Rerouting the Road to Nowhere
A Veterans Day story
At age 18, my dad was on a road to nowhere with no real purpose or plan for his future.
Four years earlier, his dad had been killed in a work-related accident, a loss that hit hard in many ways. Growing up, he’d watched his dad struggle with a lot of dark demons, and drinking seemed to be the only way he knew how to soothe them. The demons and the drinking meant he wasn’t an ideal father, but as my dad graciously says, “He did the best he could.”
After his dad died, some of those same dark demons tried to find their way into my dad’s life. He slacked off of school, quit playing baseball (which had been his one true love), and started down a path that must have looked eerily similar to the one his father had taken. Unsure of what to do, his mom began clinging ever more tightly to her only child, fearful of where he might go or worse, who he might become.
After graduation, he gave college a brief try—and failed miserably. Deep down, he knew if something didn’t change, he might end up like his dad, fighting those same dark demons with endless dark brown bottles of cheap, dark liquor.
So one day, at age 18, he walked into a recruiting office in Ft. Worth, Texas, and joined the Air Force. He didn’t tell his mother what he’d done until the paperwork was signed knowing she would do everything she could to convince him otherwise.
Even though he was lost, he instinctively knew that the discipline, structure, and order of military life was the only way to reroute his life off the road to nowhere.
He was right. Military life was exactly what he needed. During his years in the service, he gained the confidence to walk away from his father’s demons and embrace a better way of life. He traveled the world, learned two languages, and gained valuable leadership experience. He learned to ski, started playing ball with other servicemen on the bases where he was stationed, and even started college classes again.
By the time he got out four years later, he was a different person, a man with vision, purpose, and hope for his future. He finished his undergraduate degree and earned his MBA, graduating cum laude from both. He also met my mom, fell in love, got married, and started a family and a new accounting career in Tulsa—all within the first four years after he left the Air Force.
This young man, who at 18 had very little belief in himself, had somehow managed to find a mustard seed-sized kernel of hope that life could be better than what he’d found on the road to nowhere. His detour into military life gave him the stability, security, and strength he was missing, and unquestionably changed the course of his life.
To me, choosing a life of military service is one of the hardest and most sacrificial things a person can choose to do. On this Veterans Day, I want to say thank you to all the men and women who have answered the call and willingly made that choice—a choice that makes freedom possible for you and for me.
And Dad, thank you for making the choice to serve. During your military years, you never once saw the physical battlefield. But, that doesn’t diminish your contribution one bit.
At 18 you were waging your own kind of war, a war for a better way of life than what you’d previously know. That can often be a more difficult war than any physical one a person might see. Thank you for winning that war and making freedom possible for you and for me.
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