Many of you know of my work for the military conducting physical exams on men and women to qualify them for Service. My work is really a study in adolescent behavior. More than that, it introduces me to young people whose life stories amaze, awe, and inspire me. Last week I had one of those days.
Mike, (not his real name) a handsome 25 y/o guy covered with tattoos, told of spending his first 16 years in foster homes, changing homes at “least twice a year”, and quitting school freshman year. At age 16 he took a job at a factory, and emancipated himself. By 18 he was into drugs, became an alcoholic, and had been imprisoned twice.
For some reason I couldn’t help liking him, but when he told me he impregnated his girlfriend before his 19th birthday, I was began to think he was not a good candidate for military service. But, his spirit was uplifting, infectious, and his penetrating deep blue eyes begged me to continue listening.
He married his child’s mother, the daughter of a preacher, and turned his live around. Because he had no idea of who he was, he took his wife’s name, stopped drinking, and using drugs.
“My wife saved my live,” he said. “She’s the best thing that ever happened to me.” Then he quickly added, “So is my son.
“When he was born I held him in my arms and tears just washed my face, I couldn’t believe I had helped make such a beautiful, helpless baby. His eyes were staring at me. All I could think was he needs a dad. I looked at those eyes and told him I was his dad and I promised him I’d take care of him. And I have.
“I felt like I needed a cigarette and had a full pack of cigarettes in my pocket, but I though he doesn’t need my smoke going into his lungs. So, I walked over to the waste basket and threw them away. I haven’t smoked, used drugs or drank any alcohol since he was born, and that was almost 7 years ago.”
It was then that I noticed many of his tattoos were bible quotes, crosses, and religious pictures. On his back were Roman Numerals marking the date he met his wife, and the birthday of his son. “He’s getting a little brother this fall,” he told me. “I’ll be home from basic just in time.”
There was a moment of silence as I comprehended what he was all about. “The poet tells us, “The child is the father of the man,” I reasoned.
“That’s true for me,” he answered. “The child and his mother made a man out of me.”
I didn’t ask where else his inner strength came from, but I’m sure his father and mother-in-law were a big part of that picture. It seems it’s never too late to parent, or maybe it’s just that they believed in him. I wanted to ask where they lived so I could congratulate them. I resisted that intrusion into hit privacy.
Tom Brokaw called the men who won World War Two, “The Greatest Generation,” and they were. But the next great generation is still in uniform. I am so proud of Mike and all the men and women who have volunteered to serve especially those I have met, and I’m honored to have been able to qualify them for service.
Join me in a prayer for all the men and women who serve this great country.