Dad’s story: New challenges in advanced training
Sure, there were a few extra privileges. He could use his cell phone during "personal time," which meant our monthly bills climbed quickly as messaging addiction set in.
But he quickly found out that the easier life came with a whole different set of challenges.
"My head is killing me," he said after the first day of class. "I'm so exhausted my eyes hurt."
"Maybe you should get them checked. You haven't been to the eye doctor in a while - your glasses could be giving you a headache."
"Nah. I don't want to miss class. I'll get behind."
Wait. One. Minute.
Dad doesn't want to miss class? The man who, as a teen, went to class only enough to make sure he was eligible to play soccer? Talk about an epiphany. It wasn't his only one either.
"I had no idea sitting at a desk all day could be so exhausting," he said the next day.
"Um, what do you think I've been telling you all these years when you said I had a 'nice, easy desk job.' "
"I knew you were going to say that. You're right. It's harder than I thought."
The brain's a funny thing, I said. You haven't used yours this much in years. It needs time to get back in shape, just like your legs did. Class will get easier soon.
And it did. The man who'd never done well in school, mainly because he just didn't give a flip, was excelling. It still was a challenge, and he'd freak out before every exam - "This test is going to suck," was the predictable message. But he always came through.
"You know what? I really like this. I like learning. As much as I've complained about this, and as much as I miss you and the boys, I have to say that this saved me. I've found something I'm good at."
And he wants to keep going. Computer lessons, maybe some more college classes. "I'm getting better, but I want to be really good."
There was a great lesson in that for his sons, particularly Big Guy. We've focused during his last few months in kindergarten on improving his handwriting. It was a real struggle for him, and some nights he'd fling the pencil across the kitchen in frustration.
"I am never going to get it," he said.
"Look, Daddy told me the same thing yesterday, but he did get it and he's doing great in school now. He just had to keep trying and keep practicing."
"Daddy's in school? Just like me?"
"Just like you," I said. Sort of like you, I thought, because they don't have recess and no one gives him graham crackers at snack time. "He's working hard, and it will make him happy to know that you're working hard, too."
That was all it took. Big Guy's penmanship didn't exactly improve overnight, but he began writing longer letters to Dad so he could prove he was working hard, too. By this week, he'd improved from "approaching standards" to "meeting standards."
Also this week, Dad passed his last two exams: One on the coursework and one physical.
There was some brief talk of paratrooper school - Dad meets the physical requirements, though at 42 he would have needed a waiver to get in. "It's only three weeks, and you start out jumping from a tower." he texted me. "I think I can do it."
That talk was abandoned though, the more he thought about spending almost another month away from his boys.
He graduates from advanced training Thursday. There's a bit of a bureaucratic shuffle to follow but he should be home within a week or so.
We couldn't send Dad much for Father's Day this year - he's already been packing letters, cards and photos we've sent and shipping them back so he won't have to deal with a lot of baggage on the way home.
His only present was a beaded keyring Big Guy made at school, along with a stack of pictures of ambulances, police cars, fire trucks and Army helicopters the guys drew and colored.
It's not nearly sufficient for everything Dad's gone through in the past six months. Then again, I can't think of anything that would be grand enough.
He'll just have to settle for a chocolate "Happy Birthday, Happy Father's Day, Welcome Home Solidier Daddy" cake in a few weeks, along with happy hugs from his family.
Oh, and camouflage balloons at the airport. The guys have had their eyes on them at the grocery store for months. "When can we buy them for Daddy?" they'd ask.
I still can't give them a specific date. But now I can tell them the time is very near.
Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.