It was March of 1983. I had spent 2 years, running, training, and getting ready for something I didn't know anything about—the United States Army. There was still snow on the ground, and my dad was getting ready, with my brothers, to go gather the sap for the day's Maple Syrup production. Mom and my brother Jeff were getting ready to take me to the airport in Burlington, Vermont. Basic Training was complete. My Advanced Individualized Training (AIT) was finished and I'd received my Military Intelligence Diploma from Fort Devens, MA. I was now a fully trained Morse Code Intercept Operator. Destination: Okinawa, Japan.
He never used the words, "I love you." Never did he utter the phrases, "Great Job," or "I'm proud of you Son!" At least, never before that day. On that day, before I got into the car, my dad appeared around the front of the vehicle and had the appearance of a man I had never really known in my 19 years of life. He reached to shake my hand. What was this? I had never known the feeling of my father's pride the way it felt in that hand-shake. And then, the surprise of my life. He cried. My father was crying. That handshake got tighter. The hand of a tree climber, with the grip of a vise, squeezed and pulled me close, into a hug that felt it may crush me. He wept on my shoulder as he hugged me. And then through quivering lips he muttered the words, and the phrases I had never heard. "I love you my boy. I am so Proud of you." Then he said good-bye as I got into the car and we headed off.
Half-way into the 2 hour trip, not a word had been spoken. My mom looked over at me, and said, "He'll be okay." I wasn't so sure. My father had broken down. He didn't cry like that when his own father died. I was his eldest son and his name-sake and never before that day had I witnessed such emotion from a man I thought was unbreakable.
I sit here today, remembering that good-bye as if it was yesterday. I can't help but to wonder how many parents have waited until their sons or daughters were headed off to war, college, or just to live on their own, before they expressed their love, pride, and respect for the person they had become.
Children need to know they are loved. But more importantly, they need to hear it. It matters. Expressing pride, or love to our children should not be taken lightly. It's not just the words that are spoken, but the content and the meaning of those words. Our children and loved ones need to know that they are always loved. Not just when we are saying good-bye.