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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

God Bless My Daddy

This is a repost from January 7th, 2005. My dad would have been 72 today.

Pua and Daddy (who just returned from Vietnam) 1966

Happy Birthday Daddy

Today is my father's birthday. He's 68 years old. This is the father that helped raise me...when he was home. United States Navy, Personnelman First Class, now retired. Since I was basically raised an only child, he was my best friend. He'd play Monopoly Marathons with me, taught me to play the ukulele, introduced me to The Harmonicats and Big Band music. He was just a big kid in that 6'5" 210 pound frame. Wherever he was stationed, he always found the time to play with me. I never had to ask twice, much to my mother's dismay. Whenever we'd laugh too loud for too long, my mom would always yell; "Alright you two, take five!" I lived for those days. He was my hero.

We never stayed in one place longer than 3 years at a time. By the time I was 10, I found myself afraid to make friends. I always knew I'd love them, and then I'd have to leave them. I was awkward, introverted, and painfully shy (now I'm just painful!)But, I always had my daddy.

Sometimes, when my dad would be deployed, I often thought he wouldn't come home. I remember once, before he left for a tour of duty in the Tonkin Gulf, we watched a Shirley Temple movie together. The Little Princess. In it, Shirley's military daddy was going away and she recited this poem:

"My Daddy has to go away.
But he'll return again someday.
Any moment, I may see,
My Daddy coming home to me."

From that day on, my dad and I would always say that together whenever he shipped out. He shipped out a lot. I missed him a lot. From wherever he was, whether it was a carrier in the Pacific, or a base on dry land in Asia somewhere, he always wrote to me. I have a steamer trunk full of letters from exotic locales. Love letters from my dad to my mom, and from my mom to my dad. Letters from my dad to me. You could tell that he would adjust his communications with me to suit my age and ability. Before I could read, he would draw cartoons which he would send to me so that I could color them, and send them back to him. When I could read, he had my mother send him some of that "kindergarten ruled" paper, and he'd write his letters really big, leaving spaces for me to practice under his written letters, and my mom would send them back to him. Considering there was only "snail mail" back then, the magnitude of the committment to writing is staggering to me when I look at the contents of that trunk today. Stacks and stacks of letters, which my mother lovingly tied into batches with ribbon, and stored in chronological order. On top of each stack, she put a piece of paper with the name of my dad's ship or his place of duty.

In the 60's, when he was stationed on the USS Oriskany, he had a small reel-to-reel tape recorder, and he'd tape himself playing the ukulele, singing, and laughing with some of his shipmates. He'd send those tapes home to us. I remember how my mother's face lit up when we listened to them. I had just turned 6, and in October of 1966 my mother received a telegram telling her that my father's ship had caught fire during it's second deployment in Southeast Asia. There were casualties, but information was vague. They didn't say if my father was one of those casualties. For the following 2 months, we didn't know and the Department of the Navy wasn't helping much. I was pretty young, and even though she put up a strong front, I could sense my mother's pain.

When I was a child, I had the faith of a child. I trusted someone was listening and along with my prayers, I'd sing:

God Bless my Daddy,
Who's over there.
Says a tiny little voice,
in her tiny little bed.

God Bless my Daddy
Oh please, take care.
Says a tiny little voice,
in her tiny little bed.

For this is the night,
Mommy turns out the light.
Oh how I wish you were here,
So I could kiss you goodnight.

I hope in DreamLand,
We'll meet somewhere.
Says a tiny little voice
in her tiny little bed.

On Christmas morning in 1966, my mother woke me up and told me that Santa had been to visit. I remember thinking that all I really wanted was my daddy to be home. When I walked into our little living room, he was standing there next to the tree. They'd sent him home. He was safe and he was home. I still recall that Christmas as the best Christmas ever. I believed in Santa for many, many years after that.

It wasn't the last time he went away. There were more deployments after that and more transfers. My father retired when I was 16. He said he stayed in as long as he did so that I could see the world. And see the world I did. Or a lot of it anyway. I didn't understand it back then and I didn't appreciate it as much as I should have. In fact, it made me angry because I just wanted to stay in one place and make some lasting friendships. I hated packing all the time and I hated moving. But I was the only one complaining. My mom never complained. She just went about the business of being a military wife. Taking care of what needed taking care of. I know how hard it was for her, which makes me admire Tuna Girl so much. It's a damn hard job.

I knew when I was a teenager that I didn't have what it takes to be a military wife. It speaks volumes that I married a guy who was born in the same city that we now live in. When I met Charlie and I told my dad that I was dating a civilian, he smiled and said, "Yeah, I kinda figured you'd go that route." He understood me. He gave me the world wrapped in dress blues, formal whites, or dungarees. I didn't understand back then, but I understand and appreciate it now. He was, and always will be my hero.

Happy Birthday Daddy. I love you and I miss you.