I don’t really remember my dad before the war. My first memory of him was at the grave of my great aunt. He was really close to her. I must have been 4 years old. I remember him kneeling at her grave crying, and when I stepped on her grave that’s when I saw the monster. After Vietnam, he was stationed in Japan, and we moved there to be with him. These are my first memories of him. He was my hero. He was a monster. He was drunk a lot of the time. After about nine months, my mom had had enough, and moved us back to Kentucky.
I didn’t understand why we weren’t with my dad. I missed him. I was maybe 7 when he came home. He had a new wife. It wasn’t long and I had a half brother. I remember spending some time with my dad. He taught me to ride a skateboard, took me fishing, and took me for rides in some really fast cars. He got me into Cub Scouts and was my Scout Master. I saw the monster now and again, but was glad to have my hero again.
He was divorced again when I was 9. I remember being really sad the day he moved to Florida, I didn’t want him to move. My grandparents took my sister and I down to him, and we would spend weeks with him. By the time I was a teenager, I’d spend the whole summer with him. I remember one time he showed me some pictures when he was in Vietnam. I enjoyed seeing all his buddies, then his mood changed and he seemed sad, and quickly he put away all his pictures. Never again did he share his memories.
I went into the Navy just after high school; my dad said he’d shoot me if I joined anything else. His dad served on the USS Waters during WWII, and never shared his stories. I was the oldest son and grandson. I wanted to make them proud. My dad was a Seabee, I wanted so bad to be one, but the timing wasn’t right. Not until 7 years later, when I was finally a Seabee. I remember the day my dad gave me the duffel bag he had in Vietnam, it has a Seabee painted on it. He didn’t say he was proud of me, but I knew he was.
In 1997 I left active duty. My wife was pregnant with our first child, and I didn’t want my family to experience long deployments. I was raised by a single parent, and didn’t want my kids to have to experience that, even if it was 7 months at a time. The Naval reserve recruiter was giving me the run around, for like 3 months, so I joined the Georgia Army National Guard.
It wasn’t until I returned home, in May of 2004 from a year in Iraq, did I see why my dad was a monster. I had one growing in me too. I struggled with rage and depression for almost 7 months. I had become distant from my wife and family. The day that I snapped, and saw the pain I was causing my family, I realized I was becoming my dad, and knew that I needed help. The next day I was at the VA, trying to get help. Those were some dark days. I didn’t like how the VA was treating me, so I quit. I tried a couple of sessions with another counselor, but didn’t like what he had to say. I tried to just stuff it and keep this monster from coming out. I tried convincing myself that I was okay. I was faking big time. I didn’t work. I was watching the Bob Woodruff special, when they showed an IED exploding a Humvee. I completely freaked out, was crying, fast breathing and heart rate, and was shaking so bad. The next day I called another counselor. After a couple of months with her, she gave me a flyer of a study the Emory University was doing. I was in the first MBSR study, and this completely changed me.
My dad has had to deal with his monster. The VA has classified him as 100% disabled. I think my dealing PTSD, has been a bridge and helped my relationship with my dad.