he or she should have included docks and decks, cars and airplanes, gas stations and mini-malls.

My Dad watched his family’s gray box breathlessly as the regularly scheduled program was interrupted by a CBS News Special Report.

I watched the footage of the first draft for the Vietnam War on YouTube, and I thought “Bingo with teeth.”  I can’t imagine how my Dad felt when the Congressman plucked September 14th from the 366 blue plastic capsules.  My Dad’s birthday, October 24th, was in that glass container somewhere, as was my parents’ wedding anniversary (October 25th).  Fates and dates in little pills.  When September 14th was called, everyone, including my Dad, thought my Dad going to Vietnam was a sure thing.

As my Dad turned the knob on the TV, everyone looked at him like he was already dead.  He walked outside onto the deck, lit a Marlboro, and put his head between his hands.  He drew deeply and flicked ash.  A black and white loon pumped it’s wings taking flight off the water.  Smoke peeled from my Dad’s lips as the sun splashed pink and yellows on his childhood home in Wisconsin.

He’d just finished his day picking up the regulars at the bars.  A day done of ticking meters and barfing in the backseat.  He thought, the world might end in the next moment.  I might be dead in two months.  He thought about quitting the Ph.D. program and what his next plan should be.  He must have felt like his head being crushed between a vice.  He never told me that, but that’s how I would feel.

He thought, no one is getting professorships and what a stupid idea this was, but what will I do now?  Will it matter, anyway?

“Jim.”  Jesus Christ.  “Yes, grandfather?”  My great-grandfather stood silently in the doorway behind my Dad.  What I know about him is that he came over from Germany, his name was Herman, and he was a gravedigger during the Great Depression.  My great-grandfather looked at my Dad to make sure he was paying attention, and slowly raised a shaky arm towards the sky.

“Do you see those clouds up there?  Those clouds don’t worry about whether or not they’re going to fall.  They just float along.”

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I think a lot about what other people think about.  And often I think about what they think when they wake up.

Before their feet hit the floor, they’re thinking about the space ship they’re financing, and whether or not the pumpkin ale will win the gold medal.  Some are thinking of how to sell more sports uniforms to high school basketball coaches.  Others lie in bed not moving for hours.

These tiny universes revolve around vastly different cares and concerns like the earth revolves around the Sun.  We shine our souls like stars, burning bright with unique attributes and preferences.  I think about how this is so because it makes me wonder at the world.  Human beings are amazing in that we’re different in a million ways.  But one thing we have in common is that much of what we think about is of no consequence at all.

When we open our eyes in the morning, we often ask: “what’s wrong?”  Instead we should be asking: “what’s right?”

There is this woman who filled her contacts’ container with the wrong solution when she went to bed one night.   The next morning, she put her contacts in as usual.  Three days later, she was permanently blind.  She says paradise to her would be her sight restored.  Just to be okay would be trumpeting angels and rivers of milk and honey.

And most of the time we are okay.  Aren’t we?

It is hard to walk out the door in the morning without a thought in your head.  There are things we have to make peace with, like chafing thighs and red bank accounts.  Sometimes I look at my Dad wondering how he’s surviving the stress.  Because sometimes the bad things ambush him.  Like that time his Dad had to be put in a nursing home and he lost the trial at the same time.  That’s why my Dad is Superman.  No matter how much is going on, no matter how big of a deal I think something is, he seems able to take a step back, put the life monster in perspective, and keep on keeping on.  He’s got his Kryptonites, but he is Superman.  To me he is, anyway.

Instead of thinking first of everything that is wrong, we should be making a daily effort to think of everything that is right.  If you’re fearing something, it hasn’t happened yet.  Right now, in this moment, you are okay in regards to whatever that thing is.  Try to face your future with less fear not because you’ll be a stronger person, but because you’ll be a happier person.  Fearing something has never changed the outcome of what happened.

I think about my Dad and this story, and it tells me that the things you treat as truth in your mind often aren’t truths.  Most of our fears won’t ever happen.  My Dad worried he’d be a failure and that he’d win the draft lottery.  But he’s alive, he got married to my Mom, he had me (which of course, was the best thing that ever happened to him) and my sisters (second and third best things to ever happen to him), and he did find his path.  My Dad is a great man, and I don’t say that with Biased Daughter Syndrome.  I say that because my Dad is an exceptional person, and he worked very hard.  But once upon a time, he, like many Millenials today, was lost and scared.

My Dad said he did all the things he did in life, like becoming a law professor and partnering in a major firm, because he thought he could.  He thought, “I believe I can do this, so I will try.”  That’s it.  That’s where exceptional lives – in our actions and our stiff upper lips.  Exceptional lives in the will to try and the courage to not give up.  It’s not that my Dad wasn’t scared or filled with doubt.  It’s that he kept trying and that he believed in himself enough to  persevere through his failures.

So maybe when you look to the sky today, you pause and think about the clouds you’re looking at.  Maybe they’re pink cotton balls or spider webs stretching and racing across blue.  Whatever you’re looking at, those clouds don’t worry about falling from the sky, and neither should you.  And if there aren’t any clouds, imagine some.

Forget about the grievances, the worries, the past.  Forget about the future, the questions, the thoughts.  Just be thankful.  Be thankful for mobility and for another day of life.  Focus on the good and try to see the beauty.  This moment really is all we have.  We can’t make up for it later, though we reason that we can.

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50 thoughts on “My Dad, The Vietnam War Draft, and Not Being Afraid

  1. Wonderful Post. My father was also my superman growing up. He could (and did) fix *anything*. He worked hard with his hands because that’s what he knew, and he did so for his family. Now I am a father (a late one, me 46, my daughter just 3), but I hope and pray every single DAY that I will be her hero too. That I can wear that “S” on my chest proudly for her, fixing toys and dolls and cars and hearts. Thank you for the inspiring words. I agree, RIGHT NOW is of the utmost importance, and with grace, hard work, and a little luck in the mix, maybe someday my daughter will think as highly of me as you about your father.

    • Thank you for your comment, and for your story. I get the feeling you’ll definitely be superhero status to your daughter, and that’s a very interesting perspective, so thank you for sharing.

      • Thank you for the kind words. As i make mistakes (daily) in the role of ‘daddy’.she reminds me in her own ways that her expectations are only that i love her dearly; and she knows that without question, i certainly do.

  2. Great post. I enjoyed it so mush i posted it on my blog. ECAupgrade.com

    I’d love to feature more post like this on my blog. Feel free to check me out.

    Thanks again!

    JD

  3. Very well said! It’s amazing how fear runs so much of our lives – myself included (possibly the most lol). It’s so easy to get caught up in that and forget the important things like the present. I agree, I can’t imagine how scary it would be to watch the draft, not knowing if, literally, your number is up. Congrats on FP! It’s well deserved. 🙂

  4. Wonderful post. I also adore my dad and believe I am his Best Thing Ever. But you have captured your dad’s greatness in a thimble here. Distilled him, as it were. It made me feel good for that reason, but also because I have chronic pain. You’ve taught me something about how I should maybe approach my day. I don’t always KNOW I’ll feel like I’m going to die later. Right? : )

    • Thank you for your kind words. My Mom had a back surgery that went bad ten years ago and she’s been in chronic pain ever since. I don’t know what it feels like, but I see what she goes through. Your comment made me think – thank you for sharing.

  5. I’ve clicked the LIKE button even before I finished reading your beautiful post. This really hit me. Yes we can only say THANK You. There is really nothing else we can do. Ive just flew in here in Manila and then I came across your post. Up in the air I was looking down below and wondering ‘how tiny we are and yet we fill our lives with huge tensions’. Total insanity. I’d like to add that piece from the bible if I am right about “the lilies in the pond, they don’ sweat and toil” and so on. Thanks so mch for this.

  6. Yes, (as to your quote there and my adjustment to it), “We are , sometimes, what we repeatedly do”

    Yet, we are not our labels. Yet, we do fashion some of our future by what we repeatedly do in the present moments of our lives.

    I remember the Viet Nam war and everything that happened in and around that time.

    Perhaps, someday, the world might just
    give peace a chance.

  7. Lovely post, thank you ♥ ❤

    Your Great Grandfather’s statement….“Do you see those clouds up there? Those clouds don’t worry about whether or not they’re going to fall. They just float along.” is just awesome and reminded me of another that I really like. Hope you do not mind me sharing…

    It’s an Ojibwe Indian saying, and I first noticed it in an episode of the Sopranos…

    “Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while, a great wind carries me across the sky”.

  8. I Absolutly loved this. I think in today’s world we are all so concerned with the bad things that can happen we often forget about the great things that we already have in our lives.
    We spend so much time living in fear of what other people will think or say or frankly not say that we are blind to our own happiness. I am a firm believer in this IS the only life you have. You don’t get a second go around. All that is certain is your past. Whenever that last speck of sand has emptied itself and you take your last breath you aren’t going to be thinking about all those minut little concerns that never really mattered. At the end of my life all I have is me with my last breath and I have to be okay with my life and what I have given to this world. In that retrospect I have to live everyday to its fullest. To truly enjoy the things that I have and not To concern myself with things that I don’t.

    I loved the quote about the clouds. Sometimes I look up and think about how every cloud is different and these clouds will never be together again and if I didn’t take a second to look up and enjoy it that moment would have passed me forever.

  9. So true. My dad was exactly like that and this is what I am on a journey to be. No matter what happens you have to put your efforts, no matter how many time syou have failed. Life is an experiment, good and bad, success and failure are just labels that we create.

  10. Amazing post. Thank you so much for sharing this. I think fear is such an intimate and difficult emotion to explain or express, and you explored the idea so effortlessly.

  11. By the time the draft began I was already in Vietnam, and I found myself worrying more about my friends back home who would wonder if “their number was up” than I was about myself. The powers of a 19 year-old to ignore an unpleasant ‘now’ are almost limitless. Still, your story was about a lot more than Vietnam; more like not letting what seems urgent to take priority over what is really important. Life can be lived or feared, and I try to chose living as often as possible. Great story Natalie.

  12. i was still young during the vietnam war but old enough to recall those jet planes flying low over our place in bohol, philippines. i asked my mom when i believe then was pres. lyndon b. johnson saying over radio that u.s.a. was withdrawing from the war. when my mom said it as if the u.s.a. was defeated, i cried.
    your story refreshes and reminds me of my younger days.

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