"...do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic..."

"For the good of the Air Force, for the good of the armed services and for the good of our country, I urge you to reject convention and careerism..."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Maxwell AFB, April 21, 2008

"You will need to challenge conventional wisdom and call things like you see them to subordinates and superiors alike."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, United States Air Force Academy, March 4, 2011

Monday, August 14, 2023

I Have Lived a Charmed Life

My old man used to say that I lived a "charmed life."  He wasn't wrong.  In large part, perhaps almost completely in part, because of the great pains he and my mother took to provide for me and, a decade or so later, for my sister.  His long hours and sacrifices, work ethic and people skills that I lack, resulted in him climbing the rank ladder to the top and, along with my mother's long hours on her feet as a military base barber, meant that I wanted for nothing.  And that is the pinnacle of parenting, my entitled tendencies notwithstanding, as all of Nature demonstrates.

I grew up a rich kid.  Of course some kids at school wouldn't have thought so, not that I cared in the slightest or even detected that from any of them though.  I never thought that way and I still don't which makes me a bit of an oddity today as I can tell people sometimes look at me like a homeless person given my complete lack of concern for fashion.  As a kid, I got the Lee jeans and, from time to time but rarely, had to endure the shoes from a bin at K-mart or wherever with the plastic soles that had no traction whatsoever, but that was early on and hardly something to write back to my Appalachian relatives about.  Normally I got Kangaroos from K-Mart and to this day I think they were the shit.  A little pocket that I could put my key in?  Sign me up.  Went well with my Casio calculator watch that could store 50 phone numbers in it.  A watch, as it turns out, that I was still wearing as a Gunship pilot, years later, when I walked into an F-15C squadron at Tyndall AFB (I was there for a chamber ride) and the pilot at the front desk playing the part of greeter told me "nice watch."  To which I replied "if you had a watch like this you could take the number of pilots in your squadron and divide it by the number of enemy you've all killed in combat, except you'd get an error.  Because even this watch won't let you divide by zero."  Due to his career field, my old man loved Eagle Drivers.  I didn't.  But I digress.

Still, I wasn't immune from the propaganda and fashion especially as I hit high school.  I saved up for a pair of Nike Air Bo Jackson Cross Trainers from cutting lawns and my hardly-profitable (ie parent funded) paper routes, and I had an Ocean Pacific windbreaker that I could wear every day over any t-shirt.  I wasn't like my always poorly dressed (in the literal sense) classmate Lisa Udell who in sixth grade burst into tears during class because her father had just died and whose parents couldn't afford to buy her school lunch.  Rather, I was the kid who regularly convinced my mother to give me money for two school lunch tickets because one wasn't enough.  Some of which I gave to Lisa.  Many I greedily used to eat two school lunches.

I have no idea what happened to Lisa.  I've tried to find her and have failed.  I hope she is living a rich and rewarding life.  Whatever the case, I know her life was harder than mine because she didn't have a father very long and her parents couldn't provide the basics.  How would my life have ended up had I endured something similar?

I grew up a rich kid.  I never thought of it as status or ever cared about such things and, as a result, I have fortunately avoided the obsession of some of those I know who grew up poor to do anything for money and status.  I never felt poor because I wasn't.  My friends that I ran around with didn't have parents with the resources that I got to enjoy.  In fact, I think it's a safe bet that out of every other kid in the large trailer park that I grew up in, I got better Christmas presents than all of them.  I didn't have to worry about eating or if I got sick.  And while most of my friends didn't work or do chores and looked at me like I was an African child labor victim when I couldn't go play because I had to mow the lawn, they also didn't get lavished upon during the holidays.

My parents had their parenting faults as people who work two jobs while trying to scratch out a living in a hostile world do.  But Christmas definitely wasn't one of them.  I don't know how many iterations of Commodore 64 I had growing up but I do know that I had a 3.5" floppy drive for a C64 and I do know that programming that machine was as useful as it was addicting.  My parents spent a lot of money on computers and computer equipment for me in middle school and high school.  Other kids in the trailer park were not getting that.  And the time I spent learning BASIC and tinkering with machine language directly led to a great job I got in college, as a new sophomore no less, for the State of Florida as a computer programmer making way over minimum wage and getting to go to courses in other cities with paid for lodging and a rental car.  That went a long way in college.  What if my parents hadn't bought me that expensive equipment?  What if they just got me roller skates or a new Huffy bike like my neighbor friends might (if they were particularly lucky) expect?

So many forks in the road that can lead to incredibly different realities.  I remember so many forks.  And they're not all voluntary choices like some Choose-Your-Own Adventure.  Like the time in high school in Iceland when I was in Reykjavik ice-skating with some folks from school and my best friend at the time was hovering over me after I fell, and another buddy ran into him and made his skate go over my knee.  Cut me deep, blood everywhere, ambulance ride back to Keflavik only to be told they had to do surgery at the hospital in Reykjavik so they put me back in another ambulance.  I remember the bandage being changed and the blood spurting from my knee and hitting the roof of the ambulance.  Then I remember the operating table, doctors I couldn't understand dong their thing and my dad looking through the little port window in the door.  Pacing back and forth.  Then raising hell because the doctors were sewing up my knee without stopping the internal bleeding.  Then they undid their stitches and fixed the bleeding before giving me my lifelong Nike swoosh on my knee by going back to sewing up the outside.  What if my old man hadn't had the intelligence and situational awareness to monitor the actions of a trained doctor/surgeon?  I may have lost my leg or worse.  I may have never gotten to be a pilot.

I have lived an amazingly charmed life.  Mostly due to my parents.  And at so many points, my life could have changed for the worst and coming up on fifty years on this dirt ball, I realize I wouldn't have had the personal strength, competency, or character to right that ship by myself.  I am ever so fortunate to have sailed on waters not of my own creation.


  1. Beautifully written. You're a good dude. - GH

    1. Thanks. Good luck using facts and logic to try to combat character deficiency over on our favorite forum. Like using a socket wrench to try to weld a broken pipe. Only so much can be done with the tools we are given.