By: Dani Langivan, Lesbian Columnist – March, 2011
My stepson has joined the military. In the next couple of months he will board a plane to San Antonio, Texas and begin his training at Lackland Air Force base to become a member of the United States Air Force. Almost every day, since hearing the news, I wrestle with the emotions that are battering around in my system like a pin ball machine. I am as proud of him as I am afraid for him. I applaud his courage and conviction while I reject the thought of not hearing his footsteps, the buzz of his video games and his deep laughter we share so often echoing in our home. He may not be of my flesh, but he is as much a part of me and has imbedded himself in my heart as deeply as if he were my own son.
I look at my son (I have long since dropped the step) and still see the boy he once was who read Magic Tree House books or spent hours assembling numerous Lego Star Wars ships. He’d run away from home when he was in trouble or hide in his room. He loved pizza and hated soup. Often he would sit on the floor and have my wife rub his head while we watched television. He used to ask for hugs regularly, now I have to ask for them. I struggle to grasp the man he’s become. He’s a sponge for history and has an addiction to hockey and football. Unlike me, he sees the world in black and white, wrong or right; there are no gray areas. Injustice, discrimination, and even war are wrong, but preserving freedom and human dignity is right. My boy, my son, my soldier is dedicating his life to the preservation of freedom.
He is a better young person than I was at his age. I was a typical anti-government, anti-conflict teen. I was born in the mid-sixties and barely remembered or, God forbid, understood the Vietnam War. I lived in an America that had not been in any major conflicts during my conscious youth. I grossly underappreciated patriotism and was proud of my anti-establishment mind-set. Had I been born a few years earlier, I’d have been a full fledged acid dropping, pot smoking, tie dye wearing hippie raising my finger to the American flag because I was too wrapped up in my own teenaged angst to realize there’s so much more to life than being angry.
My son, on the other hand, is an 18 year old man-child who acts as if he’d been born in the 1940’s. He’s angry, like all teens, but he eats it and swallows it whole because it’s his problem and nobody needs to know. He’s a young man of few words, embarrasses easily, does not like to call attention to himself and has been called to duty because, he says, “Somebody’s gotta do it. It might as well be me.” He took the USAF oath with the easy going stride of somebody who’s been asked to fold the laundry or mow the lawn. There’s a job to do and he’s going to get it done.
For decades I have been watching other parents’ children march off to war. I have shed tears when they returned to surprise their child while they sit in their classroom, embrace their spouses on the tarmac and, worse, come home in a flag draped coffin. I could only imagine what it must be like to have your child deployed into the belly of the beast while you hope and pray that they will be spit out alive and whole both emotionally and physically. With intense trepidation, I will no longer have to imagine.
The day he leaves for basic training I know my wife and I will have all we can do to contain ourselves and keep our composure. I know we will kiss him too much and hug him too long because we won’t want to let him go. We will go home to a quieter and less jovial home. We will burst with pride when we attend his graduation and cry when he receives his first assignment. We will know first hand what it is to be an American parent of a United States Air Force man. He may be ready, but I’m not quite sure that I am.