My Son… you know I have never uttered those words before? Not even inside my head. My son. I like the ring of them.
I wonder how old you are as you read this today (and I wonder what is your now like). As I write this (in my now) you are about minus-two weeks old. Technically, you could be born today, but your mom suspects you are not in a hurry.
I am sitting in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina… I’m dirty and stinky from digging holes (which Marines call fighting holes), and patrolling (which is the their word for walking around the woods).
As the sun sets over “Combat Town” I’m missing your beautiful mom, and wondering how you two are getting along. She worries when you don’t kick her continuously. A curious basis for a relationship! I am sure that will change one day, but for now kicking your mom is the thing.
Maybe by now you’ve probably heard – if you’ve listened to your mom – that I’m no good at taking advice.
Maybe that’s ok. Steven King wrote that only fools give and take advice. And I wouldn’t be surprised (based on 39 years of observing me and 2 years of observing your mom) if you don’t take anyone’s advice… on anything.
So what follows is not advice. Lets just call it, your dad's… musings.
I want you to be brave, wise,and kind. Easier said than done, right!
You should not be to fearfull of pain, In my experience it almost never lasts. And believe it or not, what is left after it passes through you almost always feels much better than what was there before it arrived.
When you are not sure about doing something – think. Someone has written that your Will longs for beauty, your Mind for truth, and your Heart for goodness. Some times you regret doing a thing even if it was true. Many times you end up regretting a thing even when it was beautiful. But you usually don’t regret doing the things that you know were good. So think. Which means stop to listen to what Will, Mind, and Heart have to say. And if there is conflict, follow your Heart (Being cheesily cliche, doesn't make it bad advice).
When you have time, do things that will make you smarter, or stronger. You’ll have time.
Be courteous to girls. Trust me on that one.
Don’t pick on small or strange boys. Specially if everyone else is doing it.
If it happens that I've bequethed to you my own youth's strangeness (For example, I was the only kid in my class with pet frogs and mice) or my short legs and skinny arms… don't let it bring you down. Growing strong will come eventually. and it will actually be fun. And girls (which are what matters) will eventually find that your strange has turned into interesting, which is a good thing. Or you'll find a cute girl who likes mice... which is even better. At any rate, I got your mom to like me, which ought to prove something.
Try to make friends with the dogs you meet (but be careful, some of them may try to bite you anyway!). Be kind to all animals except those trying to suck your blood.
Read books. If you don’t like reading at first, keep trying. I did. It was worth it.
Tell your mom that you love her at least twice a day.
PART-2 (From Iraq)
Today is May 19th 2010. You are 8 months and 17 days old. This is my last day in Iraq.
Yesterday there was a rocket attack. We have had about ten of them since I got here. What happens is this. First the radars (which watch the sky day and night) detect that rocket is coming. A loud alarm blasts through the camp “HONK HONK HONK.” And recorded voice says “INCOMING INCOMING INCOMING” then “HONK HONK HONK”. And we are supposed to jump to the floor and cover our heads with our hands and wait for the rocket to hit. It's pretty exciting. Sometimes you can hear the rocket hitting nearby. Sometimes the bad guys are way off, or the rocket doesn't explode and you lay in the floor for a long time wondering if it is over. Sometimes you can hear our own AA (anti-air) machine-guns trying to shoot the rocket out of the sky.
Why all this? Why Iraq? Why rockets? I’m not so sure about the details. Like what exactly is the guy who shoots the rocket thinking about when he does it. But you should know that the people shooting at us are mostly bad people. And we – me and the guys who came to Iraq with me – are mostly good people. I’m not saying we are great! But at least we never throw rockets at people we can’t see, just because they are there, and that is something.
Anyway, it’s a good thing these bad guys can’t shoot straight because in a few days I get to meet you and – while I’m not scared of the rockets – I now get a little nervous that if their aiming improves I might not meet you. When I left Virginia you were like a pea in a pod. Barely a person. A seed. You smiled a little bit at random times, like sun through the clouds. More often, you burst into furious anger… Sometimes with good reason, like a bath. You came out of your mini-bath-tub screaming and swinging at me – your red face framed in a white towel. I started calling the White-Baby-Ninja. I wonder if any part of you remembers me.
Now you have a personality. You work the crowds and – I’m told – they love you. You crawl fast and furious. You smile a lot and you always try to steal the phone from your mom when she is talking to me. She gives it to you some times and I talk to you.
Iraq is hot and dirty and it has no trees. I think it is my least favorite country. But maybe that is not fair because all I have seen is this big square which we call the COB (it means Contingency Operations Base), and a few roads, and a few rivers.
Maybe there are green parts. And pretty parts. With mountains, and clean.