"Hey kids, do you know what happened here," my dad yelled to surly children slouched in the backseat of his car. As we drove through some scenic area of the country, he desperately attempted to impart some of America's history to us, his children--all in vain. "This is where the Battle of Gettysburg was fought and this exact spot was where General Robert E. Lee..."
Rolling our eyes and outwardly groaning, my brother and I interrupted with, "Dad, do we have to hear this again?"
My father was notorious for stopping at the most random locations in America to look at the grass (as we called it) of famous battle fields. "Uh, Colonel, who died here," we'd ask sarcastically, dramatically refusing to get out of the vehicle to walk the sacred grounds. To say he had a tough time selling us on the fascinating historical facts that make our great country is putting it mildly.
We couldn't have cared less.
If there is an interesting piece of information about John Adams or George Washington, my dad is likely to know it (and share it). His specialty though is war and all things related to the defending of freedom in this country. As a Vietnam Veteran himself, his personal experience makes him an expert so his ability to offer lessons on the Battle of Gettysburg, the location of General Jackson's death, and the type of weaponry used by Civil War soldiers is not surprising.
When I was a kid, I was extremely unimpressed both by his military service to our country and of course, the fact he survived real battles. To me, he was just a dad-- not a soldier who drove tanks and saw explosions and death while rallying to get men to safety. To me, he was just a dad--not a Colonel in the Marine Corps who flew jet airplanes in times of danger.
I didn't get the big deal about the battle fields and the facts and the rest of it.
And I definitely didn't understand his connection to it all, the fact that once you've seen men die defending our freedom, it connects you to every other fallen man and woman in every other war fought by the Untied States of America. I didn't understand his experiences naturally lent to knowing and sharing and learning about the other tough times in American history. I didn't understand that in re-telling these stories of war, he was paying tribute to the brave heroes who gave their lives out of love for Country and us.
So I rolled my eyes and I poked fun and I was irreverent.
Looking back, I see my dad tried to use facts to teach us, in his own way, about the precious gift of freedom, about the significant price of war. In a round about way, he was trying to share part of himself and his personal history. But at the time, I was too young and too immature to understand, listen, and pay attention.
Now I am a mom with children of my own and I see the beautiful ways God works, how He sometimes allows for a re-do.
In my oldest child, Patrick, my dad has found the family admirer he never had. Patrick is a lover of facts and laps up like a dog at a water bowl any information offered to him, especially from Grandpa. Soldiers, war, Marines, airplanes, battles and everything else are great fodder for discussion and excitement for Patrick. He stares in awe at men in uniform, any man in uniform, and has been known to approach them, extend his hand, and say, "Thank you for serving our country."
Patrick is always asking my dad to tell him stories:
"Grandpa, will you tell me about how you got shot? I want to hear it again."
"Grandpa, what kind of airplane did you fly? What did it look like? Did you have to jump from them?"
"Grandpa, when we went to the Air and Space Museum we saw the Wright brothers first airplane. It was awesome! Was that like your airplane?"
This past weekend, my entire family went for a drive. We went to a rural part of the state, a little spot chock-full of American history. As we passed a seemingly unimportant grassy knoll, my dad exclaimed, "This was the site of a the Battle of ------!"
"There's the cannon they used, Patrick! Do you see it? There used to be a farm house here too but it got burned to the ground."
Pulling the car over, Patrick, Meaghan and my dad hopped out to go inspect the land. Patrick ran quickly beside him, listening to whatever he said. They checked out the cannons and the few other small props of American memorabilia.
As I watched the scene, I realized whatever we didn't enjoy as kids, Patrick, without hesitation, takes full advantage of. He's not missing any opportunities to glean precious pieces of information from his Grandpa. My dad's got a willing ear and an open heart with him. In Patrick, he has the reverence and awe we never expressed as kids; he is a hero to him.
I choked back tears watching Patrick run from place to place with my dad following closely behind.
And I thanked God for being a God of second chances.
Copyright 2011 Colleen Duggan
About the Author
Colleen Duggan is the author of Good Enough Is Good Enough: Confessions Of An Imperfect Catholic Mom, published by Ave Maria Press. She is a Catholic writer, teacher and speaker whose work has appeared in Catholic Digest, Creative Catechist, CatholicMom.com, Aleteia, and Integrated Catholic Life.