I sat cross-legged on the cold cement of the garage floor. Steel tools were in front of me, laying benignly, and scattered about. I had no idea what they were for. They were so alien compared to the toy guns and dinosaurs I was used to handling. I picked one up. Examining it closely it could have been a magic wand, or something heavy to throw at my brother.
Behind me, the door opened. The familiar sound of work boots thudded into the garage. I turned to look and, with a young boy’s gaze, I watched him close the door.
He was my hero. I looked up to him and aspired to be like him in every way that I could. He was the smartest and strongest man in the world. At one point, everything I knew he had taught me, and he guided me in the infancy of my life journey.
He was going to show me how to use those tools and fix stuff just like him.
In my childhood he had created a fabric, a blanket if you will, of ethics, morals and life lessons to guide me as a youngster, through high school and right up until I joined the Marines.
The blanket he provided was warm and familiar, but as I grew and had my life changed by combat that fabric would fall apart at the seams and become tattered. It would eventually be shed for a newer, tougher exterior that would help me survive years of deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan.
A lot of people misconstrue warfare as being an ongoing scene from Saving Private Ryan; replete with constant gunfire, blood-soaked bandages and the like. However, frankly, warfare consists of long periods of calm punctuated by sudden and unpredictable blasts of violence.
It was during those moments of calm I would take time to reflect; to synthesize my thoughts and ideas, and grow in ways most Americans never can due to the hustle of everyday civilian life. Startling revelations were had and one of those was a new perception developed from an acute hindsight:
I had outgrown my father.
I think we all eventually catch up with our parents in terms of maturity. Yes, we all become sexually mature adults, end up paying a mortgage and experiencing the day-to-day routines of adulthood. In time our parents become peers—in a way. But, in one of numerous combat zones, something far more alarming was pecking in the back of my mind:
I had become more a man than my father ever was.
Things I would never do I caught my father doing. Fretting over danger, avoiding risk, and being pussy-whipped.
I recall sitting at a bar, listening to him recount a story of how he stood up for himself and “almost” beat the shit out of a guy. As I listened I realized he wasn’t telling a story for the sake of telling a story, but trying, albeit feebly, to qualify himself to me. It was embarrassing. It was an atomic blast shredding my childhood perception of him. This time there was no quickly dismissing it as he was right there in front of me. I just sat there and took it. To a casual observer we were two grown men having a conversation, nothing unusual. But on the inside I was a maelstrom as my gut wrenched and I struggled to live with this new reality.
In the following days I took time to consider these new truths and accept they had been actuality all along. Looking back on it, I see this experience as part of growing as a warrior.
The strongest, smartest man I ever knew couldn’t score a 300 PFT, fuck the prom queen, or have the fortitude to go to war—not for the GI Bill, but for the sake of killing people and blowing shit up. My father was the antithesis of my own character and certainly not a “pipe hitter.” He could never understand the things I went through and I could never comprehend how he could be comfortable with his existence.
Time passed and today I find myself sitting outside. Once again, I am alone; staring across a vast and open vista of brilliant shades of red, orange, yellow, blue and purple. I am unable to share it with anyone, so I’m alone in my thoughts. Now, just like all those years overseas, I begin to face the Inner and construct my thoughts as to who I really am.
I’m no longer distressed by the new perception of my father. He walked the long walk, he humped a ruck, much like me. He stuck it out to raise his boy and give him everything he could. He stayed there and guided me. Above all, he spent time with me and set me up for success in adulthood. It is on the eve of Father’s Day I can put the idea I had outgrown him to rest and be thankful that I ever had him in the first place.
I sit here, gazing upon the setting sun, and wonder when the next conflict will be; whether it’s in a shitty third world country or inside my heart. Either way, I know that I will thrive, because the strongest and smartest man in the world raised me.
– Dr. Bowman