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Memorial of Forever?

So, it's Memorial Day this Monday. It always makes me think of my dad, who served in the Vietnam War, attaining the rank of sergeant. He was drafted. He didn't want to be there.

When I was younger, he and I got into a conversation about military service. Well, I say "conversation," but it was more like an argument. He'd served in a war, seen combat, and sounded very proud of it. He thought I should be proud to follow in his footsteps and do the same thing, should the need arise (i.e. a return of the draft). I told him how, frankly, such a situation scared me, and how I also didn't idealize war, and how even though some of them have been necessary, they aren't really something that humanity should be proud of. That set him off. We didn't really resolve it.

Years later, dying of cancer that he blamed on Agent Orange (not the decades of smoking four packs a day), dad would rage against the government for drafting him, "taking [him] away from [his] home," and sending him "halfway across the world."

Fair enough.

I mention all of this because, as stated earlier, Memorial Day always makes me think of my dad, and whether or not I should visit his grave in Camp Buter Cemetery out of some sort of father/son respect and military service gratitude. Yet I rarely ever do. This year will likely be no different, but what the thoughts of my father have done are to stir-up the pain and emotion I often associate with him. This has been going on most of the week, and seems to have reached its zenith today.

As it is, very few of my memories of my father are good. To be honest, he wasn't a very nice man (and I'm putting it nicely there). I can lose count of the times when he would be mean, rude, threatening, violent and verbally abusive with so many people. When he was diagnosed with cancer, I visited with him quite frequently, still too immature to have a proper, adult conversation with him about our life together. Apparently, his maturity was no greater than mine in this regard. We had ten months to sort things out. We never did.

It's been fourteen years since my father passed away, and left me feeling like a boxer standing in the ring whose opponent has suddenly decided to walk off. Over the years I've tried various methods of dealing with the legacy of hurt, confusion and (yes) hate that he left behind. It fell to me to do this. He was no longer around to try and talk with. At times, I feel as though this self-therapy has been successful. At other times, however, it feels like it's just a shambles. This week -- and today, especially -- has felt like such a shambles.

I am just consumed with hate and anger for the man. The man I was never able to measure-up to. The man who crumpled-up my drawings as a kid, and then wondered later why I never showed him any of my artistry. The man who threatened my great-grandmother with harm when she asked him not to beat me. The man who pulled a gun on my mom. The man who choked me when I didn't know what tool to give him for a project he was working on. The man who could just cast a glare in my direction and send fear down my spine.

I feel like I am obligated to honor this man on Memorial Day, because he was a veteran of our Armed Forces, and because he was my father. But my heart isn't in it. Not this year. The self-therapy isn't working at the moment. This is just a terrible, emotional day.


  1. Matt, let him go. His demons were his own. You can still be proud of his military service, just as all of us are proud of your civil service. You're a good man, he likely was in his own way, and that's enough.

  2. I think you've honored him in exactly the appropriate way with this blog post. You've remembered him in the way you perceived him, and that's not up to anyone else to judge.

    My own dad was in Korea in the early 60s. He was an alcoholic who I really hardly knew. He died when I was 17. Nearly thirty years later, I know I missed a lot, but nothing could ever change it. It's part of who I am.

  3. I appreciate your honesty, Matt. I'm sorry not to have words to comfort you, but I agree with what the others said. I'm glad to have you as my friend.


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