Like all kids, I hated going to the doctor.
I feared being poked with needles, dreaded having that tongue depressor thing jammed down my throat, and absolutely hated wasting so much time in the waiting room when I could be outside raising all kinds of hell.
Now there was this one day fine spring day when I had to go the doctor to get a booster shot.
Today of course I know full well the importance of checkups, but back then I felt like I was walking the last mile.
My dad had been doing some home repairs that morning and he sent me around the corner to Windsor Lock, the neighborhood hardware store—back when we had neighborhood hardware stores—to get several items including lightbulbs and two short pieces of wire.
Off I went, relying on nothing but my memory of what my father had told me to complete the order. When I returned a short time later, I handed the bag over to my father—and he promptly went nuts.
He was so happy and so proud of me for getting every single thing he wanted without the benefit of a shopping list.
“You even got the two pieces of wire!” he said in cheerful disbelief.
Well, that’s it, I reasoned, they can’t possibly take me to the doctor now. I’ve done such a good job, made my father so happy. It’s time to go out and play.
But a short time later my dad was getting out the car keys and telling me it was time to go see Dr. Abrahamson.
What the hell? I just pulled off the retail miracle of the century, you can’t possibly drag me to that needle-wielding psychopath now. I earned a pass on pain.
In my childish mind I had decided that the doctor’s visit was punishment, so by doing a good job for my dad, I was automatically off the hook—quid pro no doctor. Clearly, however, I had a lot to learn about logic and how a job well done does not excuse you from taking care of your health.
I used to tell that story a lot and I’d always end up by describing how disappointed and betrayed I felt when parents hauled me off to the doctor.
Roll Up Your Sleeve
But now on Father’s Day I want to change the focus a little on this tale and concentrate on how happy I had made my dad that morning.
This didn’t happen too often, to be honest, or at least not as much as I would’ve liked. We butted heads a lot during his lifetime and I keep thinking I could’ve done more to make things better between us.
My father fought in World War II and I am only now appreciating how much that terrible experience must have affected him.
He was once trapped in a foxhole for days during an artillery attack and wound getting frostbite in both feet so badly that when help finally did arrive, he had to be carried away by a stretcher.
One of his buddies was a guide in Montana, and he, my dad, and two other soldiers had planned to go on a hunting trip together when they got back to the States—only the other guys were all killed in action and my father was the only one who came home.
How can anyone possibly walk away unscathed from something like that?
I get angry when people talk so casually about going to war, the ones who say “we” when they obviously mean somebody else has to do the fighting.
My father didn’t have any bone spurs, he didn’t have any “other priorities” and he sure as fuck didn’t prance around on an aircraft carrier crowing “mission accomplished.” No, he just fought for his country.
It’s a waste of time and energy, but I wonder sometimes what kind of man my father would’ve been if he hadn’t gone to war, if he hadn’t witnessed all the brutality.
He’s been gone with 11 years now, so we’ll never know. I guess the best I can do is recall the happy times.
The pain from the booster shot has long since faded, but I’ll never forget that smile I put on my father’s face when I brought home those two pieces of wire.