Monday, June 15, 2009

When Sammy Became Daddy!

During the early years of my childhood, I called my father by his first name. It wasn't out of disrespect. It was just that as an only child, I only heard my parents refer to each other by their first names and mimicked what I heard. "Good morning Sammy!" I would greet him each morning. "Sammy, can we play horsey?" I would ask. He was always ready with a quick smile and a "Yeah Man, let's play!" This really bothered Mommy, but my father was simply so delighted about the world of fatherhood that he insisted that as long as he could have a relationship with his son, he could care less what his son called him. So, the name stuck.

When I turned 3, "Sammy" had to go far away. He had been away many times before, but this was the first time that I would be old enough to remember. The far away place was on the news all the time, and there were lots of pictures and film footage of people dressed just like Sammy. They called the place Vietnam, and Mommy and Sammy said lots of prayers and shed lots of tears before he left. After he departed for Vietnam, Mommy and I prayed everyday for Sammy to be OK and for a lot of other things that I didn't quite understand. We saw the patch that I remembered being on his shoulder on the news all the time - Mommy said it meant Sammy was in something called the 173rd Airborne, and that they were doing very important work. We stayed with both sets of grandparents in Mississippi during that time, and we would make unedited reel to reel recordings of family conversations, including arguments, chaos and everything. Sammy wrote back and said that he and his friends in Vietnam loved those tapes and listened to them over and over again.

Everyone in Mississippi worked hard to make sure Mommy and I had a good time and didn't worry about Sammy too much. One project Mommy had was that every day she would show me Sammy's picture all throughout the day and say, "Daddy!" It seemed that at least 100 times a day, she would show me his picture and repeat, "Daddy!" No lectures, no speeches, just a constant repetition - "Daddy"! Mommy said Sammy was Daddy.

After about a year, Mommy and all my relatives got very excited. They said that we had to get everything ready, because Sammy was coming home! It looked like we were going to have a big party! There was so much food being cooked and people I had never seen before were saying that they knew me, Mommy and Sammy. They were always pinching my cheeks and saying how cute I was and how much I looked like Sammy. After a day or two of getting ready, Mommy said it was time to go to Jackson to pick up Sammy. I didn't quite understand where Jackson was - I thought it was our last name and was a little confused that now it was a place! Anyway, off to Jackson we went! There were so many people at the Airport, it was hard to see, but I wanted to help and looked as hard as I could to see if I could find Sammy. I searched and searched - as did everyone else - and still no sign of Sammy. Then, as I gave it one last try I saw that smile - I would know that smile anywhere! Then I saw his Khaki uniform and his spit-shined Jump Boots and there could be no doubt! I broke away from everybody and ran to him as fast as I could, "DADDY!" I blurted out! If I thought he had been smiling before, I thought his smile would light up the whole airport after he heard me shout for the very first time, "DADDY!" I was surprised by it myself, but somehow, it just felt right. We all hugged and laughed and cried and prayed and celebrated! Sammy was my Daddy and I was so happy and I was so proud!

In a little more than a year Daddy would once again leave for Vietnam and travel to many other places. The reunions were always sweet and his smile was always the first thing I saw. In short order, however, I began to understand that not everyone who went away was fortunate enough to come back alive. The losses our military community suffered always hit close to home. My teacher lost her son, our school librarian lost her fiance, and some friends lost their dads. I was amazed by the strength of character showed by these friends during times of crushing loss and the dignity and hope they displayed as they pressed on. It would be an understatement to say that their courage was inspiring.

Though I am no longer directly connected to the active military community by service or relations, I am nonetheless Army born and bred and by virtue of rearing and training inextricably bound to the ideals and values that continue to characterize a community that serves without reservation and at a cost not easily understood by our society as a whole. My personal understanding began when Sammy became Daddy. I am committed to honor and remember his many sacrifices and the sacrifices of dads and moms, daughters and sons and their families who have served and supported so that the rest of us can pursue the blessings of liberty with joy and abandon. As Father's Day approaches, take the time to remember the "Sammies" in your lives who are away from their loved ones and homes and to thank them for what they do to make our world a better place in which to live. You may not have experienced their world, but you can use my story as a beginning point of reference. They will be grateful and your expression of gratitude will make a difference for them and the ones they love. Until next time...

"Little" Sammy :-)

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