A child of Vietnam

Back in the 90s, there was a television program called That 70s Show.  It was one of those nostalgic look back at the good old days shows, I.E. Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, etc.  It covered a wide range of topics, but in a funny way.  Nothing it seemed was taboo: drug use, feminism, abandonment, politics, teen pregnancy, even homosexuality.  They covered everything – except Vietnam.

My father served in Vietnam in the U.S. Air Force.  He was one of those ‘baby killers’ that hippies love to decry (ask me sometime why I’m not a liberal).  He came home a broken man.  He was in the medical corps and it was his job to identify dead soldiers through their dental records.  I shudder to think of the horrors he saw.

I was just a baby at the time and have no memory of him ever living at home.  I do know that he and my mother divorced in September of 1973 after just four years of marriage to her.  He was scared at every little noise and carried a gun around.  I am told that once he pulled it on his best friend who made the mistake of sneaking up behind him.  He began drinking heavily and started womanizing.  My mother caught him with the woman would later become my stepmother.

My father stayed in the city he was living in (San Angelo as he was stationed at Goodfellow AFB) and my mother took me and my brother home to Lubbock.  It was the 70s and feminism was in full swing and she was told that she didn’t need a man to complete her life and that she could raise two boys on her own.  I won’t argue the former, but I will argue latter and say will all certainty that she couldn’t.

So I was raised without a father, learning about the birds and the bees from Childcraft books, and porno films with the occasional tasteless joke provided by my uncles.  I didn’t understand why nobody would talk to me about these things.

My father had discovered Jesus in San Angelo and learned to put aside his fears.  My stepmother helped him with his drinking and he wasn’t womanizing anymore.  But he was still distant from me, and as I was the weird kid, I wasn’t making it any easier.  By weird, I wasn’t into sports at all, unlike my brother.  He was cute and adorable, while I was just awkward.  He was on the church baseball team and my only exposure to baseball was The Bad News Bears.  My brother loved football (like most Texans) and I could care less.  So it was really no shock to anyone that I was gay, but me.

It was odd how he took the news, not at all how I was expecting.  I was bitter and angry, not at just him, but also with my stepmother and anything having to do with religion in general (all gays go to hell).  I told him that I was gay out of spite, as I hadn’t forgiven him or my stepmother of the insensitivity they showed about David’s death.  Instead of the fire & brimstone sermon I was expecting over the phone and fully expected to hang up on, he simply diffused it all by saying “I know.”

Those two little words completely disarmed me.  Everything that I had rehearsed myself to say, preparing to hang up on him; it was all gone.  I learned a lot about love and forgiveness that day.  I wish I could say that things were all hunky-dory and we lived happily ever after, but we didn’t.  There would be several fights and we would sometimes go years without speaking to each other, but I knew my father loved me and he knew I loved him.  I wish we lived closer.

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