Opinion: We Should Honor Our Veterans And Their Families
In my house, your 10th birthday was a big deal, you only hit double digits once. I remember leading up to my birthday, I was so excited to become a 10-year-old.
On October 13th, 2010, I woke up and finally hit that milestone. I saw myself as older. I felt older. Throughout that day I ate my favorite foods, watched my favorite movies and played my favorite games. My mom, brothers and I piled into a car to head to what I thought was going to be a birthday dinner. I wore an outfit that matched my American Girl doll.
As we pulled into a parking lot of a big indoor bouncy house, I saw all of my friends and family gathered. I jumped out of the car, greeted them and looked around for the one person I wanted to be there, my dad. But he wasn’t there.
My father served in the United States Marine Corps for 20 years before he retired in 2014.
For the first 14 years of my life, my father dedicated his life to the military, so there were many special family moments that he missed.
It is critical that our nation reinstates the appreciation for the military we once had. When you kneel during the national anthem, or don’t appreciate those who gave their life for this country, you are actively disrespecting not only them, but their families as well. Their families had to adapt to life without their loved ones as they fight to protect their freedoms we take for granted.
A month after I was born, he was assigned a non-combat deployment to South America and returned home the month after my second birthday.
My mother tells me they were nervous that I would not remember him when he returned. She spent time every day showing me pictures and videos of my dad to make sure I knew who he was.
Through the years, Dad left for weekend drills or two-week drills. When he was home, he was always a ball of joy. He worked at putting a smile on everyone’s face. In 2004, my father was activated to Iraq for his first combat deployment.
I only remember bits and pieces of this deployment because I was only four years old. What I do remember is not understanding why I couldn’t walk into my house and see my dad. At this point my mother was single-handedly raising my four-year-old self, my eight-year-old brother Steffan, and my little brother Ethan who was not even a year old when Dad left.
In 2009, my brothers, parents and I were all sitting around the table when my mother said, “Your father is being deployed again.” My older brother ran into the next room, angry and sad. I didn’t know how to react. At 9 years old, I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact my father was being sent to fight in a war.
I remember breaking down crying – not because he was fighting in war, but because he would miss the first time I hit a double-digit number. He would miss my 10th birthday.
Dad’s deployment to Afghanistan changed my life entirely. My father was activated in November of 2009 and was deactivated in November on 2011. I didn’t know it was possible to miss a person so much. During that time, the only contact I had with him was through an occasional skype or through Facebook messenger.
I was disappointed he didn’t make it to my birthday. I knew that was a crazy thought, that he could leave Afghanistan just to come to my birthday. But my heart began to harden. I would watch show hosts such as Ellen and see all these nice families getting surprised with their spouses and parents from overseas. I didn’t understand why they got their dad, but I didn’t.
When he returned from Afghanistan, I was overjoyed. I finally had my best friend back. However, I quickly came to understand the man I knew who left for Afghanistan was not the same man who would return. Afghanistan changed my father.
But his battle was not over when he retired – our battle as a family was just beginning.
When he returned from Afghanistan, he returned injured both physically and mentally. He tore his meniscus while overseas and suffered from extreme PTSD. My once happy and easy-going father returned with an entirely different demeanor. He suddenly would be stricter, sterner, more serious.
Six months into having him back, I wanted him to go back. I was convinced he forgot how to smile. I was convinced he was a different person. I was convinced he hated me.
Nobody talks about the transition from war to being back in the household. I had no idea what was in store for my family and me. It took nearly five years and three surgeries for my father to get close to the man he used to be. He still isn’t there, and the progress has only been made by the grace of God.
Some don’t realize that when they disrespect the military, they disrespect those who served and their families. I went through a childhood not knowing if my dad would live or if the man who once made us smile would ever come back. I encourage every individual to seek out opportunities to bless those who served as well as their families, because it truly does make an impact.
When I was 13, I wrote a song called, “My Marine” about my father being in the military. The chorus is as follows:
“but for now he comes and goes
And he never really knows
When we’ll have our daddy
back just like before
And I can’t wait for the day
That he comes home to stay
And he won’t have to fly away
Peyton MacKenzie is an Opinion Writer. Follow her on Twitter at @PeytMacK.