Fortunate Son

Father’s Day is on Sunday, and I thought about waiting until then to post this. But I feel it now, so, it’s early. I don’t think he’ll mind.

I like to say that I was thankful my dad never shared his politics with me growing up because he’s conservative and old school. It was mostly out of respect to my very political Democrat grandfather Camilo (my maternal grandfather). Nogales, for generations, was Dem or die. My father’s opinions would have been shot down quickly and he likes to keep things light for the most part.

It isn’t that way anymore, Nogales. Not after Obama. People have felt entitled to come out against Obama in particular, and voiced pretty terrible things and used their tiny perches of power to try and restrict others’ freedoms.

But I was wrong about my dad.

Growing up with a father who was a conscientious objector, sent to Vietnam as a young man and forced to take part in a horrible, gruesome and pointless war, with no freedom to come home until he’d served his time or died or was permanently mamed to the point of uselessness, played a huge role in the person I’ve become.

I’m not trying to attach his valor to my political beliefs. I’m saying how impactful it was to know the man who was once the boy whose life was worth little to the country he loved (of which he’d yet to become a citizen), who stood firm in his personal, religious objection to violence, who nevertheless went to war, who came back irrevocably changed, and who has carried that experience with him for almost half a century.

My dad was a helicopter medic. Wherever the fighting went, he followed. Being a conscientious objector did not shield him from the most difficult parts of battle. He himself was shot down, injured, and sprayed with Agent Orange. He was sometimes at the whim of all sorts of people with bad intentions, including the CIA.

As a child of 11, watching the first Iraq war, it made me think about what I would do if I were 18 or 20 and it were me who’d had my number called up. And then I looked at every boy (American women have never been subject to the draft) I knew who would at some point would turn 18 and would have to sign up for selected service. How could your world *not* be colored by that experience?

War has never been esoteric for me. It is men and women, but mostly young adults and children. Faces of kids with parents and siblings and friends. Kids who had a favorite set of pajamas or the memory of learning how to ride a bike. Kids who played at war without knowing the implications. Kids who couldn’t afford college or had access to jobs in their communities and went the military route. Kids who went away and never came back. Kids who went away and came back different. Kids who grew into adults and had kids of their own. Once you see the faces, you can’t unsee the humanity in play at the whims of greater powers.

Whether it was his intention or not, my father partially shaped my worldview by making a conscious and conscientious decision a decade before I was born. It is because of him that I can love my country and still speak out against its past and present and work towards a better future in my own little way.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Look what you did.

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