It was 1968. The world was a bit off kilter with a war raging in Southeast Asia, rock and roll setting an agenda and a line in the sand between the young and the older generation via magnificent music and moving lyrics and a goofy, long haired, blond haired Seattle kid was graduating from high school.
I had stumbled through my public school education, and the system obligingly moved me along with the rest of the baby boomer crowds who were overwhelming the system. I was the invisible kid, the one that very few have any memory of when they re-live those high school memories.
I moved along, taking the easiest classes, acquiring Cs and Ds and each evening met the full frontal rage of a father who was unable to move me or even communicate very deeply as I wandered through life with no goals nor plans.
A number of years ago Bruce Springsteen did one of his stream of consciousness talks in his live album. He discussed his relationship with his father, and was always disappointed that he, as another listless teenager on the other side of the country, never could formulate a response to his father’s incessant questioning of, “What are you going to do with yourself?”
I had that exact conversation, or lack thereof, with my father on an almost daily basis, when he was not ranting about my hair.
Life was pretty confusing for me and my internal anger found no solutions.
And in June 1968 I graduated, and still had no idea what my next step would be.
Then my father suggested that with the Viet Nam War raging, I should consider a tour in the U.S. Navy, to keep me out of the heat of battle. So, having no better idea, I agreed. Unfortunately, since I was a couple of months away from turning 18, the Navy wanted nothing to do with me.
So we went next door and the U.S. Air Force was glad to take me. I completed the necessary testing including traveling through massive lines, from one station to the next, in my underwear with what seemed to be hundreds of other forlorn kids, heading towards the different branches of service from Seattle, WA.
I still remember when the examiner classified me as slightly overweight. I was out of shape (I had never actually been in shape), possessing a young body made up of pudge, insecurities, a flimsy mind waving in the breeze, and little else.
My first few months in the Air Force were challenging as I struggled to get through the most basic of physical tests. However I was a bit sharper than I thought and after some training was selected to teach aircraft maintenance technical training to airmen even greener than me.
I actually excelled in the military and took on more responsibility each year, and took pride in my accomplishments, as an aircraft mechanic and later as a supervisor, manager and leader. I seemed to have a bit of talent in performing the intricate dance of keeping fleets of jets operational and flying in locations throughout all corners of the world.
In June 1977 I discovered running and quickly accepted it as a new religion. I ran every day, completing races from one mile to 100k as the weight took a permanent leave, and I became a skinny superman.
I progressed in rank and 26 years later retired as a Chief Master Sergeant; the highest enlisted USAF rank, and one that is limited by congress to only one percent of the total enlisted force.
After retiring in 1994, I continued to work on salving my hunger for learning and managed to obtain an undergraduate college degree and later an MBA.
An now, as I celebrate, and relive that day 40 years ago, I believe that little thought out decision saved me and also showed me an inner strength, constitution, love of learning and sport, and memories and friends that have left a profound, positive mark on me.
And as for my now deceased father, whose primary goal 40 years ago was to get me the hell out of the house so he would not need to continue supporting me I say, thank you dad. In your own tough, hard nosed way, you sent me on a journey that has made me the man I am today. And I like what I see when I look at myself in the mirror.
And now with a son of my own, who is successfully finding his own direction in life, I wonder; can a son ask for more?