Father Hero

 

reflections of a military brat nudity uniforms insignia call to duty fathers and sons
Soldiers at the Battle of Yorktown (1781)

 

One morning my father comes out of his room naked. He doesn’t see me here. He must not to walk out in the nude like so. I’ve never seen him without clothes before. I can’t remember seeing him without a shirt on except for times by the pool in Clearwater. This morning he stands in the middle of the kitchen with his back to me, wearing nothing at all, while I watch from the seat of the pantry. I can’t speak. I can’t take my eyes off him. I’ve thought about it a thousand times and as far as I’m concerned there’s no reason for me not to be home for his walk-around. Who can go naked through the house without their son watching? When he turns around, I swear he sees me. Whether he does or not, he leaves the kitchen for the living room, and I follow because I must see. He approaches the big window fronting the house like it’s a picture in a portrait gallery and, drawing the curtains back, watches the rain for what feels like an eternity. The water outside patters. When he eventually steps back from the window, I swear he’s looking at me. Our reflections fade in and out across the window before he can open the front door and step outside into the rain. Such rain doesn’t mean our neighbors can’t watch us from their windows, but this doesn’t stop him. He stands in the front yard for as long as his schedule allows for. I have no way of keeping time but it seems like another eternity. Grown tired of standing there, we go around back to look at our palm tree. We stare at it like we’ve never seen it before. Clouds pass over. The rain lets up and starts again. We return to the house through the mudroom. I follow him to his bedroom and watch him towel off and start dressing. He puts on his boxer shorts and his socks. He pulls on his V-neck tee shirt and a pair of pressed slacks. He steps into shiny black shoes on this way to the mirror to comb his hair back with me flanking him. He doesn’t say a word but tucks in his shirt, knots his cloth tie and, nuzzling the knot up snug with his collar, aligns the knot with the flap of his fly, his belt buckle, what I want to call his shirt’s placket. Buttoning brass buttons, he inspects his rows of ribbons, and once his inspection of these rows of ribbons is over, he buffs his silver bars with his cuffs and arranges his Campaign Ribbon and metal branch-of-insignia across the surface of what we call lapel, a coat’s most prominent feature. Fitting his hat on his head, angling this hat on his head, he gets into his long raincoat one arm at a time and clapping his heels together says, Son, I’ll be back at the regular hour. Keep an eye on things, will you? Sure Dad, I say, and following him outside, watch as he slips into a car driven away by strangers.

Appropriate Kiss

How Should I Know?

I’d never kissed a cop before and when I did it was like a regular kiss but with a loaded story behind it. She didn’t know I knew her profession but had left her badge lying open on the table, when I saw it. What she did for a living had nothing to do with our curiosity about each other. So we French kissed. I want to say it was nothing special. It was neither special nor unpleasant. It would have gotten better with practice, but our hearts weren’t in it. It hardly seems worth mentioning that I’d never kissed a cop before, except that it brought to mind an objective fact about my upbringing. I have no memory of my father ever having given me an appropriate kiss. Not once on the cheek. Not once on the forehead. Never on the mouth that I can remember. Nor did he hug me or say I love you. He may have ruffled my hair a little from time to time, but I don’t think so. I think he had a total aversion to touch. If this is a loaded story it is not sad to me. That I’ve never kissed my father, or him me, may be a quite significant story about individual human capacity that I may or may not wish to delve into, but either way it holds no meaning for me in my life.

A Simple Gift I Can’t Give My Father

 

He announces he’s a step closer to entering the Agent Orange Program and do I know what Agent Orange is? “I do, Dad. I know what Agent Orange is.” “You say you do,” he says, “but do you really?” “Really, Dad. I do.” “But do you really?” “Why would I say I do if I don’t?” “You know the herbicide Agent Orange,” he says. “That’s what you know.” “I assure you, Dad, I know it as the thing you’re thinking of, in the context you’re thinking of it.” “How can you?” “I just can.” “But how?” “I guess I read my history.” “What the history books won’t tell you,” he says, “is that it’s more than an herbicide. It will shock you how much more.” But I won’t be shocked. I won’t allow him to shock me, or even tell me. All my life he’s pushed his definitions on me. Definitions for things everyone knows. Things I could never be so condescending as to define for others. The things I know by heart I must block him from explaining: equinox, stock market, ball bearings, cold front, Chinatowns, spark plugs, asphalt shingles, fish hooks, failure, plaster of paris, place settings, noctilucence, Windsor knot, Rough Riders, acid reflux, grace, Cassiopeia, Whitman, defacto segregation, growing tomatoes, running starts, grounding lenses, catheters, desalinization, comparative advantage, barbecue cooking, yellow journalism, hormones, tumbleweeds, rock formations, layering effects, opportunity costs, detente, prime meridian, hostage negotiations, Appalachian English, a blue whale’s aorta, sororal twins, prophylactics, how not to lose your watch, your wallet, God, defogging headlights, vanishing point, cross country driving, cross country skiing, moon landing, rocket science, inflating a tire, mixing colors, sharpening a knife, polishing your shoes, loving a woman, loved by a woman, holding back, stepping up, eating crow, waltzing, making a lasting impression, making a cappuccino, brain surgery, patience, no grandstanding, grinning, bearing, best foot forward, planning a wedding…. I can never let him tell me what these things are. I can’t even pretend and say, ‘I’ve never heard of Agent Orange, Father. Please tell me.’ I can’t say, ‘I already know what it is, but I would appreciate hearing your perspective.’ Instead I let him go away feeling unheard, with this thing he means to say bottled up inside of him. He is indignant. I feel it, too. We share this same bottledupness. He thinks to himself as I think to myself that one day after he’s dead and gone, I’ll stumble across the golden nugget of information that convinces me beyond a shadow of a doubt that Agent Orange, before its day was done, was far more than an herbicide.

 

 

 

Long-Tieng

 

A secret airbase operated by the Central Intelligence Agency sometime between 1959 and 1975 doubled as a town in Laos.

 

when the first Hmong
arrived in Minnesota

 

one among them asked
why are there no leaves on trees

 

only years later did he say
he thought his host was lying

 

when he responded, winter
instead of admitting

 

the trees had been sprayed
by low-flying airplanes whizzing over