I was reading Cowboy Dreams in this week’s Washington Post Magazine, and it struck me that Max won’t really know what I do until he’s much older. I don’t know that it bothers me, but it’s different. I grew up knowing pretty much exactly what my dad was doing. He was a navigator in the F-4D (and later E) Phantom II, a big death-dealing machine without grace. It was round, and looked like a chopped down 60’s hot rod with wings. It wasn’t much to look at, but you knew what it was meant for. They were loud, and I knew what they were for from a very early age.
When I was four and five (1979 – 1980), dad planned flight routes for dropping retaliatory nukes on Eastern Bloc countries. He used to bring home old topographical maps (none with actual routes on them or anything) and let us play with his map templates. Tim and I used to play with our little toy soldiers on them and have wars all over eastern Europe.
When I was seven (1982), dad chased commies all over the North Atlantic, from Scotland west to and over Greenland. He took pictures of them, and “escorted them” through the area as the bombers headed down to Cuba on “exercises”. He told stories about taking pictures of the soldiers in the gunnery bubble while the Russian gunner took pictures of him. We saw pictures of his grey F-4 right underneath a gigantic silver Bear bomber (like this… not one of my dad’s, but the same idea). He also used to sit alert at the end of the runway in a little bunker in his “chinese pajamas” playing pool (he’s a wicked pool shark) waiting for the siren to go off signifying that the Russians (or we) had started World War 3.
When I was seven (1982), we moved back to the States, and the F-4 was on its last legs. The danger wasn’t quite a real, because dad didn’t fly as much, and the F-16 and F-15 were taking over. There wasn’t much left for the F-4’s to do. Dad delivered some F-4’s to George W. Bush’s old National Guard squadron in Texas. His friends delivered F-4’s to Hill (a base in Utah) where they were going to be transformed into drones for the sexy new planes to have target practice with.
When I was 10 (1985), dad helped draw up plans for a desert air war in the Middle East. I used to come into his office and look at this huge map of the Arabian peninsula on the wall with pins all over it. I had no idea where it was, but I knew we had a plan to bomb the living crap out of it.
When was 16 (1991), Desert Storm broke out (and then ended almost as quickly). My dad worked in the Pentagon and helped implement the plan he worked on in the late 80’s.
After that, I kind of stopped paying attention. Dad planned all kinds of exercises having to do with camouflage, concealment and detection (CCD), and well, that wasn’t half as interesting as bombing things. Plus, I was into girls, not jets and camo nets. I still knew what I my dad did.
Now, I’m 27 and my dad works at a big defense contractor in Reston, and I have no idea what he does, just like Max will have no idea what I do past, “Daddy works in an office with a bunch of computers in it.” I don’t know how important it is to me that Max knows what I do, but reading that story, it struck me that he probably won’t, and worse yet, he might not care.