With Father’s Day drawing near, I’ve been contemplating many of the wonderful memories I have of my own “daddy” and I am amazed how blessed I am to have such a wonderful man for a father. As a child, I don’t recall a time in my life when I didn’t think my dad was the strongest man in the world. I can remember placing my small hand in his and finding comfort in his sturdy arms. He was my hero. He protected me, comforted me when I was afraid, and I always knew I could count on Dad to get me out of the awful scrapes I sometimes (usually) found myself in as a reckless tom-boy.
My dad was a hard worker. He worked in the coal mines for years and I was always enthralled with his coal dust-covered lunch pail. I loved to imagine what it would be like in the belly of the mountain. In my youth, I didn’t realize what a tough, back-breaking job this was. I hadn’t realized just how hard he worked to support his family. The coal mines were also very dangerous and he miraculously survived several accidents. Not only did he survive, my dad was also responsible for saving lives. He took care of his crew and he always made certain those men he was in charge of were safe before he left to save himself. I never realized what a risk he faced and what a courageous man he was. I’m just now beginning to understand.
When I was 8 years old, the coal mines laid off for a time and our family struggled to stay afloat financially. Work was hard to come by and Emery County came on hard times. My dad knew he had to support his family. My mother was diabetic and funds were short. He joined the Army. He was 30 years old and I can remember clearly the day he left for boot camp. Those were hard times for our family and I recall how much we missed him. After boot camp and AIT, my dad sent for us and my mother packed our belongings, sold our home, and we flew to Germany where we were finally reunited with our dad.
The days we spent in Germany were wonderful. Our family had many adventures and I remember viewing the castles and palaces from atop my dad’s broad shoulders. Then, not many years later, Desert Storm took my dad away once again. He left for war on Christmas morning. Our family woke early that morning to open gifts, and then we drove our dad to the base. We watched with tear-filled eyes as he left for the Middle East.
Our hearts broke that day. War was something that I did not understand, and as I watched the news with my mother, fear for my dad weighed heavy on all our minds. It was a very dark period in our lives. The Gulf war had a profound effect on all those living in Germany at the time as well. Terrorist attacks against Military bases in Hanau and Frankfurt were frequent, and more than once our school was evacuated for bomb scares.
Our high rise apartment was also targeted, and I remember spending the night in the school’s gymnasium, huddled on military blankets. My mother kept us entertained with books and games while we snacked on Vienna sausages and fruit rolls. I will never be able to hear bomb sirens without shuddering. My mother’s bravery and strength during this time still leaves me in awe.
My dad was gone for nearly a year, and I can clearly recall the day he returned. His homecoming is one of my very best memories. I was 11 years old, and my mother had just stopped to pick us up from the baby sitters house. We were driving home, when suddenly my mother began to sob. She pulled to the side of the road and I watched her jump from the car. My sister and I were dumbfounded. For a moment I thought my mother had finally lost it, but then, we saw him. My dad, still dressed in his desert BDU's, was walking down the road. Just off the plane, he’d come to find my sister and I. We hadn’t known he was coming home that day. We hadn’t known he was coming home at all. Words cannot describe the joy I felt as our family was once again reunited. My dad had come home.
To this day, I don’t fully understand what my father experienced during this almost forgotten war, but I know he suffered emotionally for the carnage and destruction he saw, and the scenes from the frontlines still haunt him today. Not only does he suffer emotionally, but now, his body suffers. Many of the troops near the front lines were exposed to chemicals, and today, my father suffers from an illness termed “Gulf War Syndrome”. It is a disease that has wreaked havoc on his strong body, and it has been very hard to watch my dad struggle with such intense pain.
When the Gulf War ended, our family returned to Utah. My dad was once again employed in the coal mines, and despite his physical pain, my dad worked long, difficult hours to support our family. In the last few years my mother became very ill. I watched my dad take care of my mom. His unconditional love and his genuine kindness to my mother touch me in such a profound way. I simply do not have words to express. Their tender touches, loving embraces, and their sweet words will forever linger in my mind. Until the very end, my dad never left my mom’s side. His devotion is the greatest example of love. My dad is my hero. I love him, and still, I take comfort in his strong arms.
I love you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.