Sunday, May 25, 2014

My Father the Warrior....A Re Post

June, 1950, North Korean soldiers poured across the 38th parallel, the arbitrary dividing line between North and South Korea. By the time they stopped they had smashed through the South Korean capital of Seoul and had the NATO and South Korean troops bottled up at Pusan, in the southern part of South Korea.
In March of 1952, my father, Marty’sHusband Senior, sailed across the Sea of Japan and made his way up the South Korean peninsula to the front lines just north of Seoul. My dad was a forward observer directing fire for the army artillery. His trip to the front took days, the months he spent in the holes, trenches and bunkers must have felt like years.

This is a re post of a blog I wrote in May of 2011.  Since that time my father, the dude to the right here,  has served as President of the National Korean War Veterans Association.  He is about to serve his second term.  I am proud of my Dad and everything he has done for his family.....and his country.  Happy Memorial Day Pops.
At the end of April 2011 I had the privilege of accompanying my father to Austin, Texas so the state senate could recognize and honor veterans, heroes of the Korean War. I stood in the Lt. Governor’s reception hall and ate breakfast with these men, these heroes of a war no one remembers and I was honored to be in their presence and proud that my father was a member of this brave and aging group.

My Dad, like so many soldiers, never really talked much about his experience in the war. I think he was so busy taking care of his family and his job that he didn’t have the time or bandwidth to remember what a life changing event the war had been for him. He very successfully managed to compartmentalize his memories until he retired and became involved with his own band of brothers.

After he retired he got involved with the national Korean War Veterans Association and helped found a chapter in Dallas. Through this veteran’s group and the South Korean government he took me to South Korea on a returning veteran’s trip in 1997. It was an amazing and eye-opening trip in so many ways. It was the first time I really understood how impactful this life event had been for him, it was the first time I saw my father as someone other than just my father, it was a chance for me to see him be a part of something larger than my family.

As we toured through South Korea I listened. I listened to my dad as he related to these heroes of a war that has too often been relegated to a somewhat erstwhile conflict instead of the awful, frightening bloody mass of men and women dying and being maimed. They all marveled at how Seoul had recovered and they talked about how this modern city of eight million was nothing but ruble when they had last marched through the city.

I listened as these old soldiers talked and enjoyed each other’s stories and company as they relived a time in their lives that will always separate them from those of us who have been spared the worst of war. I watched as they looked at maps and pointed to where they had been stationed, I marveled at how my own father, a warrior in a real war, looked for familiar spots and I felt pride as I watched him, along with the other veterans, accept an honorary medal from the South Korean army. It was one of those moments that expanded my view and understanding of my own father.

In the Texas Senate gallery I sat with my dad and his compatriots. When the time came for the proclamation recognizing the Korean War veterans several Senators spoke. In turn they each recognized the men surrounding me. Some read names, some spoke of the cold, the heat, the Chinese, the Chosin Reservoir, Pork Chop Hill, and Inchon. Finally they asked for the veterans to stand and finally they applauded, and applauded, and applauded. I felt a great sense of pride as I sat among these very ordinary men who had served their country in an extraordinary way.

As my father and I drove back to Waco from Austin we talked, or rather he talked the whole way home. I asked the questions I’ve always wanted to know and he told me about his journey to war and his time at war and for the first time, his feelings about what he had experienced. I drove up to my house feeling fortunate to have spent this day with this man.

As we drove into the driveway of my home I said I thought it was really nice for the Senate to recognize you guys. My dad said, “Yes, they didn’t have to do that, but it sure is nice.” I’ve always been proud to be his son.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Hell of a Guy

I have been pooped on, peed on, phlegmed on, and puked on.  The last years have tested me, they have tested my marriage.  Uncontrolled bodily fluids will do that.

It’s not my fault, it’s not Marty’s fault.  In point of fact she is a bit embarrassed about the whole thing.  There is nothing anyone anywhere can do about it and no one need be embarrassed, it’s part of life and all of us get to live it at some time in or life.

Before the strokes came I had no idea I would be capable of doing some of the things I’m now doing, it wasn’t, it isn’t in my DNA.  What chronic illness does, what strokes do is demand you adapt, they demand you do things you normally would run from, the illnesses demand you be someone you didn’t think you could be.

That’s the disease and that’s the real strength of marriage.  All of the crap, all of the distasteful stuff you end up learning is part of the contract, the commitment, the promise you make to someone else. 
I’m not sure I would have committed to so much if I had known so much would be asked.  I’m one hell of a husband to accept all of this, to embrace and endure the burden that is caring for a stroke patient; I am clearly a hell of a guy.

Yep….but this hell of a guy does this for a woman, a woman I fell in love with some 35+ years ago.  She’s a woman who changed her name for me, she’s a woman who stood beside me when I was unemployed and she was our sole support.  She did nothing but exude confidence in me when I was at my lowest.  

I married a woman who was smarter than me but often let me think I was smarter than I am.  She moved across the state for me, from Lubbock to Paris to Muenster to Hillsboro and Waco.  She didn’t do it without thought or complaint, but she did it because she loved me and she had promised to love and honor even during the hard times.

This woman I so selflessly sacrifice for is the woman who changed her body so we could have heirs, wonderful children; she is the woman who sacrificed herself and her career to help care for these children, the woman who would let our children eat her desert so I wouldn’t have to share. 
Yep, I’m a hell of a guy.

Marty has continued to teach this “hell of a guy”, she has continued to guide this “hell of a guy”, even in her worst of times.  She has shown me I can live up to my commitments, she has shown me I can love without condition or regret and give without resentment, she has shown me I can do what I never thought I could.  She leads me to be a better man every day.

Humans are capable of amazing things and we somehow, despite our best efforts, manage to change into what is needed.  Look around, look and in the mirror and you will find there are many out there who watch over and care for those who can’t do for themselves.  Every day people, husbands like me, wives like Marty, mothers and fathers who get poop, puke and pee on their hands, people who do very dirty jobs they didn’t choose and didn’t think they could do, but do them without thinking, without pause.  

As you get older, as your marriage or your relationship advances you simply do what you must, not because you are a hell of guy or woman, not because God only gives us what we can endure, not because we are angels.  

We do things because we love, it’s what we do when we commit, it’s what we do as decent members of humanity, it’s how we as humanity survive.  We adapt and become maybe a little better than we ever thought we could be.  

We simply do the most decent thing we have ever done.

Hell of a guy……hell of a wife.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Funniest Person She Knows

We were in the car, just cruising, when daughter Erin called to wish her Mom a happy Mother’s Day.  We talked over the hands free, Erin talked, I talked, Marty talked.  It was a nice Mother’s Day conversation.

After we disconnected the call I said, “That was very nice.”

Marty, “Yes it was.”

Me, “Did it warm your cockles?” making a reference to the idiom “cockles of your heart”.

Marty, says with some degree of faux earnestness, “So that’s what that was, I thought it was heart burn.”…..Rim Shot….

We were at a red light, I looked at her sipping her Diet Coke wearing a self-satisfied smile, and I laughed out loud.

“That was good,” I said.

“Yes it was,” she replied with an air of confidence.

That’s Marty; she is still the funniest person she knows.

Watch Marty; watch her eyes when conversation is going on around her.  At times her brain is simply overwhelmed by the stimuli around her and she checks out and her mind turns completely inward.  But, if she is not over stimulated, if the distraction meter is not too high, watch her eyes and you can see her brain slip into comic drive.

At supper (that’s dinner in the south) I try and reduce the distractions.  We may have the television on briefly to catch the weather and the latest “wheel of justice” segment as the local news rallies to catch the next most wanted criminal.  I generally turn the television off so Marty can focus on the task at hand, eating.  This is when we can talk and laugh a little.  

One of our caregivers has new toy Chihuahua who goes by the name of Majyk, or some such corrupted spelling of a normal word.  It’s a grey little rat that has made herself at home running around our house.  We are dog people and this dog, despite its rodent like appearance,  is pretty darn cute.

The dog was running away from her mistress, Nykkie, and Nykkie was fast walking after the dog, yammering.  She yammers a lot.  She was calling to the dog and talking to her and asking her things like, “What are you doing?  Where are you going?”

The dog kept running around, her rabies and name tags jingling as she ran.  Nykkie called out to her again, “Where are you going?”

Marty looks up from her plate, stops chewing and looks straight at me, a twinkle in her eye, her brain fully in gear, “Shh, be quiet, let’s see if the dog answers her.”

Marty then is seized with suppressed laughter, trying not to spit out the mostly chewed food in her mouth.  She started to turn a little red from trying not to laugh at her own humor.

I’m telling you, watch the eyes; they will tell you the real story.  Marty’s still the funniest person she knows. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mother Marty

Marty is a mother.  It’s more than a little enlightening to see the young woman who became your wife make the transition from girl friend to wife to mother.  We all evolve, daughters become wives, and wives become mothers.  

Marty made the transition, not seamlessly, not gracefully, not perfectly.  She wasn’t the perfect mother; she wasn’t “earth mother”.  Marty smoked, she cussed, she slept late, she was over bearing, she was loud, and at times I’m sure she was a bit embarrassing for our two children. 

 But Marty loved fiercely and Matt and Erin grew up knowing that fierce love.  They grew up knowing Marty was always and forever in their corner and on their side and they could come to her for anything.

She raised our children to know anything was possible.  As they watched Marty work for her doctorate they saw you could do life differently, even a little non-traditionally.  They saw how important education was and they saw how you could choose a goal and achieve it.  They saw how you could make major life changes and succeed.

Our children knew Marty was behind them and would always be there to help with ideas or advise.  She was there to help them be who they were and succeed.  

She helped Matt make a remote control paper-mâché shark and had the scratches and scars from the chicken wire they used for the skeleton of the shark to prove it.  

She helped Erin make her first (and maybe only) career video by giving her direction and running the camera and getting her access to doctors’ offices and equipment for the video.  

Marty wiped their faces, doled out medicine and made sure they were at the right doctor’s offices when the kids were sick.  She once held an infant Erin close during an exam for chronic urinary tract infections.  When they came out she couldn’t figure out why Erin had blood on her head….it was from Marty’s lip, Marty had bit through her own lip while holding her infant daughter.  

To this day I believe she saved Matt’s leg because she was persistent in ensuring he got first class care when he contracted a staph infection that moved to cellulitis.  She then did wet dry packs in the open wound for weeks.  I couldn’t do it.

Marty was at her best with the problems, whether it was school, love life, faith or a broken down car.  She was one of the world’s great problems solvers.  The kids came to her because she almost always offered solutions, solutions without judgment, well, maybe not too much judgment.

It wasn’t just our kids either.  Our house had a variety of other kids running in and out because they felt welcome by the mother of the house.  Marty was deeply involved in our church’s youth program and the young girls would go to her, the somewhat crass, loud woman with the warm heart.  They would go to her for reassurance, they would go to her for acceptance, and they would go to her for love.  

Marty always, always had love for her children and the children of others.  She was and is mother to many because of that love, because of that sometimes frail, sometimes brittle, always enduring love of a mother.

The strokes, the brain injury have not changed that.  She can’t do some of the things she once did, she can’t do many of the things she once did, she is not as expressive or demonstrative as she once was, but I know, I know Marty, I know her heart; I know she loves her kids with the same intensity and the same depth she always has.  

It is, in spite of life getting in the way, a mother’s love and that is not changed by anything.