I always knew my father loved me, but in my first twenty years of life, my dad never gave me a hug or said I love you son. On the day I returned from Vietnam, I got that hug.
Growing up and being the youngest of three boys, our family was typical for any family in the 1950s and 1960s. My dad served in World War II and when he returned home, Mom and he decided the try one more time for that little girl Mom, so desperately wanted, bingo, out I came. Oh well, I was not a girl.
Mom and dad never treated me any different than my brothers, dad especially treated all the boys the same. We knew he loved us, but dad grew up in a time when a man kept his feelings to himself.
Dad often told the story of how he would walk to school with clenched fists. This was to show anyone who might have an idea of doing him harm, they’d be in for a fight. He raised us to never be a bully, but to always stand up to anyone who tried to bully us.
On the day I returned from Vietnam, I had landed in Chicago and was standing in the O’Hare International airport terminal dressed in my Marine Corps uniform and proudly displaying my corporal chevrons along with my five ribbons I had earned while in Vietnam. The highest of these award being my Combat Action Ribbon. Before leaving Nam, we were briefed on how the American public might treat us, and the looks and stares I was receiving confirmed those reports. I clenched my fists like my Father had taught me, went to a pay phone and called home. My Mom answered and at first I was choked up. No one knew I was coming home. “Is Roy there,” I asked. Roy is my older brother.
“Hold on,” My Mom replied. She did not recognize my voice. Then I heard her yell. “Royyy. It’s for you.”
When my brother answered, I explained who I was and we made arrangements for him to quietly pick me up and take me home.
While I waited, no one came up to me and said a word. It was obvious I had just returned from the war. These people must have seen guys like me a thousand times. They all ignored me. Pretended I wasn’t there. When my brother met me, we hugged and he drove me home. No one was in the house when we arrived, so I hid in the back bedroom. I heard my parents and my wife come in. My dad walked into the bedroom. When he saw me, tears filled his eyes. Emotion flowed from his body, emotion I had never seen from him before. He moved quickly and grabbed me with both his arms hugging me and squeezing so tight me for the first time. I was so overwhelmed by, I didn’t know how to respond. I simply said, “I missed you, Dad.”
“I missed you too, son,” It was the first time I could remember my father calling me son.
I love you Dad. I know you are where you need to be and I will see you again.