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Pearl Harbor

December 7, 2022

The morning of December 7 saw the instant existential catastrophe of World War end that life of control and entitlement. George had graciously retired as a lieutenant from his Army ROTC commission in 1940, so he immediately sought to escape the draft and rightfully renew that commission as an officer.  

When the Army said “No.” to his request for a renewed commission, my father was desperate. He knew that he was not meant to die with the young volunteers and draftees on a beachhead somewhere. forty-five yearslater, my mother recounted that my father went a little nuts – shaking and in a cold sweat – chain smoking desperate and searching for an option. Pushing his obvious ability and with the connections of a white, male, Ivy lawyer the Navy gave him a commission in their Intelligence Officer Corps. He spent a year training and then two combat zone tours on aircraft carriers – one sunk by the Japanese after he left.

The bomb that went down the USS Arizona’s smokestack blew up a soon-to-be 32-year-old’s life. The catastrophic break in the surety of an entitled future of confident employment, social standing and personal identity never healed for my parents. I think that break simply reopened the wounds of the loss of my father’s mother. That first disaster was with him, fully out of his control.

After a rough return, my father ultimately found partnership in a boutique Wall Street firm, almost a decade later, and life was not the same, ever. My parents were not alone – sixteen million soldiers came home with my father. Post Traumatic Stress Disorderhas officially been a diagnosis since 1980 – about thirty-five years too late for my father’s generation.Absent diagnosis, the damaged sought therapy: it was called Suburbia. You could mow your lawn. Your wife could have dinner waiting. You made money in a separate, distinct world you understood. You could define and control your life up there, in the suburbs, in a world made for you, by you. 

But therapy only works if you know you need it.

After the war, everything was “fine” for my mother and father. Despite a health issue or two, then two children, they went north, then had another child( me) and had settled into a home that was lovely and worth the labors of restoration. They joined a Country Club. They found a church. Then private schools for their kids. My father learned to barbecue.

But although happiness was assumed, it did not come. Despite the presumed rightness of the life after the War, there was no therapy in suburbia for my parents. The golf course at the club was abandoned. The church was part of a social framework, but any faith in anything beyond their coping was incidental. There was medication in drinking, calming in smoking, and expression of brokenness in screaming anger after the second 4 or 6 ounces of booze.

Like mowing the lawn, the children offered no solace for the wounds of a complicated life: in fact, they offered a vehicle for the projection of life’s broken beginnings turning damage into anger and remorse.

We children could not understand why we were so wrong, perpetually. My siblings were declared“failures” and I watched. No amount of black and white TV or ballroom dance lessons could render his children what my father hoped for: we were not better versions of him. Those disappointments became triggers for his anger, and coping by his wife, damaging the growing minds of children in ways that take lifetimes to fully realize.

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